Practice and Lessons

(the following is a letter to students and parents regarding practicing)

“when you’re not practicing, someone else is”

Dear Parents and Students,

First of all I want to thank you for your interest in music and for the support you as parents, have given to your students of music. Just like any discipline music requires interest, dedication, time, effort and the support of parents and educators. It also requires that everyone involved is responsible for the progress of the student. Responsible means that we are able to choose our response or action to a task, challenge or commitment.

Students involved in athletics understand the importance of practice, preparation, equipment, coaching and the support of family and friends. Athletes must develop the skills and endurance necessary to compete with other players on the court or field of play. As students of academics, books, backpacks, pens & pencils, a commitment of attendance and participation are all understood as obvious necessities for proper development and a positive outlook on the future. These same principals apply to music education.

Is music education important?

“Research now shows that music education not only lifts our children’s hearts, but also dramatically increases their abstract reasoning, spatial skills and their scores on math and verbal exams. ….the arts must be just as central to our children’s education as the three R’s.”

“Experience in the arts teach skills that can be transferred to the workplace, among them the skills of allocating the resources of time, money, materials and staff; interpersonal skills such as teamwork, negotiating, leading and working with other cultures; information skills such as acquiring, evaluating, interpreting, and the skills required to select and use technology.”

If you are interested in more information about the positive benefits of music education I would be happy to provide you with further quotes and articles.

I’m sure we agree that music education is important so, lets look at the basic requirements for a positive music educational experience.

1. Attendance – Come to your lesson each week prepared to learn and demonstrate the skills you have been practicing during the past week. Your lesson is not “Drum Practice”, you practice at home . Your lesson is for you to get corrections and learn new things to practice for your next lesson.

2. Preparation – All I require from students is that they have a spiral notebook dedicated for drum lessons only, and that they bring this notebook and a few other handouts with them to each lesson. A simple folder works well for handouts. Often this basic request is not met, for example, I have students showing up with note pads, three ring binders, lose copy paper other notebooks with drawings in them etc..

Non-tear out spiral notebooks work best .

3. Equipment – Drumming involves some equipment. I completely understand the concern of parents who do not want, or cannot afford, to purchase expensive equipment for beginning students who often change their minds about their initial commitment to drumming. However, there is no way any student of any discipline can be expected to excel without the proper materials it takes to learn. It makes no sense to have a teacher who is expecting a student to practice and a student who has nothing to practice with. Imagine a baseball player without a glove or ball, a soccer player without cleats or shin guards, yet often times I have students for weeks who still don’t have the basic items necessary for practicing; a practice pad, drumsticks, a music stand and a metronome.

4. Practice – Practicing your instrument is your music education homework. It is just like doing your English or History homework or practicing your basketball free-throws. Time must be set aside everyday to study the educational materials and to practice the skills that have been assigned to you. For students in elementary school 30 minutes a day is the minimum daily practice time. That means if you want to be good you should be practicing more than that. High school students should be practicing one hour per day minimum. I am often told by students that they “don’t have time to practice” yet they seem to have enough time to become very skilled at video games.

30 out of 1,440 minutes a day isn’t very much.

5. Family Support – Family support means paying for lessons, driving students to school, sports and to music lessons. Making sure students have the basic items they need; a spiral notebook, music stand, sticks, practice pad and a metronome and, making sure they practice. Just like any academic or athletic endeavor these things are not optional they are requirements. Would the coach let your child play football without a uniform? Would he let him or her play if they didn’t practice? Could they compete if they didn’t know the rules or how the game was played? More importantly, would they pass academically if assignments were not completed? Would you allow your child to regularly skip homework assignments because they didn’t have enough time?

I understand that we al have priorities and that academics most certainly should come first, but I often find students coming to lessons week after week without practicing or even looking at the materials.

5a. Helping Parents – I am aware that many parents do not play musical instruments and may not know if their child is practicing their assignment properly. I am always happy to spend extra time talking with parents, when possible, and doing my best to coach them on the material that as been presented so that they may monitor their child’s practice. Parents are always welcome to sit in on lessons, in fact I encourage it. It’s a great way for me to get to know parents and for parents to see what is required of students. Also, if you or your child has questions about the material please contact me via email during the week. My email address is Perhaps you are not familiar with algebra or the periodic table of elements but there are ways parents can help with Mathematics, Science and even Music. The weekly assignments are in the spiral notebook listed under the current date. Try this, ask your child to teach you something, have them explain it to you. The best way to learn is to teach.

6. Instructor’s Responsibility – Your music instructor is just like your academic classroom instructor or athletic coach. We give you the necessary information and guidance but we cannot practice for you. We cannot be at home with you every day to watch you practice. You attend class to receive information and instruction, you attend sports practice to learn about the game and work with teammates then it is up to you to complete assignments at home, to work with the information and to practice the individual skills required for performance. Drumming is a repetitive skill like dribbling a basketball, kicking a soccer ball or running track and must be practiced regularly. Instructors can show you great musicians, try to get you to listen to music with substance; we can lead the student to good clean water but we can’t make you drink.

7. Commitment – In this day and age of fast food, electronic gadgets and instant gratification, I am concerned that some students feel that everything should come to them rather than the student seeking information with a desire to learn and acquire skill. It takes time, commitment and practice in order to obtain the skills and hone a craft worthy of an appreciative and educated audience. There is a lot of “fast food” music out there with bands who are merely a “flash in the pan”, here today gone tomorrow. Take pride in yourself, your work, your effort. Challenge yourself to follow through, don’t give up just because it’s difficult, be an example to others and make a commitment to yourself.

I sincerely hope that both students and parents read this letter in the spirit with which it is intended. I take great pride in teaching and do it to the best of my ability. I enjoy interacting with and getting to know students and I even enjoy sharing a laugh or two. I am genuinely honored that you have placed your child’s music education in my hands but I would be doing us all an injustice if don’t hold students accountable for practicing and learning the material presented. I hope this letter has opened a communication for further discussion. I would be happy to hear your thoughts and concerns and I wish you all the best in your journey in music.

Dean Giles

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