Keep students engaged at home and make practice fun!

pedagogy corner Sep 15, 2020

How can we keep students engaged when they leave our classes and help make their music practice fun? 

By Cynthia Kinnunen

You’re working harder than ever to bring learning to your students, whether in physical classrooms or online. You’re finding new ways to engage and interact with your students. But one challenge we all face is how to keep our students learning and practicing between classes or lessons. How can we make music practice fun?

The Ukulele in the Classroom Student Toolkit has been a great way to keep my students learning and making music at home when I can’t be there to support them. Here are a few of the phrases I’ve heard from my own students when they’ve struggled to engage in meaningful practice time.

It’s like having your own band at home! 

“I can’t remember how the song goes when I’m at home.”

Not only can students follow along visually with the interactive sheet music, but they can run the backing tracks to play along with, too. Melody/vocals can be turned on to hear the full song sung and played by James Hill himself. Or, once students are ready to play it on their own, they can turn off the melody and vocals and play along as the soloist with the backing track behind them. It’s like having their own band at home! 

“The practice track is going too fast, I can’t keep up.”

When we’re learning new material, we need to slow things down! Just like in my own practice, if something is new or if I’m trying to work on a tough spot, I encourage my students to take things at tempo del learno.*

Lucky for us, the tracks can be slowed down or sped up within the toolkit so students can practice along with it at 50%, 80% or 100%. It’s entirely up to them. It’s really great to be able to adjust the tempo without any change to the pitch, just like we would do live in the classroom together.

“There’s this one part I’m really struggling with.”

Teachers, you know that practising something from top to bottom over and over isn’t the best way to really work on a piece, especially when there are one or two spots that trip us up every time or require some extra work. 

Isolating measures is invaluable for troubleshooting those tough sections and the backing tracks in the Student Toolkit allow students to loop a section of their choice both in the sheet music and the backing track at the same time. Then once they’ve got the section well enough, they can back it up a few bars and continue the loop to integrate the trouble spot fluidly. How great that students can now do this themselves right at home!

“Where exactly do my fingers go in this part?”

The toolkit also has a fretboard feature that can be turned on or off at any time. If there’s a measure where a student feels unsure exactly where their fretting fingers should go, they can flip this feature on and a visual fretboard shows them while the track plays.

“My mom thought it sounded really cool with my band!”

Though I would suggest that ukuleles aren’t that tough for parents to listen to while their children practice, having the option for the backing track really makes the students sound and feel like they’re playing with the band. It’s the real deal! And students learn to listen for other parts as they are playing, really working on their aural ensemble skills right in their practice session.

We can all use some help getting our students to practice more, as well as more effectively. The UITC Student Toolkit is a really great resource for this. It’s been encouraging to see how teachers have been jumping in and using technology, creativity, and good humour to continue supporting students. You’ve always deserved big high fives for this but even more so in the midst of these more difficult times. Keep up the amazing work, teachers! 

*“Tempo del learno” (playing at a very slow pace) Credit to Sarah Maisel for this fun, perfectly descriptive term that I now use all the time.  

Cynthia Kinnunen is a music educator from Guelph, Ontario and is part of Team Uketropolis. Visit her online at



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