We’ve all seen students walk into music class or private lessons with that sheepish look. They signal to us that they’re unprepared because they haven’t practiced. Then we as teachers are faced with the question of what to do about it. Do we reprimand the student? Do we pretend like they did practice?
Getting more assertive with students who don’t practice is effective with some students, but might backfire with others. I have had good music students quit because they didn’t feel like they were meeting my expectations. This is where the whole art of motivation comes into play; being encouraging without exacerbating.
Here are a few thoughts about what to do with chronic non-practicers:
1. Prioritize teaching about practicing. Make the word “practice” part of the vocabulary of music lessons. Teach students how to practice and what to practice. (More about this in a future post!)
2. Talk about what you’ve assigned for next week’s lesson. I don’t just mean tell them to practice the next page in the book; talk with them about specific measures to focus on. “In your next piece, there are some tricky leaps here, and a lot of accidentals there. Let’s see how you’ll do!”
3. Talk to parents about the lack of practice. I think there’s a way to do this without sounding like you’re tattling on the student. “Michael has so much natural talent. I get the feeling, though, that he has been coming to lessons unprepared. He could really be an amazing musician if he spent a little more time on our lesson material at home.”
4. In some cases, I’ve found that some students just won’t practice, but they’re sincere about their desire to keep music in their lives. With these students, I’ve usually found it best to just make the lessons enjoyable and not sweat it. When there has been an understanding among me, the student, and the parent that the student is not destined for a career in music, then I’ve taken a more relaxed approach. To get more assertive would just burn everyone out, including me.
What do you think? Have any suggestions to share?