Story Details

How to help your child practice music

Posted By LaurelS 369 days ago on Education -

How to help your child practice musicThere’s just no two ways about it: you can’t be successful in music lessons without practicing. When you sign your child up for music lessons, you probably realize they’ll be expected to practice. You probably also know that if their practicing is lacking, they won’t make much progress and will lose interest and motivation.Many articles have been written about how to help a child practice, or how to motivate a child to practice. Mine is based on my own experiences as a teacher and as a human. I’m not a child behavioral psychologist, but I was previously a child. And I’ve spent a great deal of time over my career teaching and getting to know musicians of all ages. What I have to say is based on lots of direct observation of how the parent-child dynamic affects a student’s practice and progress.Your child does need your help to get the most out of their practice time. You can’t do the practicing for them, but here’s what you can do.Schedule regular practice time.The single most important thing you can do to help your child practice is to set aside the necessary time. Do not let it be flexible, negotiable, or optional. What you’re doing here is making practicing a high priority. After all, would you have enrolled your child in music lessons if you considered it unimportant? And do you want to spend your money on something that you don’t actually use? Because, trust me, if you send your kid to lessons unprepared, you’re not getting your money’s worth from those lessons. This will sound harsh, but let me make it completely clear: if you’re unwilling to put music study as high on your priority list as sports teams or social activities, this is as far as you need to read. Music lessons require a whole-hearted commitment from parents and students. If you can’t fully commit, don’t bother.Okay, here we are in the next paragraph, so if you’re still with me after what I just said in the last one, congratulations! You have what it takes to make the most of music lessons. That first bit was really the most essential part, and it can be a bitter pill to swallow, but no other advice will be effective if you can’t get that part down.Set a specific time each day for practice, so that it becomes part of your weekly routine. It doesn’t even have to be that much time. Young beginners might only spend as little as fifteen minutes a day practicing. Older students and more advanced students will need to practice for longer. Follow your teacher’s recommendation for length of practice sessions.It may take a little trial and error to find the best time of day. Some kids are sharpest first thing in the morning, before school. Some kids might like to practice before bed, but some might be too tired. When I was little, my mom set my piano practice time for the hour before dinnertime. Every day, when she went into the kitchen to cook, I sat down at the piano. It kept me busy while I was waiting for dinner, and Mom never forgot about my practice time because it was coordinated with her daily routine. Whatever schedule you set, try it for at least two weeks before you reevaluate. It takes about that long to establish a habit.Having practice time built into your routine also greatly reduces the amount of whining and bargaining your kid is likely to do. Once they are used to it as part of their day, it will feel comfortable and expected.Get involved with the details of what your child is learning.Especially in the first few weeks a child is taking lessons, a parent should sit with them while they practice. You may never have taken lessons yourself, but even if you don’t understand the material, make a point of knowing what the teacher has assigned your child to practice, so that you can help keep them on track.In my studio, each student has a lesson notebook that I use to write down their weekly practice assignments. For online lessons, I send a “Lesson Notes” email to both student and parent. I encourage parents to email or text me with any questions about my notes or to write messages to me in the notebook. Most music teachers are happy to answer questions via phone, text, or email, so don’t hesitate to ask for clarification at or between lessons. The teacher can also help you understand the general and long-term goals they have set for their student.Let your child see that you’re paying attention to what they’re learning. They will take it as seriously as you do - and they will know they can’t get away with slacking off!Foster effective practice habits.Everyone dreads attempting something that they have no idea how to do. Your child may be resisting practice simply because they don’t know how to approach it. Help your child learn to employ effective strategies for practicing. Ask your teacher for specific guidance on practice methods. Practicing the right way is essential to making music learning a positive experience for the student.The most important general piece of advice I can give on effective practicing is to take bite-sized pieces. Rather than attempting to play an entire piece at performance speed, break it down into component parts. Say all the note names. Clap out the rhythm. Be slow and deliberate. Focus on a small section and repeat it until you can do it correctly and consistently. Set very small, achievable goals. And remember, having a positive, can-do attitude and investing effort is one goal that anyone can achieve, so it’s a good starting point.Whatever your teacher recommends, do it their way. If you have musical knowledge yourself, you may want to help by correcting your child’s mistakes or demonstrating for them. As tempting as it is to do some of the heavy lifting for them, hold yourself back. It’s tough to watch your baby struggling, but they have to do it themselves to really internalize what they’re learning. They will build confidence by working through the learning process on their own.There is also such a thing as overpracticing. Practicing to the point of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is a huge motivation killer. It’s a good idea to end practice sessions by playing something that’s already well-learned and fun to play. That way, the enjoyment of playing is what the student will remember the most about their practice. It will feel rewarding, and the student is more likely to look forward to practicing in the future instead of dreading it.I’ve gone into much more detail about what good quality practice entails, how it feels, and how it contributes to a positive music learning experience in another post on this blog.Set the tone with enthusiasm and encouragement.Your kid will pick up on your attitude, and if you act like practicing is a chore or their songs are lame, they will adopt the same attitude. For the love of God and all that is holy, don’t say disparaging things about lessons, their instrument, practicing, their music, or their playing/singing. Don’t compare your child negatively with another person. Don’t EVER tell your kid that their singing voice doesn’t sound good, even if that’s what you really think!Instead, model an open, positive, growth-oriented attitude toward music lessons. Listen to music with your child; be an adventurous listener and try out many different genres. Sing with them, even if you’re an awful singer. Show them that everyone can connect with music in their own way.Affirm all of your child’s efforts with helpful, encouraging feedback. Learning music can feel daunting to a young student, and positive feedback can make all the difference in whether they have the confidence to continue putting in effort. That’s not to say that you should respond to every single effort of theirs with exuberant praise. Students need feedback to be genuine if they’re going to make effective progress. Strike a balance between honesty and optimism in your responses.If your child has played something perfectly, then great! It should be easy to say, “That sounded right to me! Good job!” But what do you say when their attempt isn’t so successful? You may not be able to find a compliment to give, and you don’t want to be harsh, negative, or insulting. If you give a criticism, make sure it’s constructive. A constructive criticism is one that highlights a specific opportunity for improvement. Focus on individual actions in your feedback, instead of making overarching statements or attributing characteristics to the student.Don’t make broad criticisms like, “You keep playing it wrong” or “You always try to go too fast” or “You’re being impatient.” Statements like these make the child think there is a problem coming from inside them, and they are likely to feel that failure is inevitable no matter what they do. Instead, try a comment like, “It’s still not quite there, but it gets closer every time you try!” This helps the child believe that their actions can make a difference in the outcome.And, in that same vein...Recognize achievements and celebrate progress.Your child deserves recognition for their accomplishments. Everyone needs to feel like what they do matters. When your child gets that recognition from you and others, they will take pride in their work. This allows them to take ownership of their music studies. They will become more invested in learning when they reap the rewards of their work.It’s important to praise and validate the effort the student is giving - more important than praising achievement. The effort is the important part of practicing. Praise your child for committing to the process, even if significant positive results aren’t yet apparent. It’s even more important to make a point of praising the effort of high-achieving, “talented” music students. Unless the student recognizes that it’s effort that creates results and believes that they are capable of that effort, practicing will feel pointless to them.By the end of a practice session, the student should have achieved something, however small their progress. Help your child recognize their achievement by verbalizing both the goal and the result. You can say something as simple as, “You’ve been working on that song for five minutes and it’s sounding pretty good!” At the end of the practice session, or the end of the week, recap the goals that were achieved - for example, “You practiced this song every day this week and now you can play it memorized!”Good goals can be procedural as well as musical; learning new pieces is always a goal, but so is regular practice and good behavior, so comment on those achievements, too. You can also remind them of past achievements, like a difficult piece they learned last month or a performance they gave last year, to reinforce a sense of accomplishment and faith in their own abilities.Make it rewarding.Sure, it would be great if students felt that practicing is its own reward, but let’s be real. Especially young kids and kids who aren’t taking lessons voluntarily will benefit from an external reward. Games and challenges are big motivators for some kids. Some will respond to a sticker chart or calendar for tracking practice. Put a marble in a jar each time they practice and let them have a prize when it’s full. You know best what motivates your child, so if you’re prepared to follow through, go ahead and make a deal with your child to give them candy, toys, extra privileges, or whatever else they like in exchange for meeting practice requirements.You can reward both quantity and quality of effort - for example, one sticker for practice, one sticker for not whining about it. Just make sure not to set the bar too low or too high. Practicing for sixty minutes but only one day of the week isn’t worth rewarding. Practicing for three hours every day isn’t a reasonable minimum goal. The behaviors you should be encouraging are regular (daily) practice, effective practice strategies, setting and meeting goals, and positive attitude.Don’t forget about verbal affirmations! Just saying that you are proud of them for practicing can go farther than you might think. Your approval is a reward your child deeply craves.Enforce (and reinforce) consequences.A word about setting up negative consequences:Positive motivation is much more effective than the threat of punishment. I don’t recommend punishing failure to practice, because it sends the message that the student can choose not to practice if they accept an unpleasant consequence instead. As I said at the beginning, practicing should be non-negotiable. Threats of punishment tend to make practicing feel far more high-stakes than it should.Hopefully, you will never feel cornered into nagging your kids about their music studies. Avoid nagging, if only because it almost invariably backfires. But if you, the teacher, or the student themselves has set up an expectation, don’t let it be devalued or ignored. Whatever rewards or punishments you have established, stick to them 100%. If you say they can only have ice cream if they practice every day, but they don’t practice every day, you had better withhold the ice cream. And don’t give them a consolation prize, either!Without firm, clear boundaries, kids often direct most of their energy toward testing their limits; if they know the rules are set in stone, they can give up on looking for excuses and put their energy toward actually practicing. This is important because, while it may be possible to negotiate with your mom or dad, it’s not possible to negotiate with reality - if you don’t practice, you’re not going to get better, and there’s just no disguising that truth. It’s going to be a great lifelong benefit to your kids if they learn, early and well, that they have to accept the results of their actions. If they practice poorly or if they practice well, point out the consequences of their actions. You don’t have to be critical or judgmental; just help them understand the connection between their actions and the results.And if they do practice every day, follow through and get them that ice cream!!Listen.There are so many ways you can enhance your child’s music studies by listening to them. Let them know you hear them practicing and working hard. Give them the opportunity to perform for you. Ask them to teach you about what they have learned and let them explain it to you. This is a really effective way for the student to clarify their own understanding of their lessons and to become aware of any questions they have.Most importantly, listen to their opinions and feelings. Your child will tell you, given a good chance, how they feel about lessons and practicing. First, listen to understand. Start by telling them you understand what they’re saying to you. And maybe stop there, too. Sometimes, people just want their feelings to be recognized. You might tell them that you understand why they would feel that way. You might tell them that you didn’t know they had that opinion. You should thank them for sharing with you.Only after you do this, ask if they want help or advice. Regardless of whether you give them help or advice, tell them you have faith in their ability to handle their feelings. Listening is a powerful way to show you care about your child’s music studies and that you care about them as a person.It’s a lot for a kid to shoulder all the responsibility for practicing their instrument or singing. Parents, use these methods to support your child and help make practicing easy on them. With good practice habits, your child will always be well-prepared for each lesson, so they can really get the most learning and joy out of their music studies.

Submit a Comment

Log in to comment or register here