How do you get your students to practice?

March 5, 2010 at 01:58 AM ·

I thought it would be interesting to see what ideas others on this forum have for encouraging students to practice.


Replies (29)

March 5, 2010 at 05:53 AM ·

Usually looking disappointed does the trick.  Getting angry never worked but as long as the student has a conscience then seeing one's teacher look disappointed sends a pretty clear message.  If I ever perceived that a teacher of mine was disappointed in me I felt absolutely devastated and would double my efforts.

If that doesn't work you could make them memorize and tell them that in their next lesson you will take away their books and make them play without sheet music.  Nothing like memorization to insure that the material gets worked on.

March 5, 2010 at 06:51 AM ·

First of all, I give them this lecture. They need to practice every day, that's all there is to it. I look at the chart, every week. If they fall off the wagon, I try to get them back on.

March 5, 2010 at 07:06 AM ·

 It's also a great help if the parents are on board/expect that the kids practice if the kids are taking lessons.  If they aren't strict about it, I have the kids make a practice chart.  I just explain to them that they won't progress/sound good if they don't do xyz (and by contrast, that if they do so they will sound good).... and explain it again and again.... until they do it! :)

March 5, 2010 at 07:24 AM ·

Recitals help add some pressure, hopefully positive-- to everyone involved. Student- parents- teacher. Oh- sorry- I just noticed the question said, "brilliant."

March 5, 2010 at 03:37 PM ·

I make it a competition between my students.  I have a chart up with all the students' names.  Each student is given a practice sheet that holds up to 10 practice days.  Each time they practice they write down the date, the material they worked on, and the time they spent.  There is a 15 minute minimum per practice day.  Each day has to be signed by a parent or guardian.  Once they have completed an entire practice sheet they turn it in and they get a sticker on the chart by their name as well as a small prize (lollipop, penicl, eraser, bookmark, extra lesson time, etc).

At the end of the year the 3 students with the most practice stickers get a bigger prize (concert tickets, CD's, books, etc).  We also have a celebration party at the end of the year.  In order to be invited to the party each student must have at least 4 practice stickers and participate in the end of year concert. 

It works brilliantly for my students grades 3-6.

March 5, 2010 at 06:19 PM ·

Hi, Laura!

I also find with some of my students (but not all!), that it works really well to push them hard and ask them to do all kinds of challenging things at lessons, with the important understanding first that we are trying this as an adventure, to find the top of their potential, and that I won't be surprised if they can't do it all, so they have permission from the outset to "fail" some of the things we'll try.  It's more like experimenting together, but very intensely.

For instance, last night I had a beginner with whom I had been doing quite a bit of detail work for the past few weeks, and I could see she was beginning to get discouraged.  So I had her play her piece, now up to passing standard, told her it was passed, and then told her just for fun to try it with her bow held upside-down (tricky with some of the off-string bowings she had to do!).  That worked fine, to her great surprise, so then I had her do the same thing, but starting on a different string, then with her eyes closed besides. Again she was surprised to find she could do it, and suddenly the lesson had become lots of fun and high-energy.  She went home knowing that piece a lot more thoroughly and remembering it as "fun."  And because my students know I might spring something like this on them at any time, especially before a performance, that encourages them to keep interested and put in the practice at home, so they're ready for anything their crazy teacher might come up with!  Of course, the other key is to let them know how thrilled you are that they rose to the occasion.  I told that girl last night several times, "I was pretty sure you could do this, but I didn't know you could also do that, did you?!"

Just my two cents.  Isn't teaching a wonderful job?


March 5, 2010 at 08:03 PM ·

I'm a student myself and honestly I don't see the need for the teacher to do anything for me to practice other than giving me an assignment to work on. But.. I suppose that if it's someone under the age of 13, looking disappointed could work. -- It would work otherwise too but really, grownups should know that they practice for themselves not for the teachers.


March 5, 2010 at 09:13 PM ·

Students need to take responsibility for their practicing.  If students are young children, then it is the parents that need to enforce the daily practice time.  

There are many strategies to encourage daily practice.  Laurie's 21 Days was linked, some do well with a practice chart, or sometimes a recital or competition.  My favorite is to make a short, doable list of specific goals. 

Even my most eager practicers slide every now and then.  I think that's human nature, not a character flaw.  I try to encourage a fresh start with a new week.  



March 6, 2010 at 09:44 AM ·

The one who practices least will be the first to die.

March 6, 2010 at 02:06 PM ·

 I hesitate to add any comments, because it seems fitting that Emily's advice should be be the last word.  My mother studied violin when she was a young girl and I'm sure she practiced as much as she was supposed to, and she's 101.  

I wonder if it would be valuable to think about just why people (any age) avoid practicing?  Fear of tedium?  Or is there some inexplicable part of our psyche that discourages us from doing those things that we really want to do?

What is most difficult for me is to simply get started.  And what encourages me the most is setting the tiniest goals, a la the Sassmanshaus 'virtuous moments' idea of just practicing something for 3 minutes at a time.  That one works really well for me, who finds it hard to start, but then equally hard to stop.

March 6, 2010 at 02:14 PM ·

Phil, I remember reading something somewhere called a "fear of failure". Essentially, someone has had a bad experience at some point. The experience was they tried really hard, believed they did their best, but when it was time to show it, it turned out they did everythign wrong (proved by a teacher perhaps) or another variant is that they did do their honest best, but they made a lot of mistakes when it came time to perform. Those are simplistic versions, but there are many variants. Essentially what the brain does, in order to avoid that incredible embarrassment, is to avoid putting in the effort in the first place. You can't get  embarrassed by trying your best and failing if you know you didn't try your best. Something along those lines. It's quite ironic as you can see, but that's the ego's rationale. I think it can be true in some students cases.

March 7, 2010 at 09:01 PM ·



I do use a practice notebook with my students.   They leave each lesson with a clear understanding of what they should do each day to accomplish our mutually agreed upon short and long term goals.

I reward a practice chart that shows ANY practice with praise, and those that reflect 6 practice sessions with a sticker, and ten stickers earns them a small prize [I have been using scented pencils in recent years].  Acknowledging that the first minute of practice is the hardest one to get to,  I don't quibble about length of practice, as far a rewards go.  I do reward extra practices, or practices using SmartMusic with an extra sticker.  I also refuse to waste lesson time listening to excuses, and I keep my promise to never chastise my students for not practicing.

It seems to work -- I am constantly amazed and proud of the work my students put in!

March 8, 2010 at 01:38 AM ·

Just a few things I did with my own boys over the past fifteen years of their violin studies.

1.  Start the little ones practicing every day, without fail, usually at the same time and always with the parent participating.  This becomes a part of their life so that as teens they cannot remember a time when they didn't practice every day, and it would just feel weird not to.

2.  The parent must end the practice before the small child wilts.  Even if you are disappointed that they didn't go longer, be pleased.

3.  I had a carrot shaped orange basket that I filled with bits of paper on which I had written rewards.  My kids and I would brainstorm to get a list of good  rewards to put in the basket.  They were things that now look funny to them, but were meaningful to them when they were little.  Things like:  "Choose what is for dinner" and "Play with a toy that requires Mommy's help" and funniest of all "Take a bath by myself".  (Rather than with my brother).  We had to update these as they grew, but I still keep the basket.

4.  Review sheets.  The Suzuki teacher had review sheets as well as practice sheets.  When the review sheets were filled, my boys were allowed to open this very complex and decorative Korean box.  They would first get the "Golden key" down from the hanger on the wall.  It was a big production.  Her box was filled with wonderful rewards like matchbox cars.

5.  100 day parties and 1000 day parties.  These honored the number of days in a row that they practiced.  They involved having a friend over for home-made pizza and a movie and for the big ones fiddle jam sessions and a big party with their music friends.

6.  As they get older: eleven, twelve, etc... take the time to make a practice sheet with them, using the notes from the lesson.  This way they review the material, organize the material and begin to take responsibility for their practice.  We would sit at the computer and make a spread-sheet together that they would check off.  Eventually they made their own.

7.  Knowing what to do first, second etc..., and exactly how long to spend on each exercise removes much of the stress of practicing.  

8.  Engage them in a scientific exploration of the mechanics and physics of playing so they become their own teachers and much better observers.  Practice becomes creative, interesting and all-absorbing in this way.  They eventually learn how to design their own passage work, how to nail down specific technical challenges in tricky spots and how to perfect the more advanced techniques.



March 8, 2010 at 04:41 AM ·

If by students you mean everyone, then you would all show me the door ; )   Really, this is wonderful for young kids but wouldn't work for an adult who studies in a challenging college or university non musical path...  When you're terribly tortured at the though of not practicing, that every time you dare do a little 15-30 min of music practice you feel guilty for your school things, that you try your best at lessons knowing that you'll play not that well... the last thing you need is a violin teacher to tell directly or indirectly that you're lazy and not working hard ennough...     In such life periods, so many quit music that it's good to just try to keep on lessons. I'm sure it's the same with those who have families by the way.  

I know this thread is mostly for kids (well, I imagine reading your responses with tactics including, stickers, toys and pick in the hat games!!!  again some could say it depends what you put in the hat but that's another story I suppose lol) so sorry to interrupt but just a note when you want to see if an adult lies or tells the truth, look at his/her progress during vacations (usually much bigger during vacations than school time...)  Anyway, this "vacation" trick works for me as a student...


Have a nice day,

Marina, your lucky your students don't want to take eachother's head off ; )  but if it works...



March 8, 2010 at 06:36 AM ·

Thinking back a few decades, what used to get me practicing was positive feedback from my teacher.  If my teacher was excited about my progress, I was more motivated to practice to do even better.  A practice plan for the week helped also. 

March 8, 2010 at 01:46 PM ·

I could be wrong, but with young students (I am thinking in general most children under the age of, say, 14-15) doesn't the practice-responsibility lie with the parent as much as the student? Personally I started a bit later, but even if I had began to love the violin at 5, 6, 7 years old, I can't imagine it would have even occured to me to practice if I were in the middle of playing. Just a thought :)

March 8, 2010 at 03:43 PM ·

I once had a crazy Italian violin teacher who would...

  • constantly smoke "Kent" cigarettes right next to me at the lesson
  • sream and yell
  • throw the music off the stand so it was ripped and battereed
  • lock you in the studio room and make you practice after the lesson if he was not pleased with your progress

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE...and I was a relative beginner at the time too, nine years old


March 8, 2010 at 03:59 PM ·

wow... it's hard to find more crappy than this...

Fourtunately you survived!


ps: just be curiosity, did his methods work?  Did he had that successful results?

March 8, 2010 at 04:03 PM ·


It was a different did what you were told and never balked, whether by example or fear tactics Today, it would NEVER happen. The teacher would be sued for abuse no doubt. Yes I survived and quite surprisingly perhaps love the violin. One year he went to Europe for the summer. When he returned I finally got the nerve to tell my father "I quit the violin".

My dad's coaxing led me to William Khoury, the best teacher I ever had. He really was quite amazing...mellow and funny; yet focused and intuitive. I practiced my butt off to please him...He had two wicked fiddles...a Bergonzi and a Goffriller.

March 8, 2010 at 05:23 PM ·

Happy that it ended well! 

In fact, beeing too kind can lead in letting pass bad habits to "not be too hard one the student" which will lead in big insecurity from the student never knowing if'he's doing the right thing or if the teacher just tells it's find to be kind but beeing too mean is really not a solution either!  


March 8, 2010 at 08:20 PM ·

Scott , thats the typical Italian teaching method , fortunately in Italy didatic methods are changing but its taken a long time!!!

March 9, 2010 at 01:27 PM ·


I assume that since you list Suzuki training that you are mostly asking about how to motivate young students to practice?  

The most important thing you can do as a teacher is to educate the parents on how to organize the practice time.  

At any age the biggest obstacle to regular practice is stress:  the stress of not knowing where to start, the stress of feeling that the practice is endless, the stress of not knowing how to engage your own intellectual processes in the task.  It can seem like an endless task and sometimes the little pre-exercises, taken out of the context of the piece seem without purpose to a parent or a child.  This is especially true for the most musical of children where context is important.  Once it is clear what to do first, second,etc... what to look for, what the goal for the task is, and how long to work at it, the stress is removed.

March 9, 2010 at 03:38 PM ·

We've discussed this topic many times over the years on this site, and I've learned a lot from my fellow v.commies.  I assume we're talking about students who are kids.

  • I give them homework sheets every week, and they have to write in the number of minutes they practiced each day.
  • Laurie Niles suggested the following, and I've had great success with it.  I have the student help me write down his/her assignments and goals.  I ask, "What do you really need to concentrate on when you practice this piece?"  We can make it very specific, i.e., "low 2."  I'm always impressed with how much they remember at the end of the lesson and how much they forget a week later. 
  • Parental involvement, support, and encouragement are of paramount importance.  When I get a new student, I write a note to his or her parents explaining how they can help, whether or not they've had musical training.  (I posted my letter in my blog of July 22, 2009.)
  • Mendy wrote a very moving blog earlier this year about a note that her teacher wrote to her in a Christmas card.  The teacher praised her highly and very specifically on some areas of improvement which were important to her.  I was reminded that we teachers concentrate on making corrections on our students' playing, and we often omit praise, especially praise about major conceptual advances.  I decided to try this on one of my kid students.  For her birthday, I bought her a little violin ornament that she could hang up in her room, and I took great care in wrapping the gift for maximum effect.  I got her a birthday card and wrote her a note about her progress and my pride in her.  I had her read it out loud to her mother.  The effect was fantastic. My student was so excited that she couldn't stop hugging me.  ;-)
  • Sometimes I set a very specific goal and a very specific reward, such as having two friends over for a sleepover.  I do this in collaboration with the girl's mother.
  • I like the idea of giving out small gifts.  I was recently in a music store that sold a lot of music related, inexpensive items, such as pencils decorated with brightly colored eighth notes and quarter notes, and I bought a bunch of things to use.
  • I talk to my students and help them decide on a specific time to practice regularly every day.  This is more complex and more important when the students' parents are divorced and the kid shuttles back and forth from one parent's home to the other's.


March 10, 2010 at 08:24 PM ·

Thank you all so much for your brilliant ideas! I now feel ready and inspired to re-invigorate my studio with some old and some new ideas!

It is funny how success always comes down to somehow revisiting the basics! :)


March 10, 2010 at 09:29 PM ·

I once had a crazy Italian violin teacher who would...

  • constantly smoke "Kent" cigarettes right next to me at the lesson
  • sream and yell
  • throw the music off the stand so it was ripped and battereed
  • lock you in the studio room and make you practice after the lesson if he was not pleased with your progress

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE...and I was a relative beginner at the time too, nine years old.

I can relate to this.

I remember very distinctly taking piano lessons at aged 5, but the only thing I remember is going to a convent to take the lessons and having to sit with a nun that did nothing but scream and smack my hands with a conductors baton when I made a mistake - which was - at aged 5 - quite a bit.

I remember nothing about the music or the notes or anything else.  Shortly thereafter, my parents took me away from that thank goodness.

--Ann Marie

March 12, 2010 at 03:29 AM ·

Ann Marie,

Very sorry to hear about the nun story.  Experiences like that can deter a person from music forever.  I think that positive reinforcement is almost always preferable over negative.  I personally work pretty hard at being (trying to be) a better violinist.  If I fail at something, I can guarantee it is not due to a lack of effort on my part.  If a teacher made negative comments about my failures, especially if they are not constructive, I would more likely be discouraged and de-motivated, than to work harder.  At any rate, I think the treatment has to be tailored to the individual.  For students that are motivated and working hard, negative feedback can be quite destructive.  On the other hand, if a student obviously has not practiced, then a swift kick in the back side might not be such a bad thing.


March 15, 2010 at 01:42 AM ·

 Group identity can reinforce practicing.  The old slogans like "Only practice on the days you eat" are shared from one player to the next with pride.  Maybe T-Shirts with this sort of slogan would be a good thing for your studio.  

My kids and their friends (now in their teens) all share the constant responsibility of preparing for upcoming lessons and events.  They all share a childhood where regular practice was a major part of their days. They seem proud of the fact that they have dedicated themselves to becoming skilled at something so challenging.  When they see someone who excels at something (chess, academics, sports), they know that it has taken lots of work and lots of time as well as talent.  This is a valuable lesson for anyone.  

I have known many students who fail to thrive academically, fail to get through a course, fail to attend regularly, fail to get the required work in, or fail to persist through the classes needed to graduate.  Often they are really, really talented and they are bothered by the difference between their level of achievement and their perceived level of talent.  They think "I am good enough to be a ...I am as smart as that guy... I could be a doctor if I wanted", but they also think they shouldn't have to demonstrate their knowledge, that it should be evident to anyone.  They somehow have failed to see that small steps will get a person a long way and that persistence, diligence, and organization are at least as important as native ability.  The lesson that you learn hard things by taking small, organized steps over a long period of time is the most important lesson a violin teacher can give a student.  It doesn't matter if the child doesn't aspire to go to music school. The value of violin lessons is not in producing prodigies, it is in producing healthy, thriving learners.  This is the message that should be shared with both the parents and the students:  The practice habit is not just important for aspiring musicians - it is important for anyone who aspires to anything great.

March 15, 2010 at 02:24 AM ·

Jennifer I agree about feeling as a part of a group of players... 

I know that despite having supportive parents (as long as it remains a serious hobby, they help for lessons, instrument fees etc) which is really really appreciated of course, I still don't have this emotional bound I would have if I had growned up with musicians around me as family and friends. (perhaps I wouldn't have a good violin since all my siblings would play expensive instruments as well lol  Just joking...)  Sometimes I'm all excited or sad about something related to my music and it's no sense telling it since they don't want to hear my violin stories as much  when it's not their passion!  One must be careful to not get on the nerves of non musicians too! Perhaps this is why I share recordings, talk about masterclasses and events in Montreal to my teacher at the end of the classes. (since she is as excited as me about these...)  

But still, it's not a parent, friend or sibling to whom you can tell everything and talk a little longer!  Of course, it's wonderful to have ressources as to share info with other musicians but the best of all is still to have them around you so I agree very much with your point Jennifer (and when there is friendship, there is no longer mean competition. Shouldn't be anyway but you know what I mean) 

Have a nice day,



March 19, 2010 at 11:47 AM ·

Weeks later and I'm still LOL'ing at Emily's comment.  I mentioned it to a few of my older students and they got the giggles too.  Maybe it's my strange Aussie sense of humour, I don't know, but thanks for the laugh :D


How do I get my students to practice?  I stalk them down on Facebook and remind them, if they haven't been consistent ;)


Actually their current practice schedule booklets I printed out for all of them seems to be doing the trick.  If they're little, a parent needs to sign off, and they need to write down one thing they enjoyed/learned about their practise.  If they're older, they can sign it off themselves and still write down something they enjoyed and any goals they may have had that week.  Cost me a fortune in toner cartridges though.

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