Every music teacher knows that their students aren’t going to get anywhere in their music career without practicing outside of class. It can be frustrating to see kids with great potential struggle to put in the time and effort to improve. You don’t want to be pulling violin strings trying to get your students to practice playing their instrument and sight reading.
To reduce your stress about your students’ future music careers, here are some tips on how you can positively encourage your students to practice their instruments outside of class.
How Many Hours Should Students Practice Their Instrument
We recommend that your music students practice their instrument of choice outside of class for at least thirty minutes a day, 5 days a week. This time schedule is perfect for younger students who need focused time to practice their fundamentals like music scales, sight reading notes, and their music compositions from class. Generally, for a piece of music to be considered “learned”, you should be able to play it four times in a row.
After they practice for thirty minutes, your students can enjoy playing music that they’re interested in or improvise their own music scales. Allowing your students to play music they’re interested in with their drum set or saxophone is a great refresher and will excite them after playing the same old music scales for hours on end. Doing foundational skills from class while leaving room for creativity, will help them to enjoy practice time instead of dreading it.
For students who struggle to find time to practice, it might be helpful for them to have a music practice log, where they log how much time they spend each day practicing. It’s not about rewarding them for having spent a large amount of time on their chart, though that helps.
The real reward is your students feeling more confident with their instruments and learning music they like. Having a visual representation of their practice times will help them set steady goals and habits, helping them feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when the numbers pay off.
Here’s how your students can breakdown their 30-minute practice time:
- Start out by taking 5 to 10 minutes to warm up with some easy music scales. Give their fingers the time to move up and down your flute or trumpet before they jump into learning.
- Once they are done with their scales, they should start working on something new, whether that be their homework from class or a song they have always wanted to learn.
- With extra time left or going beyond their time, they can make up their own exercises and enjoy playing their own music that they’ve created.
How to Practice at Home
When encouraging your music students to practice, you need to make sure that they understand what it means to practice at home. As much as you want to be there for your students, they are their own best teacher. They are the ones that are going to make them a better musician, you’re only there to guide them along the way.
Here are some things you should be reminding your students of when they are practicing at home:
Quiet Space for Practicing
- Whether you have students that want to play the clarinet or glide a bow on some strings, they should be practicing in a quiet space without distractions. Remind them that they need to find a quiet place where they can concentrate on their music.
Practicing is Fun
- Some students might find practicing outside of class tedious. Practicing should be fun for them. Try to pull music that they enjoy playing but is still challenging for them. Remind them during class that constantly improving your skills as a musician is fun.
Dealing with Problem Spots on their Own
- Playing an instrument can be discouraging to students if they are struggling to play difficult sections in a piece of music. Tell them to turn those sections into exercises. Play it as slowly as necessary to avoid making mistakes. Then as they get better, they can gradually bring it up to tempo.
- Your students aren’t going to become the next Yo-Yo Ma with their cello overnight. Learning to play an instrument is a long-term project, as there is an endless ceiling of skill and perfection to aim for. Remind them that they need to have patience with themselves while they’re practicing. It’s okay if they need to take a break if they are getting frustrated. Practicing shouldn’t feel like a chore for them, but instead, a fun new skill that they are working on.
Skills to Work on While Practicing
As a music teacher, you might be sick of hearing your students say they don’t know what they should be practicing. You have to lay it out for them and pave the way forward so they don’t feel lost with their trumpet in hand and an empty music stand in front of them.
Here are some things students can do during practice time:
Scales and Arpeggios
- As much as they are tedious, scales and arpeggios are the building blocks of music. They are super important for your students to know in the long term. Have them work on memorizing them and practicing them on their instrument. Who knows, you might have some future composers in your class.
Long Tones for Wind Instruments
- With students that are learning to play a wind instrument, they need to work on their long tones. Have them hold a note as long as they can that is medium loud and the best sound that they can make. While they are holding their note, they need to keep the volume and the pitch steady. Then move on to notes in every register for 5 minutes every day.
Pieces are Long-Term Projects
- It’s very difficult to learn a piece of music in a day, especially for beginners. As they are practicing pieces, they should know that learning music is not a one and done ordeal. Pick some music that they will enjoy working on or songs they might know already. Set expectations and realistic goals for learning new music for beginners.
- This is an important skill for students to develop to allow them to be able to teach themselves new music pieces on their own in the future. Have them open one of their practice books to a random page to see if they can correctly read the music on the first try.
- When working with students, make sure that they are setting achievable goals for themselves. Goals will help them feel proud when they can sight read on the first try, or be able to play a song they’ve spent a long time practicing without errors.
At the end of the day, it’s not about getting your students to be in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the future. You want to help encourage a love for music for them. It’s fun to learn a new skill and you don’t want to discourage them from that. They should be able to enjoy playing music for themselves before they share it with others. A love and passion for music is fostered by both teacher and student; and with these tips, you’ll be able to see a massive improvement in the music classroom. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get practicing.
Contributing Writer: Madeline Collins