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Teacher's Corner: 11 Tips To Get Your Students To Practice At Home

You know your students need to practice outside of lessons to make progress in their development. They probably hear it from you and other musical mentors all the time, but that doesn’t seem to keep certain students from investing the personal time to practice. Thus, finding ways to encourage students to practice regularly at home is a teacher’s constant quest.

Here’s our list of 11 tips to get your students to practice at home. 

1. Develop a real connection with students

Get to know who they are outside of their music and let them get to know you. This achieves two critical goals. First, it builds trust between you, which in turns builds your credibility with them. The more credibility you have, the more likely they are to take your advice. Second, knowing about a student’s particular circumstances and personality will help you figure out what the specific reason is this student isn’t practicing. There are a lot of tips out there to take, but they aren’t all going to work on every student. Understand what you’re dealing with in terms of poor practice habits so you can select the right approach. 

2. Set up external rewards for meeting practice goals

This one may be a bit controversial. We all know music is its own reward. Yet you also know that the younger the student, the less able they are to connect future rewards to current effort. To limit the risk of teaching students the bad habit of always expecting rewards, limit the scope of when a reward can be earned. If a young student simply won’t sit down to practice, you could start with a small reward, say earning stickers that build to a larger prize, for getting in all their practice time for the week. The next sticker would come when they do it two weeks in a row. Last, get most effusive about their accomplishments that aren’t being externally rewarded.

3. Run a practice competition

If you’re instructing a student orchestra at a school, you can have the different instrument groups compete as teams. As a private teacher, you can still run a competition among your group of students to compete individually. The more winning categories you can devise, the better. Here’s a great post on how to run a practice competition.

4. Make sure they understand what their practice goals are for the week

Some students might simply need a clearer understanding of what they should be working on and what its value is for their development. At the end of a session, have the student write down the tasks and goals for the coming week’s practices.

5. Re-assess whether the workload you’re giving a student suits them

Does one student have too many goals for each week that it’s overwhelming? Does another student feel bored by too few goals? Is the distribution of work getting rote? Perhaps a student is getting bored with practices because they all seem to be the same: scales, theory drills, same piece they’ve been working on for a month? The practice spark here could be a complete re-working of practice expectations to meet the student’s learning approach, or it could just be a temporary shake-up, depending on what that student needs.

6. Give them context about the composer or the work they’re learning

If a student isn’t making progress on a piece due to lack of practice, share with them some interesting background on the composer and the work so they can place the piece in a broader context. Even better, ask the student to research to find out something about the work they can share with you.

7. Create a practice schedule with them

In many cases, lack of practice happens simply because it’s left as an afterthought to the student’s life. Work with the student to come up with a practice schedule together. Having the student participate in creating the schedule increases their sense of ownership and improves the chances of compliance. After all, they’re the ones who set up the schedule!

8. Review their practice logistics to make sure their practice atmosphere is conducive

Is a student practicing in the right place or in the middle of the busiest part of the home? How often is the student interrupted by family? Talk to parents to get their agreement that their student’s practice time is a block of “Do Not Disturb” time for the student, even if there’s not a separate room available for practice. Do you need to help find a place outside the home where students can practice?

9. What is the parental situation?

Are the parents indifferent, so it’s worth trying to make them active allies? Are they too involved, making their student tense and sucking the joy out of learning? You may need to have a difficult conversation with the parents.

10. Put on more recitals

Public performances always focus the mind! If you don’t want to water down the feel and atmosphere of your grand annual recital, make the other recitals less formal – they’re still public. You can also find other ways for students to have opportunities to perform publicly. Partner with some community centers or retirement centers that might enjoy hearing some eager young music students. It’s a win all the way around.

11. Show them inspiring performances

YouTube is a treasure trove. We’ve even compiled some awesome performances, you can check out just a couple of our lists here and here. Organize a field trip to a live performance for a group of students. Talk to the venue to see if your group will be considered an educational outing and eligible for discounted tickets. 

It might take a mix of approaches and some trial-and-error, but the right motivator for each student is out there. If not, then perhaps that student is being pushed into unwanted lessons, which is good to know as well. Either way, you’re resolving the situation.

This article sponsored by Thomastik-Infeld

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