I recently had a parent call me with concern about her daughter. She didn't want her to quit, but she seemed to have lost interest and simply would not practice. I agreed to talk with the student. At the next lesson, I mentioned the conversation with the girl. Her response to me consisted of ramblings about how her binders would not fit in her locker at school. This student's loss of interest in practicing piano clearly had nothing to do with the piano, itself. She is a 7th grade girl who was merely overwhelmed with the adjustment to middle school. My solution to her lack of commitment to practice was this: "Let's make a deal. I know you're trying to figure out this whole middle school thing, and that can be very overwhelming. So, until January, I will never give you more than two songs to work on at a time (she's been in lessons little more than a year). And I would like you to commit to just 20 minutes of practice each day, instead of 30-45." She was thrilled at this thought! And I saw an immediate turnaround in her attitude. It can be such a relief to a student to learn that their music teacher empathizes with the daily struggles of their life. Any time a student is going through a significant life change, there will also be a change in their practice and performance. They will either become distracted from the music, or will completely pour their stress and emotions into it. Either way, I must take the time to notice and to adjust accordingly.
Another student (a percussion student of another teacher) is consistently negligent of her practice time. The only time she works really hard is when there is a significant performance or audition approaching....and it's even sporadic then. This student is extremely intelligent and musically gifted. In everyday life, she is a very responsible and organized child. She just won't practice regularly. This student's lack of attention to practice is dealt with completely differently. You see, she is a middle school band student who is far more gifted than the average teenager. Therefore, while other students must practice diligently to master the middle school level music, she can sightread it. In her mind, there is no need to practice if she can already play the music better than everyone else. This is tricky in middle school, because it is difficult to have any freedom to challenge a gifted student in a middle school band class. So, it must fall on a private instructor. To overcome this challenge, the instructor must find extra performance opportunites for the student......ones that will require her to learn more advanced skills. It's also important to continually remind her that the band music will become more interesting and challenging in high school. Encouraging this student to participate in competitions and to audition for things like all-region band will also help. Another helpful tip is to be very specific with what you expect of their practice time. Write it down in a book of some sort. It's a misnomer that the weaker students are the most challenging ones to teach. Many times, it's the extremely talented student who consistently challenges the teacher. This student is constantly at risk of quitting due to boredom.
Teaching music requires much more than just listening to a student play their assignment and correcting their mistakes. A lot of attention must be paid to getting to know and understand each student you are working with.