By Mary Bloom, Director of Music Education
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. Here are 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.
The good news is that typical beginners exhibit common attributes that are particularly well-suited to developing excellent practice habits:
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) Make practice 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.
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.