The greatest challenge in being a guitar teacher is motivating students to practice. Unless a student has a goal or a deadline, practice usually falls by the wayside. So as a guitar teacher I have devised many ways to motivate students to practice and give them reachable goals. Recitals are always successful. I have also tried practice schedules with varying degrees of success. Recently I began looking around at other disciplines for inspiration. Sports often have similar requirements in terms of practice. They have an advantage in that they are usually made up of teams. The social pressure of a team is usually enough to get its members working harder. So I have made great use of small groups such as guitar quartets as well as a guitar orchestra I help run (visit www.EncinitasGuitarOrchestra.com ).
All of these help, but I needed something more. Enter the Guitar Black Belt Program. Based on the system of belts used in Karate and other Martial Arts, I devised a system of belts starting with white and moving through various colors until the student reaches a black belt. Along the way the student has to accomplish various goals and tests in order to achieve a new belt. I customize eachs students “belt test” to fit their age and ability, but each has to practice and play something to pass. Practice includes both on-the-guitar practice and GuitarGames.net game time ( I have found the mental practice involved in the games of immense value, but that’s a topic for another day). I make each student earn 25 points and then pass a test. A beginner might earn points by practicing for 15 minutes whereas an advanced student might require an hour. Students can also earn points for playing the games for certain amount of time or getting a high score. After 25 points are earned the student takes their belt test. The tests might be playing a piece memorized or learning a set of scales, basically anything I really want that student to accomplish.
I enter all this on a sheet for them to keep track of their progress and then post it on a white board in my studio. Students often come in and see other students making progress towards a certain belt and are encouraged to do so themself. Below is a link to the page I use with my students. Feel free to use it with your own students. Also I bought a set of ten colored ribbons at a local arts and crafts store (they cost about 50 cents each) and I tie these “belts” on the students guitar as an indication of their rank. The great thing about this system is that it provides the student with healthy competition, by comparing their work to other students, as well as goals tailored to their abilities. All in all I have found it a great motivational tool.