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

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 learning a small piece by Tarrega, that I saw a guy playing it on you tube, 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’s what we all want to hear each lesson…right?

The above enthusiastic scenario is great, and we all have it but not often…

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 are they all studying guitar because of some invisible dark force or they just do it because there’s nothing else to do…? the reasons can be many but according to a small informal survey, that 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% ones (the “successful ones”) are themselves different to each other, in their achievement, progress, which is natural, but they all (those 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 stick to it for a prolonged period, enough to get good results. That 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 important, many of them, at least significant number of them, are NOT talented. Is that surprising?

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!!! The  music is kind of easier to comprehend its achievements, right now, around the table, while chemistry, although it is great and much complicated, will not impress at the moment, it will create respect, but your visitors will be much more impressed from the music performance and 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 and in front of everyone does apple juice, trough 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.

A 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 the 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 the 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 to acquire the knowledge and then demonstrate understanding in the test.

There is a small difference between school classes and the private music lessons, the difference is in the amount of time that the student spends in the individual music lessons with their teacher, this amount of time is 30 min to an hour a week.

When it comes to practice there is almost nothing that one can do in 30 min once per week but, the 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 and 30 min a week is not a routine. Simply because the gap between the sessions is so big.

One of the reasons why the students do not practice their the subconscious comparation 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.

Practice itself is a heavy routine, sometimes boring work, at least in the beginning when the student gets accustomed with 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 those are highly interconnected. As every guitar teacher,In my teaching I use strategies to make this prosses easier and 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

Which is not the ultimate solution but it may help! 

 Valentin Spasov 22/02/2020

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Learning Guitar Online

Learning Guitar Online? As an “old school” guitar teacher, I was trying to stay away from that. Or at least I was convinced that you can teach video lessons, but that is not of a benefit for the student, you can’t have a feedback from the person who is watching the video lesson, simply you don’t know do they get what you are teaching them.

This was until several years ago when I started   thinking of putting together a set of online guitar courses, following this new wave that is concurring our education system.

What a surprise! After almost 3 decades of teaching guitar and making living on that, I found myself in a situation where I had to change my way of thinking and my style of teaching completely to fulfill the above concern, namely that I must make sure that I am understood correctly, that the course has a structure, the student is engaged, exercised and so on…

Based on my experience I had to predict and solve the eventual problems that the student may encounter during the course, to answer as many as possible of the questions that they may have, in the same time to keep the pace of the course having in mind all the academic aspects of the mater.

Here I must mention also the technicality: video shouting, sound, editing, designing, etc. it took me first one or two years to learn, test, experiment…there were moments of great enthusiasm and in the same time deep disappointments and sleepless nights, I kept going until my first course started to get shape and it is finally online now. Two other courses are under editing and many more are in various stages of development.

This become one of the most difficult projects that I was ever involved. In conclusion it is a great enriching process for both student and teacher. It allows new ways of teaching and learning impossible or difficult to implement in one to one teaching format.

Check out my “Classical Guitar Course for Adults Level 1” a comprehensive guide for beginners.



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