How to teach your children to practice music so they can learn to play it
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?
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 (www.janethatchermusiclessons.com)