A word on practice.

I have been asked many times what is the greatest challenge of teaching music to individuals. My overwhelmingly popular answer is that getting students to practice at home is probably the most challenging aspect. No matter how many times I stress to them that their success depends upon how much time they spent outside of lessons practicing the music, I inevitably get feedback that the student has prioritized other things over the practice of their instrument. There are many reasons why it is difficult to get students to practice. Here are the challenges that I frequently see and here are some ways to overcome them.

1. Not enough time

With school-age students, finding time to practice amidst schoolwork, social activities and responsibilities at home is challenging. this is where I need you parents out there. You must help your student to prioritize their practice time. Schoolwork must come first as must other responsibilities. I think however, that if parents are investing their time and money into transporting their children to music class since I’m paying for the materials and lessons then practicing what is given to them during their lessons is also a responsibility. We must be careful not to make this a dreaded chore or the battle is lost before you begin. It must just be made a regular part of routine such as homework. If it becomes part of the students daily routine, the task is done and the student will find that there is plenty of time for the other things that they like to do. All too often, even though a student wants to learn to play their favorite popular music, they begin to view practice as an undesirable task. The reason for this is because they cannot see the end result.

Another solution to the time constraint problem is to give the student smaller bites. There is a misconception going around that private music teachers want their students to spend hours a day at the piano or “play until their fingers bleed “. For me anyway, this is not the case. I want the student to go over their new material first and then play something they like to play. The trick is to try to end each practice session on a positive note (please pardon the terrible pun). If a student will do this to to three times during the week between lessons they will find that they have improved from the last time and the lesson will go much smoother next time and the student will find themselves being able to approach new material and learn more songs. 15 minutes after a school day isn’t asking all that much after all.

2. Motivation

When I was teaching music in a small private school, I could hold a grade over my students head I can still do that with my homeschoolers but what about students for whom a grade is not given? there are not that many apparent consequences or motivations when a student doesn’t practice. The student receives the consternation of the teacher or Hass to continue playing the same boring material before they can move on but what else is there? The parents can threaten to discontinue the music lessons which often solves the problem but in a way which is not as beneficial to either the student or the teacher. We can also go back to what we were talking about in the last section which is making practice into an undesirable task. We want to avoid that at all cost so how do we make the student want to practice?

The first step is to make it easy for the student to sit down and practice. Have a dedicated place in the home for the students to practice. Make sure that the students instrument and materials are easily accessible. It is preferable to have the instrument at easy reach. This is easy when it’s a fixed instrument like the piano or the drums where all they have to do is sit down. With an instrument like the guitar or the violin make sure that all they have to do is pick up The instrument and it’s accessories such as picks or bows. Make sure that the material that they are to practice is ready at hand. Here’s also another pro tip. Parents: make sure that you have your child’s teacher explain with the student is to be practicing. You need not necessarily sit in the room with the student but you should know what they are supposed to be doing. I cannot stress to you how much more successful a student is if the parent is somewhat involved in the process. Hovering over the student is not an option. Allow the students to practice on their own but be aware of what they’re supposed to be practicing I don’t know how many times I have given students something to work on only to find that the student preferred to play something else rather than when I gave them to work on. Yes, the student did pick up the instrument and play it and that’s a good thing but there was a reason I gave that student the material in the first place. In summary, make sure the student has access to their instrument and materials. Make sure they have ample time to practice with as few distractions and interruptions as possible and do not require the students to enter into overly long practice sessions unless the student is voluntarily doing so and is enjoying it. It’s good for a student

3. Inefficient practice

Practicing efficiently means working first on the required new material and exercises. After that is done then The student can experiment with other music or play things they enjoy or just simply mess around. The way I always pitch this is to say for example “play your skills every time you sit down to play your instrument. This will only take a couple of minutes. Next, play the song we’ve been working on for a bit and then just have fun with the instrument “. They don’t have to do this every time they sit down at the instrument. For example, if they got up in the morning and sat down at the piano before school and did their regular material and then came home after school and just had fun playing their favorite piece then I’d say that they had a productive practice day. Your student does not have to follow that model every single day. They need to be going over there material 2 to 3 times a week minimum. After that they should just be enjoying the instrument.

One of the pitfalls that I often see when it comes to efficient practice is when students excite on their favorite things and neglect the exercise material or the things they don’t like as much. overcoming this is as simple as placing that material first in priority and then moving into the fun stuff afterward. Make it like a reward. The student can say to themselves, “after I play my scales and my chords and to do my song for the week, then I can play that Rihanna song I was trying to pick out “.

One other inefficient practice have it is that of neglecting to practice throughout the week between lessons and then trying to quickly practice just before the lesson. A word about this: a music teacher is much like a car mechanic. A car mechanic can open the hood of your vehicle and tell if you’ve been changing your fluids and doing regular periodic maintenance on your car. Don’t try to tell them that you keep it tuned up and keep the oil changed if you haven’t. They can see it as soon as they open the hood. Changing the oil two days before you take your car in isn’t going to do it either. The same is true with a private music teacher. I can always tell as soon as my students sit down in the chair when their lesson starts if they’ve practiced. Usually I know something is wrong as soon as they put the instrument in their hands. The student begins to fidget nervously as I ask them to open their book. Upon playing the first note I can see that the student doesn’t know the material. I know it before they even start to play let alone once they start fumbling through the material. I don’t even bother to ask them if they’ve practiced. I know the difference between a student having difficulty learning something and a student who hasn’t even looked at it. There are some rare exceptions of course. I find that if I just inform the student that I am aware that they didn’t practice the material I gave them they generally look down at their shoes and kind of nodded their head. Another pro tip. If you haven’t practiced just tell me it’s better than me trying to figure it out. If I know that going in we can just get right down to business and I’d rather you just be honest. I promise I’m not going to yell. One final pro tip on this particular matter. It isn’t going to work if you practice in the car on the way to your lesson. Yes students have tried to do that before. First of all it’s really obvious if you’re coming to your guitar lesson and you get out of the car with your music in one hand and your guitar in the other out of the case. That is what I have seen more times than I like to think about. Like I said, it’s better if we just start on an honest footing.

Final thoughts

Some students, especially adults have a really difficult time finding time to practice. Some students enter into music lessons knowing this. If you just tell me in the outset that you want to learn to play but you’re not gonna have much time to practice and then I can work with you and give you smaller bites to chew on so to speak. if you tell me that you’re not interested in learning anything particularlyif you tell me that you’re interested in music lessons only as a hobby and that you’d like to take a more informal approach, I can work with that. You’ll find me very easy to work with. If you tell me that your goal is to become a professional musician then I’m going to tell you that it takes dedication hard work and regular practice habits. The best way to avoid burnout and determine what is the best practice schedule for you is to be honest about what your expectations are. Be honest with me and I can help you. Now, put down this article and go sit down at the piano and practice those skills

5 thoughts on “A word on practice.

      1. Hi John you are welcome. You are a client, your work is as valuable and important as anyone else’s. You’re doing a great job too. I see that a blogger has even been sharing your work. So keep it up.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hey John. It is amazing how many parallels there are with music practice, and computer practice or skill practice in general.
    As I deal with computer students who are trying to grasp any number of skills I see exactly the same stuff.
    I generally will tell my students repeatedly that it takes 20 hours of dedicated intentional practice outside class time before they get over the hump and have to think about each step in the process.
    Anyway thanks for the great article and reminder!
    🎹

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome! I wholeheartedly agree. I was a computer science major in college. I often used to sit in front of a compiler writing code just for fun. It was just like practicing a musical instrument in a sense. Thanks for your great comment I appreciate you stopping by

      Like

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