I had a guitar student that never wanted to practice. In fact, he didn’t even like the guitar. His parents enrolled him in guitar lessons as a form of “constructive babysitting.” I was convinced he wouldn’t last a week. Despite this student’s lack of ambition, working with him taught me three important lessons that I still use a music teacher.
Lesson 1: Music instructors are there to help music students find their own goals, and then help them reach these goals.
This may seem obvious at first, but many teachers (myself included) tend to override the student’s musical interests with their own interests. Students won’t practice rock music if they aren’t into it. The same is true with classical music or jazz. All students have goals and interests, and our jobs as instructors is to help them achieve their goals, not ours. If we want our music students to be more motivated, we need to teach them about their interests. If a student wants to play nothing but Bob Dylan songs, find a way to incorporate fundamentals and skills into lessons around Bob Dylan. Teach them about other musicians that influenced Dylan and were influenced by him.
Lesson 2: Everybody wants to play music.
It’s much easier to teach students what they want to learn, but what about students who don’t seem interested at all? The truth is that these students haven’t made the connection between playing music and listening to music. Almost everybody likes to listen to music. And if you like listening to music, you can enjoy playing it too. The trick is to build confidence in students that their skills are growing and are moving toward playing real music. Create a lesson plan that encourages them to find pieces of music that they want to know how to play. Nothing is off the table here. I’ve taught some students nothing but video game music; others would only play movie soundtracks. While soundtracks aren’t classical pedagogy, they are great songs to learn if they encourage your student to practice.
Lesson 3: Music students need encouragement and guidance between lessons.
Lessons require planning and thorough preparation of materials. But what happens after the student leaves the lesson? Without a record of the lesson, a clearly outlined practice plan, and a way to hold students accountable, students have a hard time remembering the lesson, and an even more difficult time practicing. Fortunately, we’ve built tools at Collabra to help capture lessons and practices to keep the students focused and motivated. By creating and capturing short and long term plans with your students, they can see where they are heading and also see how far they’ve come.
The guitar student and I eventually realize that no matter how frustrated we both were with the situation, we had weekly lessons booked until his parents decided otherwise. We opened up our lines of communication, which helped me discover his interest hip-hop. He ultimately took lessons from me for 5 years; mainly working on hip-hop guitar arrangements I created for our lessons. He still loves the guitar and still practices daily.