How to Keep Music Practice Going & Avoid the Summer Backslide

Have you ever had a student come back to the studio after a long break and they were like…a brand new student? I mean, sometimes it can feel like they lost about 6 months of progress in those couple of months off from lessons.

What can we do to stop this happening?

If students don’t take music lessons over the long summer break, it can be tough to get them to keep practising. Plus it can be hard to go inside and play piano when all the other kids are outside playing! We don’t want all their hard work from the year to get erased by 2 – 3 months of never touching their instrument.

And even if your studio is open during the summer, the lesson schedule isn’t always as predictable as it is during the rest of year. The usual routines are broken and piano practice can often just get forgotten.

Changing things up a bit during the summer can really help to keep students focussed and avoid that pesky summer backslide. So why not send them on a summer practice quest? 🏖️

The Summer Quest, in 2 ways

Each summer I create a challenge for my music students to complete different kinds of practice activities, in hopes of keeping little fingers reaching for the piano keys during an extended break. I’m not expecting them to move forward during this time – just to cement the skills they learnt during the year and stop them moving backwards.

I’ve implemented this challenge in several ways over the years, but these two approaches have been the most well-received in my studio.

Summer Quest 1: The ‘Colourful Quest’ Scratch Card

This scratch-card-style challenge requires a bit of prep work from the teachers, so if your studio is large or you’re especially short of time, you might save it for next year. Students do have a blast with it, though, and are motivated to practise because they want to see what’s under the scratch-off foil!

Here’s the premise:

  1. Create a challenge page for each student who will be taking part in the quest.
  2. In their last lesson before the break, you and your student choose 3 pieces for them to work on throughout the summer.
  3. Give them a scratch-off practice quest page.
  4. Throughout the break your student will scratch off 1 square each time they practise, then complete that day’s challenge.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? 🎉

Enter your info below, and I’ll send the ‘Colourful Quest’ with instructions straight to your inbox for free. If you like this article and want more tips and guidance like it, check out my centralised hub page devoted to all-things-music-practice.

scratch-off music practice chart

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Members of VMT can download the ‘Colourful Quest’ practice challenge here. Not a member of Vibrant Music Teaching? Never heard of it? Still on the fence? Learn more and join today at vibrantmusicteaching.com.

Something to keep in mind: There are only 15 squares on the board. If you want your students to have a longer challenge, simply pick 6 pieces instead of 3 and have them complete the challenge twice during the summer. Or create your own board and include more challenge squares than I did in my own practice quest.

Summer Quest 2: The Colour-a-Picture Practice Challenge

I think what teachers love about this summer music practice incentive is the simplicity of the challenge.

Here’s the premise:

  1. Create a colouring sheet and a list of fun and out-of-the-ordinary practice tasks.
  2. Go through the tasks with your students at their last lesson before the break to make sure they understand all the activities listed.
  3. Throughout the break, students colour in a segment of the colouring sheet each time they complete one of the practice tasks.

Simple, huh? 😎

In years past, I’ve chosen themes for my colouring sheets that allowed students to colour their way to a goal like climbing up a mountain, heading to a castle or travelling through outer space.

Summer piano practice incentive challenge

VMT members can access six different summer piano practice incentives instantly from the VMT Printable Library. Choose the pre-filled quest pages or type your own challenges in the blank templates. Not a member? With our Printable, Video and Course Libraries, you’ll have everything you need ready to go and at your fingertips. Learn more at vibrantmusicteaching.com.

Practice Quest Tasks

Here are some of the practice tasks I’ve included in my summer music practice challenge incentives:

  1. Learn a new piece that you haven’t worked on in lessons yet.
  2. Play 5 of your favourite pieces that you learnt this year.
  3. Learn 3 facts about a famous composer.
  4. Practise naming notes using flashcards or an app.
  5. Listen to or watch 5 pieces by Debussy.
  6. Teach a grownup one of your favourite pieces.
  7. Play all the scales you know so far.
  8. Improvise music that sounds like your favourite animal.
  9. Teach one of your pieces to a friend.
  10. Listen to or watch 3 pieces by J. S. Bach.
  11. Find 5 music terms in your book that you don’t know, and look up what they mean.
  12. Complete 3 pages in your theory workbook.
  13. Video record yourself playing one of your pieces and send it to a friend or family member.
  14. Have a Zoom concert! Call someone and play for them.
  15. Compose a piece about the weather outside.
  16. Write a poem and compose a rhythm to match by drawing the note values above the words.
  17. Listen to or watch 4 pieces by Mozart.
  18. Learn a new scale that your teacher hasn’t shown you yet.
  19. Try to play the very last piece in your book.
  20. Go back and play the first 10 pieces you ever learnt.

Feel free to use these, or come up with your own tasks to suit your studio.

Getting Parents On Board

If this is going to work for our young students (much like practice in general) we need the piano parents to climb aboard this summer quest. After all, I don’t know many six-year-olds who would remember and then follow through on this all by themselves.

They need help and reminders.

Here’s what I do to make the summer quest a success in my studio:

  • I mention it in the summer newsletter to get them ready and anticipating that this is coming up soon.
  • Also in the newsletter, I emphasise the investment that they’ve made in lessons and progress at the piano so far – and how this was one way to protect that investment over the summer.
  • I encourage parents to put the summer quest on the fridge as soon as they get it. That will serve as a wee piano practice nudge all summer, and it won’t just get lost in a bag somewhere.
  • I also mention this in all my remaining emails for the year along with the re-enrolment forms and final reports etc, etc.

This isn’t a “say it once and it’s done” kind of thing. The summer music practice challenge really needs to sink in if you want it to be implemented at home. After all, there’s a ton of other stuff happening during the summer. Much as we would like to think we’re the most important – we might be trumped by holidays and plans for the next school year.

So put these things in place so that you (and the piano) don’t get forgotten this summer.

How long is the summer break in your studio?

Do you find your students come back having not touched a piano at all? Tell us your summer piano teacher woes and victories in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook – or in the comments below.

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