How Practice Logs Can Kill Your Student's Love of Music.

Remember being in 6th grade Reading class and having to turn in a weekly reading log? I personally remember how "creative" I would get with my time estimates and reading sources. Not to mention the fact that my mom's signature seemed to change form every week... ;)

While some of you may never have committed such shameful acts (though I'm pretty sure that everyone has at some point), there's actually been quite a bit of research done on why reading logs tend to be such excruciating - even counterintuitive - assignments for students. There's a fascinating blog post all about this topic, called, How to Create Nonreaders, and the first "no-no" suggestion on how to push students away from a desire to read is to quantify their reading in to numbers of minutes and pages

When I first started teaching music students, being the naive teacher that I was, I didn't implement any kind of practicing requirements, because I assumed that all my students would be as naturally fired up about practicing as I was. That didn't last too long... So I started requiring my students to write down the number of minutes they practiced each day and having a parent sign it every week. When I forced my students to complete a weekly practicing log, I found that at least one of two things would always happen:

  1. Students would complete the practicing log and still be generally underprepared for their lesson.
    • They would make a habit out of whimsically sitting with their instrument for the required duration without actually making progress.
  2. Students' determination to complete the practice logs would dwindle over time.
    • This would force the parents to become the Practice Police, which never bodes well for either party.

I noticed that my problem was that I was trying to quantify my students' musical progress in to numbers of minutes. So, I decided to move away from my time-based system and shift to a more freeing, results-based practicing system with students that - coupled with a motivational approach to teaching - encourages autonomy, efficiency, and continual musical progress. It's a simple system that has been a dramatic success with my students. Here it is...

Freedom and Results-based practicing.

There are only two rules:

  1. Practice anything you want, as long as you learn to play well the music you've been assigned.

  2. Practice for as much time as you want, as long as you play a little bit every day.

Let me ask you a question. If you were handcuffed to a guitar and told exactly what to practice and for how long every day, how well would you respond? Would you put your heart and soul in to your practicing? Would you even be willing to do what you were told? You see, when we force a student to practice completely on our terms - without allowing them to have a say in it - it triggers an instinctive phenomenon in their mind, called counterwill. This reaction is a healthy part of everyone's psyche that is the underlying drive to expressing our freewill and individuality.

So, rather than implementing an exclusively obligation-fulfilling system, which causes students to react by disengaging or rebelling, Freedom and Results-based practicing presents students with an opportunity to fulfill their responsibilities on their own terms.

This system is a clear push against the false, "all or nothing" perspective of many traditionalist music teachers, who believe that the only two options are to either be completely regimented or completely unproductive in practicing. But this could not be further from the truth! It is possible to find the balance between systematic and liberated, and it's important that your student has both in their practicing routine!

However, as I mentioned before, any good practicing system has to be coupled with a great approach to teaching. If you're interested in learning more about what an effective, motivational approach to music education looks like, check out Vibe Music Academy's three-step teaching approach: Play, Connect, Grow. It's a proven system that transforms "music students" into "growing musicians" in a practical, balanced manner. Learn more about music lessons at Vibe Music Academy, today!

- John Gotsis, Owner and Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy, Hamilton County, Indiana