Students who don’t practice

Should you keep teaching music students who don't practice?Students who don’t practice can be very frustrating for a teacher. I feel that there are two equally appropriate ways to approach these students:

  1. Drop them
  2. Embrace what they do bring to each lesson

Dropping Students

There are many reasons to drop a student. This post isn’t about dropping a student for failure to pay or misbehavior. This is about dropping them solely because they don’t practice. Some teachers drop any student who doesn’t reflect well on them as a teacher. I don’t do this, but it is a valid view.

Let’s say that you are a teacher with 20 lesson slots. All of the slots are filled and you have a wait list with four students on it. You also have a student who never practices, often forgets to bring his music to lessons, and once even forgot to bring his bassoon to a recital. (Personal experience talking here.) Would one of the students on your wait list be better served by having lessons from you than this other student who doesn’t seem to care? I think the answer could be yes.

There aren’t many qualified bassoon teachers in most places. I see it as my responsibility to teach those students that benefit most from my teaching. If the situation above were to arise in my studio, I would talk with the lazy/busy/unprepared student and put him on probation. If he didn’t start progressing within a month or so, I would have to let him find a teacher that would be “a better fit.”

Now, let’s get real here. How many of us actually have full studios and thriving wait lists? Not me. So for you folks…

Embracing Lessons with an Unprepared Student

Unprepared students may not show up with etudes to play, but they do bring a few things with them to the lesson. They bring themselves. They bring their potential. And they are a captive audience for the 45 minutes or so that you have them. Every student (whether they practice or not) deserves to have a musical experience at every lesson.

Play duets. This is the easiest way for students to connect with the joy of music. Pick one far below their skill level. There are many wonderful free duets at I have had students start practicing if they know that we will be playing duets together at the next lesson.

Experience great performances. Listen to some of your favorite bassoon recordings and let your enthusiasm for the bassoon infect the student! Show your students YouTube videos of your favorite bassoonists. Show them videos of their favorite video game music played by bassoon quartet.

Use apps. There are a number of interesting bassoon related apps out there. Some of my favorites are Cadenza, The Orchestra, and bass or tenor clef flashcard games.

Play games. The middle and high school crowds still like a good challenge. For students who need to work on rhythm, I use Wendy Stevens’ Rhythm Cup Explorations. It takes the fun of the cup song (video) and combines it with sequential rhythmic exercises. All ages love this one.

Watch fun music stuff. I bet any of your students could give you a list of their favorite music-related YouTube videos. They probably even have favorite bassoon videos. Watch them together! Discuss them and help your students connect what they have learned in lessons to what they see on the screen. Here are some favorites that I have successfully used in lessons:

If you choose to follow this approach, it is a good idea to touch base with the parents to make sure that they understand that watching YouTube videos is actually educational. Sometimes it only takes a handful of these lessons before the student is practicing again.


5 thoughts on “Students who don’t practice

  1. Reply
    dorca - July 18, 2015

    I think a student who really loves what he/she does will find the way to study, it shows interest and is responsible. There is not greater motivation form him/her than loving what is he/she doing. Real musicians enjoy practicing and try their best in and out the classroom. I started studying music when I was 10 and no one had to tell me to practice because I loved it so much that my motivation came from my self. I wanted to be able to play my instrument the best way I could. I didn’t need my teacher or my parents to push me… I pushed my self!!!
    Today I am a professional singer, graduated from college with a degree in vocal performance. I pushed my self all the way to college without external motivation. If the motivation is not within you, there is no way you are going to do what it’s need to be done to become a real musician. That’s my opinion and my experience.
    I do private voice lessons and I do not waste my time and efforts with people who are not taking this career seriously. It doesn’t matter how talented they are, if they don’t have what it takes to be successful in this career I do not waste my time. As I said there are some talented people, but the talent alone isn’t going to make it. I prefer to work with students who are motivated, who study, who practice etc. even if they are not “that talented”. In the long run these students succeed!

    1. Reply
      Jessi Vandagriff - July 18, 2015

      I agree that those with a true passion for music will succeed. If I could have a studio full of those students, I would be in heaven!

      1. dorca - July 18, 2015

        It will be a dream come true! :)

    2. Reply
      Tom Ervin - September 16, 2016

      Duets, including mine. tom Ervin

  2. Reply
    Madeline Wilks - July 19, 2015

    Speaking as a previous member of the “no practice” crowd, I am so very grateful that me bassoon teacher never gave up on me. I now am on my way to persuing a career with the bassoon and it is mostly in part because of my teacher’s constant support and devotion of time putting up with my nonsense. Please don’t give up on us. The joy of music can be found even in the most stubborn.

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