'Surprise The Teacher': A Unique Practice Challenge

Practice Challenge During Spring Break? Yes. Really.

We all know that practice tends to drop off during vacation times.  Between family trips and a more relaxed home schedule, piano practice tends to fall through the cracks.  How can a practice challenge possibly help during this time?

The Way It Used To Be

I used to exhort my students to continue practicing over school holidays so that they could “keep up their progress” (which I eventually realized is the equivalent of saying “Eat your broccoli because it’s good for you.”).  When we got back to lesson, I typically got a long list of reasons why the student had not practiced over the break.  “We were out-of-town and there was no piano.”, “We did a lot of sightseeing and just didn’t get around to it.”, “Our family just needed a break from everything.”  None of these reasons are untrue or unreasonable.  They just don’t lead to any piano practice.

Rather than continuing to stress about the practice or lay the blame game, I decided to do something different.  Hold a studio practice challenge!

A Studio Challenge Like No Other

I needed a practice challenge that ticked off a whole lot of boxes.  It needed to remove ALL non-participation excuses by ensuring it:

  • Could be completed with or without a piano
  • Could be completed with or without wifi connection (or any type of tech in case a family goes screen free for the break)
  • Take as little or as much time as the student wants
  • Require little to no involvement from the parents (we need our breaks too)
  • Let the student express himself/herself creatively

“Surprise The Teacher!”

Kids tend to like to surprise the adults in their lives.  These may be:

  • Cards or pictures that are totes adorbs (totally adorable)
  • Sharing a new factoid … many, many, many factoids if it is on their favourite topic
  • Or, showing off their progress in something they are interested in.

This practice challenge harnesses the energy of those great surprises in a musical way. Students create a music project or complete a music task that they can surprise me with at the first lesson back after Spring Break.  Simple, yes.  And yet, it ticks off every box above.

Revving Those Creative Engines

Tweak your student’s interest with your enthusiasm.  After all, who wants a regular, boring ol’ lesson after vacation?  Wouldn’t it be great to focus on something unexpected?

“Whenever you have surprised me in lesson, I have been so excited to see what you have to share!  For our first lesson back after the break, I want YOU to create a musical surprise to show me.”

Telling students they can choose ANYTHING music related tends to result in wide eyes and a (slightly) hanging open mouth.  Having a brainstorming session during lesson time ensures that each student can choose the best task or project for them.  It also has the side benefit of letting you guide your students to different projects so you don’t see the same project over and over.

A Practice Challenge Unlike Any Other

Not only does a “Surprise The Teacher” challenge tick off a lot of fantastic vacation-friendly boxes, it has the added benefit of retaining students.  One of the best ways to do this is to rekindle excitement for students and parents alike.  Holding a practice challenge like this in your studio will:

  • Have most (if not all) of your students doing something musical over the school break.
  • Ensure parents see their child(ren) engaged in piano lessons and remind them why they just can’t live without you.
  • Give your students freedom to try something totally new and maybe even give you a few ideas of what your focus should be with the student for the next few months as well.
  • Take away your planning for the first week back … your students just took care of it for you!

This may end up being the most amazing, energizing, and inspiring week of lessons your studio may have all year!

What questions do you have about practice challenges or this ‘Surprise The Teacher’ challenge?

Let me know in the comments below!

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