Is there a Right Way To Praise Guitar Students?


When it comes to praising guitar students I am very careful about the advice I give because a lot of advice although well intentioned is not based on any real research. In fact a lot of praise that is dished out is done ineffectively or in some cases can have a negative effect causing students to lose confidence and even dropout of lessons.
The danger of overpraising 
Now for the record let me say that sincere praise is a good thing but undeserved praise or exaggerated praise can be very damaging. Imagine a class where the teacher is constantly praising every child for everything and anything to make students feel good about themselves. The children would soon disregard the praise as meaningless. We must understand the difference between praising and being positive. For example Jake is a student and in my class I  say in an upbeat tone “Hey Jake. Are you ready to rock today or what? Lets do this!” I am being positive and helping Jake to get into a good mood but there is no praise there nor is it called for.
Praising the wrong things
An even worse scenario is where students are praised where they applied little to no effort. The purpose of praise is really about directing behaviour but far too often teachers misunderstand believing that the purpose of praise is to make a student feel good. As you can see I can make Jake feel good without false praise. Let me use an example that should clarify. If Jake attempts a riff and makes several mistakes and I say “Fantastic Jake. That was better than Satriani” this sends Jake the message that its as good as it needs to be and no more effort is required. If on the other hand I said “Wow, great effort Jake. It gets better every time” this sends Jake a very different message. I am praising his effort not the result. This in contrast encourages Jake to want to practice more.
Praise their practice efforts
As a guitar teacher acknowledging my student’s practice logs every week was probably the best praise of all because it encourages them to practice more. Sure I would still congratulate them when they could finally play something at a performance level but I would always make the point that perfect is a direction not a destination.
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