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5 Reasons Why Your Voice Students are Not Practicing

September 10, 2016

Teachers of all disciplines struggle to help students develop healthy practice and study routines. For beginner voice students there are some issues unique to the singing instrument that can be holding them back. Here are five situations that often prevent our students from singing at home.

1.    Students/Parents do not know how to practice.
Don’t assume that they know what to do. Families need specific, step by step instructions. Even if students had previous lesson experience, we could never know what the other teacher’s instructions or expectations were (if any.) We can introduce and reinforce healthy practicing habits by modeling them in each and every lesson.

If you want your students to sing the exercise three times at home – then you need to do that in their lesson. If your students will be singing with an accompaniment track at home – step away from the piano and watch them perform with the track.  Most importantly, A verbal reminder to both student and parents that “this is how you practice at home” is effective. However, you will need to repeat yourself at least a thousand times. Sometimes it is more efficient to tell student/parent what is NOT practicing. I like to remind them that walking around the house casually singing their song without accompaniment is NOT practicing. 
Teacher Tip: Do not overwhelm students with too much information. Keep instructions and objectives very simple.

2.    Students do not have the right tools at home.
Singers need to own a music stand and a device to playback accompaniment recordings. They also need music. (That is a whole other blog post.) With devices like phones and laptops or tablets, it is highly recommended to have speakers that can amplify the device enough so that singers can sing at a healthy, confident volume when practicing.
Teacher Tip:  Let your young padawans know that they are NOT to practice with headphones or ear buds.
3.    Students do not have a dedicated space for practicing
Our singers need a space dedicated for their practicing. It should be sacred ground. A private, clean and quiet place where their tools are always accessible. (Getting my son to brush his teeth is challenging enough – but if I had to go searching downstairs for his toothbrush, dig through is schoolbag for his toothpaste and go out to the car to find the floss, and on Wednesdays we brush our teeth in the kitchen…well, you get the idea.) With a spot that is set up for them and ready to go, they will have that reminder right in front of them that they have to practice and (gasp!) might even do it with less nagging. 
4.    Students do not feel comfortable singing in front of parents (or siblings)
This. Is. Big. If your student, for whatever reason, does not feel comfortable singing in front of family members, (and many of them DO NOT) they will NOT practice at home. {mic drop} I understand why many teachers prefer not to have parents in the lesson studio – but they need to be there. Moms and Dads need to see you working with their child and be able to ask questions. They need to see and hear your instructions. Always take time in a lesson to answer student or parent questions. Answering questions in a music lesson is NEVER a waste of time. (Seriously, Kids are lousy communicators, and they KNOW when they can get away with something.) And your students need to be able to sing in front of other people.  Students who are not comfortable singing in front of parents are the ones that drop out from your recitals. Once healthy routines are established, and students are comfortable singing for Mom and Dad then they can drop in less frequently. (but should pop in from time to time for “mini recitals”.) Like it or not, part of our job is to educate parents so they can assist the student in a healthy, supportive way at home.

4a. Parents Don’t Like/Understand the Songs Their Children are singing.
Nothing makes a parent beam with pride than when their child belts out their favorite songs. Parents can be uncomfortable with new and unknown repertoire, and their hesitant attitude towards new songs can sabotage home practice. Educate parents about why you are choosing this repertoire for your student. Include the benefits for their vocal development. If parents understand our evil agendas – they will be more apt to encourage practicing – even if they don’t appreciate the repertoire.

5.    Singers don’t have the right support
For teachers: We have to make sure that we are following up with students about practicing. It can start by asking:
“how was singing at home this week?” 
“did you set up your practice space?”
“What can I do to make it easier for you?”
“let’s hear our songs from last week that you sang at least three times.”

Teacher Tip: Ditch the technical exercises at home for beginners. {Yes, Seriously.} For singers who are just discovering their voices and are new to lessons, technical exercises are weird, confusing, embarrassing and rarely done correctly without your assistance. When they are confident with singing experience, make sure they have a recording to assist them.


For Parents: For parents who do not have experience with music lessons, OR they have had negative experiences in their past, they need our support. We may need to:

  • Ask/remind parents not to criticize the student at home or in the lesson. 
  • Clearly define our expectations.
  • Ask parents to give the student privacy at home when practicing.
  • Let them know that we are on their side.
  • Encourage them to work with us and not against us.

Sometimes parents (unknowingly) set up their children to fail from the very onset of music lessons. The “we-are-taking-lessons-just-for-fun” families are trying to avoid the practicing challenges by declaring that they don’t want any pressure of creating routines. Unfortunately, without support at home and no accountability, these students do not last very long in lessons. I like to politely remind families that showing up unprepared for lessons is no fun at all. Repeating a lesson over and over is frustrating and embarrassing, not to mention a waste of time and money. (Also, not fun). I repeatedly remind families that singing at home is an incredible stress reliever and a healthy outlet for students of all ages.  I have a lovely family who routinely has a karaoke night with everyone participating in the fun. How awesome is that?!

One last thought:
A student or family’s inability or unwillingness to practice is not about you. Don’t take it personally. It takes a lifetime to develop study habits. With enthusiastic encouragement, we can help our students with this important life skill. Now go and practice.

FYI Practice vs practise

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