Sharpen those pencils, music teachers! Back to school season is here, and with it, a chance to create better practicing habits with music students. While many of us are familiar with the traditional approaches to encouraging practice, we have some less traditional tricks (and a free practicing tool) to help energize the most reluctant key-clunker or string-strummer.
So, you’ve tried schedules, stickers, and maybe even tough love, with only medium success. If you’re ready to up your practicing game this year, try these tricks in your music lessons to transform practicing habits.
1) Hide some “Easter eggs.” We’re not referring to the hard-boiled holiday food here, but rather the type of “Easter egg” that has become the pop-culture term for a hidden message or surprise within software, webpages and games. Why not hide a fun little hand-drawn character or message somewhere in the homework every week? Perhaps it’s drawn above a measure of a song in the lesson book, or on a page of theory homework. To find it, the student will have to be at the instrument, book open, reviewing the page – putting them in perfect position to practice.
2) Enlist the mighty powers of the brain – specifically, the brain’s hardwired ability to create habits. If you know how habits work (we’ve got a full blog post on the topic here), you can trick the brain into going into “autopilot” when it comes to practicing. A key part of a habit is a cue. Help your music students create a clear cue for practicing, perhaps when they hang up their backpack after school, or once dinner ends. Enlist the help of the parents to remind them of this cue until it becomes automatic.
3) “Gamify” it! Anyone familiar with the Meridee Winters Music Method knows this: We. Love. Games. Meridee Winters music games and activities are all deliberately designed to build specific skills and meet certain needs. Keep the games going between by lessons by using our “Create Your Own Game” form here (FREEBIE ALERT!) to make a game out of practicing. For homework, the student must complete the whole game board from start to finish. You can even throw in bonus challenges in the last few boxes. If completed the assigned number of times, find a way to celebrate it at your next lesson.
4) Make it visual, colorful and exciting. Imagine an assignment spelled out in a notebook. Perhaps it’s just a simple, “practice exercise 3x daily.” Now, imagine that same assignment spelled out in colorful magic marker. Perhaps there’s even a little critter drawn in next to it saying, “watch out for measures 12-16!” Assignments should be clear – what should the student watch out for, and what info do the parents need to help them practice? In addition, though, it should also be visually fun. The Meridee Winters Assignment Book and Practice Tracker is an excellent tool for this. Designed with progress and creativity in mind, the book includes spaces for goal setting, practice games, theory terms, writing out music, and of course – tracking practice by coloring or checking off boxes for each practice session. (Did you know your brain releases a small amount of dopamine every time you check off an item on a checklist?)
5) Give it purpose. Kids, especially younger ones, are not quite mature enough to value learning for learning’s sake. For that reason, practicing a song simply because they need to improve their note reading or learn concepts within it may not be motivating enough. Why not plan a concert for mom and dad (or even an audience of stuffed animals) in a few lessons? Or a quiz? Suddenly, practicing has a clear purpose (and deadline).
We hope you employ of few of these tricks with your own students, to great results. When combined with Meridee Winters Music Method games, books and materials, you can see great results, be creative AND have fun along the way.
About Meridee Winters:
Meridee Winters is a professional educator, musician, author and director/owner of a successful Philadelphia area music school.
Meridee began her journey as an educator teaching elementary students in a Florida public school, where she discovered the curriculum and school system left little room for divergence and creativity. She made the bold decision to leave and attend graduate school to study Music Composition, eventually starting her own private music school.
Today, that school has spent two decades introducing thousands of students to not just music, but to Meridee’s trailblazing method that encourages creativity, play and higher-level thinking with each lesson.
As a composer and professional musician, Meridee has instructed at all levels – from professional recording artists working on albums to computer music classes in the recording studio, and from young beginners taking their first steps on their musical path to intermediate students writing their first songs.
Meridee is a dedicated advocate of creative intelligence whose foremost passion is empowering creative and authentic self-expression in each individual. She now spends her time developing new materials and books to nurture these. She does her work as an author, as well as director of the school, from her home in Delaware County, PA.
© 2017 Meridee Winters. All Rights Reserved.
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