Patience Traps, Part 3: Students, part a

“I HATE PRACTICING”   An Extremely Famous Violinist*

At last we come to the real test of our ability to resist patience: our students.

There are myriad ways in which our students can push us into the patience trap. Perhaps the most dangerous is when they contract a disease known to most music teachers as I-Don’t-Want-To-Practice-itis.

A variation is:  I-Don’t-Like-To-Practice-itis.

Either one leads to a chronic condition called:  I-Don’t-Practice-Much-osis

Which leads to a necrotizing inability to play the instrument and……..need I go on?

What to do? There are various choices:

  1.  Wait until they grow up and realize what they have missed (when it is often too late).
  2.  After waiting in vain for them and their parents to come to their senses, you finally lose patience and tell them to quit.
  3.  You give up entirely, thinking, “You can lead a horse to water…” but allow them to come to lessons anyway, hoping that something will change or they will decide to stop on their own.
  4. You realize that the student has a serious problem that must be faced, and you do something about it.

I am sure you have already realized that the fourth choice is really the only option, if you want your student to continue playing.

However, before we try to tackle the student’s problem, we should look at our own attitudes. Why do you want your students to practice? Here are a few common reasons:

  1. The parents are paying you to get results and you want to make them happy and also to feel you are earning your pay.
  2. It is much more interesting to give lessons to a student who practices instead of giving the same lesson over and over.
  3. Good students help your reputation.
  4. Because you say so, because you yourself did it and because it’s a good idea.
  5. If the student makes progress, he will be happy, continue to make more progress and everyone will be happy.

Most of the above reasons, you will note, are centered around YOUR comfort and YOUR ambitions. They probably do not even percolate into our conscious minds until we are giving lessons to a non-practicer. Therefore, to help our students and to avoid doing damage, we first should examine our own motivations. So, point by point:

  1. Yes, the parents are paying you, but your responsibility is to the student. Your idea of “results” is not necessarily the same as the parents’ or the student’s. Besides, you are REALLY earning your pay by helping difficult students, so you don’t need worry about this.
  2. Yes it is much more interesting to teach good students, but who is paying you to enjoy yourself? Teaching is also fun, but, like practicing (see quote above), it can have its difficult moments. Deal with them. If you can handle bad practicing moments, you can handle bad teaching moments. Part of job satisfaction is overcoming difficulties, not sweeping them away or getting rid of them when you get annoyed or bored.
  3. Bad students will also make a good reputation for you if you handle them right. Since when is teaching about you, anyway?
  4. Yes, practicing IS a good idea. You know that from your own experience but the days are past of the teacher with an iron-clad fist and boots to match.
  5. This is the most convincing argument – that a student is happier if he achieves something. If this is why you want your students to practice, there is hope for both you and your students. Why? Because you are thinking about your student and not yourself.

So, before you make a decision on what to do about the non-practicing problem, try this:

Step back, take yourself out of the equation. Do not think about how you feel. Think about the student (and his parents) and what they want to get out of your lessons. If you do this, you will be able to see the whole situation much more clearly and then be able to focus on how to help your student face his problem with practicing instead of only concentrating on YOUR problem with his problem.


Next: some ideas on why students don’t practice and how to get them to.


  • Viktoria Mullova, from an interview she very graciously gave me many years ago for a forthcoming book. She said a lot more of great value which I will publish in the future. My apologies to her for only publishing this little excerpt at the moment but you have to admit that it got your attention! Registered & Protected 

26 November 2014

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