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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Should a teacher be responsible for motivating a student to practice?

May 15, 2010 at 5:11 AM

It's really no wonder that Susie can't play this piece -- she hasn't practiced all week!

And whose fault is that? Is it Susie's fault? Is it Susie's parents fault? Or is it her teacher's fault?

Well, let's not point fingers. But I'd like to explore the idea of who should provide the motivation for practice. When I first started teaching (around 20 years ago), I thought that "motivation to practice" simply wasn't my department. My job was teaching the lessons. If you are going to ask me for lessons, I'm assuming you know that your job is to practice. If you don't practice, well duh, you won't learn.

The problem is that, though many people want to learn to play an instrument, a lot of them don't see the point in practicing. They see playing music sort of like they see reading books: generally you read a book once, unless it's a really good book. They fail to see that playing music is more like doing a cartwheel on a balance beam: not only do you have to perfect each skill involved, you have to practice the movements again and again. And once you stop practicing, you fall off the balance beam.

What role does a student's teacher play in practice? I came to the conclusion that, as a teacher, I must be a tireless practice advocate. Did you practice? Every day? What happened Thursday? Can you make sure it doesn't happen this Thursday? Also, I'm a practice prescription writer: practice this passage, 10 times a day, etc. Of course, I don't have to do this for every student, but when it's needed, I will turn up the heat about practicing.

What do you think? Is it your teacher's business, how much you practice? Teachers, is it your business, how much your students practice?


From David Rowland
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 5:36 AM

Perhaps it is a matter of semantics but I have a little problem with "responsible" and "motivate."

I don't feel my teacher is responsible for motivating me to practice yet I feel she is it's her job to teach me how to practice. Developing a plan that helps me make efficient use of my practice time and ensures that I cover the material she expects me to cover only helps me to improve. If she didn't do things like that, I might spend too much time on one thing and completely ignore others.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go practice.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 12:47 PM

As a teacher, I try to make sure students and/or parents get the importance of regular, daily practice.  Sometimes this is understood, but sometimes this needs to be learned, which is fine.  I also try to create practice plans, strategies, and schedules, and plan for the future.

But it is my experience that motivation is cultivated from progress.  And progress is made from...regular practicing! 

I agree with David that the semantics are a bit off.  I believe students and/or parents should take responsibility for daily practice.  Just like school homework...




From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Just to throw this in, I heard years ago about a violin teacher that would drive to her students' homes every day to practice with them.  Every day, seven days a week, at $50 a day for each child.

This was quite shocking, and it was the gossipy consensus that this teacher was not only greedy, but doing her students a huge disfavor by not developing personal responsibility for the discipline of violin practice.

However, that was a teacher that took responsibility for her students' practicing.


From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 3:06 PM

Eeek! That sounds awful, Anne!

But no, I just mean taking responsibility for motivating, not responsibility for practicing. I see a difference there, though I might not have made it clear! Should a teacher actively motivate: which could mean a lot of reminding, checking a chart every week, talking about the merits of practice, getting on a student's case for not practicing, assigning very specific practice routines, etc. In the end, the responsibility for practice is on the student, and if student is very young, the parent.

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 3:02 PM

David is VERY much on-target!  I feel that teaching a student HOW to practice should be the primary concern.  That's the biggest reason that I'm trying to re-work my budget -- so that I'll be able to afford lessons.  As an adult beginner, I've been trying to learn without benefit of a teacher, but I find that I've just been sort of "drifting".  Without direction from a teacher, my practicing has been less efficient than it should be.  I practice every day, but feel that I'm sort of "Mr. Magoo"-ing my way through (a cartoon reference that the younger folks might not be able to relate to) -- sometimes bumping into what I'm actually looking for, but probably more often getting sidetracked.  I can't wait to have an actual "game plan"!

I'd like to think that most adults are going to be self-starting enough to provide their own motivation.  I can, however, see a lot of benefit in "violin-teacher-as-cheerleader" when it comes to getting kids to practice.  The exceptional ones will motivate themselves.  Most will need a motivational boost from their teachers and parents.

From Sue Buttram
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 3:28 PM

 I teach children and adults.  I work with the children to set a target for the amount of time to practice each week and check their practice sheet to see if they met their target so I can provide a cool sticker.  I can't really do that with the adults.  With both children and adults, I talk a lot about how to make the time they have more efficient - I try to guide their practice each week.  I ask what sorts of practice issues they had during the week that I might be able to help with.  I talk about setting goals for each practice session, so they can really accomplish something each time.  But I voted no on this poll because I can only guide, I can't motivate them.  They have to motivate themselves.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 3:21 PM

Laurie, I do believe it is my job to create practice plans, and to keep tabs on how those plans are going.  "Do you need more to do?"  "Did you have too much to do?"  "You want more etudes?  Really?"  (Smiley face here)

I don't think we're on different pages here.  I just believe "motivation" comes from within, and is cultivated from progress. What I didn't mention earlier, and is something I've learned from experience, is that is my job to note progress, and praise the process of improvement.  "Your smiley thumb looks really wonderful today.  Did you work hard on that this week?  Yes?  Good, keep up the good work."  (Or something along those lines.)

This is a really interesting Weekend Vote!  I'm looking forward to what the students have to say.

I need some Graeter's now...

From Scott Cole
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 3:47 PM

 This should not be yes/no question.

Motivation in the early years should be shared by the teacher, the parent, and the student. 


From Deborah McCann
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 5:02 PM

As a teacher and having been a student for many years, I see this as a 3 prong issue.  I need, as a teacher, to provide instruction on how to practice, and motivate when needed to do this.  However, the student also needs to want to do this on some level.  And parents need to also provide time and encouragement to do this.  This is not really a yes or no question.  I am not at the students home, so can not enforce, or be "responsible" for this to happen.  I can, by how I teach enhance the desire to do practice.  But if the student is not playing because they want to or the parents are not supportive, nothing I do will make this happen.

From William Gibson III
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 5:47 PM

This is very much like leading a horse to water but can you make them drink ?   A teacher I feel it should be their job to instruct what is needed but to do it in a way that me as a student will strive for meeting the goals of the teacher and those that I have set for myself .... as an adult at least I hope that my goals and expectations are both realistic and in line with my teachers instructions.

   Adults comment on a different level and as such practice may or may not be on the same level as instruction each week. On a personal note I have to admit I have had a very hard time trying to find a point where I can practice . I am working new hours at my job and am lucky to still have one , I have gone from working a 12 hour over night shift to a Noon to 9pm , 8 hour shift , no OT or shift differential.... it has only been a couple weeks and I have been told my hours may change again to met personal and work needs ..... Practice has suffered greatly ...... Do I feel bad about it very much so , but not at the point where I would risk my  lively hood, and my teacher understands this maybe it will take me a couple of months to get through that next measure were it may of taken less than a week at one point , the bottom line is stay with this and work through to a better place and time to give what is needed or to give up altogether ... I will work it out ...

    It becomes a bit more tricky I feel if we are talking about a child student , here I feel the goal is two parts is the child interested and are they willing to make the effort to meet or try to the goals and hopefully the praise of their teacher, and the parents . Some times that praise may not be enough and so practice may at some point take a second to some other interest or the goals may have to be reset to what the child want to make....

  No you can not lead a horse to water and make them drink you must make them think they are thirsty to have them do that ... That is what a good teacher is .... one that makes us thirst ...

 Bill G.

From Andrei Pricope
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 9:28 PM

IMHO, the teacher's duty is to encourage, enable, challenge, enlighten, empower and guide with questions, insights and tools from experience, to provide opportunities to develop student's potential and tools to succeed.

No amount of teaching genius matters or amounts to anything long-lasting and meaningful when showered upon the student lacking self-motivation. Just like authentic self-esteem and true success, you can't give it to someone – they must EARN it in exchange for their effort, discipline, patience, perseverance, sacrifice and disappointment.

Education is about drawing out, not pouring in... I'm tired of the (still prevailing) entitlement mentality that insults both parties. In my studio, I don't offer false praise since it cheapens the whole process and dulls the student's required vigilance to excel.

From Royce Faina
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 10:35 PM

I always felt that a teacher should always set the example of what they want their students to be.... one worthy of imitation!  One that their students would want to be!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 11:08 PM

In my humble opinion, a teacher should show "why" one has to practice and cultivate passion in his/her students.  If the kid really doesn't like violin... don't bother (not everyone wants to play music as not everyone like maths...)  If the kid is motivated, then the teacher also have to consider when it's a lack of will/efforts and when it's because the student really couldn't practice (as adults, workors, university students etc people can,t always practice much for some periods)  Also it depends on how serious is the student. Some students don't want to practice but don't care how they play as some others want to play well and to be pushed...

Intersting topic!


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 15, 2010 at 11:13 PM

Sure the teacher is responsible for one thing... being a source of inspiration and someone a student can look up too!  If the teacher him/herself doesn't care... well we have a little problem ; )

From David Allen
Posted on May 16, 2010 at 1:48 AM

 HI all. I guess I'll have to chime in here. I didn't learn how to learn until I was about 30 years old and it took me some time to overcome the resentment I felt toward my parents and teachers for what I saw as a failure in their duty to me. Now, being older and (hopefully) wiser, I tend to spend more time on self-evaluation. The practice tunes themselves have become almost superfluous. They still need to be chosen with a thought to the development of technique,

So, after this long-winded intro, I've broken the task down into the following.

1. teach the student how to practice.

2. teach the student how to self-assess.

3. teach the student the relationship between proper practice and the ability to perform repertoire.

The student absolutely must understand the necessity of scales, arpeggios, and etudes, etc. Yet, this understanding of mastering technique won't necessarily show the student that they are in fact progressing; for that they need repertoire. That gives them the proof that helps  keep them motivated.

4. If parents have the teaching skills to do the above, they can be a great help. Conversely, they can make the problem worse by demanding something the student can't give!

So, I believe ultimately it is the teacher's responsibility  to provide this proper foundation. the rest should fall into place relatively easily.


From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on May 16, 2010 at 2:52 AM

I agree with Marsha and both the Davids: the single best thing a teacher can do for a student is to teach them HOW to practice.  It's not as simple as it sounds.  I've learned much more about this as an adult, both from observing my son's lessons and from my orchestra conductor.  I had some excellent teachers, but none of them really taught this.  I wish they had.

From Nasel Arcayan
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 2:01 AM

I have a great piano teacher who motivates me to practice. Now, i can 't wait for my next lesson.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 3:29 AM

The teacher definitely has a major role in motivation for practice, though not one of asking how many hours were spent in practice each week.  That is the role of the parent for young students, and the role of the student him/herself in the case of adult students. 

The motivation comes from teaching a student HOW to practice and finding ways to make it enjoyable and productive. 

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 4:12 AM

After taking time to think about what has motivated me and my daughter (who studies piano), I have concluded that there are different levels of motivation a teacher can provide.  One level is ACTIVE motivation, and maybe that's what Laurie was referring to.  As an example, a teacher should be sure that the material he/she is making the student practice is engaging and at the right level, accompanied by appropriate explanations.  The other is what I'd call indirect motivation: appropriate words of criticism, praise, or encouragement that hopefully have the effect of making the student WANT to go home and practice.  Of course the teacher SHOULD give that feedback, but what comes out of it is up to the student.  In this case, I don't see what role the parent has.

From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 1:40 PM

 I teach children and adults.  I work with the children to set a target for the amount of time to practice each week and check their practice sheet to see if they met their target so I can provide a cool sticker.  I can't really do that with the adults.

My teacher did that with me, and I'm in my 50's.  I thought it was cute.  During my first session with her, she was pleased that I completed the assignment, and I saw her walk over to a folder and come back to my music, and presto...a cute sticker next to the assignment.  It was an "Awww" moment for me, but nonetheless, she is teaching me such cool stuff that in a childish way, I look forward to getting that stamp of accomplishment.

Maybe I'll grow up one day, but I'm having too much fun right now.  As for practicing, I assume that responsibility.  Children and teens I believe, need encouragement, especially on hard techniques and passages, but adults tend to be self-driven.

I am a slave to the Alto Clef.

---Ann Marie 

From Kylie Svenson
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 4:59 PM

As others have said, I believe that it is the teacher's responsibility to help the student understand practicing. It is difficult to be motivated to practice if one does not understand either why one must practice, how one must practice, or why one must practice in a specific fashion. Understanding is key to enjoyment, and enjoyment is key to motivation.

If the student does not practice, it is not the teacher's job bribe or chastize; instead, it is their duty to seek to understand why the student does not practice, and then remedy what they can, which sometimes may be very little. There are many reasons for not practicing that a teacher cannot alter - psychological reasons that do not come under their purview as instructor.

So in a sense, my answer is no; it is not the teacher's task to wheedle, threaten, or cajole a student into practicing. However, I believe that the most common reason students do not practice is simply that they do not enjoy practicing; and a good teacher, by clarifying how and why we practice, can do a great deal to alter this. It is a teacher's task to be honest and encouraging, and to illuminate, so that the students may see music for themselves.

From Jennifer Knutson
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 6:43 PM

 As a private teacher and former public school teacher, I have seen many students come through my door very motivated to learn the violin, but as they come to the realization that they have to put in some work on their own, sometimes the motivation levels drop a bit.  I agree with the prior comments that a teacher can encourage students to practice, assist them with coming up with a practice plan, and keep a student accountable.  However, I do not believe it is solely the teacher's responsibility.  Yes, the teacher plays a big role, but the teacher is not the only team player.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 9:03 PM

Jeniffer so true... after all, the teacher can't play for you!  Even if they sometimes try ; )   (by grabbing your bow arm and fingers to put them at the right place and make them move!  Brings memories of my firsts lessons!)


From Royce Faina
Posted on May 17, 2010 at 10:32 PM

let the teacher practice what he/she preaches and make it evident. Inspire the student to imitate the teacher and go beyond!

From Becky Jenkinson
Posted on May 19, 2010 at 11:17 PM

I do what I can to encourage and urge my students to practice their violin and be ready for next week's lessons, but ultimately I find the parent(s) are very key in the process.  They are the ones who are paying for the lessons, and if they just bring their children to the lesson because the child wants to, and we just go over the same things we went over last week, there is a bit of learning, but not nearly as much as there would be if they had practiced.  My students who practice faithfully are the ones that zoom ahead.  And I find these ones are the ones that have parents that take great measures to make sure that practice happens, or the lesson doesn't!   And because they like to come to the lessons, they practice!   Just a thought, and just what I find is the case!

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