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7 ways a Music Teacher Knows You’ve Practiced

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Music teachers encourage their students to practice, but how exactly do teachers know that their students really did practice? Many students, including myself in the past, think they can go to a lesson and either fake their practice or lie that they have practiced. Eventually though, the truth comes out.

So, here are seven things a music teacher notices when their students have practiced.

a picture of someone's hands playing the keys of a Kawai grand piano

Self-esteem and confidence are higher

Students that come to lessons who have practiced in between their lessons typically show signs of eagerness, excitement, higher self-esteem, and confidence. These indications are demonstrated through their actions: getting their books out of their bags quickly, wanting to get to the piano fast to show their accomplishments, and playing their piece with fluency.

Mistakes are less common

If a student plays a mistake in their piece during their lesson, the teacher should be able to tell whether that mistake is intentional, unintentional, or unprepared.

  1. If their mistake is intentional and sounds well assimilated to the rest of their piece, it is a sign that the student has practiced their piece but has learnt the wrong note or rhythm.

  2. If their mistake is unintentional and is well assimilated to the rest of their piece, it is also a sign that the student has practiced but had a slip-up in their lesson. This mistake is often one that has not happened before and rarely happens again, so the teacher knows that it has not been learnt incorrectly.

  3. If their mistake comes with hesitation and is not well assimilated to the rest of their piece, it is often a sign that the student hasn’t practiced.

Tempos are close to or at the required speed

Every piece of music has a range of acceptable tempo and different challenges are apparent at these tempos depending on the speed of the piece.

In fast pieces, the teacher will notice that practicing has occurred if the student has increased the tempo of the whole piece or sections of the piece between lessons.

In slow pieces, the student will likely be able to achieve that tempo within a short time frame. Thus, in the lesson the teacher will know if the student has practiced if the slow tempo is consistent throughout with no rushing or hesitations.

Progress is made outside of the assigned tasks

Occasionally a student can understand certain concepts really well in their lesson but arrives at home and tries to practice and doesn’t remember what was said throughout the lesson or has more questions. If this is the case, they will likely avoid the assigned task and spend more time on something else (e.g. another piece, improvisation, composition, note reading flash cards, reviewing old pieces, etc.). When arriving at their next lesson, they’re typically eager to show the teacher what they did despite the assigned task was not practiced. If this happens, it’s still a sign the student progressed at something else and put in the practice time.

Notes or tips are written in their music

Depending on the level of the student, they may have written a few things on their music to help them with their practicing.

picture of coloured pencils in a box sitting on a desk

These may include:

  • occasional note names, finger numbers, or accidentals*

  • counting in some or all measures of their music

  • areas that they need to practice more

  • labels of sections to enable prioritizing their practicing

  • things their teacher said to remember

* It is discouraged to write every letter name, finger number, or accidental in the piece, but if there is an occasional one that they need, it should be permitted.

The teacher may see additional markings to what was written the previous week and therefore be able to acknowledge that the student has made the effort to practice.

Note: this is more frequently seen with students who are at a late elementary level or above.

Fluidity is increased

Another tactic for a teacher to know if their student has practiced or not is the sense of ease and fluidity that improves week to week. When a section of a piece or a whole piece is repeated a sufficient number of times, it will have a sense of ease when a student plays it for their teacher at their lesson.

Signs of fluidity include:

  • the student having minimal hesitations or struggles

  • the student looking away from their hands for a period of time

  • the student having memorized certain sections of their piece or their entire piece

New pieces are easier to learn

When students have a good practice routine throughout the week, they are able to analyze and assimilate new pieces of music faster because familiar notes and symbols appear in future pieces. Since they have built a good foundation initially, it can be built upon more easily going forward.

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