Is Practice a four letter word in your house? Are their frequent arguments over the lack of this essential part of learning an instrument? As a parent of 3 children, all of whom learnt an instrument at some point in their early years, I know all too well the frustration of trying to instil the necessity of a practice routine and even harder, enforcing it!
In a blog post by Anastasia Tsioulcas on NPRmusic website, titled “Getting Kids to Practice- Without Tears or Tantrums, Anastasia also speaks from the perspective of being a parent of a young musician but also from having been a young practicing musician herself. Many of her points regarding practice and ways to encourage and motivate, I also advocate to parents on a daily basis.
Dedicate a space for practice: this can be a bedroom, in the main living area or in a space that is light and comfortable. If space is tight, it only requires a corner of the room to set up a music stand and have the instrument ready and waiting to be played. If a child constantly sees the instrument they are more likely to remember to play it.
Rewards systems: encourage the discipline of regular practice. Anastasia males the valid comment that it is the adult that needs to teach this discipline as it isn’t something that is naturally inherit in children and is a skill that is learnt. For example a ‘Music Money’ incentive program where children get rewarded for practice, progress and performance. The ultimate goal is to save up music money to a set dollar value
(say $1,000) then trade it in for a movie ticket or another item of value. Of course, many will fold before they hit this target and trade for lesser items but this is also a great lesson in saving and spending.
Create a routine: I always suggest linking practice in to homework routines. This way it becomes a good habit and part of the routine. Some families find early morning practice more effective as children are more responsive to learning when fresh. Change things around and see if you can create a routine that suits your family better.
Set small goals: rather than tackling everything at once, set some smaller goals for your child. Practice one piece one day and one on the next. Spend 5 to 10 minutes in quality practice time rather than arguing for 30 minutes and not achieving anything. Every just practice a couple of more difficult bars and leave the rest of the piece for later. It is sometimes only 1 or 2 bars that sends the whole practice routine out the window with a tantrum of frustration.
Gentle Persuasion is key: a great way to encourage practice is to be part of the routine. 5 or 10 minutes of your undivided attention is worth alot to your young prodigy. You will find as they grow older they will be =come more willing to initiate practice for themselves and you may even be surprised to find they have started without any prompting whatsoever.
Consequences: As a child gets older, roughly 11 or 12 years, they begin to understand the consequences of not practicing. They need to realise that it is totally in their hands and the results of their practice will improve their playing and enjoyment of their instrument. Regular performance opportunities can help with this as they will learn how good preparation results in a good experience.