Should I be tough on practice?

As guitar teachers we know that students who practice are the ones who will succeed yet at the same time we don’t want to scare off students by coming across as too strict. We hear especially from parents comments like “We just want her to have fun” or “As long as he is enjoying the lessons we are happy to pay”. Sometimes parents will subtly send this message by saying “She is really enjoying your lessons, if only we could get her to practice”. These kind of comments send mixed messages and leave us wondering as teachers whether our role is to ensure they enjoy their lessons or to ensure they practice.

The big problem

The big problem is this. Enjoyment is important and a factor but you are being paid to teach them how to play guitar. This comes with a responsibility to be honest.  Enjoyment of your lessons becomes irrelevant if your students are not practicing. I made it clear to my students that meeting minimum practice was the basic requirement because I didn’t want to disappoint them. In a year or two after paying me several thousands of dollars in lesson fees I did not want to try explaining to a student or parent why their child had made little to no progress. Think about people who go to weight loss centers. Their goal is to lose weight. While a soft coach might make a ‘nice’ person they don’t make a successful coach.

So should you be tough and mean?

Not at all. There is this misconception that we need to be mean like Samuel L. Jackson in the movie ‘Coach Carter’ to get our students to practice. This strategy in my opinion is for those who don’t have the skills required to gain student compliance. Their are many techniques that will get your students practicing while also winning their respect and approval without resorting to so called military style shouting. Recent research into human behaviour has revealed many positive techniques that you can use and to which I can testify .

Keeping it simple

Simply put students must practice the minimum minutes per day at least 5 times a week. I don’t get angry or make threats or tell students I am disappointed or try to make them feel guilty in anyway. On the very first lesson I say “Peter, I will need you to do the minimum practice of 5 days a week preferably 6 or even 7. Do you think you will be able to find the time?” Its usually a yes but if the next week it hasn’t happened I will spend a good 10 minutes talking about practice and looking at their schedule. If by the 3rd week we still have a problem I will spend half the lesson explaining that practice is essential and ask them honestly if they are up for it. If come week 4 still no luck I will move to Plan B. To learn more about Plan B send me an email at

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