Your music students probably love to play their instruments, but if you’re like most music teachers, you’ve observed that practice seems to be a common challenge for most of them. As a music teacher, you want to see your students excel, so it’s important for you to find creative ways to encourage them to practice.

You don’t ever want to come across as mean, overbearing or mad just because your student did not take the time to practice as expected. This will only worsen the situation, and a student could easily give up learning the instrument as a result.

So how can you get your students to practice more?

music student practicingHere’s some ideas that I have used or have heard other well-known teachers implement. Some of these ideas will take time, but are worth it in the long run… Via NAfME

  1. Get to know your students

Music is a lot more than a school subject. Equally, as a music teacher, you should be more than just a teacher to your students – be a friend.

This is a tall order, but showing interest in your students’ lives builds trust.  When you bring the conversation outside of music, it shows you are interested in more than one aspect of who they are.  It shows you are about them as people. This can be as simple as noticing and talking about a special sticker on a student’s folder to complementing them on an accomplishment in another subject or sport. Via NAfME

  1. Don’t hesitate to correct your students
music teacher and student
Image Courtesy of Flickr

A great tip I heard from a colleague (Mickey F.) was this: He tells his students making mistakes is fine, but make NEW mistakes! He doesn’t want to hear the same OLD mistakes over and over. To reinforce this, he uses different colored pencils to show them that they made an old mistake and he doesn’t want to hear that mistake again. Via NAfME

Once you’re able to build trust, your students are more likely to accept constructive criticism positively. However, remember to give positive reinforcement as well, so your students are motivated to continue to improve.

  1. Involve the parents

If the student keeps coming up with the excuse that they don’t have time, and they are of elementary school age, I wouldn’t hesitate to contact the parent via email or phone to find out more about the situation. I would explain that their child is falling behind in their learning and try to come up with a practice plan with that parent. Via NAfME

  1. Foster teamwork among your students
music students - teamwork
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

When you get to the upper middle or high school level, contacting the parents will not be as effective. Using groups or teamwork for the upper grades can be helpful. Some teachers have had “competitions” amongst the sections in their ensemble to see who has been able to perform specific examples or pieces the most accurately or the quickest. Think of having prizes, possibly an end of the party during a group’s lesson time. Via NAfME

  1. Exploit efficient teaching concepts

Kids learn the most when they’re enjoying what they are doing. For instance, allowing them to learn songs they like will dramatically increase their chances of practicing at home.

When I teach my beginners, I know the main reason they took an instrument was to learn to play songs. I use concepts from the well-researched Music Learning Theory to teach students how to play songs by ear while they are learning playing technique. I have seen some amazing results from this, and it is very rare when I have a student drop Band during this time. I keep it simple, and introduce small achievable steps in each lesson. Via NAfME

  1. Give incentives
music students incentive
Image Courtesy of Flickr

Many teachers use external reward systems with a lot of success, whether it’s stickers, prizes or earning sheet music to popular songs for the student’s particular instrument. Via NAfME

You can also encourage your students to practice by allowing them to do some sort of fun activity in the next lesson, but only if they practice a certain amount before the lesson. It’s even better if the fun activating is learning-based.

  1. Educate the parents

This is a very important step. Sending an email or calling your students’ parents every now and then to update them on their children’s progress is an effective way of keeping them involved. Keep in mind that many parents don’t even know how long their kids should be practicing, so be sure to discuss such details with them.

Meet with parents on Open School Night, hold a special meeting for parents during Band/Orchestra Recruitment Time, or create a monthly newsletter that keeps parents up to date on the events in your program. (I use monthly newsletters to keep parents informed and to outline what pieces we are working on, exercises to be accomplished, and I place a practice log so students can write in their practice minutes.) Via NAfME

Featured Image: Image Credit

Rockin' education. Redefining music in school: Robb Janov at TEDxABQ 2012

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