Top Five Tips to Encourage Practicing at Home
Updated: Feb 20
Research shows that repetition and consistent practice routines are essential to learning a new instrument. Although it is undeniable that practice between music lessons further develops musical skills, many caregivers struggle to motivate their children to practice. Likewise, adult students have difficulty motivating themselves. Keep reading to learn my top five tips to reduce frustrations around music practice in the home.
1. Make instruments, music, and equipment easily accessible
Place instruments in an area of the home where students can practice undisturbed. Make sure all necessary equipment and music are readily available. For guitar or ukulele students, consider storing them on a stand or hanging them on the wall during the week for even easier access and a constant visual reminder to keep practicing. Help students stay organized so they can quickly find flashcards, tuners, picks, capos, lesson notes, music, etc. This is especially important to consider if students require digital recordings or pdf files of sheet music. Younger students may need help accessing these files as well as more prompting and assistance from caregivers to complete assignments. Students are more encouraged to practice if barriers to access are removed.
2. Focus on the quality of practice, not the quantity
As a new private instructor, I began implementing practice logs for all my students and required them to practice six days a week for 30 minutes a day. Parents or guardians had to sign the log for accountability. It didn't take long for me to discover that this emphasis on the quantity of practice was not very effective. I understand that life can be busy and unpredictable. And sometimes when fingers are sore or vocal chords are tired, the best thing to do is rest. That is why I instead began encouraging my students to practice as much as they need to every week in order to complete their assignments. They will know they practiced enough if they were able to effectively complete them. This approach is more individualized to each student's needs. Some students can complete assignments in less time, while others require more. That is okay. What's most important is that the student is continuing to improve the quality of their music with intentional practicing.
3. Repetition, repetition, repetition
In reference to #2, this does not mean students should spend their entire practice session playing the same song over and over again or continuously increase practice time in order to complete more "reps". In fact, this is a very ineffective way to practice. Students should instead repeat difficult passages until they are mastered and then play them again in the larger context of the song. Likewise, encourage students to repeat songs previously learned to provide a refresher on previously learned musical techniques and concepts. Try saying, "Could you play that song I heard you playing last week for me? You play it so well, and I would love to hear it again." You can also use flashcards and other tools to assist with retainment of information.
4. Explore alternative ways of practicing
Effective practice does not always have to include rehearsing songs or completing music theory assignments. If students are ill, busy, or away from home, remind them that listening is also practice. Help them find professional recordings of the songs they are working on, if possible, to listen to. On a plane or a long car ride, give them a sheet of paper while they listen and encourage them to draw and write about what they notice, then talk about it with them. Perhaps your vocal student could watch the Broadway production of the song he or she is working on in lessons with you on Friday night. Create games with flashcards. I often invent racing games by spreading cards out on the floor and calling out a card for the student to find, for example. To add to the challenge, I will time them. In addition, there are many wonderful and free music theory apps that have interactive games. Practice also can be silent. Vocal students can study their song lyrics and write in notes for characterization or reflect on the meaning of the words on a piece of paper. Guitar or ukulele students can practice making chord shapes on the neck of their guitar without playing a single note.
5. Make practicing FUN