Welcome, guest blogger, Erin Pearson. Erin is an expert in teaching cognitive age children music and getting at the crux of that all important “P” word: PRACTICE.
“My week was crazy. It’s too hard. I got confused by what I was supposed to practice.” Insert your student’s most common excuse here ___.
You’ve heard it all and so have I. We do everything we can to help our students succeed and then they don’t practice. And while this is a common problem for parents and teachers alike, there is little-to-no research about how to actually get our students to consistently implement their practice on non-lesson days.
After years of trial and error, interviews with teachers, reading scholarly articles, continuing my education, and finally writing a book (release details here!) on the subject I’ve learned:
The frequency and quality of a student’s music practice is primarily a systems issue.
If your student is having trouble practicing, visualize their life as a daily system of “events.” They wake up. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. You get the idea.
Theoretically, music is another daily “event” —but when it comes down it—right now it’s not. Otherwise, they’d already be practicing. It’s on their “to-do list” do but it’s not an integral part of their daily routine.
Your students might want to practice, but if they lack the skills needed to follow through they are setting themselves up for failure. Practicing is a by-product of systems that are working in the student’s life.
Success is contingent on the ability to understand their daily activities and uncover hidden pockets of time in order to incorporate practice into their already established routine. This process may vary person to person, but with a little creative problem solving and realistic goal setting, each student will be able to achieve their goals.
4 Tips on How to Get Your Music Students to Practice
1: Keep an Assignment Notebook
A wide-ruled notebook works great (I’m testing my own line of music practicing notebooks now, to participate for free – click here!). Keep it simple or they won’t do it. Write the date at the top of the notebook followed by numbered instructions for your student to follow each time they practice.
2: Make Assignments Crystal Clear
My main goal for each lesson is to leave my students with a clear expectation and understanding about what they should do each week. I actually structure my lesson around what are they’ll need to do when I’m not there.
Choose 6-7 bullet points and write detailed instructions in their assignment book.
For children: Make sure your handwriting is legible and be mindful of their reading level. Have the student read the assignment back to you so you know they understand their assignment. Depending on their age, also read the instructions to the parent to avoid confusion.
For teens and adults: The temptation is to overcomplicate things and fail to provide specific instructions. Keep the list simple and attainable. For harder exercises, create an audio “cheat sheet” by recording a voice memo on their phone. Make sure you label it to avoid confusion. (Ex: Write “Do Recording Drill #1” five times and they can listen to the corresponding memo on their phone.)
3: Help Them Schedule Their Practice Times
Even my youngest students (4 year olds) are capable of thinking about their schedule and choosing a good time to practice. Remember, this is a process. It might take a few weeks to identify and implement a good strategy, but don’t be discouraged. If you are consistent and willing to keep talking through issues as they arise, you will eventually help your student find a good rhythm in their schedule.
(Ex: If a student has a football game on Friday night, it is unlikely they will also have time to practice. Your job is to help them identify an opening in their schedule so they can achieve their practice goals. Discuss their weekly schedule and make a few suggestions. Friday’s not an option, but maybe Sunday after brunch and Tuesday before soccer are ideal.)
p.s. Earning stickers as a reward for their hard work is a great incentive. It allows them to celebrate even small accomplishments!
4: Lastly, Be Encouraged and Be Encouraging
When I started, only one student on my entire roster practiced regularly. But now, ALL of my students do it! It’s been a gradual process and like all change, it requires time and effort. But if you are willing to put in the time and be patient, you will discover change is possible-
Even for YOU. Even for YOUR STUDENTS.