Thursday, May 23, 2013

How to Teach Music: Encouraging Students to Practice

Encouraging Students to Practice: An Introduction

The subject of practicing can be a source of frustration for students, parents, and teachers, but it doesn't  have to be! Involving all three parties in the process can turn practicing from a chore into something that a student looks forward to. The idea is to make practice part of a big picture plan and to maximize  the very precious time we all seem to have these days. Here are some thoughts from The Dallas School of Music and dlp faculty on encouraging students to practice.

Encouraging Students to Practice:  Teaching the Importance of Practice

 photo piano_practice_zps00043460.jpgFirst of all, when you make assignments to your students, explain to them why you are making it. What will this assignment help them to do that they weren't able to before? Giving students (and parents) a realistic assignment and informing them of the tangible benefits it can provide will go a long way toward making practice happen on a regular basis. We encourage our faculty to explain, document, and include the what each student needs to do, why they need to do it, and how they need to do it after every lesson. Parents appreciate this and students of all ages have told us that this kind of direction seem less like "busy work” and more like a means to an end that will greatly benefit their musical progress and enjoyment.

Encouraging Students to Practice: Teaching How to Practice

Don’t assume that your students - especially beginners - know how to practice. In our session here at DSM, we'll often demonstrate how we might practice and then allow our students to “practice practicing” in front of us.  This allows us to help them develop solid practice methods and habits.  A good teacher can directly affect a student in this way and lead them to maximize their results in the minimum time necessary. As students progress, we'll ask them how they would suggest someone else might practice a particular concept.  This helps them to conceptualize a way to solve a particular problem from a teacher's point of view.  

As a side note, we purposely avoid giving 'negative' examples as they'll sometimes cause confusion, especially in younger students. Instead, always try to demonstrate, encourage, and promote good practice ideas and habits. You won't be sorry and neither will your students!

Choosing Repertoire for Students: Moving Forward

We hope these suggestions help to promote happier and longer lasting lessons. We welcome all teachers to check out the dlp Music Program for use with students of all ages and levels of ability on any of 35 instruments. You will have access to wonderful music courses (including our new Jazz Course), lessons with theory and ear-training quizzes, resources (featuring great folks like The ZOEN!), forums, and music education blogs that you'll find both useful and entertaining. The dlp program provides a comprehensive online curriculum that can be used as a base of study or as a supplement to any learning method. 

Happy teaching!

This post was contributed by faculty from the Dallas School of Music. For more insights into music education and teaching, visit their blogs.


  1. It's really hard to find other teachers who love to emphasize WHY they gotta practice. Hey, I'm really happy to find a blog that's so similar with mine. Keep it coming guys, these really do help. cheers!

  2. Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life. This is the way we do it at my studio, anyway...

  3. Good points here. Most students, young or old simply don't realize that there is an art on how to practice. A solid step-by-step guide from the teacher can help illustrate this and make even 30 minutes of good focus go a long way.


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