Teachers – what do you do with students that don’t (or won’t) practice?

I’m very much blessed to have students that are really intrinsically motivated to practice, have a real love for the instrument and the learning and development process. As a result I’ve not had to do too much of the cracking of the whip!

In fact, my students are most apologetic when the big important things such as family, health, work or life(!) mean that their practice has taken a back seat for a week or two. This is so sweet and so endearing that they place such a high value on their learning process, and always makes me chuckle. I tell them that it’s ok – they certainly don’t have to seek my approval or “OK” for having done or not done practice during the week – and to take the pressure of themselves. It’s not all about the guitar all of the time – it’s true!!

I have had, however, the occasional student where practicing has started to lapse over a greater period of time. This is frustrating for me as a teacher to go over exactly the same ground for a number of weeks with the same student. More importantly it’s disheartening for me to see the student become increasingly disheartened with their own playing and lack of progress.

In discussing this issue with a friend recently, they said to me  “Why does it matter? So long as they’re paying you money, and they keep turning up.

Well, I’ll tell you why it matters to me.

If I took that attitude I might as well go and work at MacDonald’s (no offence to Macca’s workers – I used to work there myself in my yoof), or a consulting firm or in a shop or do any other kind of job. This is not just about money for me. This is my passion and I so dearly want to pass on my own skills, knowledge, learnings and understanding to help my students progress as players and people and to help support growth of the classical guitar.

So this, fellow teachers, is where we must be brave and ask certain questions, even if it means putting some of our income on the line. We must for the good of our students (and also ourselves) ask the question in this situation “why are we here learning the guitar? Is your heart in this and do you want to continue?” It might be that there are some issues going on their lives which are impacting them, and of course we can be very empathetic to their particular situation. Asking this question we can perhaps discern some of their story and support them.

Similarly we may also find out whether their journey with the guitar is one they want to continue on at this time. If it’s not right for them right now, this question may give a good opportunity for them. If they do wish to continue, but they just need a gentle nudge to pull themselves back in line, then you as a teacher stepping up and supportively asking these kinds of questions might just be the step to get them headed in the rigt direction again.

So, fellow teachers, I’m interested to know how you approach the issue with students that seem to be dropping off the practice. I’d love to know your approaches.


3 thoughts on “Teachers – what do you do with students that don’t (or won’t) practice?

  1. Some year ago I was taking lessons from a local guitar teacher. A very good teacher. With a seldom seen “touch” when playing and also a seldom seen “touch” when dealing with people. At that time I was working as a system manager. That kind of job can really make you fool if practised in “overpressure” conditions and it really made me struggle a lot. You have little choice when the only hours left for you to practise are between twelve and one o’ clock in the night. No need to say that lessons where I could have done my homework were very few. Nevertheless that teacher gave me very important theory principles. Moreover He taught without adding useless worries. It was the first time in my life (I was more than 50 y.o.) that I could feel that even the smallest improvement is an improvement. Not something to feel guilty of because of the exercices you couldn’t do. In the following time I was bound to suspend lessons when the “pressure” in my job made me leave it and I could no more afford music school fees. But I’m still improving. I know that I will never be a “true” musician, but I would not give away my guitar. Not fot the same weight in gold and I would not have lost “Those” lessons. For no reason.

    1. Buongiorno!

      Thanks very much for your message.
      Glad to hear that you had such a lovely teacher.
      And I ask you this question – what is a “true” musician? You my friend, by what you are saying, are a “true” musician – someone who has the passion and desire, the love of music 🙂

      Good on you.


  2. Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life. This is the way we do it at my studio, http://www.nassaubaymusiclessons.com… anyway…

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