Throwing Out the Practice Log

I’m planning my incentive program for the coming year, and this year, I’m making a drastic change. In the past, my incentive program has relied heavily on the students’ keeping a log of their daily practice minutes. I felt that this was an equitable way to reward for diligence rather than talent. But, I’ve been unhappy with the way it has turned out. As a rule, only a small percentage of my students keep the log in an accurate way. Most of them don’t sit at the piano with a timer going, and most of them don’t write down anything on the log until they’re in the car on the way to the lesson, and then they guess at when and how long they practiced. Even if they are only required to place a check on the day that they practiced, many of them will check even if they only doodled around for a few minutes. The parents often sign the log as the student is walking in the door, if they even remember to sign it. It doesn’t seem right to reward students for practice time when I strongly suspect but cannot prove that the log is dishonest. For that matter, I don’t really want them to obsess over time. I want them to create results.

When I was young (a million years ago!), I was never, ever asked to keep a practice log. My teacher made a quick list of what I was supposed to work on. I was expected to find time every day to work on those things and to come back the next week sounding better. Period. Not, “please be sure you’ve checked off at least 5 days and no fewer than 4, and please be sure that you practice for at least 30 minutes, and better yet, an hour each time.” There’s an assumption in that statement that you are going to practice on some days and not on others. I’ve come to believe that the more picky and detailed I get in telling students how much they are to practice, the more they focus on how they can practice just enough to satisfy those demands, not whether or not their practicing is creating results. The only good answer to “how much should I practice?” is “as long as it takes.”

The truth is, I don’t care if they practice for 5 minutes or 500. I just want them to make progress on their music and complete their assignments. I can tell them how to be organized with their time, but I can’t make them actually do it, and I’m really tired of wasting lesson time policing their work habits.

So, out with the practice log! This year’s incentive program will reward students for the results of their practice, not practice minutes. I feel a huge weight lifting off of my shoulders! I’ll ask students to acheive specific weekly goals appropriate to each individual’s ability, and it will be their problem, not mine, to determine how much time and repetition it will take to achieve them. I’ll report here on how it’s working out. Maybe practicing will improve! Maybe it will get worse. We shall see!

Do you require students to keep a practice log? What problems or successes have you had? Feel free to disagree with me, just be nice!

Update:  I haven’t used a practice log for the last 5 years, and I haven’t missed it.  Read more here.

8 thoughts on “Throwing Out the Practice Log”

  1. This was an interesting post! This past year of teaching as you know was also my first, I did not use a practice log, as my own teacher never did with me. I did what you are going to try this year, just wrote down what I wanted them to practice for the week in a notebook. Then at the next lesson I went over everything with the student to see how they did. I did ask them how many days they practiced, as that was needed for our practice incentive, but I mostly just looked for progress. This year I was thinking of trying a practice log, I'm still debating that. Thanks so much for your thoughs on the subject!

  2. I'm not too particular about them tracking their minutes, but I do require my students to check off which days they practiced which assignments. This gives me a good overview at a glance of what they worked on and how much they worked on it.

    Some students have difficulty tracking things like this as they go, but others really depend on it. I'll be interested to hear how your new approach works for you this year! I'd love to hear more about your incentive plan, too!

  3. I've been pondering the same issues and reached the same conclusions. I won't be using a practice log this year. Instead, I plan to work with my students to set up a practice schedule – I think as long as they begin practicing and have good instructions on what to do, the time will pass productively without the need for an audit.

  4. 'I don't really want them to obsess over time. I want them to create results.'

    I particularly liked this line – it's a long held belief of mine that time in practice is irrelevant.

    I do however think that some kind of log is useful. For me it is part of the overall motivational picture to get students to practice in a more effective way. OK, so the log by itself won't actually make them practice but when combined with a number of other ideas and incentives it can be a benefit.

  5. I did an interesting hybrid of the practice log with my students last year. It was a practice journal where they wrote what they practiced, for how long, and what they worked on. It was effective as it a requirement for their grade, but most found it tedious.

    I'm going to try a new system this year based on a graduated scale. They basically keep a chart for each piece they're working on and mark off percent mastered in a rubric fashion.

  6. This was such a cool thing to find today. My daughter L just had her very first piano lesson. She is 7 years old. She is downstairs practicing right now. She is a very diligent and organized person. I came online while she was practicing to find a "practice log" for her to record how long she practices, just because I know she is so methodical, and know it will work as a record for her of her practice. Her teacher mentioned nothing about keeping track or even practicing every day, though perhaps she said it during her lesson. I have a son who plays viola and I have never once had to ask him to practice, and he practices every day. So perhaps I am just lucky, because I can't imagine having to beg or cajole her either. I think you are right, excellence is its own reward. I will hope she also discovers this herself. But I did download a log for her. I'll see how she uses it. I really enjoyed hearing the thoughts from a piano teacher.



  7. My daughter's violin teacher is the most energetic, inspiring teacher I've ever met, and I'm hoping to copy some of her methods as I open my piano studio this year.

    She does offer an incentive chart for time practiced, but doesn't dwell on it. If you reach a particular place on the chart, you get a prize.

    But the big thing is that she has a cabinet full of little prizes that are all priced accordingly. The student earns "music money" through accomplishing goals, keeping quiet during the lesson, etc. The coolest thing is that the "music money" is little laminated cards with different note values on them, so the kids have to add up the note values in order to purchase what they want. Theory and math working together!

  8. I love all your suggestions! I've been teaching for 20 yrs. Decided recently that there is something good in many practicing reward systems. Plus each student is motivated by different types of rewards. So my new rule is- never be boring! For 8 weeks, I design something to reward daily practice. Then 8 weeks to reward # of minutes practiced; 8 weeks to reward passing off songs and goals; 8 weeks to reward practicing each song 3 times; 8 weeks to reward technique goals; 8 weeks to stress that music is its own rewards necessary. I design different reward programs every year to stress the basic concepts. Sometimes I use a log and sometimes not. I find that I have more fun and so do the students!

Comments are closed.