Unless one has the luxury of teaching only the most devoted and driven of music students (or children of the most devoted and driven of parents), a reality that must be faced by teachers is that at the majority of lessons, week after week, month after month - the amount of practice we hold ideal for our students is simply not met. When I started out teaching, during such lessons I would plunder with as much enthusiasm as I could muster as the student plodded through their piece, asking "What note is that?" for what felt like the 33rd billionth time that week. (My apologies to my students at the time!!) As the years went on, however, I came to realize that - in a certain light - a student coming to a lesson with virtually nothing to show was an opportunity that could be capitalized on. Since we have a certain number of minutes to fill, we might well fill them to the extent our imaginations will allow.
The following are a list of activities that have proven fruitful and interesting in most circumstances, and I hope that they will be able to aid you in dispelling the inevitably occasional boredom that accompanies our profession, and enrich the minds of any students who could benefit from them. I'll state that not all of the things on this list are mine - some have been adapted from ideas by wonderful colleagues I've had the pleasure to know from around the world (both in person and in cyberspace), and I've attempted to give due credit where merited.
Some great tips in this list. Be sure to click the link. As is usual with articles like this, some of these are just good teaching practices in general. I actually include a little bit of “practicing how to practice” in every single lesson I teach, even if in small bite sized pieces and for short periods of time. I would add to the list that there are a lot of things you can do with equipment management and maintenance. And in the world of percussion (my area) there are infinite little niche instruments and styles to dig into that don’t always get weekly attention. Tuning a drum head, learning hand drum basics, auxiliary instrument technique, etc. all fall into my regular rotation of things to do when a student didn’t come prepared. It goes without saying that some of these essentials get taught no matter what, I just change their place in the sequence when a student is obviously not ready to progress on the weekly assignment.
Of course, these strategies, or any I have devised on my own, always come paired with the inevitable parent conversation afterwards, paraphrased rather cynically below:
“I love working with your child and I love making money, but it isn’t valuable for you are your child to practice in my basement while I check my email.”