Ok MS Band DIrectors. Here's where I need all the best information and
advice I can get. I have a small band program of about 35 beginners and
about 40 concert band (7th/8th). I'm trying to convince my kids that
with proper practice, they get better, and as they get better, it's more
fun to play. They dont seem to buy it. I cant seem to get them to make
practice a priority.

What are some of your best practices for getting kids to WANT to practice their instruments/music?

Joshua Uhrich
Dayton, OH

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Smartmusic works for me. Get a couple of them to really buy into it. Set up a station at your school and watch the magic.

Also, playing for them and with them really motivates them. I play to tracks that I play on... sounds kinda funny that way, but it works.

There is a forum on recruitment that has some free arrangements for tubas and baritones that is fun to play, could look for that perhaps.


If there have been full ride scholarships from the HS that you feed into, you can take the amount of dollars and do a math lesson.  Let's say $70,000 per year for 4 years at a private institution.  That's $280,000 worth of value.  Divide this by 7 years (Grades 6-12) and then by 180 school days to come up with how much you are paying your students to not quit practicing.  This has also worked for me in some cases.  Of course, it works pretty well when you have a parent information meeting, booster meeting or a captive audience after or during a performance.  Parents usually take a good look at these numbers, especially if one of your local college folks is doing the talking.

Bon chance.

This can also be tied in with the new Richard Gladwell book entitled "Outliers."  Wonderful research-based book that deals with music and how to master it.   Check it out.  Latest research.

I'm not a Band Director, however, I am a parent who has a child that was in band in middle school. She played the trombone. I had issues getting her to practice at home so I spoke with the Director about it. He encouraged me to allow her to "voice her style" by practicing outside, even if she made up her own stuff. It sounded a little odd to me, but I tried it. Every day she would march up and down our road playing her instrument. After a week, the neighbors would make it a point to be outside to watch my 13 year old in her glory. This made her want to get better so she started practicing inside for 30 minutes before marching down the road.

I don't know if what that Director told me is normal or not, but I can tell you it worked! I think that since he was so hands on with the parents, it was a little easier to encourage the kids to practice.
One of the methods I used to foster practicing involved a series of questions to get into what I would call the "internal" world of the student. Band directors usually know after the first few notes are played at a lesson whether or not the student has practiced. If this has persisted for some time, we know a new tack needs to be tried.After trust is established between teacher and student it is possible to follow this outline.

So ask the student:
1.Look inside your head. Do you see yourself as playing the ------------?
2.Is it something you want to do? If the answer is yes, proceed to the next question. If the answer is no, then assure the student you are on their side.ie if they have a feeling of being forced by parents and it is already in the realm of a power struggle ,then that will need to be resolved. It's possible to aid in the resolution.This would require the teachers involvement.If it is a severe struggle the out come usually is the kid drops. No body can really be forced to do anything if they really don't want to.
3 The answer yes to question 2 easily sets up the question: Do you think you can learn to play without practicing?
They know it's not possible and most will say so.
4.Well then,about how much time would you believe is required for you to make progress?
Students will usually parrot back what they have been told.( That is what parents,and teachers have said) The answer may easily be 30 min a day days a week. This answer is not acceptable as you already know they aren't practicing at all. So go over with them what you are getting at.
Namely it is what they believe is reasonable for them and what they would be will to subscribe to in a plan.
5. Let the kid think about it for awhile and reply.For a real non practicing student, the answer might be 5 min two days a week. That is rejected because no one will improve under such a plan. If this were the students offer, I'd know A. That negotiation is taking place, and B maybe progress will ensue if I can get an agreement for 5 min a day days a week. If the horn is consistently gotten out of the case as agreed to, usually they will actually practice a little more at each opening of the case. Other plans will thankfully wind up being for more than this!!!
6 Write the commitment in the lesson book. At the next lesson ask if the plan were followed. If the answer is yes, listen to the lesson. If the answer is no,ask the student if there is anything wrong wiht the plan. If yes, change it, if no, say "well then I expect you to follow it. " Accept no excuses. By no excuses, mean exactly that, no excuses. Listen to none of them. They know why.
7.It is worthwhile to help in the planning of fulfilling the agreed to plan. fFnd out where the practicing will be done, what time of day,and which days. You may discover inpediments regarding location or time. Example: they share a bed room with a brother who has a tendency to be obstructive etc.

The beauty of this method once it is established is that other problems are easily addressed.
Forgot your lesson? Go to the students classroom room or at the next meeting ask, Do you think you are helping yourself learn to play the horn?
Forgot your mouthpiece, the horn, the music etc. Same answer. Never accept any excuses and do not punish.
The student said yes in answer to the question about wanting to learn to play.We are merely asking them to live up to their word. You can even ask them:Is your word worthwhile? Would you want to be known as some one who's word is not reliable? Each time they opt to be what they said they wanted to be they are getting stronger. Fringe benefit- the band gets better.
Thank you for that wonderful insight, Donald! I will certainly consider this technique with my students.
Thank you Joshua for writing. It is a pleaure to be of some help and I thank you for the opportunity.
The site provides a very useful service for all of us. We are fortunate it exists.
Don Hofmeister
Last year I accidentally created a practice approach that has been quite successful. One day I asked a student - who practices often - to play a section of the music. When the student finished, I made the statement, "You're a Top Dog!" I soon found that the students loved this comment and wanted to become "Top Dogs" as well. Within the time period of one week I created a "Top Dog" practice procedure. The whole focus is based upon THINKING when practicing. I will upload the "TOP DOG" practice procedure that has been successful for two years for grades 6-8. When I give a Top Dog assignment, I keep the assignment very short. I want them to focus upon the thinking aspect of their practice time. I do not use this approach all the time. I know it has influenced some of my non-practicers to practice! All of the students thoroughly enjoy reading my praises and suggestions when I return their papers to them. This approach has also created an interest in discussing different ways to practice. Pamela Rezach, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
Hi Joshua,
How much are you asking them to practice? I ask my beginners for 90minutes a week, spread over a minimum of 4 days. This means that a child can do 15 minutes a day and have completed all their practicing.
I also encourage the very very beginners (first 6-10 weeks) to only do 5 minutes of playing at a time. Having it broken up like that seems to work fairly well.

I have a program where every student has to take music, whether they want to or not. I'm also in the middle east, where music is often looked upon as being Haram (forbidden). So I need to make a lot of allowances, and use lots of tricks to get kids to participate in class and practice at home.

Rule number 1 is that it has to be manageable
Rule number 2 is that it has to be fun

I teach them how to be "naughty" with their practicing. I'll ask during class:
"Who managed to do 5 minutes of practicing while their older brother/ sister was studying for an exam?"
"Who managed to annoy their parents with 5 minutes of practicing over breakfast this morning?"

The younger kids like it, and will come up with other "naughty" times to practice. (When Grandma comes, when my sister has her friends over etc)

One idea I used this year, in January I had my beginning year band fill out a self assessment and one question I included encouraged a self reflective response, "How can practicing at home support my ability to play in band and therefore have more fun?"

I received very powerful answers from the students in their own words. On another day I handed out the top 16 answers to students at band randomly then I said they have to go sequentially (I numbered the responses) and interrupt me (some enjoyed this part more than others) and shout their practicing advice. Once they shared it they wrote it on a very large poster. That poster is posted in front of them every rehearsal reminding them of their own words about practicing.

Joshua (and others,)

This has been a magical year for getting students to practice at Roberts Middle School. I accidentally "found" the magic. I cannot remember the reason that it started, but one day I had a group of students (about 25) in the band room - each grade level 96-8) was present. I told them to get in little groups and practice anything they wanted to practice - or find a spot and practice individually. To most ears, the room was filled with noise, but to me it was wonderful. The best part about it was to see all the smiles. Everyone thought it was tremendously fun to practice in what most people would refer to as chaos. During band classes that day, I announced to the students they could continue to come into the band room before and after school; after they eat each day, and during our assigned intervention time. From that point on I have anywhere from 25 - 40 students practicing in the band room before school and during intervention time. During lunch, about 20 students come. After school there are about 10 regulars. I know they are not practicing perfectly, but I am absolutely positive they have found the joy in practice and that has greatly improved their tone quality, their pride, and their closeness as ensemble members! NOTE: The morning students keep coming earlier! I don't have to be at school until 7:35, but I know if I wait until then, I will get frowns from about six of my morning regulars. They faithfully arrive at 7:15 every morning - even the morning after our concerts and after spring break!

I made it a point to "stay out of their practice time;" meaning I did not walk around and help them - even when I really wanted to do so. Instead, I pretend I am not present and let them enjoy their time of practice. The students (even 8th graders) started saying things like, "I really enjoy practicing at school." As time moved forward, I assessed they were "hooked on practice." Now, I occasionally will stop and give input, but most of the time I use band rehearsal to teach "good practice habits." NEXT, when the new nine weeks started I created a sign-in sheet. They sign in when they practice at school. After 10 practice sessions, the students receive a "TIGER ticket" - a school wide PBIS plan. When I assessed this approach was getting more students involved, I created a sign-out sheet for home practice. The students now sign their names in the appropriate slot on the sheet when they practice at home. (The name of every band student, sixth through eighth grade, is included on the sign-out sheets. Each day of the week is listed. They put their signature on the date when they pracitce at home, or at school.) I post these sheets on the instrument room doors - easily accessible to the students. This is based upon the honor system. Each week, I provide a weekly practice report in Progress Book. It is not a grade. It is an encouragement and praise approach to those who have started practicing more than they did before - even it is just one day a week. Results: The tone quality of the bands has improved tremendously. The joy has escalated and the pride is easily seen among the band members.

I hope these ideas will be of help. Pamela Rezach


Great ideas Pamela. Don H



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