Motivate Students to Practice This Summer

How many of your students will practice this summer? How many will even get their instrument out of the case? It’s easy for kids to have an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about anything school-related during the summer. As long as the horn stays in the case and the student stays out of the band room, it’s easy to forget about practicing.

Of course, that means it’s easy to forget everything you spent all year teaching them.

Your students’ technique and musicality don’t have to go backward over the summer. The easiest way to make next fall successful is to invest some time and energy now. Don’t worry, these are easy things to implement that won’t take away from this year’s concert prep. What matters is that you’re planning ahead — and that the students know it.

Set Clear Expectations for Students and Parents

Any teacher who’s had to deal with a classroom management issue (so every teacher) knows that setting clear, consistent expectations up front is the first way to influence student behavior. Summer practice is just another desired student behavior. Managing those expectations before the school year ends shows students that summer practice isn’t only for the section leaders, or to be regarded as a punishment.

Expectations create a culture of success and commitment that goes beyond summer practice. In time, students will help police themselves, show up early to sectionals, and require less reminding. Better yet, you’ll naturally see enrollment numbers go up and retention efforts be more successful as your program becomes something students want to be part of. It sounds crazy, but these big goals can be accomplished in time by simply telling kids — long before school is out — that they need to practice over the summer.

Here are some ways you can make your expectations clear:

  • Send an email or note home to parents that specifically addresses the importance of summer practice. Remember that you have to set expectations for parents, too.
  • If you use CHARMS or Remind, include summer practice on the last communication of the school year.
  • Include incoming students in your culture of practice by explaining the summer practice requirement at a parent meeting or instrument fitting day.
  • If your students have a homeroom teacher (or, for elementary students, a classroom teacher), loop them in. When multiple teachers are reminding kids, it feels more powerful.

Gamify Practice With Technology

It goes without saying that students don’t want to work all summer. They want to play, relax, and hang out with their devices. If practicing becomes a game (or at least not work) and involves a screen, you’re halfway to making it happen.

Giving students access to practice apps that provide them with a score and feedback not only provides the allure of a game, it also means they aren’t on an island. If they’re going to practice, you don’t want them practicing incorrectly. Leverage technology you already use in your classroom to keep students engaged all summer.

You might start with using a tuning app like Tonal Energy, and build up to providing  a full unit of sight reading assignments in SmartMusic.

You can also create a competitive atmosphere by having students track their practice. Offer incentives to the individual, section, or ensemble that practices the most. A pizza party during band camp for the students who practice goes a long way.

Get Student Buy-in Using Great Repertoire

Telling students they have a summer of drones, scales, and long tones ahead of them is a surefire way to make sure the horn stays in the case. Since they don’t have a concert coming up, make this their opportunity to explore fun music. Movie solos are a big hit — everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter to La La Land can offer repertoire that’s more fun than your average etude. Students who like what they’re playing are more likely to practice it.

You can also post audition or chair test material before the end of the year. You’ll be able to tell who spent time in the woodshed over the summer come audition time.

Offering student choice is a tried-and-true approach to differentiated instruction, and summer practice is a great way to implement it. Have students look for music that they want to perform at school and encourage them to practice it, listen to it, and bring it in. IMSLP is a great resource for this, as the parts and recordings are all in one place and searchable by composer.

The Right Tool for the Job

Getting students to practice over the summer is much easier when you have the right tech. SmartMusic can help set expectations for your program by getting students used to assignments, give students access to the right repertoire no matter their ability level or instrument, and keep kids engaged by serving it up to them on the Chromebooks, computers and iPads they already use.

SmartMusic can also help build accountability and give you data about your students’ summer practice. The analytics tool will track how much time each student spent practicing each day. You can even send students specific pieces (like Harry Potter solos) at certain times, all set up before you leave for the year.

It’s not too early to lay the groundwork for next year. Start with keeping students motivated to practice over the summer!


Ryan Sargent is the vice president of the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME) and social media manager at MakeMusic, Inc. A former band director who begged his students to practice over the summer, Ryan teaches music history at the Metropolitan State University of Denver and is an active jazz and funk trombone player in the Denver area.

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