RTRL.46: Practice Habits of Middle School Band Students (Miksza, Prichard, & Sorbo, 2012)

* This guest post was authored by Dr. Lisa Martin, Assistant Professor of music education at Bowling Green State University. Click here to learn more about Dr. Martin and her work.
Dr. Lisa Martin, guest contributor


Miksza, P., Prichard, S., Sorbo, D. (2012). An observational study of intermediate band students’ self-regulated practice behavior. Journal of Research in Music Education, 60(3), 254-266.

What did the researchers want to know?

What characterizes the practice habits of middle school band students?

What did the researchers do?

A total of 30 middle school band students were video recorded as they practiced in a room by themselves for 20 minutes. The student participants were instructed to practice their band repertoire as if working on it at home. Miksza, Prichard, and Sorbo analyzed each video to determine (a) how students organized their practice with regard to time spent on given musical excerpts, (b) which musical objectives students prioritized (e.g., rhythmic accuracy, pitch accuracy), and (c) what strategies students employed to achieve various musical goals. The researchers also rated each practice session using a researcher-developed self-regulation scale to provide an overall picture of the extent to which students demonstrated self-regulated behaviors in their practice.

What did the researchers find?

In terms of practice organization, students tended to practice longer segments of music (nine or more consecutive measures), and they were less inclined to focus on segments of four measures or less. Across the 20-minute practice session, students spent an average of 2 minutes 45 seconds on each segment. As the practice session progressed, students spent significantly less time on each segment. Overall, there was a high degree of variability in the frequency and duration of these practice segments. 

Students tended to focus primarily on pitch accuracy as their main objective, and less attention was paid to objectives such as dynamics or rhythmic accuracy. The most commonly employed practice strategies were repetition and varying the tempo. Around half the participants demonstrated irrelevant playing, and approximately one third clapped/tapped or wrote on their music during the practice session.  

With regard to the self-regulation ratings, the researcher-developed measurement yielded a possible score range of 12 to 60, with higher scores suggesting greater self-regulation. Participants had a mean score of 30.86 on this scale, and those with higher self-regulation ratings typically utilized a higher number of practice strategies during their session. Those students who employed more irrelevant playing in their practice session tended to have lower self-regulation ratings. 

What does this mean for my classroom?

When working with developing musicians, teachers should not assume students inherently know how to practice effectively. Younger students can struggle with establishing priorities during their practice, may find it difficult to identify specific challenges to address, and tend to employ a limited range of corrective strategies. Teachers can help students establish discrete goals for their practice and improve practice time efficiency by modeling practice strategies during class time. The range of self-regulation ratings and demonstrated practice behaviors in this study also suggest that differentiated approaches toward practice instruction could be useful.