1. My job as a teacher is to guide you in learning; to help the student as they learn and practice. Think of me as a mentor and guide. I am not merely a dispenser of information or a magician. I can only work with what you bring me as a student.
2. If your child is under 12 it is your job as a parent to make sure he is practicing.
I understand wanting to teach children responsibility, but until they reach an age where they can really make decisions for themselves it is your responsibility as a parent to make sure that your child is practicing. I use twelve as a general age, but every kid is different. Until around middle school age almost all of my students (even my star students) have to be made to practice. Make it a non-negotiable part of the normal routine, like brushing your teeth. Would you let your kids stop brushing their teeth just because they didn't feel like it?
3. You will get out what you put in. If you practice 30 minutes every day, you can expect a solid, gradual enhancement in your musical ability. If you only practice your instrument a few minutes a week (or only when you see me) then don't expect much in return.
4. I cannot make you a great musician, only you can do that. I can guide you and give you tips to make your practice more efficient. I can give you exercises and songs that will challenge your ability and stretch you as a musician. But only you can put in the work to make something great out of it.
5. Excuses for lack of practice (even great excuses) don't matter. When I ask a lot of students about their practice time during the week the initial responses are generally, "I went to a birthday party this weekend...so I didn't get much practice." "My grandparents were in town...so I didn't get much practice." "My sister had a softball game...so I didn't get much practice", etc. You make time for what you want to do, period. If you don't practice, you will not get better no matter how great your reasons for not practicing were.
6. If you don't practice you will not enjoy lessons or the instrument and you won't be any good at it. This seems like a no-brainer, but I have had students come through that rarely practice and wonder why music lessons aren't any fun and why they aren't improving. Our culture is catering more and more towards instant gratification. If you are looking for instant gratification, music lessons are not the answer. Being able to play an instrument is enriching and rewarding, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Is it worth it? Definitely.
7. If you come to lessons unpracticed all I can do is watch you practice for 30 minutes. This isn't fun for anyone, but you would be surprised at how often it happens. If you haven't practiced, there is nothing I can do except watch you work on what you should have been working on all week. I can't teach anything new. I can't even reinforce old techniques. Without regular practice, everything breaks down. As a general rule, no more than 10 minutes of our lesson time should be dedicated to working on material that has already been covered. I should listen to what you have practiced, give encouragement and correction, and then go on to new material.
8. Practice involves working diligently and productively on a piece of music or exerciese.
Practice is not playing through your favorite songs over and over.
I made this mistake for a long time. Playing your instrument at home is not the same thing as practicing. To be honest, practice time should be about 80% frustration and hard work followed by about 20% of sheer joy and fun. The concept of practice is simple: Take something that you are having trouble with and work on it repeatedly until you become proficient at it. This is the only way to practice. I have had students that "practice" for an hour each week, but only play through fun songs and never work on bettering the assigned material. This goes back to instant gratification. If you only play easy, fun songs during your practice time now you will never be able to play challenging, fun songs later.
9. If you aren't practicing and are strugging with easy material don't expect to work on difficult songs. There is a logical progression to everything. If we aren't working on challenging material, it's because you aren't ready to work on challenging material yet. I'll let you know when you're ready.
10. Practice every day. Learning an instrument is as much about muscle memory as it is learning to read music. As your body adapts to doing certain movement (playing notes on the guitar or grooves on the drums) you will become more proficient at it. Daily practice is the key. You will be a much better musician if you practice six days for ten minutes than if you practice one day for sixty minutes.
11. Have Goals. Have things that you want to achieve. Your goals should be measurable and achievable. Here's some good examples:
"I want to play this song completely without stopping by next week."
"I want to be able to play (insert song here) by the end of this semester"
"I want to be able to play this song without looking at my hands"
12. Taking music lessons for "fun". I have had parents tell me that they just want to make sure that their kids have a great time and that it's all about fun. Many times, these are also the students that don't practice because practice isn't "fun". Learning an instrument can be a lot of fun, but it takes hard work and practice too. I guarantee that your child will not have fun learning an instrument if they never practice because it isn't "fun".
You probably noticed that most of the above were about practice. That is because that most of what is accomplished when learning an instrument is not accomplished in the lesson room. It is accomplished by putting in hard work at home. I struggled for a long time to find good practice habits, but I can assure you that they do pay off! I'm still not as diligent as I need to be with my practicing, but it does make a difference.
I'd love to hear what you think. Feel free to post comments or questions!