Musicians often refer to music practice as shedding. Many children that study music in the U.S. will work on their instruments and play music at least once or twice a week in school, maybe even five days a week. Either way, that is some substantial consistency in music and on the instrument.
Music is an art, a discipline, and a language. And just like any other language, the best way to learn it is by immersion: doing it often and in community.
If a student takes the summer off completely from shedding, from music study and music making, this would be like learning French for a year and then not touching it all summer. Trust me, as one who has failed French yet never a music class or an audition, you do not want your child to lose what they have going. They are doing so great! If your student has completed a year or so of music study, they are already in a place many people have talked about, imagined, or wish they would have done, but never did.
Here’s three important reasons to keep your students up with music discipline this summer:
Physical: Whether piano, trumpet, sax, voice, recorder, or percussion—whatever the instrument, the body is physically involved in music making. Students can lose the important muscle memory, coordination, chops that they’ve worked so hard to develop. Students can also lose their range on their instrument very quickly, especially early on in development.
Mental: The brain is heavily involved in making music. And learning to read, interpret, and make music involves the brain in a process that stimulates and strengthens the ability to think and learn. If music students aren’t reading, working through, and learning new music and sight reading (reading new music for the first time) this summer they will grow a little stale in some of these areas. We are here to help. Need music to learn or practice? New sight reading materials? We would be happy to give you some ideas and steer you in the right direction to some music resources.
Creative: Creativity is a mental activity as well of course, but creating from scratch is something we don’t do a whole lot yet in early development in music classes or lessons. And it is never too early to start improvising or composing. Both would be excellent to incorporate in to a summer practice routine.
To improvise in music is to create music without any written notes or rhythms. It is essentially spontaneous music making. Students are often afraid to do this. But when they were toddlers they would or probably do it all the time with pots and pans, at a piano, on anything! And we do it every time we speak, unless we have first carefully rehearsed your words.
Wherever your student is on their instrument, all they need to do is begin to play freely to improvise. Doing this for at least five minutes a day at the beginning or end of a practice routine is a great way to incorporate this into your discipline.
Composing is another excellent way to stimulate your creative musical ability. Challenge your students to write some music. At least ten to fifteen minutes a week spent working on writing a piece of music can be an incredibly beneficial tool, and of course, the more the better! What your student already knows by way of notes and rhythms is all they need to get started. Free manuscript paper can be downloaded online and printed up. Have them bring in their composed music when they return, we would love to see and hear their creations!
I will follow up shortly with some specific suggestions for practice at different levels. But please, share these with your children and I encourage you to start talking about a summer shedding routine. Ideally, at least 15 minutes a day for a beginning student, 30 minutes for an intermediate student. Remember that they should not practice for more than 15 minutes on the same thing without a break, 15 minute increments are what we recommend.