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5 Surprising Ways to Grow Practice Motivation

By Sarah Buckley | Deliberate Practice

Feb 17 2021

5 Surprising Ways to Grow Practice Motivation Blog Banner

5 Surprising Ways to Grow Practice Motivation

Have you ever felt like a lone wolf in the practice room?

Or like the repertoire you’re playing didn’t really connect with the rest of your daily life?

If we have felt it, no doubt our students have too. I think these feelings are 2 big reasons students discontinue lessons: practice loneliness, and not connecting with the music they are playing. Read on to find out surprising ways you can combat these hurdles.

Music is a universal language that has the ability to bring people together. However, it’s important to note that music education requires much more than just learning how to play an instrument or read sheet music. We, as music teachers, have the unique opportunity of encouraging enhanced connections for students that can foster a lifelong participation in music – if they can enjoy the daily practice part.

At TopMusic, we believe that music is not just a pastime activity for our students. It’s something that can be used to enhance learning skills while connecting with parents and children in meaningful ways. Here are five surprising ways you can use music as an educational tool to nurture connections: 

stay tuned to the end — Yep, some of these are super simple,

find out how they still have pedagogical value.

1. Encourage family members to join in

When families feel connected to the material students are playing, or they join in for a simple duet, suddenly the music learning experience is shared (much less of the isolated lone wolf piano practice that students avoid). At this point, the student often takes more initiative and leadership in the lesson too.

This doesn’t have to be complicated – even just starting with Mom or Dad playing the tonic and dominant notes on the downbeat can create a quick win, and a surprising sense of satisfaction for the student. 

At a conference with a piano camp once Christopher Norton asked the crowd “Who has never played piano?” No one who raised their hand expected to be asked up on stage! He selected a Dad who had never played, showed him a riff by rote, and they performed together. Definite crowd pleaser.

Bonus here is of course when the parent who may be a bit hard on the student suddenly has an eye opening experience and gains more respect for the child’s accomplishments. This is a great way to touch base with parents casually, have them involved without the usual “Can you check that Sally is playing everything on her list?”

2. Capitalize on special occasions

Is a long weekend coming up? Easter? Memorial Day?

Even if families aren’t gathering in person yet, piano playing is a great way to liven up holiday family zoom calls. (and if you are gathering in person where you are – even better!)

I have a feeling you’re just as aware of long weekends as everyone else — woot woot — 3 day weekend! 

Side note: You can also use long weekends as a retention tool for your studio. Years ago I took Wendy Steven’s business webinar and followed her advice to hold group classes the weeks after a long weekend. Boom. I get a paid Monday off, AND get to see all my students that week. It’s so popular I added a few more to the year.

You might be thinking – awesome, but how does this create connection for the student?

Here’s how I realized that long weekends are fabulous for my students: 

One year a student was traveling for a long weekend visit to her grandparents. Her Mom rented a keyboard to bring along so the student could perform for them (the student also whipped out a tip jar, cheeky girl). They had a fabulous time together and it was the impetus for me to consider these events as practice motivation gold.

Since then, I ask my studio families what they are doing during long weekends. Are you hosting? Doing video calls? Is there a piano where you are going?

I always suggest a performance. Since group class is the following week, students always have 2-3 pieces ready to go. 

Parents get to beam with pride as their child shows off, and the extended family gets a view of their progress. The piano becomes a part of the family traditions and the student has regular, real world, positive encouragement for their practice efforts (not to mention the parent feels the encouragement for their consistent support).

This has been a fun way to highlight value to families, and nurture connection with music. Students are well prepared for class AND knock it out of the park with their family.

3. Help with gift-giving

Just like teachers in school help students create Mother’s day gifts for kids to give – we can do this too.

My students will often learn a particular song as a ‘gift’ to their parent — a song they listen to or sing together, something with meaning for Mother’s day or Father’s day. Parents have told me they look forward to their musical gift for their special day. Tears all around! 

For the student, this helps them see sharing their playing as a gift. They begin to see casual performance opportunities in the calendar. This is a great way to lift the ‘chore’ feeling of practice and blend in anticipation, contribution and pride for the student.

In addition, the student often gets to experience creating a lead sheet and arrangement and seeing written music in a new way. I notice this awareness strengthens their harmonic analysis when they look at their method pieces and suddenly they forge ahead with more confidence.

4. Allow sharing time

Pre-covid my students regularly shared a performance with the student who arrives after them. I started this tradition when I had a student who happened to be performance ready, and another who often arrived early. It worked so well it became something all my students do when we can.

As the new student arrives, the student at the piano has a piece ready to perform for them. The arriving student enjoys and cheers their peer on, and the performing student beams with pride as they leave. With a positive tone set for the new lesson, the previous student bounces out of the studio feeling fabulous. 

Connections I didn’t even realize began growing between the studio families. Students and parents inquire after other students whose lessons were before or after theirs – how is Peter doing? Is he performing soon? How did Amelia’s exam go?

These connections strengthen awareness for parents about what is possible (when they see students farther along than their child), and give a low pressure chance to show off. Feeling a stronger part of the studio community is great for a sense of belonging and retention.

This fun tradition was sorely missed when my studio went online. It is heartwarming that students continue to ask after each other during their online lessons, and group classes online have been a fabulous way to reconnect. 

5. Be a matchmaker

One of my university professors matched a duet pair who later got married – and I don’t think that was her first match! I have very fond memories of several close friends who were duet partners – even as children we had playdates after rehearsals.

Now, even if in person lessons/rehearsals aren’t possible, students can connect for short video calls, or send recordings to each other to build connections and feel less alone about their practice. With parental permission of course, pair some students who you think will be a good match. They can send each other recordings and compliments to encourage each other. 

There they are – 5 surprisingly simple ways to build connections for students. These don’t have to all be done at once, just one or two or think of some of your own. While some of them are simple, take a look at the benefits they can create.

Benefits of actively orchestrating connections through music:

For the student:

  • Builds excitement around playing
  • Involves the family in an organic way (not with to-dos, timers or checklists)
  • Provides real world opportunity for recognition for the student’s progress and effort
  • Nurtures a sense of accomplishment for even small performances
  • Increases performance fluency
  • Grows confidence to apply skills to more complicated repertoire
  • Boosts practice motivation

For you and your business:

  • Grows your relationship with parents/family of your student naturally
  • Increases retention
  • Strengthens the value perception of music education to your clients (they feel the value they are getting is more than the cost of tuition — this is how music lessons remain a no-brainer on the budget line)

But this music is so simple! Is there pedagogical value?

I have to admit I used to use every minute of every lesson being ‘productive’ or being sure we heard everything on the assignment. I never wanted students to play anything that was ‘too simple.’ What I’ve realized is that mentality can be a bit of a joy killer. 

You may have noticed that a lot of the music involved in these connections is on the simple side. You might be wondering about the pedagogical value — 

Should we really spend time on this in a lesson? It’s just filler. 

Or is it?

Dialing back the complexity allows students to independently make strong connections and discoveries with harmonic and structural analysis, patterns, and sounds. So, using simple material some of the time allows you to see exactly what they understand, and if they can manipulate musical elements successfully. It also allows the student to see a pared down version of concepts that are present in their repertoire so they can more quickly recognize it when it is more complex.

These types of strategies were definitely NOT included in any of the pedagogy courses I took. 

Here’s the thing:

When students are lit up to play (even if it’s something simple) then they are primed to take initiative and thrive with their other material. I don’t always hear everything on their list anymore (gasp!). But when my students return they often have improved on those things anyway – because they are excited to play and have grown positive confidence that they can do it. 

By reducing the ‘lone wolf’ practice experience and looking for ways to incorporate music that relates to a student’s daily life music is weaved more deeply into their experience and likely to remain a part of their life forever.

What Next?

Making connections like these don’t always have to be simple: If you’re looking for ways to take it to the next level – we’ve got you covered – but it will take more than a blog post.

Are you ready to maximise pedagogical value, connection for your student and supercharge your retention join us for our next 5-day challenge. 

We will be looking at 5 ‘no book’ techniques and looking at more in-depth strategies that will excite your students (and you!) and create big skill gains. (so you can engage even your intermediate and advanced students without feeling it’s ‘too simple’)

Nurturing independence: Join us with Composer Kevin Olson in a live webinar about this topic

🚀  Want to teach students exactly how to practice well?

Kevin Olson is sharing his top practice tips with us!

Join our upcoming free webinar and get tips to:

  • Build efficient practice habits
  • Choose strategies for specific challenges
  • Excite students about practising (yes we said it.)
  • See students master music faster

We are SO excited!

​Register here:👉 www.topmusic.co/webinar

About the Author

Sarah Buckley is a piano teacher and course creator in Keswick, Ontario, Canada. Connecting musician entrepreneurs to resources and services that advance their practice and spread the love of music drives Sarah. You can find her drinking coffee, having dance parties with her daughters, or at a CrossFit class.

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