STG 044: 7 Tips To Help Your Students Practice Guitar More Effectively

The Start Teaching Guitar PodcastHelping your students practice guitar more effectively is the SECRET to becoming a better guitar player. If your students don’t practice, they won’t IMPROVE…and they probably won’t STAY with you for very long. If you want to succeed as a guitar teacher, you have to teach your students how to practice effectively.

In this episode, I’ll give you 7 tips to help your students practice more effectively, which in turn will help them get better results on the guitar. I’ll also tell you what DOESN’T work, and I’ll even throw in a few surprises for you…some things you may not know about what practicing can do for you as a guitar player! Finally, I’ll wrap things up with some cool free resources you can use to help your students practice more effectively.

To call in with a question, a comment or to leave feedback for the show, call the Listener Feedback Hotline at (719) 428-5480 and leave a message! I just might include your recorded message in a future episode.

Items Mentioned In This Episode:

Link – Brett Manning’s Singing Success Course
Book – “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
Book – “Guitar Zero” by Gary Marcus
Article – Why Music Makes You Happy
Link – Google Calendar
Article – Practicing Stinks – Pt. 1
Article – Practicing Stinks – Pt. 2
PDF Worksheet – Written Practice Schedule
PDF Worksheet – Overall Student Progress
PDF Worksheet – Musical Goals

Podcast Transcript

In this episode, we’re going to cover helping your students practice guitar more effectively. And this is a really important piece of the puzzle here for being successful as a guitar teacher, because think about it. Your students are only with you for one hour a week, and that’s assuming you teach one-hour lessons. Some of you do 30-minute lessons probably. Maybe some of you even do 45-minute lessons. But you know, typically you’re only going to have them for that brief period of time. You know, an hour a week.

And most of their progress on the guitar is going to happen, or is not going to happen, when they practice at home. Okay, they have all of those other hours of the week with the guitar, away from you, and just because of the sheer numbers, they’re going to accomplish what they want to accomplish probably more during that time than they will actually sitting with you in the teaching studio. And there’s a little bit of research to back this up – in his book, “Outliers“, Malcolm Gladwell said that it takes roughly ten thousand hours to master something, or ten years. The equivalent of ten years of working at it. Ten years or ten thousand hours to truly master something, any particular thing that you might want to pursue, which includes learning the guitar. And I’ll put a link to his book in the show notes. It’s a really good book.

But your students probably are not going to be taking ten thousand guitar lessons with you. I mean that would take hundreds of years, right, to help. So, that means most of those hours out of that ten thousand are going to need to happen when they’re practicing on their own. It’s impossible for them to spend all of that time practicing with you, unless it’s one of your children or something like that. So, if that’s the case, then logically, as a teacher, one of your most important jobs is to properly equip your students to get the most out of their practice times. Okay, those ten thousand hours that they have to put in, only a small portion of that is going to be in the teaching studio with you. So, since it’s so vital, so critical for them to practice and to practice well so that they can master the guitar, then your job, as a teacher, part of it is to help equip them to get the most out of those practice times.

And honestly, that one thing goes a long, long way towards improving your student retention and determining how well your students are ultimately going to do on the guitar. What kind of results they’re going to get from studying with you. You’re just basically helping them to reach their goals on their own. So, if you can train them and teach them and coach them to practice more effectively, then they’re going to get a lot closer to that goal. So, I want to share a couple things with you here. Here are two surprising things that happen when you practice the guitar well. I was kind of surprised when I learned this stuff. I had never really thought about it this way, so I figured I’d pass it on, but these are two surprising facts that I learned while I was reading Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus. And I’ll to that book in the show notes too. It’s another really good book to read, but there are a couple things that really surprised me whenever I read that book, and I thought they were awesome.

Practicing Guitar Rewires Your Brain

And the first one is practicing the guitar actually rewires your brain. Did you know that? That’s really cool. The amount of brain tissue you used for the parts of your body related to musical skill actually increases over time when you practice. And this is true for anything that you do, but specifically, you know, geared towards learning the guitar here. Whenever you practice good and practice right and accomplish things in your practice time, when they’re effective, then your brain actually rewired itself and changes its composition and adapts, and the parts of your brain that are used for playing the guitar actually get stronger and the muscles in there, the tissues in there grow.

So, you don’t just get better at the guitar whenever you practice. It’s not like you’re just getting better at whatever it is that you’re trying to learn how to do. Your body itself actually changes whenever you practice. And when I thought about that, that was just amazing to me. It’s like: “Wow, man, I could just picture the different parts of my brain realigning themselves, you know, optimizing itself so that I can be a better and better guitar player as I play.” And the same thing is happening in our students whenever they practice too. So, it’s not just that you get better at the skills that you’re trying to learn. Your body actually changes. Your musculature changes. Your muscle tone changes in your fingers and hands, and the parts of your body that you use to play, and your brain actually rewires itself to make you a better guitar player. Man, isn’t that awesome?

Practicing Guitar Releases Chemicals In Your Brain

I just thought that was so cool. And then the second thing that Gary Marcus talked about in Guitar Zero that I wanted to share was that practicing releases chemicals in your brain. It’s another thing I never thought of, but there’s a chemical called dopamine that gets released in your brain under certain conditions. And whenever you have that release of dopamine, it actually brings happiness and euphoria and it makes you feel really good. And actually I’ll link to this particular article in the show notes. It’s on, and it talks about how music, just listening to music, can release dopamine in your brain.

But let me tell you some other things that can release dopamine in your brain, and you might start to get a clearer picture of what I’m talking about here. But the obvious thing is having sex releases dopamine in your brain. Doing drugs, like cocaine, which I hope none of you guys do that stuff, but that stimulates the chemical release of dopamine in your brain. That’s one of the reasons people get addicted to drugs. Gambling. Same thing. Releases dopamine in your brain. Eating delicious food that you really like releases dopamine in your brain. And according to this article on, again, there’s a link in the show notes if you want to read more about it, listening to music releases dopamine in your brain.

So, have you ever listened to some music that you really, really loved by your favorite band, and then you just get all excited while you listen to it and start to get a buzz off of the music? That happens to me all the time. So, it’s the same function in your brain. That chemical dopamine is getting released, and Gary Marcus takes that to another level and he says that actually learning something new releases dopamine in your brain as well. Learning something new. Huh, listening to music. Huh, that’s interesting. Doing those healthy things releases dopamine in your brain. So, that tells me that practicing the guitar effectively can bring the same effects to your brain chemistry that drugs like cocaine can. How crazy is that?

You don’t want your students doing drugs. You know, you don’t want them to become gambling addicts or anything like that, but you know, if they can get hooked on practicing the guitar and get that chemical stimulation every time they practice, then that is one “drug” that you want your students to get addicted to. You know, that’s a big part of self-motivation. If every time they practice, they’re doing it effectively and they’re learning something new, and their brain is stimulating this and releasing dopamine, then they’re going to feel really good about what they’re doing and they’re going to want to keep doing it. Okay, so that was the amazing thing to me about it. That whenever you practice and you’re actually making progress, you’re learning something, you’re enjoying yourself while you practice, and you’re doing well, then it stimulates dopamine to be released in your brain.

And you love it. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel happy. And if you want someone to keep doing something to the point where they get really good at it and it’s a huge part of their life, then they have to feel good when they’re doing it. It can’t be the situation, you know, where it’s like they’re the person pushing the boulder up a hill, like from Greek mythology. And they push it to the top and it rolls back down, and they’ve got to push it back up again. You know, it can’t be that way. It can’t be a forced march every day for an hour or for two hours on the guitar. It has to be something that makes them feel good. And the good news is, if you do it right, if you practice effectively and you learn something every time you practice, and stuff like that, then your brain kicks in and it helps you.

So, basically, if your students learn how to practice well, their brains will help them stay motivated to keep learning the guitar. That was the big revelation out of this to me, so I wanted to pass that on. And you know, if your students have that – their brain is working in conjunction with them to learn the guitar – then it’s going to make it that much easier and more enjoyable for them too. So, just a little tidbit of information there I wanted to share, but now let me talk about what doesn’t work. Okay, I’m going to get into seven tips in a minute to help you get your students practicing more effective, but I want to talk about a few things that don’t work.

Not Practicing At All Doesn’t Work

Okay, the first thing that doesn’t work is not practicing at all. Okay, and you’re a guitar player too, so you know that this is true. You probably tried it yourself, just like I did it. You know, tried to take the lazy way and see what happens and see if you could still learn and do okay. Well, it doesn’t work. Not practicing at all doesn’t work. You don’t practice; you don’t improve. That’s the way it is. And again, you’ve got to spend time with the guitar if you want to get better. According to Malcolm Gladwell, you’ve got to spend roughly ten thousand hours of quality time with your guitar to master it. There’s no way around it. And no one has enough natural talent to get good at the instrument without actually spending time practicing it. It’ll come easier to people with natural talent, you know, but you’ve still got to spend the time with your guitar. So, you’ve got to practice. Not practicing at all doesn’t work.

Practicing Only Occasionally Doesn’t Work

The next thing that doesn’t work is only practicing occasionally. So, I tried that for a while too. I was like: “Okay, I’m just going to pick it up when I feel like it. I’m going to let my feelings decide when I want to practice and all of that stuff. And as long as I just do it whenever I feel like, you know, it’ll work out just fine.” Well, not so much. Just picking up the guitar once in a while whenever you feel like it doesn’t help you either, because inconsistent practicing will usually only end up frustrating you and your students. If you just pick it up every once in a while, you’re never going to build any momentum in your guitar playing that way. You never really hit that point of critical mass, where things just start clicking and working in your favor and, you know, you get that snowball effect that starts to happen and everything just gets easier and easier and more and more enjoyable over time. You kind of hit that stride.

You don’t do that if you only pick it up once a while. It takes consistency with your practice times to get to that point. So, only practicing occasionally doesn’t work either. Here’s another one. Thinking about practicing doesn’t work. And you might be thinking: “Well, duh, of course it doesn’t.” Well, you know, we can do a lot with our thoughts. We can create things with our thoughts. I did an episode on mindset a while back that talks about how important our thoughts are. Thoughts become things. They really do. And it’s a good idea to spend time thinking about the kind of guitar player you want to become and about the kind of guitar teacher you want to become, and kind of envision all of that in your mind and plan it all out and set goals in your mind.

But there’s a point where you have to start taking action if you want to actually see the things that you think about. Now, the problem is a lot of people take action first. They start with the action. They start with the tactics, but then they don’t think about it first. They don’t begin with a thought and the strategy for where they want to get, and that usually ends up not working out to well either. You’ve got to start with thoughts first, before you start taking action. You’ve got to start with strategy first, before you start doing tactics. And that’s true in your business and in your life, not just in your guitar playing. But as some point, you’ve got to stop thinking exclusively and you’ve got to start doing. You’ve got to take action. So, when it comes to practicing, have your students do it. Make sure that they understand that they need to think about it and plan it out, but they also have to actually do it.

Practicing Inefficiently Doesn’t Work

Okay, and then the next thing that doesn’t work is inefficient practicing. So, that’s one of the things about the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about. It’s not just spending ten thousand hours with your guitar that’s going to make you master it. It’s actually spending time learning things while you’re practicing and making your practice times count. It’s quality hours that matter, not quantity. So, i think all students try to practice. I know, you know, whenever I was first learning how to play the guitar, I did my level best to get an hour of practice in pretty much every day. Sometimes more than that. And I think most students are well intentioned and they do what they think is the right thing to do when they’re spending that time, but for a lot of them, it just usually doesn’t work out for them very well.

And that’s because they’re practicing the wrong things, or they’re practicing the wrong way, or there’s something that’s inefficient about what they’re doing that’s keeping them from making progress. So, practicing the wrong things or doing them in the wrong way actually leads to frustration, and frustration leads to people just giving up the guitar or not pursuing it as effectively as they could be. And the cool thing is this is where you can really help your students. One of your roles as a guitar teacher should be practice coach. So, you’ve got all these signs on your door. Guitar teacher. One of the signs on your door should be practice coach.

Think about this with me for a second. When a football team practices, they don’t do it alone in isolation, right? It’s not, you know, the quarterback is at home, doing his thing, practicing in his backyard and the center is at home, doing his thing and practicing in the backyard. You know, I’m talking about American football here. And it’s not the team practicing together separate from the coaches either. You have all of the players and you have all the coaching staff practicing together. And you know, I’m not as familiar with soccer and with rugby, and other sports, you know, if you’re listening from a different country than America, but I’m pretty sure it’s all the same. They all practice together, and the coaches are there while they’re practicing, constantly giving them feedback, constantly drilling them, pointing out areas of weakness and making suggestions to improve it. you know, the coaches are involved in the practice, and that’s how the team reaches its goals.

Okay, and you can do the same thing with your guitar students. Okay, you don’t have to practice with them every single day, but you can take a lesson once in a while and just spend it practicing with them, going through their practice routine in the lesson. And while you’re doing that, you can watch them. You can give them feedback about the things they’re doing good and the things that need improvement. You can point out what they’re doing right. You can point out what they’re doing wrong and give some correction that so that they can improve it. And basically just oversee the whole thing. You know, maybe every three months you could do that or once a month, or something, and help them to make the most out of their practice times so that when they go home and they spend those seven or eight or ten hours a week practicing the guitar on their own, then both you and they can be more confident and comfortable and know that they’re doing it right and making progress and making that time count.

Throwing Money At The Problem Doesn’t Work

So, if you don’t listen to anything else I say in this podcast episode, take that one little nugget and see if you can apply it in your teaching business, and take a lesson and start practicing with your students and going through everything that they do on their own with them and make sure that they’re doing it all right. It’s going to help them out a lot. And then the last thing that doesn’t work is just throwing more money at the problem. This is what a lot of people tend to do. You know, money can solve some problems, but it can’t really make you a better guitar player, in my experience.

So, paying for more books. Paying for more lessons. Paying for more DVDs. You know, different things like that. That’s not going to improve your guitar playing even a little bit unless you actually practice what’s in those things. You know, you’ve got to actually take the information and practice it. So, throwing money at the problem, buying more lesson materials, as a student, is not going to help you improve on the guitar unless you actually practice anyway. Buying more gear, a nicer music stand, a better guitar, a better metronome, or something like that is not going to help your guitar playing either. The only thing that’s going to help your guitar playing is if you use those things to practice with. That’s going to make your playing get better.

Okay, there’s no way around actually putting in the time on the guitar. You have to do it. You can’t buy things. You can’t buy your way into mastering the guitar, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. It takes dedication. It takes work. You really do have to earn it. That’s the truth. Practicing consistently and practicing correctly is really the only way to get better on the guitar. You can’t buy that. Okay, paying for a better quality teacher can help, you know, and buying other resources can help, but if a person is not willing to practice, they’re not going to see the results that they’re looking for.

Helping Your Students Practice Guitar More Effectively

So, those are just a few things I wanted to throw out there about what doesn’t work. Now let me get into the seven tips here to help your student practice more effectively. So, these things kind of come. A lot of this is general knowledge. Things I’ve learned over the years. Things that I’ve learned in my own journey with the guitar and things that I’ve worked with, with my own students, but some of these things Gary Marcus also talks about in Guitar Zero, which are things – a lot of these – that I’ve been doing for a long time, so it was cool to see that reinforcement from that book as well.

1) Focus On The Weak Areas

But the first tip I have for you for improving your students in their practicing is to focus on the weak areas. The idea is to focus on fixing what’s broken and not just playing for fun. If all your students do is pick up the guitar and then just noodle around for an hour, that doesn’t count. They’re not practicing if they’re not trying to improve areas of weakness in their playing or trying to learn something new or trying to push the boundaries a little bit in their playing some kind of way. Just rehashing stuff that you already know doesn’t count. Okay, that’s just goofing around with the guitar or just playing the guitar. That’s not practice.

So, what you want to do is identify and drill your students on problem areas that they’re having, weaknesses, areas that they’re having trouble with and that they’re struggling with. And you do that with the goal of trying to fix those things. So, you’ve got to help them figure out what the real problems are, and then give them exercises and drill to repeat over and over again to fix that one particular issue. And that’s going to give them the best results in their overall playing. They’re going to see an order of magnitude improvement if you focus on the weak areas and fix those first.

Okay, so what you need to do is you use the rifle approach as opposed to the shotgun approach. So, you know, when you shoot a shotgun, there’s this little cartridge with a hundred BBs in it that fly kind of in all directions. You know, you don’t want to tackle a hundred different things at one time when you’re practicing. You want to tackle two or three things that will make the biggest impact in a student’s guitar playing. So, that’s where the rifle comes in. The rifle is just a single bullet that goes exactly where you aim it, and that focus helps you hit the target better.

So, in your student’s practice time, you know, help them identify the targets that they want to hit and then help them organize their practice session around reaching those specific targets. Their areas of greatest weakness. Okay, some people might call that low-hanging fruit. Easiest to pick and get the quick rewards from. Those things are all important to help your students with their motivation. Okay, so focus on the weak areas. That’s my first tip for you.

2) Take A Holistic Approach

Number two is take a holistic approach. That means that you make sure you work on the whole guitar player. The whole musician. Not just their technique, or not just music theory. Not just ear training. You know, you work on the whole picture. Don’t neglect any areas of musical development in your students. And it’s pretty easy if you have a good understanding of what makes up a good musician, and that’s a topic of a whole other podcast. Actually, I’m going to make a note of that so that I can cover that in a future episode.

But there are three basic sets of skills that you can focus on, and the first one is recognizing melodies and harmony, and chords, and things like that, kind of the melodic piece of being a guitar player and a musician. And the way you work on that stuff is you do ear training. You get them to do vocalizing, where they’re actually singing intervals and scales, and things like that. You work on music theory. You work on intervals, triads, chords, and all of those things help with the melodic aspect of music. Melodies, harmony, and things like that.

Okay, so that the first set of skills. The second one is working on time, tempo, and rhythm. So, if you do some metronome work with your students, that will help them with time and tempo and rhythm. If you do rhythmic drills with them so that they’re playing different note values and different combinations, and things like that, that will help as well. I started out playing the drums first, so I feel like that really gave me an advantage when it came to approaching rhythm on the guitar. And that’s true for a lot of guitar players out there too, but that’s the second basic set of skills. They all have to do with rhythm and time and tempo.

And then the last one is muscle coordination and synchronization between your left and your right hands. So, the way that you work on that is through technical exercises and playing scales and sequences, and runs and arpeggios, and things like that. Okay, so if you think about it in terms of those three basic sets of skills, everything else can kind of fall under those big three things. And you just want to make sure that you’re working on something from all three on a regular basis, and then you’ll kind of be covering all the different things that they need to do. You know, and there’s also things like repertoire that you want to add and other things like that too, but I mean those are the basic sets of skills.

So, just be aware of the areas that your students need to focus on, and then make sure that you cover them all over time so that they can end up being a complete musician by the time those ten thousand hours are over. Okay, so that’s number two. Take a holistic approach.

3) Break Things Into Chunks

Number three is break things into chunks. You’ve probably heard that old story – well, you know, it’s a question. How do you eat an elephant? An elephant is this big, huge animal. How can you eat an elephant? Well, the answer is one bite at a time. You’re not going to eat an elephant in one day. It’s not going to happen quickly. You know, you’ve got to take it in bite-size chunks, and it’ll take a long time, but that’s how you get to where you want to be. And the truth is your brain can only absorb what your butt can tolerate. So, having your students sit down and practice, you know, for two or three hours at one time is probably only going to serve to burn them out. It’s better. Instead of two hours of nonstop practice, it’s better to break it up into smaller pieces and to take a break in between each piece.

So, make sure that your students aren’t burning themselves out by trying to do too much at one time. And ask them a lot about how they feel when they’re practicing. How they feel about their practice times. How they feel about their guitar playing. That’s a big clue to you, as a teacher, to know that you’ve got to make adjustments; is how they’re feeling about it, but a lot of times they won’t tell you, so you need to ask them about that often. And if they say they’re getting tired when they practice, if they’re getting frustrated, if they’re getting bored, then that’s where you step in and help them make some adjustments to their practice routine to make it more effective and enjoyable for them.

Now, younger kids, in some way, seem to kind of be an exception to this because young kids seem to be more tolerant of repetition for some reason than adults are. And I think a big reason why that’s the case is that there’s usually a parent or someone that’s practicing with them, and as long as someone’s doing it with them and guiding them every step of the way, little kids seem to be able to sit there and practice the same thing over and over again, whereas with an adult, you know, trying to do it on your own, it’s different. You’re not typically going to have someone sitting there with you, kind of coaching you while you practice like a younger kid would.

So, you know, that’s just something to think about too, but in general, if you break things into smaller pieces and take a break in between each section of practicing, then it’s going to be a lot better whenever your students do it. So, that’s number three.

4) Practice Everything Slowly

Number four is practice everything slowly. Slowly. Slowly. We have this problem in Western culture where we want everything now. We want instant gratification. We have instant coffee. We cook our food in microwave ovens. And you know, we drive as fast as we possibly can, and we pay for things with credit cards because we want it now. We want what we want and we want it right away. We don’t want to have to wait for it. And that can carry over into practicing the guitar too. So, even if your students, if one of their goals is to be able to play faster technically, then you’ve got to have them start out by playing everything slow. The motor skills, the muscle memory, and the fine detail needed to play faster only comes through mastering things at slower tempos first. So, slower and clean is better than faster and sloppy, any day.

So, the trick to doing this is teaching your students how to be patient, and that can be a very daunting task in and of itself, but delayed gratification is the key here. And it is a challenge, because everything in our culture is geared around us getting what we want fast and getting what we want now. So, you really have to fight against that when it comes to musicianship and teach them how to delay gratification until later. And this is also an important life skill that you can help your students learn at the same time, because if you can have delayed gratification, then you’re going to have a lot more happiness in your life too, not just in your guitar playing. So, that’s tip number four: practice everything slowly.

5) Get Organized

Number five is get organized. Get organized. So, this is where you can really help them too. Help your students organize all the details of their practice sessions. I’m going to give you a few ideas about how to do that.

First, show them how to use a calendar. You can get them setup a Google Calendar if nothing else, and they could actually share that with you so that you can login and look at it if you want to. So, a Google Calendar is something that they can use. They can look at online, and they can schedule their practice times a week in advance and put them in there as calendar appointments. So, if they do that, then it’s a scheduled thing. It happens at a certain time. They know when they’re going to do it. They know what day. They know for how long. And they can even set up calendar reminders so that they get an email or a text or a pop-up on their computer or something to tell them not to forget to do it.

And like I said, they can share the calendar with you and you can see it too, and you can make adjustments to it for them if you want to. So, show them how to use a calendar for their practice times. Next, you want to either give them or sell them a binder with dividers in it for all their materials. Okay, this is just common sense right here. I mean you want to show them how to organize everything so that they can find what they need. If they’re practicing scales, for example, then they want to have a section in their binder that’s got the scale materials in it, so they can go right to it and they don’t have to waste ten minutes flipping through the binder trying to find what they’re looking for.

So, that’s important. Organizing things, and then you want to give them tools to track their progress while they practice. And these can be as simple as progress charts that are printed out on a piece of paper that they use to write in what they do every time they sit down to practice. So, they could write in the exercise, the date, the tempo that they worked out, how long they did it, and you know, kind of track all that stuff, and so that they can see how they’re improving over time. And those practice tools that you give them can be kept in the same binder with their other lesson materials. And actually, I have some resources for you that can help you with that, and I’ll give you those in just a minute, but yeah, more about that in just a second. But you want to help them get organized with their stuff, and that’ll help them be more effective and be less stressed out.

6) Help Them Set Some Goals

Okay, number six. You want to help them set some goals. Your students need to have a reason to practice, so you, as the teacher, have to help them to set some specific goals that they can shoot for in their practice sessions. And those goals should stretch your students a little bit, but they shouldn’t be unattainable, because unattainable goals just frustrate and discourage us. So, it needs to be attainable, but a little bit of a stretch for them. And Gary Marcus, in Guitar Zero, talks about something called the zone of proximal development. I guess I’m saying that correctly. It’s a scientific term, I guess, but what that means is learning anything works best when you tackle something that’s not too easy and not too hard.

If it’s too easy, you get bored and you want to quit. If it’s too hard, you get frustrated and you want to quit. So, you’ve got to find that sweet spot where it’s not too hard and it’s not too easy, and the zone of proximal development is that sweet spot. So, you want to gear things so that your students succeed roughly 80 percent of the time. It’s kind of the 80-20 principle. 80 percent of the time they can do it. 20 percent of the time it’s difficult for them. And that 20 percent is what stretches them and grows them, and that 80 percent is what keeps them motivated and feeling good about what they’re doing.

So, video game makers, for example. They pay a lot of money for people to test their games, to do player testing, to make sure that the levels of the games are not too easy and not too hard for this exact reason. If it’s too easy, people will master the game and they’ll be done with it quick and they won’t buy it when it comes out again. If it’s too hard, then they won’t be able to win and they won’t enjoy it. So, same thing with learning the guitar. 80 percent should be stuff that’s attainable and good, and easy for them to do and they could succeed every time. 20 percent of it should be stuff that challenges and stretches them. So, those goals should reflect that 80-20 thing, and you want to write these goals down and you want to have your students work towards those things every time they practice.

7) Stay Motivated

And now the last tip – number seven. Stay motivated. Motivation is so important. This is the real secret for your students getting better on the guitar, and that’s guarding their motivation. So, as a guitar player, if you stay motivated, then everything is easier for you and you don’t quit. And honestly, if you could just not quit, you’re going to make progress on the guitar. You know, if you could just not give up, if you keep doing it, keep at it, then you will get better, and staying motivated is the key to not giving up.

So, one way you can help your students stay motivated with their practicing is by rewarding them whenever they reach the goals that you just set that I just mentioned in tip number six. Okay, write out those goals, and every time they reach one, reward them for that. People respond to two main things. Here are the two main areas of reward that you could give your students that will matter to them. Two things: praises and prizes.

So, praises. Make a big deal about the student’s accomplishments. Whenever they reach one of their goals, make a big deal about it. You want to do this with them personally, so praise them up and down in their lessons. “Man, you really did a good job. I’m so proud of you.” And then, when you’re talking to their parents, if they’re a younger kid, praise them to the skies to their parents and talk about how awesome they are and how proud you are that they accomplished their goal. And then do it front of all your other students too. So, if you send out a newsletter, praise those students that accomplished their goals in the newsletter. Do videos about them. You know, if you do recitals, brag on them in front of the whole group of people that are there. You know, make a big deal about them and praise them in every way that you can think of, and that’s going to motivate them to keep wanting to do it.

And then the second thing, prizes. Praises and prizes. With prizes, you can actually giveaway items of value when your students reach certain goals with their practicing. Again, if you want your students to keep doing something, you give them incentive to do it. So, whenever they reach that goal, you can give them a gift certificate to your local music store, for example, or you can give them some of your branded merchandise. You can give them guitar picks. You can give them stickers. You can give them a t-shirt or a hat, or some kind of clothing item. You know, if it’s a really, really big goal, something huge, maybe you could give them something a little more valuable than that, like a concert ticket or something, or a music CD or a DVD. You know, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on this kind of stuff. Just something that would be valuable and appreciated by your students.

But reward them. Give them something, and you’re going to be surprised at how excited they get about that and how much better their experience is going to be with the guitar. So, the most successful guitar teachers out there do a good job of managing their students’ levels of motivation. That really is the key to keeping them staying with you, studying longer, and helping them get better results; is you’ve got to manage that motivation really well. And if you do that, the results are going to speak for themselves.

So, to sum all of this up, those are the seven tips for helping your students practice more effectively. To sum it all up, your students will succeed on the guitar if you can help them practice efficiently and effectively, if you can help them focus on fixing their weak areas, and if you can help them keep learning new things and not just rehearsing and rehashing what they already know in their practice times. Those are kind of the three big things, you know, along with motivation that are going to help them be successful.

4 Free Bonus Resources

And you know, I’m all about giving you guys resources to help you implement the stuff that I teach and be effective with it, so I have some links for you in the show notes to some resources that you can use to help your students practice more effectively and efficiently. So, the first thing is I have two articles that I wrote about practicing. I wrote these a long time ago and published them on the blog as well, so they’re up there, but I’m going to link to them. And the article is a two-part series called Practicing Stinks, and it covers some of the things I talked about in this podcast episode, but in more detail, and some other things in there that I didn’t really cover in here. So, you can go and read those and you could even print them out and give them to your students to read as well, so that’s a good resource that could educate your students about what practicing is and kind of what’s involved with it. So, read those first for yourself, and then if you think it’s something that could help, then by all means print it out and give it to your students.

The next resource I have for you is I have some printable PDF worksheets that you can use. So, I have three of these that I’m going to put links to in the show notes, and the first one is a written practice schedule that you can use with your students. So, you can take this and you can print it out and give it to them, and they can write in all the stuff that they’re practicing. It’s basically just a chart that’s mostly blank that they can use to record what they practice and stuff. So, that’s one of the first PDFs.

The second one is tracking your overall student progress on the guitar. So, this is something that’ll help you. It’s like a checklist that you can print out for yourself and you can kind of check off all the different areas as each student is making progress in them to make sure that you’re not missing something. So, that’s also a free PDF that I’ve got for you.

The third one is a musical goals worksheet that you can use with your students to help them set goals and write them down and organize them. Okay, so that’s a PDF worksheet I’ve got for you.

And as a special bonus for STG All-Access members only, I’m going to include a Zip file with the Word documents for each of these worksheets so that you can actually change the text in them and brand them for your own teaching business if you want and change it in any way you want, and then print them out and use them with your own students, and I’m also going to throw in a couple of Excel spreadsheets that you can use that actually do conversions and equations for you to help you kind of track your percentage of improvement whenever you’re working with a metronome on your speed exercises and different things like that. So, the spreadsheets have some calculations built into them that will help you kind of track all that stuff automatically. So, these are things that I’ve in my own practice schedules and routines, and have used with my other students, too, so I’m going to throw those in there, all in a big Zip file so that you can download those if you’re an STG All-Access member. So, that’s going to be available inside the STG All-Access portal on the show notes page for Episode 44 there, inside the members only area.

Thank You For Listening!

If you enjoyed this episode, or any of the other of the episodes of the STG podcast, and you haven’t left a rating or review yet on iTunes, I would really appreciate an honest rating and review from you. It’s one of the most important parts of the ranking algorithm in iTunes, but more importantly, it’ll show future listeners that this podcast is (or isn’t) worth listening to.

To leave a quick review, open up iTunes, search for Start Teaching Guitar and then leave a rating and review as shown below. You can do this from your mobile device as well, even if you’re not subscribed, and even if you listen on another platform – this is where I’d appreciate you leaving your review.


Feel free to use the comments section below to let me know what you think about this episode, to suggest a topic for a future episode or just to join in on the conversation with other guitar teachers.

STG 044: 7 Tips To Help Your Students Practice Guitar More Effectively was last modified: June 10th, 2014 by Donnie Schexnayder