In this concluding article on music practice, author Paul Harris sets out methods and resources to help make practice as focussed as possible. 

This journey into the virtual world of teaching we are all now experiencing will have brought about many changes to the way we work. Among them will be the way we are encouraging our pupils to think about their practice. I hope you are enjoying the related concepts of Mini Outcomes and Personal Bests and maybe getting your pupils to try Slow Motion practice: the three main activity-based concepts we’ve been considering in this series of blogs. 
In this last blog on practice I’d like to look at how we might introduce various ideas for practice during the course of the lesson and how these might be represented ‘on paper’ to remind and inspire pupils.
My two favourite (connected) questions in lessons are, “When you practise, how might you do that?” and “What will you do next?” I always like to give the impression that I’m assuming pupils will practise (“When you practise...”), so I rarely tell them directly to practise! ‘What will you do next?’ is a direct link with Simultaneous Learning – which is all about devising a lesson in which one activity naturally leads on to the next through natural connections with all the various elements that make up music. Every lesson should be a voyage of discovery around my Simultaneous Learning Map of the Musical World (which can be downloaded here). Each activity can take a pupil to another, connected place in our musical world…

A successful Simultaneous Learning lesson will make many connections, access the imagination (teacher’s and pupil’s), proactively set up a number of understandable activities that won’t take a lot of time. And as we’re teaching we can be asking “How will you do that when you practise? … And what connection will you make next?”

My Simultaneous Learning Practice Map can help pupils with this. As the lesson proceeds, simply get pupils to fill a word or two in the relevant bubble to nudge their thinking when they practise. It really can make quite a big difference in these days of lessons on Skype or Zoom. We want pupils to remember the lesson: what we did, the order in which we did things, how we solved problems and how we moved from one activity to the next. We want to try to encourage pupils to connect with this thinking in a practice session – in a sense to have a continual conversation with themselves.

  • What shall I do?
  • How shall I do it?  
  • Can I find a Mini Outcome or do a Personal Best here? Maybe some Slow Motion work?
  • That didn’t quite work, I wonder why?  What can I do differently that might help?
  • What shall I do next?

Having this Map will help and encourage this type of thinking. The “what shall I do next?” question is not to be interpreted as “what piece/song shall I play/sing next?” but rather “what connection shall I make next?” or “where shall I go on the map next?” And as they travel around the Map they can draw a line to join the bubbles – they are seeing and thinking about exactly how these areas do connect. By drawing the line, they are representing, on paper, the connection simultaneously being made in the mind. 

We are helping pupils to develop a real sense of purpose and direction in their practise. Purpose is SO important – it’s one of the key motivators of life.  Once there is purpose, there is energy, which fuels engagement and the satisfaction of working hard. There is nothing negative (or difficult) about hard work, by the way!  Once pupils are in that zone who knows what their practice might yield.


My Complete Practice Workbook contains Practice Maps alongside structured questions and activities to stimulate pupils’ imaginations and help them to engage, thoughtfully and happily, with their practice. It is perfect for supporting Simultaneous Learning and good practice generally in the new online lesson environment. It’s particularly relevant for slightly older learners that are able to fill in the maps themselves.

I’d recommend the Musicians’ Union Practice Diary for younger learners. It’s fun and engaging, with diary pages that encourage focus and imagination – such as ‘Focus for the week’ and ‘What we did in the lesson’. There are Practice Connection boxes, too, to initiate thoughts about making musical connections. And for motivation there are Practice Starter pages and some useful holiday projects.

If you do sense there may be reluctance to get started with practice at home, you could try my Simultaneous Learning Practice Starter cards. They are closely linked to the bubbles and based on Simultaneous Learning approach, giving imaginative starting points for practice.

If you would like to understand more about the key role of the teacher in improving practice and how this can be intrinsically linked to Simultaneous Learning, do try my book The Practice Process. It delves deeper into a psychological and holistic approach to practice, with the central aim of encouraging pupils to enjoy it. If we can motivate our pupils to practise because they want to then we are really winning. Everyone benefits.