Music Teacher's Helper Blog


“See how far you can learn by next lesson.”

“Perhaps you might be ready to take a music exam soon.”

“Practice when you can.”

Vagueness is the dark cloud that can potentially hang over music lessons. Indeed, I’ve been guilty of it in my own music lessons. Maybe it’s my British reserve that has made me concerned not to appear too pushy with my music students. But herein lies the serious danger of inadvertently demotivating a student.

The lesson was brought home to me when some time ago, a music adult student commented that she was so busy that only having a deadline helped to motivate her to practice. For her, it was knowing that her music exam was on such and such a date. Interestingly, her practice dropped right off after the exam until we established another deadline.

Taking this idea further, I’ve been guilty of, when starting a new piece, asking the student to learn as far as they can or want to. Hoping that they might take the initiative to learn a considerable amount of material, they often return with a limp version of the opening bars/measures. How disappointing but unsurprising in hindsight. When the student has clear in mind what amount of the song we expect of them to learn, they are more driven. Here’s an idea, why not involve the student in deciding what the goal should be be. Maybe they could draw a line with a pencil so they not only know what is expected of they but they are also taking ownership of their learning, which is extremely powerful as a motivation tool.

What’s a game of football without goals?

Short-term, mid-term and long-term goals are essential to help students navigate the sometimes very challenging process of succeeding as a musician.

Short-term goals can be as simple as “can we master this scale in the next 5 minutes,” “can we perfect that tricky bar/measure before the end of the lesson,” “which part of the piece would you like some help with?”

Mid-term goals could include specific areas of the students to be improved, like dynamics, phrasing, counting rhythms, articulation, intonation, the list goes on. Or, learning up to a certain bar or measure.

Long-term goals can be preparing for a concert, uploading a performance on YouTube, an exam, further education, a career in music! Getting the exact date of any long-term goals on the lesson notes can be a helpful tool in motivating. Stepping stone goals to help the student break down the enormity of a long-term goal is essential.

Yes deadlines, we all hate them at times but they are very good for us as human beings and especially as musicians. Why, we have the collective challenge to shake off our image as ‘dreamers’ and to show the world that learning music can develop important transferable life skills.

photo by: John-Morgan

About the Author

Reuben Vincent
Reuben Vincent is a freelance musician working as a composer, producer and private music teacher, based from his purpose built recording studio in Bagillt, Flintshire, North Wales, UK. His main instrument is the piano although he is also known for a "mean" solo on the Kazoo!!!


  1. Robin Steinweg

    Reuben, great post! I agree, goals with deadlines make a huge difference in students’ progress and motivation. I appreciate what you said: “Can we perfect that tricky bar/measure before the end of the lesson?” “which part of the piece would you like some help with?”

    That last bit should engage a sluggish brain. 😉

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