By Amy Chaplin
For some teachers, summer is a time to pack in the extra students, run camps, and draw in new clientele. I’ve heard many teachers say they make more in the summer than the rest of the year for that very reason.
Other teachers take it as a welcome chance to breathe a bit with a lighter student load. The extra time is given to family—especially if kids are home for summer break, or to play catch-up on books or projects, whether studio, personal, or business-related.
Students are the same way. There are some who need to take a step back and have a break from the piano, and others who prefer just to keep going. Since I relate to the latter teacher scenario myself, summer studies are optional in my studio.
How to Motivate Students to Continue Studying over Summer
I find many of my students who take summer lessons do so for one of four reasons. I believe these reasons are tied to what motivates students to practice in the summer.
1) Let students take ownership over their practice schedule.
With no school, no sports, and many of the regular commitments on hiatus, they have a significantly freer schedule. Why wouldn’t they continue lessons? They’ll certainly have plenty of time to practice. This type of student doesn’t need much to motivate them. They just do it because they enjoy it and have the time.
If they have less activities and obligations competing for their free time—they’ll practice.
2) Allow students to choose more of the music they play in the summer.
Most of the time, my students and I put away their regular repertoire or method books and pull out anything that interests them. A lot of the requests I get include Disney music, contemporary worship music & hymns, or specific individual tunes from the radio, whether it’s country music, Billy Joel, or the like.
At the beginning of this past year, one student requested “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I explained that I would be happy to get it for her but not right now—I knew she wasn’t quite ready to tackle it. A couple of months ago, the same student requested a song from Newsies because her middle school choir was singing it for their spring program. At her evaluation meeting I pulled music out for both of these songs and told her she was ready and that summer was the perfect time to tackle both. She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face! She’s already started practicing them, even before summer lessons began.
If they feel more in control of which pieces they get to learn—they’ll practice.
3) Hold a studio event that only happens once a year, in the summer.
Every summer I hold a studio picnic performance at the end of the 3rd week of July. I have a student who, up until two years ago, hadn’t taken summer lessons. This summer when I asked him what his plans were he said, “Oh, I’m definitely doing lessons this summer. I really loved that picnic thing—that was fun!”
I set up a portable keyboard in an outdoor pavilion, and provide drinks and meat for the grill; families bring side dishes. After everyone gets through the line, kids take turns playing music while everyone is still eating.
You can read more about this event here.
If they’re looking forward to playing in a special event, especially if its pieces they know, have requested, and are excited about—they’ll practice.
4) Provide variety in lesson time or routine.
Summer is a great time to try out a new lesson/studio format. Last year, after hearing Lynette Barney describe her studio schedule on a Tim Topham podcast, I experimented with her format.
Two students arrived at the same time. One does their 30-minute lesson, the other does their 30-minute lab, and then they swap. These students stay for an additional 30-minutes at which time two more students arrive. We did a short group class with the four students together—mostly playing games or practicing ensemble pieces—then the first two students left and the second two stayed for their lesson/lab swap hour.
I had a student who hadn’t taken summer lessons in their three years with me but after hearing they would have a weekly group class (which they always enjoy but only get every 5-6 weeks during the school year), they decided to take lessons. They loved getting to play the ensemble pieces and play games with other piano friends.
When they know someone is relying on them to learn and know their part in a collaborative piece—they’ll practice.
Incentives and Projects
There are a couple more ways we can always try to provide an additional boost to the summer practice blues.
- Create some kind of an incentive program. Use motivational charts or sticker charts! If a student fills up their chart, they get some kind of special prize—maybe an ice cream party?
- Give them a little project to work on like these 16 piano projects from Teach Piano Today. The great thing about projects like these is that they can be given to students who are taking lessons or used as a challenge for students who aren’t taking lessons to encourage them to keep skills up during the summer.
Practice Blues Banished?
Will any of these things magically make students practice as much as they should? We can only hope. What I do know is that if students take ownership, goals, and something they truly desire, they’ll put in the practice.
For more on giving students choices, check out this great article on The Bulletproof Musician: How (and Why) Giving Students Choices Can Dramatically Improve Their Learning.
An avid learner, teacher, presenter, and writer, Amy Chaplin shares her passions at PianoPantry.com. She holds a Masters in piano pedagogy and performance, operates Studio 88, an independent piano studio in Bluffton, Indiana, and serves as President-elect for Indiana MTA.