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Assignments

In the Practice lesson in the last module, we looked at the importance of teaching good practice habits and skills. But you might have been wondering about the actual assignments.

How many pieces per week?

This is a classic string question…

It’s tempting to answer simply “it depends”, but I know how frustrating that is. So let me go out on a limb and give you a less muddy response. 

You should assign 2–7 pieces.

That’s still a big range, but it does narrow down the possibilities for you somewhat. Anything over 7 is going to feel overwhelming for the majority of students. If they’re able to tackle more than that, the repertoire is not challenging enough. On the other hand, if a student can only work on 1 piece each week, they probably don’t have enough variety in the levels of repertoire they’re playing. (Or they’re just not practising at all, in which case I think you should go without assignments altogether. Lose the pretence!)

I’ll put my stake in the ground a little bit more firmly and say that for most students, 3–5 is a good number of pieces to be working on at any time. Start there if you’re still feeling unsure, and you can adjust to suit each student’s pace. 🙂

What else should you assign?

Pieces should not be the only things on your students’ assignment sheets. Here are a few other possibilities to consider:

  • Games to cover theory, ear training or rhythm
  • Technical exercises like warmups, scales and chord drills
  • Composing work 
  • Improvisation patterns
  • Theory workbook pages or worksheets

What you choose from this list will vary based on your lesson plans for each week. Assignments should always be reinforcement so they will come directly from your lesson content. Not everything which is covered in the lesson should be assigned for students to work on at home…but nothing should be included if it was not covered in the lesson. You want students to feel like their assignments are doable.

What’s the best format?

The perennial struggle for teachers is to actually get their students to look at their assignment notes. You can write beautiful and thoughtful comments,but if no one ever reads them, they’re not doing any good!

Assignment Sheets

Assignment sheets are my preferred option for 2 reasons:

  1. I can prepare them in advance digitally and print them out for my students. This means that I have a copy on my computer to refer to and duplicate as a starting point for next week.
  2. I can include elements they need to colour or tick so that I know they’ve looked at the sheet at home.

No system is perfect, but this has been my choice for a number of years now and I think it works well. You can try it out for yourself using the Google Docs Assignment Sheet Template or Composer Colouring Assignment Sheets.

Notebooks

A plain practice notebook is what my teachers used and what I used for the first few years of teaching. I can tell you from both sides of the equation that it never got looked at.

Even if you could train your students to follow their notebook carefully at home (and I’m sure some teachers do!), I still don’t think it’s the most effective tool for assignments. You’ll end up writing the same things over and over, and the process of writing notes which are usable for the student will distract you during lesson time.

The only case where I think a notebook is a really great option is if the student writes the notes. That is absolutely worth the allotted lesson time for certain students as they will digest the information so much more by writing it themselves.

Apps

There are now a number of great options for practice apps which can be a great option for a tech-savvy studio. The two I would recommend checking out, if you like this idea, are Tonara and Musico.

If the idea of a practice app fires you up, then go right ahead and check those out! Otherwise, if you’re just starting out, keep it simple. You already have so much learning and balancing going on. And you can always add an app like this later when/if you feel the need in your studio.

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