People come to me for voice and piano lessons from all walks of life. I have:
- five-year-olds whose parents bring them and help them learn
- many 9-13 year olds who mostly just want to spend their lesson time singing through my nice sound system (some who are also playing piano)
- some high school students who enjoy learning and keeping up their chops
- a couple of professional singers who want to learn proper singing technique
- several students aged 50+ who have always wanted to learn to sing or play piano and are now taking the time to do so
As you can imagine, music has varying levels of importance to each of these students, and their practice schedules reflect that. You might think you could guess which students would spend more time practicing, but you really can’t.
Enter “The Sign In Sheet”
In an effort to encourage people to practice more (because it’s just more satisfying for teacher and student if there is steady progress), I instituted a system whereby, as soon as they walk into the studio, everyone signs in with how many minutes they practiced during the week. Somehow, reporting 90 minutes feels more satisfying than reporting 1-1/2 hours. Not only that, some students just can’t hit the hour mark, so having the opportunity to report 20, 30, or 40 minutes feels more palatable.
If you practice more than 60 minutes, you get a silly little prize like some Zotz, a piece of chocolate, or a cool rock ‘n roll sticker. It never ceases to entertain me how motivating that little piece of candy can be for some students.
Check Out This Week’s Sign-In Sheet
Some of the heavy hitters didn’t sign in yet like Brian Jones and Ryan Pellat. Sometimes they (and Matt Debrino) come in at over 300 minutes.
I remember Abigail Connolly being completely put off by my “Pro” category when I first instituted it. She said, “Some of my friends practice over 20 hours a week!” I didn’t believe her until I put in a phone call to Wiley Bartels (a fabulous drummer who is currently a senior at GHS) and confirmed with him that, indeed, outside of classes and ensemble work, he was putting in a minimum of 18 hours. Whoa.
Why You Should Just Tell Me the Truth
Someone commented on the ten minute entry this week. I can’t remember exactly what they said, but they weren’t impressed. Ha ha! I, on the other hand, was extremely grateful for that number because I knew exactly where to start the lesson: right where we left off last week. This student is giving his music enough priority to come in to his lesson every week, and I’ll take that! There are things we can still do and progress we can still make.
Sometimes students will try to cover up the fact that they didn’t work on something by just trying to play through a piece or exercise anyway. I’ll say, “Did you work on such and such?” They’ll say, “Oh yes!” And then I can totally tell that they didn’t because they can’t even find it in their binder or book. So we spend some awkward moments getting to the point where I can actually be helpful.
Students that have been with me for a long time (and all the adults, by the way) will just come out and say, “No! I didn’t work on that at all. Not one little bit.” I love that. Because we can now immediately start a deeper conversation about why they didn’t. Either the assignment was too hard, they didn’t see it written on their practice plan, or they just plain old don’t enjoy the exercise or song that was assigned. It’s so much more efficient! Now I can make appropriate adjustments in order to move forward as well as help the student enjoy their music more.
An Aside: How to Find Some More Minutes
As I was putting together this post, Melissa Greenberg’s post “Practice Tips from a Non-Professional” just came across my desk, and it is a perfect sequitur for this topic. She talks about it from a parent’s perspective of trying to help your singing child get in some of those minutes.
Unless you’ve made an agreement with your parents who are paying for your lessons that you are going to practice a certain amount of time every week, there’s no moral obligation to practice any amount of time at all. It’s not right or wrong. And I don’t even like the phrase “I should practice more.” It takes the fun out of it! Let’s just all agree about the level of importance music has in your life and have fun during the amount of time you want to give it. Instead, say to yourself “I want to practice two hours this week!” or “I would like to take my entire Saturday afternoon to work on that difficult passage in such and such a song.”
Personally, I am planning to spend some time this week learning how to record both vocals and piano at the same time in GarageBand. All my students are inspiring me to do some of my own recordings, and I want to get after it!
4 thoughts on “Just Tell Me the Truth About How Much You Practiced”
“Honesty, is such a lonely (lovely) word” (Billy Joel!). Thank you for encouraging us to be honest, not only about the time we spend practicing, but about practicing in general.
You’re welcome! See you soon!
Sandy: I love this article and I bet your students enjoy working with you. I have a bass instructor at School of Rock who is very relaxed about how much I do or don’t practice between my weekly lessons and always manages to find a way to make some progress each week. Are you back running open mics at Donahues? There is nothing better in my book than singing with you and I hope to do again, soon! Your long-time Guilford (now Durham) friend, Paul
Hi Paul, I’m glad you like this article! Donahue’s Open Mic is not back up yet, and I haven’t heard anything about it. I’m sure you’ll get word once it starts up.