What’s the best way to practice?

What’s the best way to practice a musical instrument? Focus on goals—not on time spent. Rather than practice for a set amount of time, such as 30 minutes, students should set appropriate goals for each practice session and work until those goals are achieved. Having and achieving a goal engages the mind far better than practicing for a set amount of time. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Divide the weekly assignment into groups. Band students receive a weekly assignment which they record on pages 4 and 5 of their book. Divide the work up by the number of practice sessions per week. For example, if you practice three times per week, divide the work into three groups.

  2. Set daily goals. Set goals for each practice session and write them down. The goals must be specific and achievable. “My goal for today is to play this piece of music better” is not specific enough. “My goal for today is to master this entire complicated piece in one hour” is not achievable. Instead, make goals like these: “Play the first four measures of the music without mistakes,” or “Play this tricky group of five notes without mistakes,” or “Play the slurring and tonguing pattern in measure 12 precisely as written.” For advanced students daily goals should also include technique building exercises such as scales, arpeggios, tonguing exercises, etc.

  3. Work on each goal until it is achieved. Reaching each goal may take 5 minutes—or 30 minutes. Time spent is not important. What counts is that the student focuses completely on achieving the goal in the most efficient way possible. The brain has a limited processing speed, however, so working slowly at first is essential.

  4. Choose new goals for the next session. For the next practice session, set new daily goals and write them down. Again, work on each goal until it is achieved.

  5. Seek feedback. To know how you are progressing toward your goals, seek feedback from your teacher or other experienced listeners. In band class, feedback is given informally in class and more formally in classroom recitals. If a student consistently fails to achieve his or her goals, the goals are probably too general or too ambitious.

    Over time, a longer piece of music that seems difficult will be mastered by this method, one goal at a time. For a more detailed look at the topic of practicing with goals, click here to visit the website of Rob Knopper, an authority on practicing.

How do you chose the right instrument?

You want your child to be successful on their instrument, but not everyone is suited for every instrument. By educating yourself and your child about the instruments and discussing your concerns with me, you are more likely to choose an instrument that will work for your child.

Gone are the days of, "I'm going to play the flute because we have one in the closet" or "I'll play the trumpet because my dad played it in school." In fact, those often turn out to be the worst reasons for choosing a particular instrument.

Beginners start on one of the following six instruments: 1) flute, 2) clarinet, 3) alto saxophone, 4) trumpet, 5) baritone, or 6) trombone. A limited number of students may switch to percussion in intermediate band.

A student may be assigned to play an instrument that is not his or her first choice. This occurs for one of two reasons: 1) the instrument does not suit your child's abilities or 2) the band has too many students playing that instrument. Just as a baseball team cannot have nine catchers, a band cannot have too many students playing the same instrument.

To learn more, go to the "instruments" page on the Owl Music website. Enter an instrument type and a player's name in your search engine and watch a video with your child.

Where can you get an instrument?

You can get an instrument from one of the following stores. For beginners, I recommend renting rather than buying:

Bronstein Music in South San Francisco (650) 588-2502

Heriz Music in Burlingame (650) 344-9414

• Hornucopia in San Carlos (650) 593-3050

• Union Music in San Francisco (415) 775-6043

• Clock Tower Music in San Carlos (650) 595-2024

A&G Music in Oakland (510) 832-2452

West Valley Music in Mountain View (650) 961-1566

• Interstate Music (online retailer)

• Woodwind and Brasswind (online retailer)

Taylor Music 1800usaband.com (online retailer)

What is a concert band?

The Owl program is modeled on a type of musical ensemble called a concert band, although we play other styles of music. Please clink on the link below to watch a short video of our nation's premier concert band.

Click here to see a great concert band.

What are the levels of band and what will my child learn in each?

  1. In beginning band, you can expect your child to learn how to play their instrument with good technique and tone. Beginning band provides the foundation for intermediate band, and students who complete beginning band are eligible automatically for intermediate band.

  2. In intermediate band, your child will continue working on technique and tone and learn how to read music and play in an ensemble. Students who complete intermediate band and want to continue to advanced band must pass an admissions test, which is given in late April or early May.

  3. In advanced band, your child will learn how to play complex music in a multi-part ensemble, where the emphasis is working with others to make a whole that is greater than the individual parts. Advanced band is for students who are willing to practice regularly and take challenges.

What are the other benefits of learning a musical instrument?

Albert Einstein famously said, "If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in my music. I live my daydreams in music." The evidence that studying a musical instrument can make you smarter is growing each year.

  1. Children who learn music in schools do better academically, excelling particularly in math and science. In one study, students enrolled in an instrumental music program had a 61% increase in reading and a 54% increase in math proficiency compared with their peers who did not have instrumental music instruction.

  2. Music instruction has been proven to improve auditory processing, one of the foundations of academic success.

  3. On the SAT, music students scored 38 points higher on the verbal section and 21 points higher on the math section than the national average.

  4. Musicians are 52 percent more likely to go to college and other higher education than non-musicians.

  5. Music majors have the highest rate of admission to medical schools, followed by biochemistry majors.

  6. Brain scans show that playing music involves both left and right hemispheres more fully than any other activity studied.

Is band fun?

Learning a musical instrument is fun, but it requires effort. There are no shortcuts to progress and mastery. The more your child puts into it, the more he or she will get out of it. Learning a musical instrument is a virtuous circle. The more you practice, the better you get, and the better you get, the more you want to practice.

What band events are required?

Band members participate in the following mandatory events each year. Band members are expected to commit to these events, just as they do with their sports teams. Please see the "events" page for exact dates. Please notify me immediately via email if your child cannot attend any of these events.

  1. A Christmas performance at school in December

  2. A multi-school parade rehearsal at St. Timothy School in March

  3. A parade in March, usually the San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day Parade

  4. A Saturday rehearsal in May (for intermediate and advanced students only) at Serra High School

  5. A spring concert in the evening in late May at Serra High School for all students

What is band tuition and when is it due?

Band tuition covers the cost of instruction plus all music and a band t-shirt. Band tuition does not cover the cost of instrument rentals. Band is very affordable compared to private lessons.

There are two ways to pay your child's band tuition:

  1. In full at the beginning of the school year, late August or early September

  2. Divided into two equal payments, one in August/September and one in late January.

Please refer to the band enrollment form for current band tuition. Tuition checks should be payable to the school with your child's name and "band tuition" on the memo line. Band tuition is not refundable.

What are the four band rules?

Band class has four rules.

  1. Bring instrument and all music to every class.

  2. Absolutely no talking when we are working (without raising your hand first)

  3. All music making stops instantly when the teacher gives the signal

  4. No playing before the teacher starts the class

What reeds are recommended for clarinet and saxophone players?

• 4th graders: 2

• 5th graders: 2.5

• 6th graders: 2.5 or 3

• 7th graders: 3

• 8th graders: 3.5

What can I do if my child has dyslexia?

Legendary singer Tony Bennett says that having dyslexia has caused him to struggle reading sheet music. “I just have to work a lot slower. It comes a lot slower,” he says. “But good learning takes a long time. To really learn something, you have to keep doing it until it appears effortless. So it takes time.”

Many kids with dyslexia are successful at learning to play a musical instrument. However, doing so may require different strategies. For a full explanation of learning how to play a musical instrument with dyslexia, visit the learning and attention issues organization Understood’s website by clicking here: Understood.