Why some guitar students do not practice, and is that a problem?

Why the guitar student does not practice
Why the guitar student does not practice

It is a Monday afternoon, the guitar teacher is ready and waits for their first student to show up. The first student, Peter opens the door with a smile on his face…

Teacher: “Good afternoon Peter!”

Student: “Good afternoon Sir”

Teacher: “How was your week?”

Student: “Oh, it was great, I practiced almost every day! I did all theory…and I started to learn a small piece by Tarrega. I saw a guy playing on youtube, I love it! I’ll play it for you before the end of the lesson if you don’t mind…

Wow! this is the ideal student. That is what we all want to hear in each lesson. Right? This enthusiastic scenario is great. We all have it, but not often.

Dedicated Students

The amount of dedicated and successful students is around 5% of the number of students that a full-time guitar teacher teaches. Sometimes a lot less than that, but this is the average. What about the rest of the students? Are they not dedicated? They are all studying guitar because of some invisible dark force? Are they playing guitar just because they have nothing else to do…? The reasons can be many. According to a small informal survey, which I did in 2008, just for myself. Around 80% of the students love the guitar and love to play it… Then, why they don’t do it? The answer cannot be one, but I got some small clues in this respect during my 30 years of teaching guitar.

I noticed that the 5% (the “successful ones”) are themselves different from each other, in their achievement, progress. Which is natural, but they all (that 5%) have one thing in common and that is 100% in any case. That one thing is, that somehow, they managed to establish their practice routine and to stick to it, for a prolonged period, enough to get good results. It motivates them more and more. The circle gets closed and works for them… The more they practice-the more motivated to practice they become and so on. Also, I have noticed that those students are successful in their school subjects too. They participate in sports events, and most importantly, many of them, at least a significant number of them, are NOT talented. That is surprising, isn’t it?

How do we look at the music students.

The music students shouldn’t be taken as some insulated chosen geniuses. They are kids like others, just the nature of the subject is a bit different. For example, you can’t say to your visitors: “See how Peter is solving those complex chemistry equations.” It will be cool but not “Wow”, like if you say: “ Peter would you play for us Capriccio Arabe?” and then… Wow!!! It is kind of easier to comprehend the music achievements. Right now, around the table. While chemistry, although it is great and extremely complicated, will not impress at the moment. It will create respect, but your visitors will be much more impressed by a music performance. Subsequently, Peter will be pleased to receive their appreciation.

But let’s say if Peter, instead of only showing his chemistry formulas, brings a small portable lab. Then in front of everyone, does apple juice, through complicated chemical reactions from some elements. That will be equivalent to Peter performing “Capriccio arabe” on guitar. The visitors will be genuinely impressed, right now.

Common mistake

that a great number of us, the music teachers do, is assuming that by default, the student, will know and understand the necessity of practice, spending time with the instrument, etc. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The assumption that music works like any other subject in the school is correct, but only if it is in the same conditions as the other school subjects.

If a student just attends all classes of a given subject in the school but does not do any work at home or does just a little. They have a great chance to cover the requirements. In many cases, the full attention in the class is enough for the student to acquire the necessary knowledge and then demonstrate understanding in the test.

Student in the school versus private music student

There is a small difference between school classes and private music lessons. The difference is in the amount of time that the student spends with their teacher. In the individual music lessons, this amount of time is 30 min to an hour a week. While in any school subject the time the student spends with their teacher is far beyond that. It can be 2 hours, in some cases every day.

When it comes to practice there is almost nothing that one can do in 30 min once per week. But, one can learn and understand certain things, meaning, they can get information on how the things work, etc. Yes, this can be done in 30 min a week. But practicing, acquiring techniques, learning new pieces, doing theory work all this needs a routine. 30 min a week is not a routine. Simply because the gap between the sessions is so big.

Why the students do not practice?

One of the reasons why the students do not practice their instrument is the subconscious comparison with other afterschool activities like sports arts and so on. Where the students go to the class to be trained, mainly. Just, for example, the volleyball coach does not give homework, all they demand is to show up two or three times a week. So, somehow the guitar student gets the idea that just showing up for their guitar classes is enough to progress, succeed, etc.

Another reason is that in some school subjects the student starts to work a week or two before the test and gets good, sometimes excellent results. Such a strategy, applied to the upcoming guitar exam or a concert, brings only disappointment.

Is it a problem if the student does not practice their instrument?

Yes, that can be a problem and in fact, it is, for many teachers and students. But I will say, it is a problem if we look at it as a stand-alone problem, considering only the music activity.  I think that the problem is more complex than it looks.

The practice itself is a heavy routine. Sometimes boring work, at least at the beginning when the student gets accustomed to the specifics of the instrument. It is not easy at all! The students will find it hard even to hold the guitar. It is hard… and yes, practice is not just: “Go home, get your guitar and practice.” To start practicing the student needs to develop a set of activities and personal qualities such as discipline, motivation, musical goals, ways of implementing their musical achievements, etc., and ultimately, their practice routine. All of those are highly interconnected. As every guitar teacher, In my teaching, I use strategies to make this process easier and more enjoyable for the student as much as possible. I tried to put my thoughts in an online video course called:

Motivate yourself to practice guitar

This is not the ultimate solution but it may help! 


 Valentin Spasov 22/02/2020


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