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Bingeworthy! The Wondrous Culture of Obsessive Practicers

Dr. Angela Ammerman • December 2023MAC Corner • December 11, 2023

You know how when you watch an incredible show, you can’t resist watching the next episode, and the next one, and the one after that? Before you know it, you have binge-watched the entire series in one night? Well, this is what music is like for some of us. Unfortunately, very few of our students feel quite so obsessed with our classes as we are, at least not yet. My goal today, however, is to see if we can transform our students from “students who are enrolled in music” into “musicians who can’t stop making music.” 

I feel especially passionate about this topic as on numerous occasions, I have found myself in the office of a principal or on the other end of a phone call with the same question… “WHY WON’T THESE KIDS STOP PRACTICING?!?!” I’m not kidding… This phenomenon has become so much of a norm for me that whenever I work with a program, I begin to think it’s just the way it’s supposed to be. After all, what music teacher doesn’t want a whole body of students who fall in love with practicing? Here are a few of the strategies I have used to bring about this wondrous culture of binge-worthy practice sessions.

LET THERE BE MUSIC

Play the music your students love from loudspeakers DAILY. If we want our students to see themselves in our curriculum, then we must infuse what they love into our everyday actions. If we want our students to appreciate what we love, then we must first appreciate what they love, and a great place to start is with their music. So, I have an assignment for you: 

Ammerman Homework 1.1: 

Learn what music your students listen to at home. Then, go through the songs, one day at a time (Clean versions only!). Let the “song of the day” play on your speakers at least three times per class. Here is what it will look like: 

1. As students enter the classroom, play the song. 

2. Transitions DURING class, or during stretching, or breathing or bowing activities, play this song. 

3. Working tricky rhythms? Try clapping them to the song!

4. Upon exiting, play the song.

SPARK JOY IN PRACTICE

Why when we say the word “practice,” do we get all serious and immediately begin thinking about monotonous scales, etudes with no life, and futile technical exercises? Practicing SHOULD be a joyful thing! Here is one of my favorite ways to spark joy in practice: 

Add physicality to repetitive work. For example, when working on perfecting and speeding up a tricky pattern try the following: 

a. Standing

b. Sitting

c. Standing on one foot/the other

d. Leaning to the left/right

e. Lean backward/forward

f. Stand on tippy toes

g. Work those brows!

UNCOVER A DROP OF GREATNESS

You know that kid in the back of the orchestra? The one who has no interest in your class? The one who has a horrible attitude? The one who “can’t play a tune to save their life?” That kid. There is some little drop of greatness somewhere in that kid, and it is your job to uncover it. I often think of my future music teachers as little archaeologists, uncovering long-overlooked talents and gifts that may emerge in their musicians. As we discover what makes each child great; their dedication, motivation, and passion for our classes will begin to unfurl. Start with this one simple homework assignment today: 

Ammerman Homework 1.2: 

Walk around your rehearsal WHILE the kids are playing. Yep, let them play without a conductor for a hot minute. Give “that kid” a compliment. Any compliment. Once you return to the podium, begin referring to all students as “musicians” instead of “students.” Feel free to use “tubas” and “flutes” and “violists.” Train your musicians to see their full potential and to build an identity in and around your ensemble. 

This week, as you spark joy in practicing, as you uncover a little drop of greatness, as you let music emanate from your classroom, know you are transforming worlds! Happy teaching, friends! 

MusicAchievementCouncil.org

Dr. Angela Ammerman teaches music education at George Mason University and frequently serves as conductor, speaker, and clinician at local, state, national, and international conferences. She has authored The Music Teacher’s Guide to Recruitment and Retention and  The Music Teacher’s Guide to Engaging English Language Learners.

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