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?
Here’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
- 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
- Don’t hesitate to correct your students
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.
- 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
- Foster teamwork among your students
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
- 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
- Give incentives
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.
- 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
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— The 90s Life (@The90sLife) November 28, 2015
When students won’t practice
When students don’t practice, there’s a reason. Don’t wonder, start testing—we look at 18 different experiments you can run to turn things around. I DON’T CARE HOW BRILLIANT YOU MIGHT BE as a teacher, sooner or later you’ll have to deal with a serial non-practicer that resists threats, rewards, guilt-trips and cunning alike. They’ll turn up to your studio underprepared, their parents will mutter darkly about stopping lessons, and you’ll be filled with the determination that something has to be done… …but what? What more can you do when it feels like you’ve tried everything already? Via Inside Music Teaching
3 Tips to Motivate Your Students to Practice More
I had a guitar student that never wanted to practice. In fact, he didn’t even like the guitar. His parents enrolled him in guitar lessons as a form of “constructive babysitting.” I was convinced he wouldn’t last a week. Despite this student’s lack of ambition, working with him taught me three important lessons that I still use a music teacher. Lesson 1: Music instructors are there to help music students find their own goals, and then help them reach these goals. This may seem obvious at first, but many teachers (myself included) tend to override the student’s musical interests with their own interests. Students won’t practice rock music if they aren’t into it. The same is true with classical music or jazz. All students have goals and interests, and our jobs as instructors is to help them achieve their goals, not ours. Via Collabra Music
How to Help Your Music Student to Enjoy Practicing
Everyday around the world, parents are nagging kids to practice their musical instruments and kids are fighting back, dragging their feet and thinking wistfully about the activities they would rather be doing. I have a secret. It doesn’t have to be that way. Practicing doesn’t have to cause aggravation, conflict and pain in your family. In fact, practicing can be a time that kids actually enjoy and that can improve your relationship with your kids. **GASP** “Tell me more, crazy lady!” you say? It would be my pleasure. Via MyKidList