Practicing Effectively with G.F.R.
How to help your students practice at home
by Dan Halpern
Success in playing a musical instrument is predicated on effective practicing. Often the content of a music lesson is different from what students will do when practicing at home. Most teachers are able to help young students understand the “what” and “why” of practicing, but communicating the “how” can be challenging. In some cases students spend significant time practicing, but make little or no progress. In the worst scenario, students who are not reflective are simply reinforcing bad habits when they practice. A straightforward approach can help these students. It is called G.F.R: Goals, Feedback, Repetition.
How G.F.R. Works
In a typical instrumental lesson, teachers often guide students in developing technical and musical goals. Teachers then provide feedback relating to how the students have met those goals, and encourage them to do repetition at home. Since the teacher is not at home with the student when she is practicing, the student must be able to set her own goals and give herself feedback. Guidelines provided in lessons, such as “play exercise #7,” or “practice measures 2032” are potentially too vague to be useful to students without the help of a trained ear. G.F.R. works because students understand the process of effective practicing, and are able to set their own specific goals and provide their own feedback.
The basics of G.F.R. are:
 The student sets a specific goal for the selection she is practicing.
 She then asks herself feedback questions to determine her success.
 Based on the result, she does another repetition starting with a specific goal.
The rest of this article outlines details of how to introduce this approach to students.
Goals
When a student is practicing she needs to know more than just what to do; she needs to know how it should be done. An effective goal is specific and measurable. Students often set goals for themselves that are too vague, i.e. "play a C Major scale." The teacher should guide the student in thinking about specific criteria that constitute a successful performance.
Work with students to create a list of criteria to consider when practicing. A typical checklist might look like this:
Goals  C Major Scale
 Posture
 Hand position
 Notes & Fingers (or slide)
 Tone Quality
 Articulation/Bowing
 Intonation
The student can then choose a goal from this list to be their focus. This checklist implies that several repetitions might be required to ensure that each goal has been met. Checklists can be reused and applied to a variety of music so there is no need to start from scratch each time.
Goals should be tailored to suit the specific needs of each student. For a student who needs to focus on a particular skill such as embouchure or bow grip, this goal might take precedence.
To ensure that each goal has been met, the goals are then translated into feedback questions.
Feedback
Using feedback to improve performance is the very essence of what practicing is about. This is often where young players struggle the most, due largely to a lack of awareness of how to direct their attention when practicing. Helping them develop the skill of selfreflection will improve the effectiveness of their practicing.
A simple way to do this is to take each goal and convert it to a question. The questions should reinforce positive habits, and will usually begin with “Did I.” For example, “Did I make my best sound while playing a C Major scale?” Each student should have a set of feedback questions established before working on a selection. Here is an example:
Goals & Feedback  C Major Scale
 Posture  Did I have good posture?
 Hand position  Did I use correct hand position?
 Tone Quality  Did I make my best sound? (air, embouchure, etc.)
 Articulation/Bowing  Did I articulate correctly? (staccatos, slurs, etc.)
 Intonation  Did I play in tune?
Using very specific questions will help students who struggle. For example, “Did I make my best sound” might be rephrased, “Did I use good air and correct embouchure to make a beautiful sound?” Instead of asking, “Did I play the correct articulation,” one might ask, “Did I correctly play the slurtwo, tonguetwo pattern?”
Repetition
Repetition serves two main purposes: to ensure that goals are met, and to develop habits of good performance. It is important to emphasize to students that habits are constantly being formed, both good and bad. Focused repetition will lead to the development of positive habits. Fundamental aspects of playing, such as posture and hand position, will become automated so attention can be directed elsewhere.
Each repetition should focus on achieving one or two specific goals. Before each repetition the student should know what feedback question she is going to ask herself at the end. If the answer is positive then she should do it again the same way, or move on to the next goal. If the answer is negative then the next repetition should involve an adjustment.
Knowing how much repetition is necessary is also crucial. Some students have a clear sense of when the material is mastered. Others need concrete parameters to guide them on when to move on. Some examples are:
 Three good repetitions inarow
 4 out of 5 good repetitions
 5 total correct repetitions
Repetition  Did I achieve my goal?

Repetition  Did I achieve my goal?

Using G.F.R.
G.F.R. works for students because all three steps are clear and simple. When presenting it to students it is important to walk them through the process to show how each step works and how the steps are interrelated. You can easily demonstrate the process in a rehearsal or lesson when refining a passage or exercise. It is useful to write the letters on the board and refer to where you are in the process.
As students continue to use this approach they should generate standard checklists and feedback questions that can be applied to new material. Selecting the appropriate procedure will encourage students to think critically about the music they are learning, and foster a deeper understanding.
G.F.R. is also a useful tool for helping students who struggle when practicing on their own. Reviewing each step of the process can help students identify why their practicing is not effective, and guide them to improve. Rather than asking, “did you work on this?” a teacher might ask, “what sort of feedback did you give yourself?” or “did you ask yourself a question about articulation?” This type of guidance focuses students on specifically what they need to do when practicing. They are also more likely to practice when they have a clear sense of what to do and how to do it.
Once the basic principles of effective practicing are introduced, the process will be eventually become integrated into how students approach learning music. Using the language of G.F.R. in lessons and rehearsals will further encourage students to be mindful of their own progress. Students who are engaged in setting goals and generating feedback questions will take greater ownership over the process and will use it more effectively. When students experience the success that comes from effective practicing they will be more motivated to continue their efforts.
G.F.R. works for students because all three steps are clear and simple. When presenting it to students it is important to walk them through the process to show how each step works and how the steps are interrelated. You can easily demonstrate the process in a rehearsal or lesson when refining a passage or exercise. It is useful to write the letters on the board and refer to where you are in the process.
As students continue to use this approach they should generate standard checklists and feedback questions that can be applied to new material. Selecting the appropriate procedure will encourage students to think critically about the music they are learning, and foster a deeper understanding.
G.F.R. is also a useful tool for helping students who struggle when practicing on their own. Reviewing each step of the process can help students identify why their practicing is not effective, and guide them to improve. Rather than asking, “did you work on this?” a teacher might ask, “what sort of feedback did you give yourself?” or “did you ask yourself a question about articulation?” This type of guidance focuses students on specifically what they need to do when practicing. They are also more likely to practice when they have a clear sense of what to do and how to do it.
Once the basic principles of effective practicing are introduced, the process will be eventually become integrated into how students approach learning music. Using the language of G.F.R. in lessons and rehearsals will further encourage students to be mindful of their own progress. Students who are engaged in setting goals and generating feedback questions will take greater ownership over the process and will use it more effectively. When students experience the success that comes from effective practicing they will be more motivated to continue their efforts.