How to Cure the Practice Problem Part II | Ep 128

The Practice Problem is a Problem on Multiple Levels 

In the first episode of How to Cure the Practice Problem, I defined what the practice problem is. On one level, there’s the issue or the problem that kids don’t practice. That’s certainly a problem if you’re expecting them to practice. If the parents are also expecting them to practice, it creates tension in the child’s life. It creates tension in your business. When you have kids that aren’t practicing, what are you going to do about this?


We all try gifts and incentives and rewards, but that certainly doesn’t work for everybody. Do you ask a child to leave your studio if they’re not living up to the practice expectation? And then there’s the problem that practice can be a barrier for entry for students. Parents might want to sign their child up for music lessons, but they just aren’t ready yet to have that battle at home with practice, or they’re worried that their child won’t live up to the practice expectation.


Why Practice Can Create a Barrier to Entry for Some Students

This is obviously hard to measure because we would never hear from parents like this. This poses a challenge because all the other after-school activities don’t have a practice expectation. If a parent’s choosing between either dance or music lessons, you already have the issue with the music lessons of, well, we don’t even have an instrument. We’re going to have to buy an instrument. Obviously, that’s not the case with everybody, but then dance becomes a more appealing option since the parents know, all they have to do is sign their kid up and show up for class.


With the music lessons, there’s going to be a practice expectation. The practice problem is it creates tension within us as business owners and as artists. As artists, we understand the importance of practice. We wouldn’t be the musicians we are without practice, but how firm or how strict are you going to be with practice?


How to Handle Students That Don’t Practice

Are you going to be willing to actually kick a child out of your studio if they aren’t practicing? In the first episode, I posed the question, is the music lesson enough to provide a child with the experience the parents were looking for? Is the music lesson enough for the child to actually achieve some level of progress? Obviously, a child who practices is going to achieve greater progress, but can a child who’s not practicing, progressing grow as both a musician and a person in the weekly music lesson can the child, who’s just showing up for the weekly lesson experience the personal character development that parents were looking for?


Can a child feel successful without practice? In this episode today, I really want to talk about how to approach the practice problem from a marketing standpoint. This is going to be really all internal marketing.


Internal Marketing

In the next episode, I’m really going to look at the music lesson. What can you do in the music lesson to reposition the importance of practice in a parent’s mind? My objective is not to diminish the value of practice. It’s to create a different perspective for parents to look at practice, to treat practices, a goal that the child’s going to work towards.


You can successfully do this through internal marketing, it takes the pressure off the teacher. You can be three or four weeks into lessons, the child’s not practicing and everybody’s okay about it. Imagine as a teacher, if you’re even two months into the lesson and the parents loving it and the kids loving it and the child’s not practicing yet. You’re working towards that goal. Progress has been made. Mom’s feeling proud of her child and the child’s feeling proud about himself.


Progress VS Practice

Everybody understands that practice is going to happen eventually. Even if it doesn’t, can everyone be okay with that? Can the child be taught differently? Can the parent be okay with the fact that their child’s not practicing? Yes, they can. You have to change the narrative in their mind as to the importance of practice. Parents use practice as the sole metric for progress.


If you can show that the child’s progress in the lesson alone and the child can even perform at recitals, play the piano for the family on Thanksgiving, strum the guitar at the family, 4th of July barbecue. Everyone’s going to be happy.  I want to first ask the question, why don’t kids practice? Why don’t they run home after their first lesson to recreate what they did in the lesson? Kids love music. All people love music.


One Reason Why Kids Don’t Practice

You would think once a child has the opportunity to actually hold music in their hands, to recreate it with their fingers as they dance across the piano keyboard, that they would be elated at this opportunity. Kids often don’t practice because they don’t know-how. Even though in the lesson, you’ve shown them how. I want you this week to practice page five from our Hal Leonard book. I want you just to work on the first four measures. Got it, kid? Go. That’s not enough. We often overestimate a child’s ability to practice.


They did it in the lesson or they did a part of it in the lesson. My typical strategy was I would teach a child, let’s say two measures of an exercise. I’d say, great. You clearly understand how this works. Practice these two measures at home. I also want you to work on the next two measures and the kid comes back the next week. They clearly haven’t practice. You know when kids practice because they sit they come into the lesson, they take out their instrument, and boom, they’re playing for you, but they practice cause they’re so excited to show it off.


 Cure the Practice Problem

The kid who doesn’t practice, maybe there’s some stall tactics at the beginning, you ask them, “Hey, did you practice over the week?” They say “Yeah, a little bit,” but once they start to play, it’s pretty clear that they haven’t practiced. Part of the cure to the practice problem is teaching kids how to practice. That takes time. So long as a child categorizes practice as homework in their mind, as long as the parent categorizes practice as homework, there’s a good chance there’s going to be some tension at home. You’re going to have reluctant students and disappointed parents.


If you can get practice into the category of relaxation as fun, something that a child does before they hop on their video game or their smartphone, now you’re likely to see better results with practicing. Let’s talk about marketing for a moment. Internal marketing. How do you persuade parents to be open, to exploring a different way of thinking about practicing? There are different ways to do it.


Creating Different Metrics for Progress and Success

One is by having a video, it’s a part of the onboarding process, a video that you share with parents that explains your approach to practicing. Now, a small percentage of people are actually going to watch the video. That’s okay. You’re going to be broadcasting this message from different angles by having your instructors trained on your philosophy and approach to practice and having them talk about it in the lesson, talking to the parent about it in the lesson, specifically, emailing to your student list three to four times a year, about your philosophy, about your approach to practice.


Maybe even having a practice chart or having a poster that you put in your teaching rooms that outlined your approach to practice. You maybe give it a name. All these efforts are going to help parents feel confident because what you’re trying to do is you’re tearing down the story in their mind about practice in replacing it with a new story, a new way for them to look at practice.


Helping Parents Feel Like Good Parents

Parents feel like they’re being good parents when they’re getting on their kid’s back about practice. When you say to parents, well, wait, we have a different approach here. It makes sense to the parents and they feel like, wow, I’ve never thought about practice like that before, but that really makes a lot of sense. I’m going to back off. You’ve given me a new way to be a good parent. I’m going to be a good parent by giving my child space. I’m going to be a good parent by allowing you the instructor to devote some time teaching my child about practice.


So let’s get into the marketing language. Again, this is all internal marketing. You wouldn’t have this on your website. You could potentially scare people off if you say, “Hey, we’ve got a really unique way of looking at practice. Wouldn’t introduce a cure to the practice problem until someone has signed up and during the onboarding process is where you introduce to them how it’s going to go down.


Make the Practice Problem Personal

Maybe even during the sales call, it comes up. The sales call is a controlled environment. You can get a good read on the customer and figure out how to talk about your approach to practicing. Perhaps during the sales call, the patent reveals that they’re worried that their child won’t practice there is your cue to talk about your new approach to the practice problem. I’m going to share with you some language that I would use with my customers.


Helping Parents Rethink Practice

Below is how I might approach the practice problem with a parent during a sales call


Here at Dave Simon’s Rock School, we teach music the exact same way kids learn a language. Kids learn a language by listening, by imitating, by speaking, they then learn how to read. Ultimately they learn the rules of the language, which we call grammar. That’s exactly how we teach music here. Your child’s going to come into his first lesson and he’s going to listen.


He’s going to imitate what the teacher’s doing. Your child’s going to learn how to speak the language of music first. It’s going to help your child feel confident, feel a sense of success and there’s no reason why we can’t achieve that within one or two lessons, that within one or two lessons, your child will be playing, will be speaking music. Once your child has a very basic command of how music works, we’re then going to introduce note reading, just like your child is introduced to how to read.


When they’re in kindergarten they have a pretty good command of the language. Once your child is reading music, then we’re gearing to introduce the rules or the laws of music, which we call music theory. Traditionally, children have stepped into their first music lesson and the teacher opens up a book and says, “We’re now going to learn how to play music.


That would be the equivalent of opening a book to an infant who can’t even really speak yet and you’re saying, “We’re going to learn how to speak English through a book,” you’re not going to necessarily get great results and results is what we want. We want your child to play music as quickly as possible. This will help her feel

  • successful.
  • Like music comes naturally to her
  • That it’s easy
  • That it’s enjoyable.


Once those feelings are established, we then can introduce note reading. Practice will be a goal that we’re going to work towards. Kids often don’t practice because they simply don’t know how. They don’t have the skills yet. The skills that a child needs for practice are the exact same skills they need to be, or that they need to have when it comes to approaching their homework when it comes to approaching any challenge in life. The lesson, will help your child identify the challenge or the problem that they’re confronting will then help your child develop a solution, a practice solution as to how they can overcome the challenge.


Let’s say, for example, your child’s struggling with moving her hand from one position to another position. Her teacher would help her

  • Identify the problem.
  • Come up with a solution as to how they can overcome the problem
  • Come up with what actions they need to take.

Perhaps it’s 20 reps of jumping from one chord to the next chord. They commit to doing it 20 times, or they commit to doing it for 60 seconds without stopping. We’re going to help your child learn how to do this in the lesson. Identify the problem, come up with a solution, commit to an action. These three steps that we’re going to help them learn. They can apply it to their homework. They can apply it to any challenge they confront in life. These are very attractive ideas for parents. It’s true. Look at the life lessons you learn from your practice.


How to Help Be Open to A New Approach to Practice

When I was in elementary school, I didn’t know how to really practice my instrument that much, but by high school, I was practicing a solid hour a day. I was also doing a lot of homework by high school. I had developed the skills that I needed to be able to practice when I was 10 or 11 and 12, I didn’t have those skills yet. By saying to parents that you’re going to help their child develop these skills, and it’s going to take time.


They’re not going to learn these skills in three weeks. It might take six months before you’re really giving them a heavy practice load. The parents will be okay with that as long as they understand what your goal is, what your objectives are and that you’re an authority, and that you’re an expert. Once the parents feel that way about you or about your teachers, they’ll be willing to change the story that they tell themselves regarding practice. In my studio, I had all my teachers or I had a requirement that they invite the parents in the remaining five minutes of every lesson.


Partnering with Parents

This is a great way to help build confidence or for the parents to have confidence in the teacher. Hey, they told me they got this unorthodox way of looking at practice. Maybe the parents like your pitch or your little marketing video, explaining your approach to practice. You sent them an email, they liked that.


By pulling them into the lesson each week, you can remind them of your philosophy just because they were open to it in the initial sales call, this unorthodox approach to practice doesn’t mean that they need constant reminders. The best reminder that you can give them is letting them see firsthand that their child is making real progress. The way I would do this is I’d have the parent come in. The kid knew every lesson your mom’s coming in and in the last five minutes, I would treat each lesson as if it’s a performance.


Don’t Talk Music Talk With Parents

Mom or Dad would come in, I would accompany the child with what we were working on. I would typically add some harmonic embellishment. Let’s say for example, it’s a guitar lesson, the kid’s playing just a simple melody line. Well, I would strum chords or I’d play chords on the piano to fill out the song. I would ask the parent to make a video on their phone of what we did that explained to mom, okay, here’s what we did in the lesson today. I would avoid music talk or I would avoid language that a non-musician would know.

I would focus more on the child’s performance during the lesson. Well, Billy was really focused today, did a really good job of being patient with himself, taking his time. He didn’t seem to get frustrated when he made a mistake, these are all really important skills for a child to have. Then I have the parent hit record on their phone once we’re ready to play whatever we had worked on.


Video is Proof of Progress

Now the parent has proof on their phone of what their child’s capable of.  Instead of telling the child to practice, I would say, okay, we worked on the first part of the song, next week we’re going to work on the second part of the song. You can set the stage for practice by saying, “Hey, I want you to review the video at home that your mom just recorded and see if you can play along with it, not making it a requirement. If the kid really enjoyed what they did, they’re just going to go home anyway and they’re going to start playing it. If what you showed them was simple and they can memorize it, they don’t have to open a book at this point.


They can just recreate it, they’re that much more likely to do it. These videos, at the end of each lesson, the parents collecting these and it becomes proof of the child’s progress. That’s what parents want. They want their child to progress.


How to Encourage Parents to Market For You

The video becomes a new metric for them to measure their child’s progress, to measure their child’s success. What’s nice about these videos, guess where they’re going, the going on social media, especially if the kids sounds good. If you let the kid perform in the video, without you, they’re going to play out a time. They’re going to be stumbling all over the place. If you’re playing along with them, maybe they’ll stumble a little bit. They’re going to make mistakes, but you’re a company mint going to make the whole thing sound better. It makes that video that much more shareable on social media.


Kids VS Parents

I want to conclude this episode on just this one thought or this question, what is it that parents want from music lessons, and what is it that the child wants? The better you understand this, the better you can serve, both the parent and the child. So often in marketing, we focused on the parents. What does the parent want? Because the parents can receive our marketing message out there on social media or in an ad when they go to the website when they’re on the phone. We’re not talking to the kid at that point, the kid’s not really a part of the equation or the kid’s wants and desires aren’t a part of the equation till they show up for that first lesson. What parents want, parents want a happier and more confident kid.


Why Parents Want Music Lessons For Their Child

They want music to help their child develop self-discipline. Parents believe that their child plays an instrument that will give them a competitive edge in life. Colleges will maybe look favorably at it. Some parents believe that playing an instrument will make their child actually smarter. Playing an instrument will give their child a sense of status, a sense of belonging, a sense of fitting in. I’ve talked about school talent shows. It’s the ultimate moment of elevated status.


That kid in fourth grade, who goes up in front of the elementary schools and plays, the peanuts theme song is an instant hero. That seventh-grader goes up at the school talent show and she plays some drum beats and drum fills. Everyone thinks she’s the coolest kid after that. It’s status helps kids form a sense of identity. I’m a musician. These moments lead to confidence. That’s what parents want. Parents aren’t interested in music lessons.


Helping Parents Achieve Their Desired Outcome

Parents are interested in what music lessons will do for their child. If you’re going to present to parents this idea of a new approach to thinking about practicing, you have to also let them know that this approach is going to better help them achieve the outcome that they desire. If you say to a parent, “Look, if we put pressure on your child to practice coming right out of the gate, based on my experience, there’s a good chance that your child will not achieve the outcome you desire,” based on my experience, what I have seen that kids often dread the thought of at-home practice.


Really what you’re doing is you’re also talking about the parents’ own childhood experiences. Most parents took music lessons, and most of them struggled with the idea of at-home practice. Just ask the parents in your school. They took music lessons as a child. What was that experience like? How did practice play out for them? Was it something that they ran home from school to do?


What Do Kids Want From Private Music Lessons?

What do kids want out of music lessons? Kids are either showing up at your music school because of one or two reasons. One is that their parents decided we want you to take music lessons. The kid is either excited to, okay, this sounds great. Or maybe they’re apprehensive about it. Maybe they’re intimidated, nervous about it, or some combination of these two mindsets or parents are signing their child up for music lessons because the child has expressed an interest in music. The parents said, Hey, well, maybe we should sign you up for music lessons. That was the case for me.


Discover Your Student’s Backstory

I was already playing the piano at home, trying to sound things out. My parents said, “Hey, maybe we should sign him up for music lessons. This is going to give him some guidance and a framework to learn it,” I think it’s important to find out sort of the backstory of each of your students as they come in. If you ask most kids what they want out of playing an instrument, what they are going to most likely tell you is they want to play songs. They want to play songs that they know and that their friends know, or that they’re familiar with. If you have an 11-year-old signing up for piano lessons and you say, “Hey, so what are you hoping to get from these piano lessons? What would be an ideal outcome for you?” They’re most likely not going to say, “Well, I really want to learn how to play Chopin.”


They’re going to say, “Oh, I want to play songs that I know and that I love. Kids have been listening to music their whole lives, playing an instrument creates an opportunity for them to actually hold music in their hands, to be the source of the creation of music. It’s a pretty amazing feeling for a kid to hear a song on the radio and then a few minutes later, their fingers are creating that song. We’re so used to that as adult musicians, such as, such a novel idea anymore for us. You either have good ears, you’re a good reader. You can pretty much play any song you want, but it’s a big deal for a kid. The kids want to learn little snippets of songs so they can show it off to their friends. A kid who can play the opening guitar riff to seven nation army now has some social equity.


Helping Kids Boost Their Social Status With Friends

They can go and show off anywhere. They go to a friend’s house, they see a guitar, they can pick it up and they can play Seven Nation Army. Kids want to have the title of a musician. They want to say, “I’m a musician,” which gives them instant status. When a kid comes into the music lesson, the sooner you can give them that, the sooner you can give them some songs that they can play and maybe not an entire song, maybe you’ve spent four, six, eight weeks helping the child build up an arsenal of little musical motifs that they can show off with. They can play for their friends, they can play for the family at the next family gathering. Teacher drum student that We Will Rock You beat at their first lesson so they can show that off.


When their friends come over to their house to check out the drum set, that’s what kids want. Now, what you want for your students is something else. You want them to really be a musician to teach them music. Before that can happen, they have to perceive, but playing an instrument is something that comes naturally to them, that it’s easy, that it’s fun. You have to sell the kid on that idea before you introduce practice. If the child’s coming into the lesson, they’re a little nervous, they’re intimidated. You open up a method book and say, “This is middle C on the page.


What You Have to Sell To Your Students

This is where it is on their piano. These are eighth notes. Here’s how you count,” and you’re giving them information and you’re using language new terms they haven’t heard before, instantly they’re going to perceive it as, “This is hard,” one and two and I’ve never liked that before and eighth notes and the script with these lines and these circles and these flags, this is all new to me. It’s overwhelming. Sure. You’re going to maybe pace yourself with that as a teacher, but what if you hold off on that for a month or two.


What if you try to de-sell the kid on the idea that music is fun. It comes naturally and easily to them. The parents come in and they’re making these videos of their kid being successful, feeling happy. Meanwhile, you’re setting the stage for them to ultimately become good at practice. You’re going to actually teach them in the lesson, how to practice, how to identify the problem, come up with a solution and commit to action. In the next episode, in episode three of this three part series, I’m really going to get into how to tackle the practice problem to come up with real specifics as to what you can do in the lesson.

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