Make a weekly schedule for each student on their assignment
notebook and have them fill out the number of minutes they practice
and have a parent sign it.
-Hazel Ramsbotham NCTM, Aurora, Colorado
If a student has practiced very little, say to him or her "For
the next 10 minutes I want you to pretend you are practicing at
home and I won't say a word." It is very revealing.
-Judy Bonnell NCTM, Littleton, Colorado
Genius is the ability to avoid work by doing something right the
first time. Never make mistakes in the practice room! (These gems
were found in the depths of the music bench from a previous
convention or conference!!)
-Jeanette Praetorius NCTM, Littleton, Colorado
I started having students write on a small sticky note the
corrections they need to make in a piece. Finding that they could
remember only one or two things that we talked about, I set the
goal smaller than I had in the past. Many students had busy parents
and the children were on their own to practice. This helped so
much. Pieces came back fixed! They began to use terms better,
legato, staccato and so on. We reviewed those notes before they
played the piece of the lesson and I asked them if they thought
they were successful. I hope this also carried over into their
schoolwork--math, spelling, social studies and so forth. Part of
the enjoyment of private teaching is to think up a solution to a
problem, unique to your studio and find that it works.
-Shirley McMeeking, Littleton, Colorado
Cut sticky notes into small strips to mark trouble spots on a
student's music that needs attention. It is very satisfying to take
them off when the goal is accomplished and also saves the music
from so much writing. I set personal goals for myself--like pay
attention this week to rests, or dynamics and so on-make sure
details are not getting sloppy. Don't forget to laugh with students
and keep perspective.
-Darlene Harmon, Denver, Colorado
My students all make a pledge to learn four new measures of
music a day. This at least gets them on the bench with an open
score, looking for those four new measures! Repeated sections don't
count. Four measures almost always turn into eight, and the student
-Ann Markey, Denver, Colorado
After drilling a musical passage for a time, if the student is
making more mistakes instead of improving, try getting his mind off
of it by playing something else then come back to it. The
subconscious mind will work on the passage while you work on
something else and you'll find the student can suddenly play
To teach the importance of using good practice skills at my
monthly group lesson, I used a toolbox with common tools and tape
good practice tips to each of the tools in the toolbox. The visual
aid helped reinforce the concept of using the good practice tips
from their toolbox. I made a chart of these tips for the students
to put in their assignment books.
So in their lessons this year, I kept asking "what practice tips
do you have in your toolbox that will help you better learn this
-Ardith Sloan, NCTM, Highland Ranch, Colorado
Slow practice makes fast progress.
-Linda Collins King, Littleton, Colorado
When I discovered that most students do not look in their
assignment notebooks, I stopped using them. I use large paper clips
to mark the pages of their music, lots of colored sticky notes for
instructions and we stack the open books on top of each other so
they close as one. The students can then rotate the piece they
begin with and are less likely to forget to bring one of their
-Judy Johnson, Loveland, Colorado
Emphasize to the student that practicing is like a game-it is
fun! It shouldn't be thought of as a chore. It requires time (but
so does a game) and concentration (but so does a game). The goal of
the game is to improve and the reward is that you have
improved-like winning a game!
-Debi Strick, Loveland, Colorado
I give students small motivation charts and a sticker to place
on them for every hour of practice time. The student with the most
sticker charts and most hours of practice gets a special practice
trophy and compact disk at the recital.
-Pat Smith, Montrose, Colorado
Sight read at each lesson:
To mark corrections on a score, I use sticky notes. When the
correction is made, I remove the note. Not only does
the score stay cleaner, but also I make a flower for the
younger students out of the sticky notes. It makes them a bit more
eager to complete their corrections!
-Sheila Vail, Cincinnati, Ohio
I always say to students, "You can learn a piece quicker if you
will play notes slower and more carefully in the beginning stages
-Submitted by Ursula Cauffiel Newman, Scottsdale,
Have students photocopy their piece and cut out each phrase.
Then arrange the piece on a new piece of paper with one phrase per
line, like a musical poem.
-Submitted by Stuart Robinson, Durham, North Carolina
Learn pieces backwards, from the last measure to the first. This
helps prevent over-practicing of the beginning and neglect of the
-Submitted by Stuart Robinson, Durham, North Carolina
Make a sign for the studio, as well as individual cards for
students, saying: "Remember This! Practice Makes-Progress!
Perfection is an impossible goal! Always strive for
-Submitted by Karen Rae Mord, Savage, Minnesota
Give points for well-prepared lessons, memorization,
performance, festival participation and so forth. These points
accumulate and, when students reach 100, 200 or whatever level you
determine, they receive trophies. The trophies are presented
following recital performances. This is very motivating,
particularly for elementary and junior high students.
I used a small tape recorder for one of my students who claimed to
be practicing. (His mom was a single working parent-the student was
claiming hours of practicing time- patently untrue.) The tapes were
a great tool; at first they monitored his practice; later on they
became a useful record of his progress.
-Submitted by Lynn Fleming, Damascus, Maryland
The best tempo to choose for a new piece is LAT or LAS, not LAK.
LAT is like a turtle. LAS is like a snail. LAK is like a kangaroo.
Which two are the best starting tempos?
-Submitted by Billie Leach, NCTM, Shreveport,
Using pads of larger colored sticky notes, I write one small
task the student should do several times (their age is a good
number), such as a phrase ending, scale passage and so forth. They
get one shot of M&Ms for completing the task, and I put the
papers on a wall for a rainbow effect. It raised the level of
playing for everyone in one month's time.
When a student consistently is poorly prepared for a lesson, I
limit him or her to one piece and, if there was improvement shown
at the next lesson, I add another brief selection.
-Submitted by Beatrice L. Frank, Arlington, Virginia
When a student is really struggling with a section, a few notes
or the like, I throw a small, white mouse into the string area of
the piano. Then, I lift out the mouse and say, "Well, no wonder
those notes were wrong. There's a mouse inside the piano playing
the wrong string." This lightens up the lesson, often takes the
pressure off and allows the student to continue. Many times the
mistakes will magically disappear. You may think this is a game
only for young children, but think again. This actually is fun with
any age-even adults.
-Submitted by Diane Graham Raudensky, Thompsontown,
On the bulletin board in my studio is a sign that says:
"Remember! Practice doesn't make perfect. Only good practice makes
perfect." Every student has to tell me at least one "good" way they
can practice each piece in their assignment.
With more advanced students who are always rushing to and from
too many activities, there is a tendency to practice their music
while feeling rushed. This leads to tension and a feeling of
unsettledness in their playing. I emphasize to these students that
how they feel inside while practicing is very important-to practice
even difficult passages in a calm focused manner-not with
impatience or nervousness. Practice should feel good inside.
-Submitted by Nancy Nicholson, NCTM, Providence, Rhode
Three Time Rule: Play each hand three times in a row without a
mistake. Then attempt to put hands together. This is for discipline
and accuracy. It provides short-term goals.
-Submitted by Kristine Wilbur, Portsmouth, Rhode
Practice fast music slow and slow music fast.
-Submitted by Manabu Takasawa, Kingston, Rhode Island
If the student cannot get the right character of a piece, ask
him or her to record the piece at home, then listen to it.
Sometimes students don't listen to what they are doing.
-Submitted by Diana Smirnov, Johnston, Rhode Island
Hold a "Practice Makes Perfect" month to coincide with Music in
our Schools Month. Students receive a calendar and document
practice times for the entire month (on their lesson assignment).
At the end of the month, students turn in their calendars, signed
by parents, and prizes are awarded to the top five finalists.
-Submitted by Gail Heywood, Rudolph, Wisconsin
At the first lesson of a term, ask each student, "How old are
you now?" Relate to the student what is typical of his or her age
group. Then ask, "In what ways are you now ready to accept
responsibility of successful practice?"
Each student has a paper keyboard on a display. They may place a
sticker on each key as they pass technique requirements for that
"Don't eat the elephant all at once." Encourage a student to
work in small increments.
Keep a scale chart so students feel competitive to learn
Have all students fill in practice time on a monthly calendar
that is collected at the end of the month and kept in the student's
file. In January and April, the parents visit a lesson and the
teacher, parents and students all discuss practice habits and
Speed Limit: No faster than you can play perfectly.
Have students decide on a "goal of the month" and help them
stick to it. Make sure to do weekly progress checks!
Motivate students by charting their progress through levels of
technique and the like.
Encourage awareness by using a digital camera to record a
student's playing technique, discuss together and then follow up
with practice videos.
Develop a practice journal for students of all ages. On the
left-hand page, the teacher can write goals, expectations and
suggestions for practice; on the facing page students can list
their daily goals and report their daily practice. This is a very
successful way to organize and focus practice.
Every year, February to March, we have "Memory" Mania. The
students earn 10 points per page they memorize-any music from the
past year is eligible, even technique books. Then at the end of six
weeks, they "cash in" their points for prizes. This year's record
was 75 pages at the elementary level, 45 pages at the intermediate
and 60 pages at the advanced. The prizes are valued roughly at a
penny a point. I feel that a $4.00 investment for me to inspire
them to memorize forty pages is a bargain. The prizes vary from
music education, fun musical items, sheet music and books to other
nonmusical prizes. Candy, cookies, chips and pop are always a hit
with the junior high students.
-Submitted by Brandy Pancoast, NCTM, Kettle Falls,
Make progress slowly. Take time to learn it right.