Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Giving Students a Reason to Practice

A recent question on Band Director started "Hello, I am in my 3rd year of teaching junior high. No matter what I 'teach' my students, they are not willing to put in any effort outside of school. Do you have any advice?"

We are often so concerned about what we teach our students, that we forget how important it is to inspire our students.  When we teach students, we certainly can convey our love for our art.  Our excitement for turning notes on a page into an expression of our artistic and personal emotions will come out in our voice, in our body language and in our desire to instill our knowledge in others. So in teaching alone, we can communicate our own personal drive and the joy sharing that drive gives us.  But witnessing that passion is not enough for our students.  I know many of us have poured our hearts into a lesson only to see blank stares on our student's faces.  Our love for music and the student's love for music are disconnected.

So what have we done wrong?  Why are our student's not finding the world of music as thrilling as we are?  The question is, "why are they not putting in the effort?"  I suggest the answer is simple.  Why do we all like to practice?  Why do we put significant effort into our own skill?  Because we have reason to. 

Those reasons include musical opportunity, performance diversity, exposure to others, and exposure to new music.  How many of us would perform 2 concerts a year, work on the same music for 10 or more weeks, participate in no other musical events, hear no other concerts, then play our concerts and claim our devotion and love for music? I know I couldn't.  I believe most professional players and educators would say the same.  Our love for our art comes form participation at many levels.  We are energized by surrounding ourselves with musical activities.  We practice because there is reason to.  

Giving student's a reason to practice will mean changing the way we think and work.  We must think of our teaching as the conveying of skills, that no matter how great we teach, it is not enough to inspire kids, giving them reason to "want to practice."  We must provide a variety of musical opportunities for them.  One of our local schools does an amazing job at providing opportunities.  The East Lycoming Band program provides numerous concerts by outside organizations, they encourage competition participation and they promote the thrill of being in their program on Facebook and social media. I also know they use technology tools to help kids, such as SmartMusic (viaAcademies is a proud affiliate of SmartMusic as well).  They truly think about their educational and inspiration role to ensure their students have reason to practice.  What this means for them is work.  Yes, that's right -- WORK!  It is hard work to turn ideas in reality.  I am certain if I interviewed them (which is a great idea for our upcoming PodCast) they would say they work very hard to provide the opportunities they do.

I am certain the students in their program know why they need to practice.  They may not actually think about it but they certainly live it.  Taking part in the variety of activities they are exposed to means the teaching part now has meaning.  And like most of us, I am sure they are inspired to want to practice, not just because the teachers say so.  

So why won't kids practice?  I suggest we continue to be great teachers while adding more of our attention to the opportunities we provide our students.  Their musical worlds can not revolve around a single teacher.  As teachers we will witness our students reaching their goals only after we open up their musical worlds through opportunity, giving them reason to practice. 


viaAcadmies provides opportunities for students to express themselves musically, share their performance and work with trained teachers.  Visit our site for more information on how viaAcademies can help you give your students additional reasons to want to practice and perform.  www.viaAcademies.com  


  1. How true, indeed!
    I think during the early days of learning to play the trombone, much of my motivation to practice came from external sources. I was aiming to "please" other people by practicing hard and trying to play well. I wanted my parents, teachers, siblings, friends, etc... to look at me in a favorable light because of my musical abilities.
    At this point in my life, while this may still be a factor to some degree, I think that the trombone has essentially become part of my life. I cannot imagine life without it, or without music, for sure. We can only hope that as teachers, we may instill in our students the kind of drive that urges them to pursue music from now through the rest of their lives. This is my ultimate goal of music making and music instruction. Practice, practice, practice!

  2. I encourage anyone interested in motivating students to look into Flow Theory. The bottom line is that activities need to be balanced between students' skill levels and the challenge at hand. If the tasks are too hard, then frustration and anxiety result. If they are too easy, then boredom sets in. Finding the balance is the key. So, from a director's perspective, each student must be personally challenged by the repertoire and must have a reasonable chance of succeeding. The article on Flow Theory on Wikipedia is pretty good.


    If you look at Reversal Theory, you'll find that optimal motivation for accomplishing clear goals is the balance between enjoyment and accomplishing a goal. If a student wants to accomplish something and that something is actually fun, the motivation levels will naturally be higher. Seek out fun activities that focus on achieving some goal. This may be one reason why games are so popular; they blend fun and achievement.

    Any other thoughts out there?

  3. The ELSD Music Department thanks you for the shout!

    There are so many good people in the ELSD and in the surrounding Eastern Lycoming community encouraging the vision of where music education is in this age.

    It is our charge to meet the student head on with an opportunity that will inspire the student extrinsically while instilling motiviation intrinsically.

    What a great musically-minded organization you have. Keep up the great work!

    Michael Connor
    Asst. Band Director
    Easy Lycoming School District