Each of my classes have been preparing for an orchestra festival to perform for judges. We haven't had a ton of time to prepare for this event...only 5 weeks to learn 3 new pieces. I posted a couple weeks ago about an article I read about the importance of practicing slowly, carefully, and accurately. (http://orchestrateacher.blogspot.com/2015/04/practice-slow.html) I decided to dedicate an entire week on having my students practice and rehearse slowly.
I began my "Slow-Mo Practice Week" by showing this video as my 'Video of the Week' from YouTube:
My junior high students thought this was a pretty funny video, but I do realize that this video may not be appropriate for younger kids. This video instantly got their attention and made them really interested to hear how I was going to tie this into my class. During the slow-motion replays in the video, I told students to notice the many details that they missed when seeing the ball thrown at actual speed.
Next, I told my students about the study I refered to in my post about practicing slowly. They were very surprised to learn that students who practiced the longest or with the most repititions were not the ones with the greatest accuracy and best performance. Just like the video, if we always play fast, it is easy to miss the little details.
We then carried on with rehearsal and practiced small sections very slowly. This went fine, but I realized that practicing slow is tedious, and it's not super fun. Students were able to do it, but I wanted to make Slo-Mo week more fun. That is when I decided to play a game every day so that students would be able to focus on slow practice and not get bored. I tried to think of things that are fun to do slowly, and I had some trouble thinking of things at first. Then I realized that some people enjoy eating yummy things slowly so that they can enjoy every bite. I remember when I was in elementary school, students would bring treats on their birthdays. Sometimes, I would eat my treat extra slow so that I could still be enjoying my treat while everyone else was done and back to doing school work.
On Tuesday, I slowed up to class with a huge bag of Dum Dum suckers and students were instructed to take one and NOT eat it. Dum Dums are perfect to use for checking position, so before I used it as an object lesson about practicing, we did our warm-ups in slow motion using the suckers. Violin and viola students balanced the suckers on their instruments and had to play without them falling off. Cello and bass students had to keep the suckers on top of their elbows as they played. Wow - this really helped students fix position! I nag about position all the time, but this exercise helped me realize that students can be even better at keeping their instruments up. They all looked and sounded amazing duirng our slow warm-ups...and they didn't get bored because they were so focused on keeping their suckers off the floor.
After warm-ups, we played a little game for the rest of the rehearsal. I reminded students about the benefits of practicing slowly and carefully....just as slowly as some people eat candies and things. After taking off candy wrappers, students had to keep the suckers in their mouths and try to make them last the longest. Students who had the biggest sucker left at the end of class would win. This may seem a bit pointless, but because of this little gimic, I was able to keep students practicing slowly and focusing all through class. Plus, with suckers in their mouths, they were extra quiet. :)
On Wednesday, I brought my Jenga game, because that is a game that must be played carefully and slowly. I divided students into teams by section, then I had them take turns pulling out a jenga block throughout the rehearsal. This was useful, because there were times I needed to have one section play a few measure slowly over and over. As they completed this task, other sections were able quietly come up and keep the Jenga game going, so they didn't get bored.
On Thursday, I brought a game called 'Suspend.' It is another game that has to be played slowly and carefully. We played this game thoughout the rehearsal. I had every piece worth points, so every time that a team was able to add to the wire without it falling, they could get points. The team with the most points won.
These games helped students internalize the idea that practicing slowly is important and beneficial. I challenged students to go home and play each of their pieces slowly 2 times each with extreme focus so they could fix mistakes before they happened. Many students reported to me about their efforts at home and they felt they had improved. I could have made this a required practice assignment, but chose not to since we were having a playing test the next day.
On Friday, I listened to every one of my students individually for a playing test. I was really impressed with their progress and I feel this week of focusing on SLO-MO practice was worthwhile.