As we dive deep into piano practice this month, I wanted to answer the question that’s on everyone’s minds: what do we do when nothing works? What’s the magic solution when a kid just will not practice?
Ha, if only right? If there actually was a magic practice wand, I’m sure the teacher who invented it would’ve have patented it and made millions by now.
There’s no one way to “fix” practice. It’s a complex equation of parent involvement, student motivation and the right environment.
So what’s a teacher to do when they’ve tried it all and it’s just not happening?
You really have tried it all
I’m not in the business of blaming teachers for stuff, so please don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s the first question you need to ask with a student who won’t practice.
Have you really considered this from every angle? Have you thought about whether there’s an environmental factor that’s stopping them or whether there’s a way to connect better with their parents?
If so, then it’s time to give up.
Give up…but don’t give up
Don’t give up on the student, but give up on your idea of practice. At least for now.
There is literally no point having a weekly conversation/nagging session about practice with a chronic non-practiser. It doesn’t do them any good and it definitely doesn’t do YOU any good.
Believe me. It does exactly nothing.
It’s much better to just remove practice from the discussion altogether. You’ve tried everything already, you’ve done your due diligence so don’t feel bad about taking that stress out of your relationship with this student.
Just don’t mention it. Don’t set assignments. Don’t discuss strategies to use at home.
And accept the progress your student can make in their weekly lessons. Sure, they won’t be “reaching their potential” but they’ll be doing more and enjoying music more than if we have this very audible elephant in the room.
Redesign your lessons
So then what do we do?
Well, we need to throw out our usual lesson structure of listening to assignments and then assigning new ones, because there are no assignments.
Instead, plan your lessons around projects that you can pick up where you left off last week. That could be composing, theory work, or just pieces that progress slowly each lesson.
They’ll still make progress.
Accept the progress
The progress will be slow.
We know this. That’s why the practice expectation exists in the first place.
But it will still be progress. They can still move forward.
So just throw away your preconceptions and accept the progress at the pace it happens.
Revisiting the Conversation
Maybe, eventually, under this new paradigm – your student might start practising.
If so, AMAZING.
If not, I think it’s important to revisit this conversation every so often. Don’t chastise but just mention to the parents that more progress could happen if the practice did, but you understand that this might not be possible and you’re happy to provide a musical experience for the student each week.
It’s important that you are on the same page with the parents along this journey. If they’re expecting exams and competitions, you’re in trouble.
As long as everyone has the same priorities though, just continue to enjoy your time with this student and this new way of looking at practice and progress in your piano studio.
Do you have a chronic non-practiser in your studio?
How have you dealt with it? Do you find it frustrating or have you learned to accept where they’re at?