How To Work With A Child That Won’t Practise

Lots of teachers have found themselves in the position of having a student who just won’t practice. Teaching music should be about enjoying playing an instrument and making music together. But teaching a student who isn’t practising between lessons is frustrating. Progress is stagnant, and the Scheme of Work quickly goes out of the window. So what can a teacher do? Here’s how to work with a child that won’t practice:


Use A Music Notebook

Details are essential. But they need to be laid out in a way that is clear and concise to a child who may not spend a lot of time reading them carefully. Use musical notation whenever you can. Remember, the sheet music may be putting the child off. Writing the music out in different ways, off the stave, can help sometimes. Try using lists of activities that are needed to complete a task help to break down challenging concepts into bitesize chunks.

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Use a good quality student notebook to make lesson notes for practice


Teach Them How To Practice

This isn’t just something that we cover in the first lesson. Learning that we need to practice is simple. But identifying how to practice a particular phrase or technical exercise is different every time. Demonstrate in the lesson the sound you are expecting them to achieve. And ask the child to show you how they will practice at home. This confirms they have understood what is expected of them.


Little Achievements

Make challenges simple to complete. Two or three very small tasks are more likely to be accomplished than half a page of new material. Try to make sure those little tasks are pleasing to the ear, though. Each phrase or passage should be something your student likes the sound of. Without having an interest in the melody or rhythm, there will be no performance and very little practice. Your passion for the music should be evident at all times.


Record, Listen, Observe

Encourage your students, or their parents, to record one or two practice sessions each week. Sometimes we forget to listen when we’re concentrating on something new. Parents should be encouraged to sit in on a practice session and offer feedback where they can. As a teacher, you can go over the recording with them, and point out any areas that are good and those that are weak. Spend time observing posture and position. Listen to the quality of tone. Help the student recognise when it’s not quite right. But always highlight the good bits!


Find Their Interest

Children are generally quite good at telling their parents when they don’t want to do something. If they didn’t want to learn music, chances are they would have refused to attend lessons by now. There is something there in your lessons that piques their interest. Identifying exactly what that is and exploring it together can help motivate your student to work harder at home. If you can, try to include that interest in all their lessons, as well as their practice homework.


Help The Parents

Parents work hard to pay for music lessons. They know how beneficial learning an instrument is to their child’s academic performance and social life. They are also keen to hear the results of that financial investment in the child’s practice sessions. If the parents are not present in the lesson, why not add a note for them in the child’s notebook? Most parents love a chance to understand more about what their child is learning. Most importantly, you can manage their expectations. They’re not going to hear polished performance pieces every day if their child is practising correctly. Help them to make practice part of their child’s daily routine.


Generally speaking, parents are not the cause of a child failing to practice. They know from the teacher that practice is the only way improvement and mastery can take place. But there may be a lack of understanding about what a practice session entails. Focused and uninterrupted time is needed for each practice session. This can be difficult to achieve in a busy family household, but the parents need to help their child find it each day if possible.
The role of the teacher extends beyond the classroom or the teaching studio. Practice needs to be effective for progress to be made. And if the teacher can effectively teach practice techniques each lesson, the student is empowered to enjoy music every day. Even if they’re not quite practising everything you have asked for, the pleasure of playing something should be evident.

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