“Why Should I Practice?”    Motivating students during this time of a global pandemic and online learning - Houghton Horns

“Why Should I Practice?” Motivating students during this time of a global pandemic and online learning

These are difficult times.

The world as we know it has significantly changed in the past six months and people are learning to adjust in order to navigate through these uncharted waters. Students are also having to learn how to adjust to virtual learning, which presents a bigger challenge for our young musicians.

With input from other teachers and colleagues, I have carefully compiled a list of ideas and activities that are applicable to any instrument and can be implemented by parents, private teachers and band directors.

As an educator, I feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to help students to not simply SURVIVE this pandemic, but to THRIVE musically during this time. Helping them grow and develop their musical potential will help boost their self-confidence and outlook on life. I have been AMAZED at how much my own private students have improved during the past six months and I hope these ideas will be helpful for you!


1. Support your child’s musical endeavors. Encourage private lessons, provide them with necessary books/materials, make sure they have a sturdy stand and proper chair in their practice space, be certain they maintain their instrument properly.

2. Provide a quiet room, away from noise and distractions.

3. Remind your child that this situation will eventually pass; we WILL be making music together again soon. Encourage them to use this time to sharpen their individual skills and to re-discover their love for music.

4. Set specific weekly goals with the help of your child’s private teacher or band director. When students successfully complete these goals, reward them with praise and/or a small prize. Who says bribes don’t work? Desperate times call for desperate measures ;).

5. Become involved by listening to your child play one of their weekly assignments, or have them perform for a family member over Zoom/FaceTime/Skype, etc.

6. Plan a “porch recital”: have your child perform a couple of songs for the family and neighbors.

7. Schedule practice sessions for the same time each day, thereby establishing a routine.


1. Create a musical scavenger hunt: have students “find” and perform items such as a Disney song, a video game theme song, an orchestral excerpt, a 3-octave scale etc.

2. Ear Training: assign a simple song (ie. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) for your students to perform in 3 different keys. No written music; it must be played “by ear”. My students have loved doing this and I’ve have seen great improvement in their knowledge of keys and sight-reading as a result.

3. “Instrument Spa Day”: review basic maintenance and care of the instrument (particularly effective if you are wearing a shower cap!).

4. BINGO: construct a page with several small squares, leaving the middle one FREE. Write a short requirement in each square (ie. CM/am scale, BbM arpeggio etc.) and see who can complete a row first.

5. Ensembles: have your more advanced players record themselves playing both parts of a duet or all four parts of a quartet (Acapella or similar App).

6. Composition Contest: encourage students to write their own composition; the teacher may need to help with the harmonization.

7. Make it Fun: use this opportunity to let your creativity shine as a teacher. For most students, “affirmation” is more important than “academics” right now. Let them know you care, challenge them but give them grace as they find their way in this crazy time. Then, watch them continue to progress and develop on their instrument.



Special thanks to Janet Nye for her contributions to this article.


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