How to encourage your students’ music practice
When a child is learning a new instrument, attending music lessons is important, but constant practicing is vital! However, no matter how great their music tutor is, many young kids keep “forgetting” to practice their new abilities back at home. Does this ring a bell? So your music students have a great time during their music lessons, but are still not practicing enough? Here are a few tips that can help you encourage their daily music practice.
Teach them some songs they like
Any music tutor knows that fingering exercises or practicing scales is a crucial part of learning to play an instrument, but let’s admit it: they may not be fun at all! Young children may feel discouraged when they are asked to repeat the same boring exercises over and over again. In fact, they may feel they are not learning at all.
On the other hand, if you teach them a little
song they enjoy, they will feel motivated to play it well so they can perform
in front of their friends and family. Even if it is just a little tune they are
familiar with, it may work as an incentive to keep playing a little every day
until they get better and are able to learn new, more difficult stuff.
Provide appropriate challenges
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky used the term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) to refer to “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance”. What does this imply to teaching? It means a tutor has to find that gray area in which a child cannot do things on their own (yet) but can do them with the appropriate help.
When it comes to playing an instrument, it is such a delicate balance! If you only give your students easy tasks they can do alone, they won’t feel motivated. If you provide too difficult exercises or content, they will get frustrated and quit. In other words, you have to get to know each student and find out their ZPD to give them appropriate challenges, something they find difficult enough to keep them engaged but easier enough to make them feel they can actually achieve it with their practice. This brings us to the next point…
Split the goal into small parts
What if a student finds a certain chord, song,
or technique “too difficult” for them? Well, that doesn’t mean they cannot
learn it! But perhaps you should take a different approach: focus on a certain
aspect of the task and set that little thing as their next goal. For instance,
instead of telling them to practice the whole song, insist on them getting the
chorus right for the following lesson. Allow them to practice only that little
part until they get it right, and only then encourage them to move on with
something else. This way, they won’t get discouraged so soon if something doesn’t
Make screens your allies
This is commonly a complaint parents have when it comes to music practice: their children never pick up their instruments because they spend too much time using technology, such as their tablets, their cell phones, their computers, or their video games. The good news is that you, their music instructor, know that technology is not an enemy, but a valuable tool they can implement when learning to play an instrument.
Indeed, there are thousands of applications
your students can use during their daily practice, from calendar reminders to
music creation; the only limit is your imagination. Here we recommend a few: Musyc, for visually creating music
with a touch screen; Yousician,
for complementing the music lessons they receive; Ear
Master, for ear training; or Tonal
Harmony Analysis, for advanced students who are learning music theory together
with their chords.
Encourage their creativity in their music
Practicing should not be limited to repeating
the same musical pieces again and again. In fact, one of the advantages of
playing a musical instrument of any kind is expressing your feelings and
sensations through music. Taking this into account, tell your students to
explore their instrument, to improvise a little every day, to play some random
notes at least. Before you know it, they will be improvising and enjoying
themselves with their own creations!
One word: gamification!
Gamification is a concept big companies all over the world, teachers and, of course, music tutors, are implementing to motivate their employees and students. In a few words, it means creating a game-like atmosphere in non-game contexts. How can you do this? For example, you can create a scoring system for their daily practice, or make your students compete against themselves (not against each other, please….), give them badges or other rewards, give them choices, etc.
Anything that makes your student feel their
music practice is a game, is likely to help them pick up their instrument and
play it daily!
Get their families involved
When it comes to children, the best way to encourage their daily music practice is to get their parents –or grandparents, or older siblings- involved. If the parents only pay your checks and complain about how their child is never practicing, or worse, “wasting their time” with their instrument, then all of your efforts are nearly vain!
This is why music tutors should get to know their students' families, to speak to them, and to let them know what you expect about daily practice. If possible, even before the beginning of the lessons, have a parent-tutor interview. Tell the parents how crucial it is for them to listen to their kid, to attend their concerts, to help them schedule some time for their daily practice and, what’s most important, to praise them for each of their small achievements. The more implicated the whole family is, the more motivated the child.
Which of these techniques are you already
implementing to encourage your students’ music practice? Would you add anything
to our list?