Getting kids to Practice for Music Lessons: Tips on How to Make Practice Joyful and Productive

By Mary Bloom

Parents frequently ask music teachers for suggestions for how to help their child become more willing to practice, and how they can make the experience enjoyable and productive. This article by Neighborhood Music School Director of Education, Mary Bloom, who has more than 20 years of teaching experience, offers some suggestions and insights on how to make the whole process of practicing more satisfying for everyone involved.

1) Make practice a habit

For young students, the underlying reason for resisting practice is more likely to be related to the child having difficulty with transitions or not knowing exactly how to practice, than not being interested in their instrument. Parents often assume a child lacks interest when they protest practice time, but it is rarely true. Helping establish a routine at home is an important first step.

In Talks to Teachers, the great educational philosopher and psychologist William James states, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,—practical, emotional, and intellectual,— systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

This passage might lead to thoughts of students who sloppily race through their pieces, playing once or twice and declaring they are finished practicing! Or students repeating the same mistake over and over. The unhappy connotation often associated with the word “habit” leads James to clarify his message about the importance of establishing good habits in the next paragraph:

“The great thing in all education is to make the nervous system our ally instead of our enemy… For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and as carefully guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous.” (Available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16287/16287-h/16287-h.htm#VIII__THE_LAWS_OF_HABIT)

The good news is that typical beginners (ages 6-7) exhibit common attributes that are particularly well-suited to developing excellent practice habits and here is why:

A. Children are natural imitators

Kids love to imitate others, and are very good at it.  Asking your child to show you how their teacher would want them to practice will likely result in a dramatic and silly display of some really good practice!  Have fun with this magical stage!

B.  Children are eager to learn

To help keep this fire burning brightly, point out their accomplishments and praise their efforts. Their eagerness to please you, partnered with your support, sets the best tone for successful practice and creates a bond in your relationship.

C.  Children love structure

Ask your teacher to outline your child’s practice routine.  This might include guidance on how to play the warm ups, and practice steps for working out new and review pieces. Young children will need your help to follow these steps, but with consistency will soon be able to tell you the steps to follow.

D.  Children feel safe with routine

With your child’s input, establish a practice time for your child and stick with it. Some children practice in the morning before school, some immediately after dinner.  

2) Tips for parents that help make practice more positive and rewarding

A. Provide Reminders

As children grow, it is natural for them to require less support from parents, but it is normal for them to need reminders to practice. Some parents have reported setting a timer with their child ten minutes before practice time helps ease the transition to practice.

B. Praise effort

Instill the understanding that success is achieved not through talent, but consistent, strategic work. Celebrate slow practice, rhythmic work, following their practice outline on their own, sharing their music with friends and family, creating their own compositions, etc.

C. Communicate

Share insights about your child’s home practice or new interests with your child’s teacher. Maybe there are certain styles of music that your child is especially interested in, and these could potentially be explored with the teacher’s guidance. Or maybe there are frustration points that your child is struggling with, which the teacher should know about.

D. Keep it positive

Avoid keeping score of mistakes. It is much more useful to tally the many ways your child is playing musically and beautifully.  Reinforce the positive by saying things like “I really like that piece” or “Can you play that one for me again? I really like it!”

E.  Celebrate successes!

Celebrations can be as simple as sharing a high five and should be applied liberally! Even the simplest celebrations provide valuable opportunities to learn that hard work pays off.

Music teachers at Neighborhood Music School have lots of experience and many different suggestions and tips to help your child learn to love practicing and playing their instrument.  Want to learn more
about lessons at Neighborhood Music School? Click here or call us at 203-624-5189.