Getting students to practice – and in the right way! (All Teachers)

  • Getting students to practice – and in the right way! (All Teachers)

  • Eliza Jane Fyfe

    Moderator
    March 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    I am super keen on a massive discussion on this one!!

    I just want to re-post something I literally just said in another thread which has prompted me to make this one:

    I can’t believe I have to tell my students (who are mainly adults!) to practice WITHOUT the original vocal?! And also practice in chunks and only move on when you’re confident.. I had a girl come to me saying “yep, completely fine with Warwick Avenue – if anything, it’s probably too easy for me.” So I said, “great, let’s hear it!” and stuck on a backing track. She couldn’t follow the melody AT ALL.

    I have had to teach students how to practice, which I find very odd, as it’s the way you would practice ANYTHING… bitesize chunks, lots of repetition, not moving on until you’ve got that section correct etc… however, we must do what we have to do in order to get the student to practice effectively!

    I start off by providing them with all the tools and resources they need in order to practice:

    a) Notes of what was covered in the lesson, which gets emailed to them straight after the lesson
    b) Warm ups (attachments/soundcloud links)
    c) Backing tracks/vocal guide tracks
    d) Snippets of recordings from their lesson with tailored little practice chunks

    Obviously it isn’t always all of the above, as that would be a little overwhelming! I ask them how they got on when I see them next and how they practised, and lo and behold, the excuses come! Then I just say “okay, let’s pick up where we left off” which is all very well and good, but obviously the repeat lessons start happening! I then politely explain to them that the repeat lesson essentially wastes their money..

    I have a student who does an extraordinary amount with his life and I don’t know how he fits it all in. He is a full-time engineer, one of the fastest 10K runners in the UK, has sound production, drum and singing lessons, as well as playing piano and guitar, doing up his new house and having a relationship. He is pretty admirable as he takes it all in his stride, doesn’t appear stressed at all and sees free time as an opportunity to learn more of what he enjoys. He is ridiculously ambitious! Having said this, he STILL doesn’t practice properly, and I find myself trying not patronise someone who is so successful in several areas of his life. He rushes through things and hopes it will just “click” into place (classic issue with all ages) but I have to explain to him every lesson that you have to stop, listen, take it slowly and correct yourself! He’s pretty able, but I have now given him a tiny amount of practice on one verse of playing and singing “Seven Nation Army” as his rhythm was all over the place. ONE hand playing, humming along, feeling where the on and off-beat lands. Turns out, after over 2 years of teaching him, I probably should have done this a while ago!

    I do too much myself, and car learning seems to be where I actually do most of my practice or get ideas for students/lessons. I have recommended this to others and that gets them integrating the singing in their daily routine, in small chunks of practice which is so valuable.

    But when you’ve provided a student with everything they need and explained to them how they should practice, what more can one do? Well, of course it’s up to the student, and like most things in life, it’s down to YOU to get your shit together at the end of the day, pardon my French!

    There really is no excuse; so when they say, “oh I haven’t got around to that” when it’s all right there, accessible on the smartphone that they are using all day and night, it can be frustrating!

    But at the same time, I know where they’re coming from – because I’m just as bad, hell, I keep telling myself I’ll read this book about singing, but there I am, reading UniLad posts in the small hours.

  • Kat Hunter

    Member
    March 24, 2016 at 1:18 am

    Interesting topic. I have a few ideas:

    1. As much as it sucks, it is their choice. As service providers we really have to get in their shoes and see what they’re getting from lessons. Of course we have to encourage them to improve and make sure that they ARE objectively improving. But what is almost MORE important is that THEY feel they’re improving. Like from their perspective. It may be that they’re actually happy to repeat lessons, so that it sinks in. Or maybe they need more structure. The key is, they’re paying us for that 1 hour (or whatever the allotted time is), and then they control the other hours in the week until we see them next. We have very little control over that. Our only responsibility here is to help them feel as though they’re improving, and to encourage them to make space in their lives for that. Some people just want to spend an hour a week basically wasting time. But that’s their prerogative and we still get paid anyhow. So the more important question to ask is “what are you wanting to get out of singing lessons?” “what do you want to improve on, in relation to your voice?” “Do you feel like you’re moving toward this goal quickly enough?”. If they say “no”, then we set up structures that encourage more practice. If their goal is to have fun, and they’re improving at a rate they’re happy with, there’s no incentive to practice and they won’t anyway, and that is ok too.

    2. Practice has to be focused and goal-oriented. Give them 1 thing to practice, that only takes 5 minutes (so as not to be overwhelming). Say “if you only practice 1 thing this week, this should be it! But for it to work, you have to do it every day. In the shower, or in the car, I don’t mind, but make space for it every day”. If they start the habit and 5 minutes turns into 30 (because, you know, singing is fun), then that’s a bonus.

    3. Ask them questions about *where* they practice. A yoga teacher once told me “the best way to get people to practice yoga is to tell them to leave their mat open in the living room at all times, not rolled up. That way, every time they walk past the mat they think “maybe I could just do a pose or two”, and suddenly that pose or two ends up being 20 minutes of yoga. I always ask students where they practice and give them tasks like putting up pictures of singers they love in that part of the house. Or if they practice in the shower, I give them exercises they can do without accompaniment. If they practice in the car, I suggest they burn their exercises onto disk, for example, or I get them to put post-its on the dashboard with ideas about singing.

    4. Give them the authority to KNOW if what they’re doing is correct or helping them, and how. The worst thing is going home and practicing it and not even knowing if you’re doing it right, or if the exercises are actually helping you. I have a worksheet I give students, with a table, where they can write their most important exercises. It has at the top the goals the student wants to reach and then says “I can reach my goals by doing….”
    WHAT (here they write in what the exercise is) | Why? (the purpose of the exercise) | How do I know if I’m doing it right? (What to listen/feel for, and how you know it’s working) | How often? (usually I write “daily” here, but it never hurts to remind them of this) |
    And I help them fill out the table.

    Don’t know if these points help! But hopefully they do 🙂 x

  • Eliza Jane Fyfe

    Moderator
    March 24, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Wow, that was all pretty perfect advice! Thanks!

  • Kat Hunter

    Member
    March 24, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Glad to be of help. Or “no wuckas” as we say down south 😉

  • Rosie Calvert

    Member
    March 30, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Great tips guys! I find that some of my students just come to me for repertoire, and they can be the worst for practicing! But since they’re using my teaching as a way to get new songs to sing rather than improve their technique, they’re getting what they want out of it…

    Still a little frustrating though!

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