|Setting the stage for musical success
Author: Heather Lee Leap
Your child wants to play an instrument, you want him to practice, but making it work is not always easy. Some parents don’t make their kids practice, afraid that pushing them will make them lose interest, but kids who like music, and stick with it, practice regularly. These kids see improvement over time and get the reward of the accomplishment of playing well.
While practicing is predominantly a solo endeavor, the nature of music is social, and for children to succeed, it must be a family effort. You can’t practice the instrument for him, but it is up to you to set the stage for successful practice at home. So, on those slow, frustrating days of practice, consider how your child will grow because you support a commitment to steady and patient practice.
Here are some common practicing complaints and solutions so your aspiring musician can start creating beautiful music at home before it is time to get up on the stage:
If your child whines and argues about practicing: make regular practice non-negotiable. Just like homework and tooth-brushing, music practice needs to be done. It is a rare child who understands delayed gratification. Amanda Lawrence, strings teacher and professional violist, says, “Don’t ask [him] when or if [he wants] to practice.” Instead, let him choose between two times and then help him follow through. Remind your child how far he has come by reviewing songs that have already been mastered. Ask periodically, “Do you remember when that song was so hard?” Listen to songs he will be learning soon to help him connect to where he is going.
If you struggle to find time to practice: save preparation time and avoid procrastination by keeping the instrument accessible, perhaps on a stand or wall-mounted hanger. “Try to find a consistent time to practice each day to make it a habit,” suggests Lawrence. Do you have an early-riser? Her best practice time may be before school. Try breaking the practice into two short sessions at different times of day. “Even if he is not practicing anything specific, he can just get into the instrument,” encourages Lawrence. Let go of the assumption that your child has to get through everything in one session – just make sure he covers different material each time.
If you’re not sure how to help your child practice: ask the teacher to send home specific instructions for weekly assignments. If you are still uncertain, ask for an explanation. Susan Riggs, a piano teacher for over 20 years, suggests asking specific questions about technique or what is required in each piece. Kids like to plow through a piece at top-speed, which is fine – once. Let him get it out of his system, then help him take it apart and focus on tough spots. Some teachers welcome the presence of parents at lessons and encourage them to take their own notes. At home, have your child explain his assignments to you before he begins.
This shows him you’re interested and reinforces what he will do in his practice.
If your child has trouble staying on task: sit with her during practice. You will be on-hand to help her focus and to offer encouragement. Work on a craft or pay the bills in the same room, and your young musician won’t feel isolated. This is vital for children under the age of about 10 to keep them on track, but don’t be surprised if your teen appreciates it as well. But, don’t let your presence be a distraction. Consistently help him re-focus and he will gradually settle into a routine.
If your child needs a challenge: Riggs suggests, “Find performance opportunities within your own community.” Arrange a musical playdate with a friend who plays an instrument, or volunteer to play at church or nursing home. If your child’s teacher offers group classes, take advantage of them. When the teacher thinks your student is ready, consider having her join a local youth orchestra; musicians are held accountable by the group, often relieving the parent of the burden of motivation. Lawrence notes that students who play in small groups can experience “healthy competition.”
Consistent practice in a supportive environment leads to success, which leads to greater enjoyment and less conflict at practice time. The discipline required to learn to play an instrument will seep into all aspects of your child’s life, building confidence and pride of accomplishment for both of you.
Heather Lee Leap is a freelance writer and mother of three young musicians. She has been supervising between three and 12 hours of music practice per week for over six years.