The Importance of Giving Students Choices

We have all heard the argument for more practice during the week.  But, how much of the lack of practice is related to a lack of engagement with the music?  What happens when you give students choice in repertoire … all the time?

One year, I decided to test this out in my studio.  What if I gave my students choice in their repertoire beyond recital & holiday pieces?  The results were surprising & led to a permanent change in the repertoire my students play in the studio.

Why give choice?

We have all had times when we needed to read or practice something that just wasn’t our cup of tea.

Maybe it was:

  • Reading a book you didn’t like for book club
  • Playing a piece for an ensemble that was ‘meh’
  • Reading literature for professional development or exam
  • Researching music that your students love, but really is not in your wheelhouse

And for our students this can be even worse since they are in school all day.  They have no choice in:

  • Their teacher
  • Schedule
  • General topics of study

Imagine for your own personal practice someone else decides what:

  • Songs you learn
  • Practice strategies you employ
  • How long you need to practice for
  • When & where you practice

Imagine you had no choice in any of those variables.

Would you be eager to practice each week?

Or, would you perhaps find reasons to do something else?

Get students to care

We have had the unique opportunity to see 2 teachers in action for every single grade.  It’s one of the blessings of twins.

The biggest thing we have noticed is that just because our children are in the same grade, does not mean their teachers approach everything the same way.

Some teachers let the students know exactly what they will be studying & how they will engage with it.  Both as a school teacher & a piano teacher, this is where I began.

But other teachers give choice in almost everything.  And that is when we see have seen our children really shine.

Suddenly, our child is coming home & eager to:

  • Work on a project … that isn’t due for a couple weeks
  • Read a new book they chose for a book report
  • Check Google Classroom for the latest update on [fill in the topic]

Wouldn’t it be great to have that level of practice enthusiasm from our students each week?

In my studio, giving choice in repertoire has been the clear winner.

And, it turns out this goes well beyond my studio as well.

Which choices are appropriate

Rather than being an extension of school, make piano lessons a place where students can have more control & expression.

Some easy ways to give students choice within lesson time are:

  • Order of activities
  • How to change a repetition (small section)
  • Order of lab activities

Giving students choice in music labs

But as much as these help, it still leaves all week with a teacher-directed approach.

Giving students choice in repertoire is one of the most powerful ways we can empower our students during the week.

Go from students telling you they didn’t have time to practice … to parents texting/emailing/calling saying they can’t believe how much their child is playing at the piano!

It just takes a little planning beforehand.

Giving Students Choice in Their Repertoire

How do you give students choice & ownership of their learning in your studio?

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