Breaking the Gridlock in Music Lessons How to Get Things Moving Forward Again

In music lessons, getting stuck on the same repertoire can happen when practice routines and teacher expectations get out of alignment. This is a common scenario that can be worked through – as long as we recognize the signs and communicate game-plans effectively to students and parents.


IMAG0421_1As students, we complain that the teacher keeps assigning us the same piece for another whole week. As teachers, we find it frustrating that we have to assign the same piece because the student hasn’t reached their potential on the assignment. Then parents can assume an awkward positions where they have to listen to their child complain about the gridlock and approach the teacher asking why their child has been on the same piece for so many weeks.

Successful music lessons often have these three components…

  • Introduction of New Materials – In the Lesson
  • Student Practicing the Material on Their Own – at Home
  • Review and Expand Upon Previously Assigned Material – In the Lesson

If one of the components doesn’t happen the lessons become stagnant. For example, if the teacher fails to review and expand upon what the student has prepared at home then the student won’t be challenged and made aware of important new concepts.

If the student isn’t practicing at home, this can also lead to gridlock. Emotionally, this takes a toll on students. They feel more pressure and failure each day, week or even month they don’t do the work. This often leads to conflicts with parents at home about lessons – whether to continue or not, parents try to “help” too much and things can spin out of control. It also can lead teachers to be less-than-enthused to work with a student.

Here are some tips students and parents can try at home when lessons are in gridlock…

  • Front-Load the Practice Week: This simple change in practice routines has helped so many students of ours at Creative Music Adventures. If the lesson is on a Monday, the student should practice on Tuesday at the latest. Even a quick review of the material on Monday when they get home will be huge. Practice the first five days after the lesson and then take a day off. Then do a quick review the day before the lesson. Most students stuck in gridlock are waiting several days to start their practice routines.
  • Practice What You Don’t Know First: Embrace the idea of working on what you can’t do. We’re most fresh when we first sit down – use that to your advantage and dig in to the things you can’t do.
  • Reward Yourself with What You Do Well: At the end of the practice session – jam on your hits. Play things that sound great that you have mastered. Use music as a reward!
  • Parents – Take a Step Back: This is tough. However, if parents can just establish the “front-loaded” routines and step away – things often start to roll. The only role of the parent is to make sure students have time to get to the instrument. Beyond that, let the students excel or take their lumps. It needs to be their activity and they will start to feel the momentum shift if they are left to their own devices.