Building the perfect practice schedule for your students requires a lot of balance. You have to create a demanding schedule, but if it will be too demanding, you risk losing your students as they might feel helpless and overwhelmed. On the other hand, you have to maintain a sense of fun and enjoyment, but if it becomes too loose, you risk having a student that makes no real progress and drops out.
So how should you reach this challenge?
First, and this shouldn’t come as a big surprise, every student is different from the next one. The days of students having to adapt to their teachers and the teaching styles are long gone, and it’s up to you to figure out what will work best for each of your students.
The way to find what works for each student is relatively simple but requires your attentiveness. The rule of thumb is that you should push them in small doses and each time makes their training assignments just a bit harder than before, thus establishing an understanding of when does it turn into “too much”. You should be able to notice them either pushing back with their words saying that it’s either too much work or too hard, or you’ll notice that they’re simply not practicing as much as they used to.
It’s important to really know your student well in order to know how to give them their practice assignments. For one student it might be better to give a more rigorous practice assignment from the beginning and ease up as you go. But for another student, it works better to start lighter on the assignments and increase the difficulty through time.
So how can you tell if you’ve gone too far?
The two main signals you’ll be looking for are:
Stagnation - If a disciplined, hard-working student is hitting a plateau in their progress, we are often tempted to push them even harder. Although at times that works, as it sometimes helps, you have to pay attention to the results of that push. If it doesn’t help with breaking through the plateau after a week or two, it could mean that your student is overwhelmed and your tactic isn’t the best solution for them. Consider giving them some time off, or an out-of-the-box assignment that will break their usual training habits. Your creativity and innovative thinking will really come in hand at this point.
Rigid training - In the end, we are shaping the world’s future musicians. It’s true that rules are important and exist for a good reason, but that doesn’t mean you want your students to be mindless robots who never think for themselves. If you have a student who follows your instructions blindly, to the dot, that could be a sign that they are about to break at any point. Why? Because we would too, if we were to do everything our teachers told us and the results didn’t match our hopes and dreams. Consider giving them daily exercises that require the use of imagination. Ones they will have to improvise on to get done, even if it’s something small. They will feel more inclined to practice every day, but, in a more comfortable way. In other words, they will practice the assignments and improve their skills but will feel in control of how they’re practicing exactly.
As teachers, we are the ones our students look up to when they establish their habits. We want to make sure they don’t think they can become successful musicians by slacking, but we also don’t want them to break under the pressure of training and external expectations. So the key is to constantly balance these two opposites, and find the middle ground for each and every one of your students.
Remember, we want them to train hard but it’s also your job to make sure they train smart.