The Sandwich Method of Teaching and Practicing

I am grateful to my friend Savannah Mayfield Roberson for introducing me to the sandwich method. Originally, she recommended it as a way to break bad news to somebody. You start by saying something positive, then you put the bad news in the middle, then you finish by saying something positive again. The good news is the bread, the bad news is the filling.

I’ve learned that I can apply the sandwich method to a lot of situations in life. For example, when I teach a music lesson. We start by doing something fun, like playing through the songs the student has been working on, trying out some new songs, exploring a new technique or interesting problem, and answering questions that came up from practice. Then comes the work part – some music theory, some scales or exercises, specific critiques of technical aspects of playing. Then we go back to the fun, specifically showing how the topics we covered in the work section can be applied to making real music, something more interesting.

Similarly, when I practice at home I like to start off by having some fun – improvising freely, focusing on the sound of the instrument, trying some new ideas. Then when I’m warmed up I work on memorizing melodies, learning new tunes, playing in keys that give me trouble, or refining some aspect of my sound. Then I have some more fun at the end – soloing on some of the tunes I’ve learned, trying to put it all together.

I recommend that my students use the sandwich method in their own practice. When we don’t have any fun, we get sick of things and lose our motivation. If we do nothing but have fun, it’s hard to get any better. So the key is to combine the two. By having some fun first, we get excited to learn and improve. By having some fun at the end, we leave practice with a good feeling, looking forward to the next time.

As I said, the sandwich method is useful for many aspects of life. From our social interactions to our personal projects, it is good to ease into the difficult part and then try to end on a positive note. Give it a try!