How do teachers get their students to practice more?

July 16, 2009 at 01:20 PM ·

On the challenging journey that is learning the violin, practice is paramount. Teachers seek new ways to get their students practicing like it is the holy grail!

When our students practice more, they give us the opportunity to take them on the next exciting step in their musical adventure!

As a teacher, what are some of the ways that you encourage your students to play more, or work harder? Do you have any particular strategy/ tricks/ incentives? 

Replies (22)

July 16, 2009 at 02:42 PM ·


July 16, 2009 at 03:43 PM ·

As an adult student, the thing that helps most os discussing a practice schedule. My life is pretty full, and when I have scheduled times, I find I spend longer in practice, and practice more frequently.

July 16, 2009 at 03:44 PM ·


I just asked my little niece, who has been studying violin for a little under years now.   I asked her what are the favorite parts of her lessons.  She said when her teacher plays along.  She feels like she's making real music.  I asked her if she knew she would be playing with her teacher next week what would she do?  She said she would want to lean the music so she could play along.


July 16, 2009 at 03:51 PM ·

Nice input Steven! I'm going to try that asap! =D

July 16, 2009 at 04:08 PM ·

When a student isn't enjoying practicing, the problem is usually frustration (not boredom).  The frustration occurs because the student is, unintentionally, working at several things at once.  The task is overwhelming and nothing gets done.  The solution is to teach the student to ration his challenges, working on "do-able bits", to use an oft-spoken phrase from Miss DeLay.  When he learns to do four little tasks, one after the other, rather than all four at once, he has the satisfaction of witnessing his own progress.  Nothing is more motivating than sensing one's own progress.

An example of practicing do-able bits is correcting a wrong rhythm by first speaking it (voice, no violin) while tapping beats. Then practice it on the violin *only after* one is able to simultaneously speak the rhythm while tapping the beats.  The operative principal is organizing the work into a large number of small steps, rather than a small number of frustratingly large steps.

When you ask a student why he doesn't enjoy practicing, he will often say: "It's boring.", but when you investigate further you generally find that boredom (not enough challenge) is often not the problem.  The problem is more often the opposite of boredom: too much challenge!

July 16, 2009 at 04:52 PM ·

Expanding on Oliver's point, I was struck by the brilliance of one aspect of Kurt Sassmanshaus' approach, which he documents on

There are student worksheets there that include a large number of technical tasks, all of which are addressed for sometimes only THREE MINUTES A DAY of practice!  When you guide a young student to do twenty of these little studies daily, suddenly they are an hour into their practice, before even hitting their repertoire!

Presumably, he teaches them to break down repertoire similarly.

You might summarize this approach by saying, "Don't teach them how to play; teach them how to practice, and watch them play!"

The drawback is that it requires knowing how to practice.  ;-)

July 16, 2009 at 05:04 PM ·

One sure way to turn them off is to give them pieces they hate, Some pieces just dont click with certain kids. I understand the theory about the "balanced diet". But I am sue there are different ways to get that essential vitamin intake. What click and what doesnt, it takes an observant teacher to find out.


July 16, 2009 at 05:51 PM ·

Our teacher requires no practice. He tells them what he wants the to work on, and holds them to a high standard during the lesson. If they are prepared as he suggests, they get past scales and etudes and into more fun things. Seemly, as if by magic, they work to meet his expectations. If they don't practice they know he will practice with them. 

July 16, 2009 at 07:16 PM ·

Great thread.  I would be especially interested in hearing how parents get their young kids to practice.  My 7 year old just started violin last week.  Right now, he is doing 10 minutes a day of bow exercises (Mississippi Hot Dog stuff), and we have had no problems getting him to practice.  But, when the going gets tough, that's when I have concerns about keeping him motivated.  I am anticipating a long and hard road ahead for my son, so I would be open to any suggestions including tricks, games, bribes, threats, rewards, basically anything to keep him going.


July 16, 2009 at 08:27 PM ·

Turn practising into a game and an adventure. My teacher had a tiny 3 year old girl play a song called Russian King (open strings only ;) ) during recital and she didn´t want to play at first but then he reminded her of that it was a king song and how they had "played" performing during lesson. Needless to say the little girle did indeed perform. So turning practising into a game will delight any child.

July 16, 2009 at 11:47 PM ·

Chocolate always worked (and still does) for me.  Something along the lines of:  "Let's have another go at this exercise to see if we can make it sound nicer and when it is 5 o'clock, we'll have a 10 minute practice break for a drink and a piece of chocolate..."

July 17, 2009 at 11:13 AM ·

Spank Them! }:^D

Spank you very Much.......

July 17, 2009 at 01:05 PM ·

Royce, I'm shocked that you would suggest such a thing.  I save the spankings for my wife.  She actually enjoys it :-)

July 17, 2009 at 02:37 PM ·

DUUUUUUUUUUDE!!!!!!   }:^)

July 17, 2009 at 10:47 PM ·

 I think the biggest challenge is for the student to switch from external motivation (stickers, candy, better seat in the orchestra, or even wanting the teacher's approval) to internal motivation (wanting to improve for the sake of becoming a better musician.) Bribing kids will be effective in most cases in the short run (except for kids who really despise practicing; my oldest daughter forfeited a pet bunny at age 7 because she just could not bear it.) But I think it's important to make the switch, and as early as possible. You might need an interim period in which the stickers or whatever are accumulated as a visual display of work accomplished/progress but not as a means to a reward (i.e., stickers for stickers' sake, not adding up to an ice cream cone.)

When my kids were little we did use stickers and other techniques (I could elaborate) as a way of creating a concrete, visual way of keeping track of progress. The goal wasn't the sticker, but the accumulation of stickers helped a young mind keep track of where they were, much in the way that those giant pictures of thermometers help donors visualize the progress of fund drives. For example, with every correct repetition of a short passage, a marble is transferred from a bag into a clear jar. My kids grew up, and each of them in her own time moved on to becoming internally motivated about violin practice, although the age at which this occurred varied quite widely from child to child. 

Recently my second daughter (who is majoring in something entirely different in college although she still studies and plays) told me that her violin/viola training taught her an invaluable lesson that slow, careful practice (and tasks broken down into small subsections) over a long period of time yields great progress. She says that her non-musician peers have very low levels of frustration for learning difficult skills and she's convinced that all those years of practicing (many of them, from about age 2 to age 13 with me at her side) have changed her life.

July 18, 2009 at 12:45 AM ·

All Kidding Aside..........

I like what E. Smith Posted.  Are the students doing it for the sticker & trinketts or to become the best violinist he or she can be?  There are the preasures of homework, sports, etc., that takesd up time.  If a student is in competitive sports that also demands practice time.

July 18, 2009 at 05:40 AM ·

I don't ask for "more" practicing, but "daily" practicing, and "quality" practicing.  For young ones, Bill is right.  It is parents.  It is the parents that need to set the practice times, and reinforce them. 

E, I find the transition period interesting.  It is a step towards personal maturity and responsibility for a young person to recognize that quality, regular practicing produces quality results.  Getting them to do it can challenging  (insert smiley face here).  Sometimes more patience is needed...

As for stickers, I use them.  The small ones like the stickers because they are shiny and dazzling, but the older ones like them too, because they mark accomplishment and a job well done. 

I also started a prize box for when the students knock off a book.  It is full of Dollar Store stuff, nothing fancy.  This has been a HUGE hit.  It took me by surprise really.  The kids are aware that the pink straw Chinese Finger Puzzle can be bought 5 for $1, but they have a tangible token of achievement that is worth much more. 


July 18, 2009 at 02:23 PM ·

Parents!!!  As a late starter who have to motivate myself alone since no musician parents or musicians around me in my environment, I swear it takes so much discipline and honnestly it's tought to deal with all this alone.  Had I not have a very profound and forgiving love for music(because sometimes it really hurts when you work so hard and have the impression that somehow music laughs at you...) + a very very high dose of patience, I think I would have quit many many times. 

So please, if you are a parent of someone who plays violin and can do a little more difference than just telling him\her "I really don't know what to say" like my parents tell me (not because they are mean.  They gave me the most wonderful instrument but just don't know what it is and how it feels to play...), do it and your kid will be so much more motivated!!!

Just my two cents...


July 18, 2009 at 02:38 PM ·

As a parent of 2 young boys who play the violin. To me, it is easy to make them practice, to practice daily, regularly, to put in x amt of time into it. Afterall, if they follow a more or less regular daily schedule, it will become habit - just like having breakfast.


it is hard to make them take charge. To listen and observe, to look out for mistakes, analyse and correct them. To play slowly, to think before do. To divide a big piece into "digestable chunks " and attack one at a time. To use brains before hands, as one teacher previously said, we are practicing brains, not so much hands..

At some point in time, kids do "take charge", and will move from x amt of practice time, to "quality" practice time. I wonder when does that typically happen - 10 years old, teens? I see girls doing it a lot earlier than boys - (a little generalising here) at least they do play slowly but accurately, boys tend to play messily but happily and energetically!.


July 18, 2009 at 08:16 PM ·

My students ask me: "How much should I practice?"

My answer is: "Until it works." 


July 18, 2009 at 10:10 PM ·

Threats and bribes.

Kidding =)

I work in a teacher co-op.  Every Saturday we get all of our studets together and have group class.  I'm a firm believer in group class encouraging longevity of playing.  When kids are young (3,4, and 5) they are usually somewhat competitive.  It's the "I want the same toy he has" syndrome.  If they're in a group with 15 other kids, they notice when someone gets an extra finger tape or graduates to the next piece.  They desperately want to keep up.

When kids are older (like 8+) the competition may not be there but peer interaction is extremely powerful.  It keeps them from feeling isolated and practing just being another chore their parents force upon them.  Instead, they have friends of a similar age playing together.  They may still fight with their parents about practicing but the desire to keep playing is much stronger becuase they enjoy that social interaction.

July 19, 2009 at 04:47 PM ·

For my less-advanced students, asking for a time block of 15, 20 or 30 minutes 5 or 6 days a week works about as well as anything. But once into intermediate level, i spend time helping studentsset long-term goals, choose directions together (Would your preference be the next Suzuki book, or alternate literature & what genre?), and planning strategies for practicing for particular skills/technique problems. I run on a presumption that my students want to practice, but the rest of life gets in the way sometimes. Sue

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