A young pupil of mine once came to his piano lesson in the middle of his school day and said, “I am too tired to have my lesson today.”  I was unsure whether he was

  1. short of sleep,
  2. overwhelmed with too much to do, or
  3. feeling too lazy to be bothered.

Whichever it was, I then had to decide a course of action that was going to enable us to make good use of the time alotted for his lesson. I learned a lot that day that has helped me since.

Basically, he needed to be inspired to rise above the weariness, however it had come about, to do something to not only help make progress with his piano skills, but also to help him get through the rest of the day.

It is hard to learn new material in that state, so I suggested he started by playing his favourite piece. This mean’t he didn’t have to overtax his brain and was able to slip into the familiar like into an old pair of slippers. He now felt more comfortable about being at his lesson. Playing something familiar is a good opportunity to give a perspective of how far someone has come in their learning.

Next, we took some of the aspects of that piece and played it slightly differently. Playing in different octaves is a good option because it is not mentally taxing, but still repetition and practice. If this happens at home and you have an electronic keyboard, you could have them play their piece using different sounds.

In between all this I worked out that his problem wasn’t laziness or lack of sleep. Basically, there was so much going on in his life that he was a bit overwhelmed with learning. I decided to find ways to help him simply enjoy his music without extra pressure. The next thing we did was create something new at the piano. I gave him a framework of notes to use and played along with him as a duet. Before we knew it, the time was up and he left with shoulders a little higher along with, I suspect, some renewed energy for the next task.

This is just one example of what I have done as a teacher. But how about when your own children are “too tired” to practice at home.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Have a routine time that you know works best for them when they are not too tired.
  • To get them started, ask them to play their favourite piece for you. They love it when you are taking an active interest in their practice time.
  • Give them some sort of incentive for when the practice is completed for the day.
  • Have a defined time length that doesn’t feel like “forever”. But make sure they are not just sitting at the instrument and staring at the wall to fill in time. (I speak from experience.) 😊
  • Have some music listening time specific to the instrument they are learning.
  • They may need some good old fashioned play time in fresh air before practicing. This is probably better than after any sort of screen time. I have a hunch that minds are still distracted by the last thing they were looking at and focusing on the non-passive task of playing the piano is a mental adjustment. Better to delay screen time until after practice is completed.
  • If it becomes an ongoing problem, especially when they are tired from too much to do, maybe there are too many specialist learning activities going on over and above school work for them to cope with all the extra learning.

Don’t push them to practice when they clearly are tired. (Did I really say that?!) It may build up over time to a resentment and dislike. But handling tiredness well is a crucial part of establishing practice habits with the love and enthusiasm needed to master playing a musical instrument.


clipart source: http://clipart-library.com/clipart/157045.htm

8 thoughts on “Too Tired to Practice

  1. Ethne FERGUSSON says:

    I remember John C who came to our house to ‘practice’! The thing I remember most was that he always came armed with sweets…Minties and milk shake lollies. I think grandma got some practice out of him!
    On another note, or two or three, at the moment it’s so hot here at the time I need to practice. As I make a bit of noise I usually close the doors and windows..not the last week, so yes unfortunately I miss out. In a flat I try to finish before 4 pm. I tried with a fan..and then thought I had a reed problem, or something wrong with my clarinet. It turned out that the fan was reverberating the sound, so that doesn’t work. Can revert to keyboard at night with earphones though..good idea.

    • I didn’t know about those practice sessions. Hilarious to think of Grandma getting practice out of a non family member. Interesting that your practice times now have to be considerate of the neighbours so you have to grab them when you can, regardless or whether you are too tired or hot. Keyboards with headphones are a great option although I have heard parents say they don’t know if their children are practicing what they are supposed to when they use them.

  2. This is applicable to so many situations! While I don’t teach music, I do tutor other subject and this whole issue of ‘too tired to learn’ is a very real problem I come across often. These are great ideas!

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