Short answer? Don’t worry about it!
I’ll be completely honest. It bothers me a little bit when teachers focus so much on if their student “has practiced” or not. When it comes to delivering a quality lesson, I don’t think it really matters! And in fact, having that mindset of checking up on your student, being encouraged or discouraged if they’ve practiced or not, can actually HURT the lesson.
Instead my mindset is to ignore it. Why? Because worrying about if the student practiced does not put you in the emotional and creative position to teach a quality lesson. As teachers, we can not build our emotions around weather or not a student “did what we told them to do”. This harms the student, and puts us in a weak position. WE should be the stronger ones emotionally in the relationship.
React pedagogically, not emotionally.
That’s the difference we’re talking about here folks! Ask yourself WHY you want a back up plan for students not practicing. If this is an emotional reaction, like you’ve been offended or let down, it’s not a good place to start from and go looking for these answers. I’m suggesting that we be PRO-active as teachers – not RE-active to our students.
What To Do When Your Student Is, Ahem, A “Little Rusty”
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Here’s some nice pedagogical reactions to try;
1. Repertoire List - Huge. Lately I’ve been keeping a repertoire list going with some students. It’s lots of fun for both of us to go back and brush up on them, check tempos, play them together, etc.
2. Record Them – Also great! You can record a student playing a polished repertoire piece or even practicing. It’s unbelievably helpful to record a student a few weeks in a row playing the same piece. They love hearing their improvements and it helps build self awareness.
3. Improvise – This is not limited to jazz or older students. You can show even a 7 year old to only play C-D-E-G while you play a simple blues. It’s fun!
4. Switch Student/Teacher Rolls – This opens up LOTS of possibilities. Let them teach you something. Or let them watch you play four measures and correct mistakes.
5. YouTube Dive for Pianists – OK, not always the haven of quality pianists, but start with a search like Chopin Waltz or Keith Jarrett Solo or Ben Folds Solo Piano or ask them for a suggestion. At most maybe you’ll find a new piece they want to learn, or at least maybe inspire them with music they’ve never heard before.
6. Drums – If you have the benefit of having some drums nearby, everyone LOVES drums. Have them play the right hand rhythm on one drum and left hand rhythm on another. Teach them a paradiddle. Show them a rock beat.
7. The No-Brainers - theory, ear-training, history, appreciation, games etc etc. Try this note reading game.
How Will I Know To Use These Ideas, If I Don’t Figure Out If They’ve Practiced Or Not?
Just focus on what will be helpful and fun for your student, in that moment. That’s the goal! If you ask them to play their assigned piece from last week, and it’s not going well, ask yourself “what can I do right now to enrich this student’s musical experience?” “How can I turn this problem on its head and use it to our advantage?” This is an opportunity, not a failure. It is an opportunity to explore and learn something new that perhaps will inspire and surprise the both of us!
Be emotionally PRO-active, not RE-active! Always remember, it’s about THEM and not YOU.