I broke my trumpet but it’s ok ’cause my dad fixed it
The look of bewilderment on the teachers face continued as the aspiring brass player revealed a new innovation in instrument cases – the carrier bag! The ever helpful parent had decided to resolve the broken trumpet issue with the aid of a tube of Araldite. Having seen Dizzy Gillespie play the trumpet the girls father knew exactly where to glue the pieces of the broken instrument. The result was a bell pointing to the heavens and valves that were glued solid.
This is not an isolated case. Take for example the student who brightly informed me that the reason she hadn’t done any practice that particular week was that, in the six days since our last lesson, three of her grandparents had died. On the other three days, happily continuing, she had to go to their funerals! In classrooms and practice rooms up and down the country music teachers are being fed a feast of these excuses.
Thankfully most excuses are not nearly this creative and usually are common and recurring. Students and parents beware, the following excuses will be spotted by your teacher.
10. Note From Home. The student will claim to have been unable to practise because of something their parents have said or done, believing that because it has come from their parents it will carry extra weight.
9. I Had To . . Next the student relies on the perception that we all lead really busy lives. The student will hope that the teacher will understand that this other thing was important and therefore had to be given priority.
8. Too Hard. There are few excuses which lay the blame squarely at the teachers door. However “Too Hard” does just that. The student will claim to have tried to practise – but what you set was too hard.”
7. Practised Something Else. The student will confidently claim to have done lots of practice (usually on something simpler than the teacher set and often a piece covered previously).
6. Didn’t Know What To Do. This excuse will often be preceded by a look of shock or surprise and an assertion that they didn’t realise they had to practise that piece.
5. Questions, Questions. Teachers can sometime be bemused by a sudden onslaught of enthusiasm, resulting in questions on all manner of subjects in the hopes of running down the clock.
4. Exams. Parents and students alike realise the importance of exams – a fact which some will try to use to their advantage. This oft used tale plays on the perceived relative importance of exams over practice.
3. Forgotten Music. A student will claim to have practised but be unable to demonstrate because of “forgotten music”. Students however beware – most teachers keep spare copies of your music to hand in case such an eventuality occurs.
2. Better At Home. In rare cases this excuse may actually be valid. The student in question might actually believe that they played the piece better at home. More often it is a plea for the teacher to believe that this is the truth.
1. Too Busy. This excuse sometimes doesn’t even come with a reason why the student has been too busy. Dig a little deeper and the busyness is usually down to one or all of sports, friends, TV or playstation!
Look more closely at the excuses and you will notice that they fall into three categories. Firstly we have what I call “The Blame Game” where the student implies that the lack of practice is the fault of someone else – usually a parent or teacher. Secondly we have “Delaying Tactics” whereby the student will use whatever means possible to throw attention away from lack of practice. Lastly there are “Justifications”. Here there is always some more important task/reason which has prevented practice. Being able to spot the types of excuses will ultimately help to deal with them more effectively.
I’ve supplied more information on how to avoid these excuses in the sections below. However the best way to ensure you never come into contact with these excuses is to have clear communication between everyone, ensuring all parties know what is expected of them. One way to achieve this is via structured lessons and a good notebook like the Music Practice Diary.
So what of our erstwhile trumpet prodigy? Suffice to say that she didn”t need any of these 10 excuses. Or any other excuses for that matter. Very sadly for the world of music her short but eventful career ended shortly afterwards.
Enjoy your practice!
As teachers we need to develop strategies to try and minimise or eliminate these types of excuses. A key tool in this process is to ensure that you lay down some ground rules about what is expected when a student begins lessons with you. These rules or guidelines could cover what you expect the student to bring to the lesson and how much work you expect them to do outside of lessons. A simple set of guidelines which parents and students sign up to are a very good way of ensuring they know what is expected and is also useful in resolving any future difficulties. If you don”t currently have these guidelines you can always introduce them for existing students.
The excuses outlined above are common and below are some suggestions as to how you might deal with these as they arise – which they inevitably do!
10. Note From Home – the best way to ensure that this does not happen is to ensure that parents are clear on the work you are doing in lessons and the practice that you expect the student to do. This can be verbal but in my experience it is far better to have something written down. The teacher and parents need to show a united front so that the student is unable to play one off against the other.
9. I Had Too – it should be made clear to the student that this is no reason not to have practiced and ideally you should point them at the agreement you have had from the outset that they will practice.
8. Too Hard – in future tell the student that they will not simply be able to tell you it was too hard – they must also tell you why it was too hard. They should be asked to very specifically write down which bits were hard and what about the section they found hard. You should also tell them that you will expect to hear those easy bits between anything tricky.
7. Practised Something Else – you should explain to the student why you have chosen for them to practise a particular piece. Also make it clear that while you will listen this one time to the other thing they have practised , in future you will only listen to what you have asked them to practise.
6. Didn”t Know What To Do – if you use a notebook this should not appear as an issue. Try to be very specific and also tell them how they should do it. Check at the end of every lesson to ensure the student knows what they are doing in the coming week.
5. Questions, Questions – the key here is to spot the delaying tactic – once spotted you can gently but firmly steer the lesson back to the set practice items.
4. Exams – encourage your students to discuss their other exams with you. If a student does have important school exams coming up you can plan in advance how much practice to set during the exam period. It’s important to get their agreement before the exams arise so as not to be faced with excuses afterwards. You might also point out that practice will give them a welcome break from all that revision they are doing.
3. Forgotten Music – most teachers will be armed with suitable materials for this eventuality. It is however a very lame excuse. One of the guidelines you could lay down at the outset of lessons is the items students are expected to bring to lessons – one of which should be their music. You might also consider operating a 3 strike rule whereby if the student forgets their music more than 3 times in a term (typically 12 week period) then you refuse to teach them without their own copy of the music. For persistent offenders you might even terminate lessons. Before things get this far you should inform the parents as they may be unaware . . .
2. Better At Home – work with parents to ensure that the student is better prepared for each lesson. Ask the parents to sit with the student on the day before the lesson and play through the material you have asked them to practice. Also let the student know that they will be playing to parents before the next lesson. This will bring extra focus to the students practice.
1. Too Busy – this excuse can highlight a lack of motivation or interest from the student. There are many methods, including those on this site, which will help to motivate students. In addition teachers should try to ascertain the real reason for lack of practice – the too busy excuse is often a cover up for something deeper.
Prevention and cure of these excuses needs a couple of different approaches. At the outset it is important that students are made completely aware of what is expected of them between lessons and that they agree to this. Also needed before any excuses arise is the support and understanding of parents and also discussion about anything that might prevent proper practice in future.
Secondly teachers must retain some control of the practice situation to ensure that a culture of “no practice” is not developed. Rather than simply letting lack of practice slip by unnoticed discuss it with students and parents and reserve the right to cancel lessons if practice is not done.
As a last resort the cancellation of lessons for non-practice may seem drastic but gradually the standard of your studio/students will rise as everyone is practicing. In time this will make more people keen to come to you for lessons as they will want to discover why all of your students do so well.
There is one very important fact you need to know about your teacher:
They will always know when you haven’t practiced!
Why the excuses don’t work:
10. Note From Home – your teacher will have discussed practice with your parents and they will both be in agreement about what practice you should have done.
9. I Had To. . . – and this took you all week? If you want to you can always find time. Get out of bed 10 minutes earlier or practice during the adverts on TV – there are lots of ways to find time.
8. Too Hard – your teacher would not have set something to practice that was genuinely too hard for you. There may be tricky bits but you should still have practised the simpler sections.
7. Practised Something Else. – but that something else is not improving your playing in the way your teacher wants.
6. Didn’t Know What To Do – you should have checked before you left the last lesson that you knew what to do. You could also have phoned or emailed your teacher if you weren”t sure.
5. Questions, Questions – teachers have very specific things they want to cover each lesson. Whatever you do will not stop them from asking about your last weeks practise.
4. Exams – if you have exams you should let your teacher know beforehand so they can adjust your practice accordingly.
3. Forgotten Music – a music lesson without music??!?!
2. Better At Home. – your teacher can tell very easily if you have improved from last time. Even if it was better at home the teacher will spot the improvement if you have practiced.
1. Too Busy. – but not too busy to watch TV?
What you should do:
- Make sure when you leave every lesson that you or your teacher have made a clear note of what you have to practise over the coming week.
- As well as knowing what to practice you should talk about how you are going to do it.
- If you are not sure why you are practicing a certain piece then ask your teacher and they will tell you the reason
- Teachers don”t ask you to practice for the sake of it – they really do want you to get better!
- If all else fails be honest about the practise you have done.
There are some very simple things you can do to assist the teacher and help avoid these excuses. Talk with the teacher and understand what practice is being set. Just as important is to understand why the teacher has set the type of practice they have. Armed with this basic information you will be well placed to help your child during the week.
Finally work with the teacher – don”t allow the types of excuses listed above to become acceptable reasons for not practising.