improving as a teacher, Motivation, Practice, Teaching Piano

My Thoughts on Practice Requirements

Many of you may remember being required by your piano teachers growing up to practice a certain amount of minutes each day/week.  Perhaps your requirement looked something like this:

  • 15 minutes a day,
  • 140 minutes each week, or
  • 45 minutes, 5 days a week.

One of my previous teachers built her incentive program around how much practice time each student completed each week.  She would set an amount for each student (15 minutes/day for the young ones, and then gradually increasing up to 60 minutes/day for the advanced ones).  If you completed all your practice time each week, you’d receive a sticker on your chart for that week.  When you received 7 consecutive weeks of completed practice, you were allowed to chose a prize from the prize box.  She used a system similar to the following:

  • Beginners: 10-20 minutes, 5 days a week (depending on their age).
  • Intermediate students: 20-45 minutes, 5 days a week.
  • Advanced students: 60 minutes or more a day, 5 days a week.

Personally, I use a simpler, more flexible practice requirement for my students.  I simply tell my students and parents that they are expected to practice daily.  And that’s it.  Here are my reasons why I like to leave it at that:

  • Consistent practice is far better than intermittent practice. I realize that life gets crazy busy sometimes, and some days it may be more difficult than other days to get practice in.  I don’t care if my students only can fit 5 minutes of practice in on the busy days — but practice must be consistent in order for progress to be made and piano lessons to be enjoyable.  I believe that 5 minutes a day, every day for a week is far better than an hour on only one day out of the week.
  • Students are more likely to use their practice time wisely. I don’t know about you, but I find that when I set myself a timed amount for practicing, I can’t wait until my 60 minutes is over.  When students sit down with a practice requirement in mind, that’s their focus: sitting at the piano until 20 minutes is over.  But when students sit down at the piano simply knowing it’s time to get some practice done to prepare for their next lesson, that’s exactly what their focus is on: preparing for the next lesson.  I would much rather have my students practice 10 minutes of quality practice time at the piano than 20 minutes of dilly-dallying.  This is why my incentive program is not based upon the amount of time that my students practice, but rather upon the progress they are making through their books.
  • Students practice more. The daily practice requirement is actually quite freeing for most students.  It helps allow them to feel in control of their learning, rather than feeling like they are simply fulfilling a bunch of requirements set by their teacher.  When they sit down to practice, they are more likely to practice longer because they are more self-motivated.  The best kind of motivation is self-motivation.   Incentive programs are wonderful things for rewarding student progress, but earning trinkets, toys, or candy will not keep students taking lessons for long if that’s their only motivation.
  • Students are more likely to continue taking lessons. Students are most likely to continue lessons when they are successfully making progress, no matter the rate.  As we all know, when a student doesn’t practice regularly, progress is nearly impossible.  Daily practice is the best way to ensure progress.  And when students are making progress the whole process is so much more enjoyable: students are motivated to learn, they are making progress, and the teacher is happy!

Now, of course, there are many successful teachers who have timed practice requirements, and I do not mean to minimize their teaching methods in any way.  We all have different teaching styles, and one particular method might not work for everyone.  I only mean to share this information in the hopes that it may be as helpful to some of you as it has been for me.  =)

That said, I have been using the daily practice requirement for a few years now, and have found it to be very successful for most of my students.  As with any practice requirement, of course, teachers must closely moniter student progress to see if the practice requirement is working well for them.  On occasion, I will encounter a student who is not making sufficient progress in his/her lessons, in which case I will inquire about the student’s practice habits with both the parent and student.  In some cases, if deemed necessary and helpful, I will then set a recommended weekly practice amount for the student.

But in general, having the daily practice requirement has been very freeing not only for my students, but also for me.  For one thing, I no longer have to nag my students about getting X amount of minutes of practice each week!  ;)  Who cares how many minutes they are practicing, as long as they are making progress that you deem satisfactory for their age/level/talent?  For another thing, I am noticing that they are much more motivated to play and learn then ever before and we are having a lot of fun in our lessons learning how to create music.  =)

To read more thoughts about practice requirements, read Laura Lowe’s great article on her blog here.

Photo credit: tibchris | CC 2.0

14 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Practice Requirements”

  1. Hi Joy,
    There is a very good book related to your topic of practicing for minutes/day & practice incentives by Philip Johnston called “The Practice Revolution”. I highly recommend the book for all teachers who insist on practicing by the clock. Johnston gives many ideas on how teachers can motivate & assess their students, and then teach their students to self-assess & self-motivate. I have implemented many of Johnston’s ideas over the last 3 years, and had wonderful results with my students. The book can be perused at http://www.practicespot.com/pr/introduction.pdf – Enjoy!
    Carrie

  2. I do use practice time requirements, but here’s how I work that:
    With very young, beginning students I want them to set a practice time. I explain to them and the parents about how important repetition is in the beginning stages. I realize that most of the beginner assignments can probably be played accurately within one good practice session. But, in order to truly benefit from the assignment, they need to be playing through it several times in a row, and as close to every day as possible. With these students, it is important to develop good daily practice habits, and to begin training their hands to play. They’re requirement may only be 10min/day at first….but it’s a minimum of 5 days a week.

    As they progress, however, we turn a corner and begin to make the goal to master the assignment, rather than just meeting a minimum time limit. I remind students regularly that the “Perfect practice goal”, as I call it, is merely a guideline….a recommended minimum. But that the goal is mastery. If they can do that in 30 minutes a day….great! (And I know I probably need to move them into more challenging assignments quickly). But if it takes an hour and a half a day to meet that goal, then they need to be prepared to give an hour and a half a day. Honestly, though…. these would be the students who are now working on scales, and various technique exercises. That, alone, should be taking up at least 20 minutes of their practice time each day.

    I use incentives that are proving to be effective at all levels. My students all have “Music Points” cards with 20 points on each one. They earn points for meeting the minimum practice requirement, for each song they pass, for performing in front of a group, for attending a recital/concert, for studying about a composer, etc…..even for simply showing up on time for their lessons. They can choose what they want to turn their music points cards in for…with options that are appealing to all of the various ages. They can turn in two cards (totalling 40 points) to choose a prize from my prize box (small, inexpensive trinkets…usually only appealing to young students). Or, they can turn in three cards (60 points) to get a $5 gift card to someplace like Dairy Queen or Target. Or, they can wait until they have 6 full cards (120 points) and turn that in for a $15 iTunes card (the teenagers really like this).

    I don’t end up spending a lot on the incentives. Parents sometimes donate items for the prize box. But I watch clearance shelves for these items, too. I set a limit for myself of $2 per item. Walmart frequently has some cute toys in their clearance section for under $1. Occasionally, I can get fast food places to donate coupons and/or the gift cards. The iTunes cards I usually get for free, actually. ( Don’t tell my students. Haha!) Office Depot frequently runs a special where you get a free $15 iTunes card if you buy over $75 of HP ink, and I happen to have an HP printer. So I just make sure I buy ink evey time they have that special.

    Not every student cares about the incentives. But this “Music Points” offer has been motivating to at least 90% of my students.

    1. Thanks for sharing about your practice requirements / incentive program….sounds like a great way to motivate students! I love your tips about finding items for your prize box too. =)

  3. I am in the process of reading The Practice Revolution and am beginning to remove time restrictions and work on weekly goals with my students. They have reacted favorably, so far, with the time requirement removed . I’ll let you know how things progress. There are a lot of great ideas in the book. I do use incentives with the students. We have a weekly drawing for coming on time with all their music and notebook. Also, they get special credit for meeting the goals that I have gone over with them at the end of their lesson. They enjoy looking for the happy face on their picture the week that their name is drawn. I have a small bulletin board on the wall with each student’s picture on display.

    Ann

  4. I’ve moved to a practice daily mindset as welll, without time requirements. It’s been successful for most of my students. I have had more problems with the parents though, it seems they want more clear cut guidelines set for some reason. My question is: what do you put in your studio policies to make it clear? Just “practice daily,” or elaborate as you did in this post?
    Thanks for all the great info on your blog in general! I refer to it often

    1. I make it pretty clear verbally at the interview lesson to both the student and parent that the goal is to practice every day. Practicing might not happen EVERY day, I understand, but that is the goal.

  5. So, i’ve tried different things along the way too. Last year my students could choose a a decent prize after completing a book of any kind, Theory, Level, etc. I left two choices on display so they had in mind what they wanted to work toward.
    Another tip about practicing, to gauge the amount of time a student will practice at home depends on the amount of pieces worked through at the lesson. When I did not give enough assignments, they did less practice. So, match the amount of assignments to the amount of practice time a student should expect to do at their level, even if just a piece to review is assigned. But I’m going to try the incentive program with the smileyface draw. A student can put in a smileyface with their name on it if they’ve brought their books to the lesson, for practicing 5x etc. so their chances are increased that week.

  6. It’s me again and I en”JOY” your blog! Anyway, another year, at the spring recital, I handed out 2 awards, the “Virtuoso Piano Award” and the “Most Improved Pianist Award” It included a achievement certificate and trip to hear the youth symphony. Parents can contribute if they’d like their child to go and also attend themselves. The Virtuoso Piano Award is awarded to one who has exceptionally polished up their pieces that year, which may or may not include memorization.

  7. Hi Joy,
    Do you use a form or some kind of chart for your students to keep track of their daily practice? I have been using a form for my students where they write down when they practice and I feel like I need to do something different, because some students will just write down any old time on their sheet just to say they practiced. Thanks!

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