As an independent music teacher, I would love to think that all my students practice more than enough to accomplish their lessons each and every week. But the reality is that students are busy and life often gets in the way of those practice sessions that I think are important. And I can usually tell before a student begins to play that they haven’t cracked open their piano books… can you? This is a slightly humorous list of how to know when a student hasn’t practiced.
10. When they walk in the door of your studio, they can’t look you in the eye. Most of my students are pretty fun, engaging people. And they almost all greet with me a warm hello and a great big smile… unless they haven’t made it to the piano all week. And then they might not make eye contact, or they might just mumble hello. I know it’s because they don’t want to disappoint, so I just double my efforts to smile and make them feel welcome.
9. They can’t seem to find the piano in the room. A student that has practiced and learned their lesson well usually makes a bee-line for those precious ivories. But if a student hasn’t practiced, it’s usually the opposite. Suddenly, the pictures on the walls, the waiting chairs, and the area rug become very very interesting. And I just smile and tell them how much I’m looking forward to hearing them play.
8. They talk… a lot. I find that those students who are on the quieter side tend to get exceptionally talkative when they are less than well-prepared for their lesson. I hear the most fascinating stories about everything from tripping up the school bus steps to the hot dog that the school cafeteria served for lunch. And what their dog had for breakfast. And what their little sister did to her hair… Sometimes i hard to get a student to stop talking, but the key is redirection. “That’s great, now lets hear what you learned on page 7.”
7. They’re a bit late. Typically prompt students will suddenly be late, dawdling their way up the steps, slowly removing their jackets, and meandering to the piano. A big shower of enthusiasm usually helps get the ball rolling and these uncertain ones back on track.
6. They say, “That was too hard.” To which I reply, “That’s ok. Show me what you’ve got and we can move forward from there.”
5. They can’t find their music. Anywhere. What a surprise! I have an extra copy in the bench, just for you.
4. They can’t find the right page. This is when you know it serious. Check your records and gently help them find it.
3. They don’t know their hand position. You can be pretty sure they haven’t even opened their book if they can’t remember the hand position (although sometimes there are exceptions). In this case, I usually ask them about their practice time for the week. And then we start from scratch. It’s ok. Life happens to all of us sometimes.
2. They practiced the wrong song, and it happens to be the same one from last week! Well, I just let them play last week’s song for me again, and if it happens another time I have them show me their assignment sheets. And then we start the new song again.
1. Their music didn’t get any better from last week…. I have a few students whose sight reading skills are amazing for their skill level. And they can be pretty convincing, even if they haven’t practiced. I look for the subtle details, and gush about how amazing they would be if they would spend a little extra time at the piano.
My philosophy of private lesson teaching is not to turn out a plethora of concert pianists, although I would be thrilled if my students went on to have a music career. My focus is to teach a love of music through piano playing. I believe that if they love what they are doing, they will even want to practice. I respect and cherish each one of my students, and although I do want them to practice, I really want them to love music. What I find is that students go through phases of practicing a lot and phases of practicing a little. I know they all have a lot going on, so I encourage them to be honest with me about their practice habits. I keep it lighthearted, even when I need to remind them to keep practicing at home. And then, together, we make a plan to help them accomplish their piano goals, become better players, and enjoy music.