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How to teach your children to practice music so they can learn to play it

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It is common knowledge that teaching children to play and appreciate music generates numerous lifetime benefits. Many parents, however, are hesitant to spend money on private lessons for fear that their child won’t have the discipline to practice. Other parents may have spent plenty of money on lessons only to find their child’s expensive instrument gathers dust in the corner.

The problem is that many parents, and sadly many teachers, don’t understand that the art of practicing is a distinct skill that many children (and plenty of adults) have not yet developed. A practice routine requires discipline, focus, internal organization and commitment. Music is a wonderful way to instill these qualities in a child, but as a beginning music student, they will need guidance and support from their teachers and caretakers. Even without a smidgen of musical training, you can help your child develop a meaningful relationship with music. All you need is a little extra time, patience and enthusiasm.

As a social worker, student of music, and music teacher, I have spent plenty of time learning to practice and teaching students to do the same. Below are some easy and specific suggestions on helping your child learn to practice:

Allow your child to pick the instrument.
Take your children to a music store and let them browse the instruments, or, YouTube some of your favorite live performances so your children have the opportunity to see different instruments in action. Watching Hendrix tear up a guitar solo can be very motivating.

Spend some time finding a teacher that you and your child like and trust.
Your children will be more motivated to practice if their teacher inspires them, sparks their imagination and builds their self-esteem. Don’t hesitate to keep looking if you don’t like the first teacher you meet.

Decide together on daily and weekly goals that are REASONABLE (I.e. 15 min/day, 4 days/week)
Do this with the student, teacher, and parent present and always be willing to reassess goals that are not working. Ask your child’s teacher to write down specific homework tasks that are clear and manageable, or, have them make a daily checklist of tasks.

Attach practice time to another daily event.

Try to do this right before bath time, right after dinner, right before a favorite TV show. etc. This provides structure and routine to practice time and avoids unnecessary battles.

Create a sticker chart.
Incorporate rewards for a week of successful practice. Allow the goals to be cumulative. For example, a good week of practice leads to a small reward, a good month of practice leads to a larger reward.

Designate a rehearsal space.
Designate a rehearsal space for your children where they can leave their instruments, supplies, music and books. Help them to organize this space and encourage them to assign each of their items a “home.”

Invest in a visual timer.
Set the timer for the agreed upon amount of time. Children need specific goals and time limits. “Go practice guitar” can be vague and daunting.

Compliment your child’s playing at home and in front of his or her teacher.
Specific compliments about the child’s progress can be especially helpful.

Ask your children about their lessons.
What did they learn? What was easy? What was challenging?

Have “Mini-Performances.”
Mini-performances in between lessons allow your children to share their progress and will motivate them to practice. It is also an opportunity to improve their self-esteem.

Take your children to see live music.
Live music is fun, inspiring and motivating for music students.

NEVER EVER punish a child for not practicing an instrument.
This creates a negative association with music. Always use positive reinforcement as a way to foster self-esteem and a love for music.

How do you help instill a love of music in your children?

Guest blogger Jane Thatcher is a music teacher, singer-songwriter, composer, and performer. She also has a Master’s Degree in Social Work which helps her develop lesson plans for students of every learning ability. She teaches guitar lessons to children and adults out of Pickin’ on Tennyson in Northwest Denver (

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson March 8, 2012

    All great suggestions! I’m enrolling my daughter in piano next year and am about to start the search for a great teacher. These tips are good to know before we get started.

  • comment avatar lana March 10, 2012

    Helpful hints! I’m eager to get my kids started and this gives me some good parameters.

  • comment avatar lana March 10, 2012

    P.S. I’ve never thought of guitar lessons but it sounds fun.

  • Pingback:Comment on How to teach your children to practice music so they can learn to play it by lana – How To Play Guitar For Beginners Acoustic

  • comment avatar Sue Hunt November 12, 2012

    Lovely article, full of great advice. Deciding on a daily and weekly goal is a very powerful strategy. This is much more constructive than just getting a child to play through or indulge in mindless repetition.

    As far as praise goes, it needs to be very specific. A child won’t know what all the “way to go! high five! you’re a star!” stuff is about, unless you explain.

    Another thing to be very careful about is, to praise work and focus, rather than results and talent. A child who is praised for hard work have a lot to gain by doing it again. Those who are praised for talent have everything to loose.

    To get kids started, visit

  • comment avatar Janna Wagner October 29, 2013

    Hi- I’m Janna Wagner. Great Article! My husband has been teaching children in group and private piano/keyboard lessons for 36 years – Traditional-Schoolers, Home-Schoolers and After-Schoolers alike. For parents who are wanting to teach their kids at home or even want to learn together at the same time, there is finally a resource that combines the best musical ideas with step-by-step instructions for the teacher/helper at home. Here is the link to his music school, which has a link to the store – (School), or here is a direct link to purchase the materials – (Books). Try the first book and you’ll be hooked. Any feedback and discussion is welcome. I gave birth to quadruplets in 1981 and we even piloted and tested the program with them. Today I’m happy to say they are still with their music at 32. Thousands and thousands have successfully completed the program since then.

  • comment avatar Edward Motter-Vlahakos June 17, 2014

    Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life.

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