I had a great conversation with Becky Ciabattari, colleague at viaAcademies about the key challenges music teachers face. It was pretty easy to identify the number 1 issue....KIDS DON'T PRACTICE! We identified 3 key reasons why kids don't practice.
#1 -- Music is like swimming lessons and karate class, right?
Karate class every Tuesday provides students the opportunity to learn and practice new skills and techniques. During class, students get expert advice and performance feedback from their instructor. In addition, they get the chance to try their new skills during free time. In between Tuesday classes, how much are students "practicing" Karate? I believe most parents would say, not much. Parents and kids count on the fact that when kids attend class each week, they will receive the instruction and practice time they need to grow their skills. Family lives are busy balancing a ton of activities, school and house chores. When it comes to fitting everything in, everything has to have it's allocated time slot. In this case, kids "Karate" on Tuesdays.
Becky and I have talked to parents over the last few years and see enough evidence to say with confidence, music lessons are approached more often than not, like Karate class. When kids have lessons, that is their time to hone their skills under the guidance of a trained teacher. Time spent on their own, between lessons is scarce. When many music teacher we talk to say...KIDS DON'T PRACTICE...we need to find out why. So we simply can't keep saying kids are lazy, kids aren't motivated, kids aren't....We believe kids and families have been trained, that music lessons are where kids learn to play their instrument, or sing or whatever. In between lessons is the time they do other things, like attend Karate class and take swim lessons. When next week's lesson rolls around, they will find their horn and head to lessons. This does seem to be a prevailing norm.
#2 -- Lack of Connection to Their Lives.
Music is supposed to be a personal, expressive, creative art. Over the years, teaching instrumental performance has been all about regiment, drill and practice. Kids have to learn the basics to build any kind of foundation. I agree with this for sure. At some point, say year 2, things change for kids. Year 1 of learning an instrument can be fun just because it's new. Year 2 can start to become "same old-same old" for kids. Remember, their attention span and vision for the future is not the same as adults.
Our goal should be to create opportunities for students to perform in their communities. Their community can be as small as their homes, their classrooms, their churches, their clubs. Using technology is a great way to connect kids with performance opportunities outside of school concerts. Also, using technology, we can show students how to include their personal performances into school projects, presentations, or larger compositions. In the end, we may feel our school performances, band competitions and upcoming festivals are all the motivation kids need to want to practice. Well, if many teacher we talk to say KIDS DON'T PRACTICE, and all of those types of events are part of that student's music program....WELL, then read on to point #3.
#3 -- We keep doing the same thing expecting different results.
When we talk to teachers who say KIDS DON'T PRACTICE, we find out this is not a new issue. In many cases, seasoned teachers are witnessing this challenge and many will say...this has been going on for years. The brave teachers, the ones who recognize they have to do something, something "game changing", they are the teachers who recognize that continuing to do the same thing will NEVER result in different outcomes. Within our programs, if we continue to say, "go home and practice", see you next lesson...well...guess what?
When I say "game changing" I really mean cleaning house and building new program inclusions, rethinking what we do top to bottom. If our music programs rely on kids practicing and we know KIDS DON'T PRACTICE, our programs are in jeopardy.
Pulling all three reasons KIDS DON'T PRACTICE together, I believe for many teachers (not all of course) their kids and their programs are forecasting the needs for them. For them, it is time for a paradigm shift. It's time to rethink music budgets, what we spend money on, where we spend our time, how much professional development we participate in, how well we integrate into the school and community, how well we connect with the musical lives of kids, how we provide resources and motivate kids, what resources we provide, when we perform and for whom, how we teach and on and on.
It feels like I've created more questions than answers. The answers however lie within the conversation and the open sharing of ideas. Those ideas come from a framework of issues, like the three above. That's a start and that is where we can begin.