Atul Gawande wrote a brilliant book called 'The Checklist Manifesto' in which he explains, how checklists can help avoid disaster in the most complex areas of flight, building construction, and surgery. The items on the checklist are always seemingly simple, common sense tasks, often routine items and in the book, he explains how formalising these tasks into a checklist formation can help make professionals accountable for their tasks, making processes more efficient and can in many cases, prevent disaster.
What does this have to do with practicing an instrument I hear you ask? Well, whilst there are no disasters to avoid, there is the very real and complex challenge of how to develop a practice routine that is both efficient and effective.
I use a checklist for my students when they practice- each day that they practice they need to tick/check that they have practiced, say how long for, and what they practiced. Many times I have students ask me, do I really need to fill in the checklist? How can it possibly help?
Firstly, it engages the pupil in the learning process. At the top of each week's checklist I have written down the homework task and any useful points to remember. By encouraging students to tick/check when they practice I am hopeful that they will have read what I have written about WHAT and HOW they should be practicing!
Secondly, it helps them to take ownership over their practicing. They have to be honest with themselves about what they are practicing and how much. This record of practise helps them to understand and see the pattern of progress and 9 times out of 10 there is a direct correlation between progress and practise. Having a visual explanation of this is a really great way to help young people understand how their practice is affecting their progress, for the good and the bad.
Thirdly, it is the perfect way to start a conversation about how to get the most out of their practicing. Perhaps the checklist shows that they are not practicing enough? Perhaps the checklist shows that they are practicing 'enough' but if their playing is not getting better, are they practicing in the right way? How can we make their practicing more efficient? There is no one answer, and every student will need differnet advice and guidance at differnet points in their musical journey, but having this record of practice, this simple checklist, helps to open up a dialogue about how we should best move forward.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it serves as a constant reminder to the student that practicing is of the utmost important. By formalising the act of practicing, by having to keep a record of what and how it is done, we are elevating the task of practicing and reminding our students that it is the most important of tasks and that shouldn't be disregarded.
I am always looking for ways to improve my checklist, so keep an eye out for a new addition coming soon!