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Practicing at Home: What’s the Big I.D.E.A.?

Precticing aat Home


As teachers, we often wonder what our students are doing in their at home practice sessions. Are they just playing through their music or are they really getting to the nitty-gritty of true practice? Practicing is not an inherent skill; it is something that must be learned. To teach this skill I created a method, along with my band colleague, Tracy Magwire, called The Big I.D.E.A.

I.D.E.A. stands for Identify, Decide, Execute, and Analyze. By using these four steps I have seen my students become more successful in individual practice, classroom rehearsals, and performance.


Identify a small section of a piece that needs work. This should be 1-12 measures; avoid large sections. Also avoid "playing through" a whole piece.


Decide on an O.M.G. (Obtainable Musical Goal). What aspect of music needs work? Fingerings, intonation, rhythm, tempo, tone, bowing articulation, dynamics, phrasing, etc.


Execute your goal using a variety of practice strategies. Repetition will always be a part of your practice, but should not be the only factor.


Analyze how you did. Did you improve? Did you reach your goal? Did you choose effective strategies? Should you try something else next time?

I use The Big I.D.E.A. as a tool to make sure students learn the main concepts of music (tone, intonation, rhythm, articulation, etc.) and then teach them to use a variety of strategies to help reach their musical goals. Mrs. Magwire and I have created and collected a wealth of free resources that teachers are welcome to look through, download, and even edit to share with their students. These resources and more about The Big I.D.E.A. can be found at practicewithpurpose.net.

Now that we are primarily teaching music through distance learning it can be even harder to monitor at home practice. This is why I encourage my students to use The Big I.D.E.A. method to help them practice with purpose.

By Katie O’Hara LaBrie

Alfred Music 7 April, 2020










Preparing to Teach Music Remotely: Utilising SmartMusic and Other Resources

Teach Remotely

COVID-19 is here and the reality is that many schools are making plans for distant learning instruction in the event of a closure related to the global pandemic. First and foremost we sincerely hope you, your colleagues and students are not personally impacted by the illness. We do understand the impact that school closures can have on the academic well being of your students. The last thing you need to be burdened with is the extra stress that comes with a disruption to your class. 

Additional Tips and Tools for Preparing to Teach Remotely

In advance of potential school closures and virtual teaching, review the following as a starting point for transitioning your in-class instruction to an online space:

Make a Plan: Review the lesson and course assignments for the remainder of the semester and consider ways of transferring in-class instruction to a virtual space.

Go Online: Choose the technology platforms you plan to utilize to access your students online. Consider ways to send and receive assignments, provide updates, administer exams, etc. Some tools to help you get started:

Communicate: Send a very detailed message with the action plan, expectations, and instructions to students and parents.

  • Make sure your class contact list is up-to-date
  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • Private Facebook Group (if social media is appropriate)

Do what you do best: Teach. Take remote teaching as an opportunity to be creative in your assignments and instruction. Create more listening assignments, assign music history videos and documentaries, reports on notable musicians or compositions, etc.

Questions to ask your administration

  • Will it be okay for students to take their instruments home for practice purposes? 
  • Will students be able to take their device home?

If students are unable to take their instrument(s) home, or are unable to access course material online via computer, Chromebook, or iPad, consider the following reproducible resources and assignments as ideas or solutions:

While virtual teaching may be a major adjustment to you and your students, do your best to stay positive and keep students engaged and encouraged. And remember to promote self-care—for yourself and your students—so you can all return to the classroom healthy, charged, and ready to make music.


Alfred Music - March 12, 2020




A new chapter for the superstar pianist and educator 

 “With ‘Piano Book’ I’m going back to my first love, to the pieces 

that made me want to become a musician in the first place.” Lang Lang

Superstar pianist Lang Lang released his latest publication, ‘Lang Lang Piano Book’, on 29th March 2019. This collaboration between Lang Lang and independent British publisher Faber Music has been published to accompany Lang Lang’s eagerly awaited new solo album ‘Piano Book’ with Universal Music Group and Deutsche Grammophon. 
Featuring all 29 pieces from the album, ‘Lang Lang Piano Book’ is a collection of the repertoire that first inspired Lang Lang to play the piano. It is beautifully presented as a high-end cased book, featuring marbled endpapers, page-finder ribbon and sewn binding. It includes exclusive photographs, comments from Lang Lang on every piece and an edition of Für Elise annotated with the pianist’s own performance notes. 
Lang Lang’s enthusiasm and commitment to inspiring others to learn and play the piano has remained ever-present throughout his career. Through ‘Lang Lang Piano Book’, he hopes to “motivate pianists to enjoy and remain focussed during their daily practice.” The collection gathers together many of the miniatures that generations of amateur pianists have grown up with, from Czerny’s studies and Clementi’s sonatinas that were part of Lang Lang’s own daily routine, to miniature masterpieces such as Für Elise and Bach’s Prelude No.1 in C. Alongside these are modern classics such as the Valse d’Amélie and Sakamoto’s music for Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence that helped the international pianist connect with people through the power of music, as well as folk pieces from around the world, such as Sweden’s Limu, limu, lima and the popular Chinese Jasmine Flower. Lang Lang holds all these short pieces in the highest regard, believing them to be classics in their own right and deserving of the same attention as major works.
“This is the music that has shaped me as a pianist and musician from the very beginning: it all has a huge personal importance to me and reflects my deep love of every aspect of the piano.” Lang Lang
Lang Lang entered an exclusive publishing partnership with Faber Music in 2014, launching the Lang Lang Piano Academy. This major new piano programme includes ‘mastering the piano’, five books focusing on piano technique, and the bestselling Lang Lang Piano Method. Both series have been translated into multiple languages and received global acclaim.


Prelude in C major (J.S. Bach); Bagatelle in A minor, “Für Elise” (Beethoven); The Departure (Richter); Spinning Song (Mendelssohn); Clair de lune (Debussy); Prelude in D flat major, “Raindrop” (Chopin); Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum (Debussy); Allegro from “Sonata facile” (Mozart); Andante from Sonatina in C major (Clementi); Presto from The School of Velocity (Czerny); La Valse d’Amélie (Tiersen); Moment musical in F minor (Schubert); To Spring (An den Frühling) (Grieg); Rêverie (Debussy); Staccato from Villageoises (Poulenc); The Merry Shepherd Boy (Hu-Wei Huang); Wilder Reiter (The Wild Horseman) (Schumann); The Maiden’s Prayer (Bądarzewska-Baranowska); Minuet in G major (J.S. Bach attrib. Petzold); Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Sakamoto); Jasmine Flower (Chinese Traditional); Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” (Mozart); Arirang (Korean Traditional); Eliza Aria (Kats-Chernin); Limu, limu, lima (Swedish Traditional); Danza de la moza donosa (Ginastera); Nimrod from Enigma Variations (Elgar);  Maple Leaf Rag (Joplin);  The Chop Waltz “Chopsticks” (De Lulli); Lang Lang’s annotation of Bagatelle in A minor, “Für Elise” (Beethoven) 
 Click here to view more.


It’s safe to say that technology is used daily in the lives of today’s youth. Whether on personal devices, surfing the net, play online games, texting, or downloading and listening to music, technology is the norm for the students we teach.

Over the years I have presented classroom and teacher workshops that partner literacy, music, and technology. The workshops were created as an extension of the classroom, and continue to evolve based on the needs and wants of music teachers and regular classroom non-music teachers.

Why music technology-based projects?

A common threat among students is that they all love music and view this art form as a means of self-expression and individuality. Simply put, music makes us happy! Students are able to combine words (language arts), music (arranging/composing), and technology with the end goal of an creating an original work of art. (Hence, the reason behind my book, Mr. Zig’s Literacy, Music and Technology Connection.)

Here’s a common phrase regarding technology and youth: ‘the students will play with the software and figure it out.’ However, using a step-by-step process with a final goal yields a higher-level of student achievement. In other words, this is one of many ways to raise the bar of student motivation with tasks that can be accomplished along with student/teacher interaction and cooperation.

Creating Opportunities for Collaboration

The doable student-driven activity engages students to express and promote their creativity while learning through technology. Students typically work best in small teams within a class, or the entire class working on one goal-oriented project. Each student becomes an integral part of the project because everyone’s idea is worth trying. Why? Because the students won’t know if their idea works until they try it. Hence, thinking ‘outside the box’ and trying new ideas and methodologies. Collaborating with a non-music classroom teacher on a writing prompt/theme is always a win-win for teachers. Raising the bar is possible through a music-based technology project by interconnecting school subjects such as math, reading, language, social studies, and science.

Types of Writing Prompts/Musical Styles

The original student projects may be in the format of songs, Public Service Announcements, stage plays, jingles (radio/TV), ringtones, comedy skits, spoken word, gaming and movie music/themes, and more. Don’t forget to ask the non-music teacher for a writing prompt theme. This may include writing narratives, expressive or persuasive writing, a classroom lesson such as Native American culture, or raising awareness such as a school-wide anti-bullying theme. Student choices of musical styles may represent; Pop, R&B, Rock, Hip Hop, Gospel, Country, Jazz, Classical, EDM, Dubstep, Techno, and more. A popular student favorite is what is termed a ‘mash-up’, or a blending of musical styles.

Classroom Benefits (Academic and Social)

By connecting words, music, and technology, the classroom becomes a learning environment which reinforces and further develops communication, computer aptitude, critical thinking, organization, self-esteem, active listening, and teamwork.

Not to mention the benefit of reinforcing literacy skills, social interaction, the elements of music, and learning modalities. In the education arena students are provided with a connection of how textbook learning (in the classroom) can be applied to their daily lives (outside the classroom) through the creation of various technology driven student projects.

What equipment do you need to get started?

There are numerous choices regarding music software. A couple of cost effective entry-level suggestions include Mixcraft for PC and GarageBand for MAC. For sound input, microphones are necessary (students love to hear their recorded voices). A USB microphone is a good solution, or a microphone that can be connected to an A/D converter (analog-to-digital converter, also known as ‘the box’). The output can be as simple as connecting a mini-jack cable from the computer to a sound system or speaker.

Model Behavior Project Listening Examples

Active listening is the key. Students become motivated by hearing projects that were completed by other students and classes from their school and even other schools. Listening examples set the tone and exemplify what can be accomplished. A common question which students usually ask is, ‘how did they do that?’ This positive reaction opens a new dialogue for teaching and learning.

Audio examples of student projects of what can be achieved can be found on the Student Projects button at: www.handsonwithzig.com. The CD included in Mr. Zig’s Literacy, Music and Technology Connection features 11 student projects from a variety of grade levels.