5 Tips to Help your Child Practice Music
Is practicing with your child a constant battle and you think they're winning?
Are you tired of battling with your child to practice?
Do they squirm and stall and hide?
Do they gripe and complain and threaten to quit?
Have you had about enough, but don't want to throw in the towel?
Every parent has gone through it!
I once had a student who needed very little encouragement when it came to learning the violin. He loved it. He was excited about it. His mom didn't have to quarrel with him.
And then one day his mom came to me and said she was having a difficult time with him. He was no longer enjoying violin. He would grow frustrated. He wanted to switch to another instrument. She didn't know what to do, especially since he had loved it before. Should she stop? Switch instruments? Push through?
When the child associates practicing and violin lessons with drudgery and escalating tempers, it's natural for them to want to quit and give up.
When the excitement to practice or learn is no longer there, why bother with the boring practicing part?
But how do you inspire a student to keep going? Should you even try?
The short answer is: don't give up. Keep trying. (I'll tell you my reasons at the end of this post). In the meantime, here are five tips on how to help your child practice.
1. Have a set time for practice. Part of setting your child up for success is to make sure it's scheduled in! Make practicing a habit. When the child doesn't know when practice time is supposed to be, they may be in the middle of something else and their brain has to switch tracks. In this case, the sudden expectation to go practice might throw them off -- especially if they thought they had down time. If that happens, they start to associate practice time with getting in the way of their fun.
2. Set the timer, and don't go past the time limit. The time will vary depending on what level the child is playing. Brand new beginner? Chances are 5-10 minutes is enough. A little more advanced? 30-40 minutes. If they're struggling to practice, I would not recommend going past 40 minutes. Get them into the habit of simply practicing for a set time period. It doesn't matter what exercise they're in the middle of; when that timer goes off, practice time is DONE.
3. Bribe with positive rewards. Yes, I am promoting bribery, but it has to be done right to be effective. For instance, if a parent tells the student, "NO games UNTIL you've practiced!" the child will associate practicing with getting in the way of their fun time. Instead, bribe them with "For every half hour you practice, you'll get half an hour of games!" or "If you practice 30 minutes every day this week, then we'll have a sleepover with your friends!" Be warned: Choose your bribe wisely! It has to be something you can keep. Also: if you're worried you'll have to bribe constantly, be assured that children can be weaned off the bribing process when they see progress or grow older (but I will leave that to your discretion!)
4. Let them control part of their practice habits. Some students want control over how, when and what they practice. Allow them to have some control. This can be in terms of the order of their assignments, the time limit, or what time of the day. Give them choices, not loopholes. For instance, say the teacher asked little Jonny to practice Twinkle Twinkle Little Start, pizzicato, A scale, and Up Like a Rocket. Write down the assignments onto strips of paper (or popsicle sticks!) and then have Jonny choose the order of the assignments. But don't give up all the control: if they should be practicing five times a week, make sure you don't give them the option of practicing only once a week!
5. Let them take breaks. This one is a bit tricky. Some students don't do well when it's always practice, practice, practice, PRACTICE! Give them a day or two off per week. You can split it up throughout the day. At the same time, if you got into a good practice scheduling, long breaks can completely break the habit and make it more difficult to come back to. Balance is everything! A day or two off is fine--a month or two probably isn't a good idea.
Bonus Tip: Make practicing an enjoyable time! If the children see practicing as frustrating, or as the time period when mom or dad scolds them, they are not going to want to practice. Give positive encouragement. Hold your tongue. Correct only one thing at a time. Goof around. Try to play the instrument and have the student teach you. If you see the child get frustrated over something they're learning, switch tracks or take a break.
I've had some parents think that I allow my students to goof off a little.
Maybe just a little bit. ;)
My goal isn't to allow the students to goof off. What the parent might perceive as a child's inability to stay on task (or stall), I will often see as the child might be lacking in confidence, feeling frustrated or unsure, embarrassed, or they feel comfortable with me and want to share something they think is important.
My goal is to allow the child to have a good time during lessons, and trust that I'm not going to snap or get mean if they play something incorrectly. There are times for correction, but it is not all the time.
Is it worth pushing through the difficult practicing times??
Absolutely! There are many adults who regret not having learned an instrument when they were growing up. Many adults who gave up music when they were younger regret it.
Some students will go from one instrument or another, but that can encourage students to give up when the going gets rough. Part of building your child's character is to help them persevere through difficult times. Getting through practice is just one way to teach that lesson!
But, I can promise you: If you make practice enjoyable (or just less of a chore!), the more they practice. The more they practice, the more they progress. The more they progress, the more successful and confident they will feel until the time comes when you don't say to them "Did you practice today?" but they say, "I'm going to practice!"