Teaching How to Practice During Lessons

You know that most of the time your student spends with their instrument is not with you.  This leads to an interesting challenge for music teachers.  Teaching how to practice during lesson time … without holding students back from new repertoire.

Time Well Spent

Most of any lesson’s time should be about practicing.  This is because of a common series of unfortunate events. (Yes, that pun was intentional.)  

  1. If a student doesn’t know how to practice, there is frustration & no to little practice.
  2. The parent(s) either:
    • Try to help the student & gets frustrated.
    • Has to email the teacher for guidance.
  3. The teacher gives up personal time trying to guide the parent & student.
  4. The student may or may not know how to follow the instructions.
  5. The whole cycle starts again.

Do this too many times &, not surprisingly, the parent says they are taking a break from lessons or their child no longer wants to play.

Teaching how to practice has a direct effect on how long students will stay & the overall “happiness rating” in your studio.

Teaching How To Practice

I am all about having systems in place so that things run efficiently.  After all, do I really want to give up time to sit down with a cup of tea & a good book?  No way!

More importantly than that though, I know how important it is for students & their parents to feel successful during the week.  The success of any studio depends on it!

Teaching how to practice follows a few easy steps.

1.  Make it part of learning any new song

This may seem obvious, but many times we get excited about the music & forget to include this important step.

What are the patterns, tricky sections, tips or tricks that will help your student be successful in each step of learning?

2.  Give students ownership

How many times have you had a student try to put the blame on someone else for their practicing woes?  If I had a quarter for each time a student has tried this with me, I would be a rich woman.

Let your student know how you will support their practice.  But, let them know that ultimately they are responsible for what happens between lessons.

This encourages/forces students to take advantage of lesson time with you.  When you are teaching how to practice, there is a real reason to pay attention & remember.

3.  Let them make “mistakes”

Our twins have gotten a modest allowance for years.  The allowance has never been about getting paid for doing chores around the house.  That’s just part of being in a family.  The allowance has been about our children learning financial stewardship.

When they first got their allowance, they immediately wanted to go to the dollar store.  For the first while, they bought toys that got boring quickly & broke just as fast.  It was frustrating as a parent seeing them make the same mistake over & over.  But, it didn’t take long before they learnt they wanted to save up for good quality items.

The “mistakes” they made when they first got an allowance were an amazing life lesson.  And, it was certainly a lot less expensive than learning it once they had access to credit cards & bank loans.

Before long our twins were requesting money rather than specific items for gifts.  Why?  Because they had decided to save up for big-ticket items that they knew would not be from just one person.  And because they learnt the value of saving & purchasing their own things, they take much better care of them than when my husband & I purchase things for them.

It’s the same for our students.  They will learn which practice strategies are the most efficient or most appropriate for any given situation.  But, it takes time to get to that point.  Let them make those mistakes when the stakes are low so when the stakes are high (i.e. recital or exam prep), they already have a good idea of what works.

4.  Give them choices

Instead of telling your students what to do to fix a problem, give a choice in their practicing strategies.  There is rarely only one way to practice something.  Some are better than others, but that is part of learning.

Have a set number of practice strategies for your student.  Ask your student this all-important question, “Based on the goal you have for this song, what is the best strategy to practice this section?”

Remember, it may not be the best according to you.  But, they have:

  • Made it a part of their normal learning
  • Taken ownership of their practice
  • The opportunity to make a “mistake” in a low stakes environment.

5.  Practice with them during their lesson

Once your student has made their practice strategy choice, get the student to practice during lesson time.  This is a chance to see:

  • Do they need extra help using the strategy?
  • Does the strategy work as well as the student thought?
  • Do they need to choose a different strategy?

If they need extra help, better to do this during lesson time.  Less stress for the student & parent during the week.  And, you keep your personal time to yourself.

By looking at whether the strategy works, your student makes important decisions about what works for them.  And, when they need extra support.

And, if it wasn’t the right strategy?  No worries!  Your student has time to go back to step 4 & test out something else!

Practice Strategies Made Easy

In my studio, I created a series of “5 Ways” students could practice using common household objects. 

As a travelling teacher, I didn’t have the room in my teaching bag to constantly bring teaching aids with me from home to home.  Now as an online teacher, it is all the more important to use what my students easily have on hand.

Teaching how to practice became a lot easier when I had a simple PDF that students could print & place in their binders.  With a highly visual approach, students loved the choice & simplicity of making practice decisions each week!

To find out more (or purchase) the “5 Ways: Practice Strategies”  please click below.

Practice Strategies

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