Like most private music instructors, I have a system for assigning practice materials and ideas to school-age students on a weekly basis (adult students will be addressed at the end of the article). Obviously, both students and parents find out in the course of lessons all about my little “system,” which is really quite simple. But I thought I would provide some details about my thoughts on assignments in some bullet points for prospective students here...
- Assignments are highly individualized in content and materials. Although I do have some favorite method books and materials (see the article under that title for details), I do not have a set “program” for students. Every assignment is tailored to fit each student for each particular week.
- The amount of content in assignments is very flexible. I look for input from students and parents regarding pacing, and am constantly making adjustments. Overall, I like to challenge students, but not overwhelm students.
- Assignments are designed to be accomplished within a week, based on each student's practice habits. Although I am always providing tips on how to practice, and encourage every student to adopt a daily practice routine, it is really up to each individual (and his/her parents, of course) how to use his/her time to complete a given assignment.
- For the majority of my students, I use email to document assignments. However, I encourage students to make notes from themselves in their method books/music. The main advantage of email is that all three parties involved in lessons (teacher, student and parents) have access to the same information about what is being worked on and what progress is being made.
- I use four categories in my assignments to designate the status of each piece of music: completed, review, new, and extra. I think these categories are pretty self-explanatory, but here is how I view them: “completed” means the piece was played satisfactorily enough to move on from it; “review” means the piece was worked on either at home by the student or with me in the lesson for a decent amount of time, but still needs more practice; “new” means the piece was introduced in the lesson, but has not yet been practiced by the student; “extra” means the piece or new concept was briefly introduced during the lesson, and could be practiced by the student if he/she completes the other assigned pieces.
- I do not set time guidelines (see article on practice time) as part of assignments. Also, I do not use any kind of evaluation system in relation to assignments. I only keep track of completion of pieces/exercises. Also, I have never used, nor will I ever use, any system of rewards or penalties for anything related to lessons, particularly practice assignments. Although I do have stickers for young students to use in their books, their only purpose is to denote the completion of pieces. The reason I have this extra little system place is to avoid confusion, as students (particularly those that do not check their assignments) sometimes practice pieces that have already been completed.
- Assignments are meant to motivate, not intimidate. Students should not feel pressured by the existence of assignments, especially since there is no grading system, no judgment on my part, and no system of rewards or penalties. However, for students that are particularly sensitive to the concept of assignments (particularly those that are overwhelmed by schoolwork), I am fine with not using them at all. Actually, students and parents may simply ignore assignment emails, even if I continue to use them for my own benefit.
- I do not normally make assignments for adult students. However, adults will occasionally ask me to do so for their own motivational purposes. And many adult students like to have some guidelines or suggestions for what to practice each week. Overall, I cater to the wishes of each student regarding assignments, and everything else related to lessons.