8 Tips to Help You Help Your Child Practice

For some kids, practice time is something that is not only enjoyed, but looked forward to. It can be a fun time of to explore new music, to perfect old favourites, and to generally have fun with music. Unfortunately, this feeling is not universal among children, and many need some encouragement or a helping hand to get them to actually stick with their practicing until they can motivate themselves.

For many parents, getting their kids to practice can be a daily struggle. Skill in music is limited only by a lack of consistent and concentrated practice and experience, and a lack of enthusiasm for good practice can be a student’s biggest obstacle. Luckily, we’ve got a few ideas, tips, and tricks to help you help your student practice, even if you don’t have any musical experience yourself!

#1 – Be Involved

Make the time to listen to your child play. Just being there and showing your interest shows your child how important learning the instrument is to you. This is an especially important tip for children between the ages of 3 and 8. As they get older, they’ll likely become more self sufficient and responsible, but you should still make the time to listen to and enjoy their music as often as you possibly can.

Partner with your child’s teacher to get a better understanding of their weekly goals, not just the musical pieces assigned, the potential the teacher sees in your student, and what they hope they will accomplish. For example, if there is a particular passage or movement they’re struggling with. In a perfect world you might also attend their lessons, or record the lessons, so you know what the goals are for each week. Then you can become a teacher at home!

#2 – Positive Reinforcement

If something sounds great, let them know with a little round of applause! When they do well, let them know, so they can experience the joy of sharing music with their audience. Simply asking your child to play a piece again because you liked it so much will give them a heaping helping of positive reinforcement and motivation. Even if they’re still learning the piece and it doesn’t sound great yet, finding a positive comment makes you their biggest cheerleader, and helps with a successful practice session.

#3 – Share New Music

Play some of your favourite music for your kids, or if you play yourself, give them a little performance. Share the great recordings of classical pieces, jazz, and movies soundtracks. Take them to live concerts and music festivals. YouTube is an amazing resource for listening to other students perform the pieces they’re learning to play. Music truly is a universal language, and we learn languages by listening and imitating.

#4 – Partner Up With The Teacher

In a perfect world, your child’s teacher should create a written assignment at each lesson. If they don’t, try partnering up with them to create something. The best format for this sort of assignment is a simple practice chart. Make each row start with whatever the assigned piece is, theory worksheet, technical exercise, or whatever area your student needs to focus on. Specific notes can be made about the high level goals for each of these. The columns can be made to represent the days of the week. Your student can then place an “X” in the grid to record what they have done each day. This not only helps them track what they accomplished in their daily practice sessions, but also the overall amount of time spent practicing.

#5 – Make A Plan

Picking up the instrument and playing everyday is great, but practice is much more effective when it’s done with intention. Before they begin their practice session each day, decide how much time will be spent on each assignment, and what the goals for the session are. As an example, a goal might me to play the first eight measures of a piece with all the right notes and tempo. Having a goal for each session is essential, regardless of the length of the actual practice time. Setting and working towards goals not only helps keep your child accountable to them, it also helps reinforce that they are, in fact, progressing, and in a way they can measure.

#6 – Game & Treats

Sometimes, even with a plan, the best cheerleaders, and good measurement, things still fall apart. Your child might refuse to practice to the point where they throw a temper tantrum! Don’t worry, there are other ways you can still motivate them. Practicing music takes a lot of repetition, which can get tedious and boring. One way to overcome this, especially with a smaller child, is to place three quarters on the left hand side of their music stand. Each time they play a passage correctly, they can move one quarter to the right side of the stand. But each time they make a mistake, one has to move back to the left. When all three quarters have been moved to the right, they get to keep them!

The offer of $0.75 may not work quite so well for older children, but there are other ways still. You might consider offering to trade a chore for practice – You will do the chore for them while they practice. The longer it takes you to finish, the longer they’ll be playing for! You can also set up a positive reward system, like ice cream, when they reach a certain amount of practice time.

Be sure to use these “bribes” only rarely, but they do work!

#7 – Pick a Time of Day, And Stick to It

Life can get pretty crazy, especially in today’s world. But if you can, try to find a consistent time of day for your child to practice. This helps create a routine, which will help make practice feel like a part of everyday life.

While most people seem to prefer to practice in the afternoon or evening, don’t completely rule out the mornings. It might be better to fit that practice in before the craziness of the day gets started.

#8 – Be Patient

Always try to keep in mind that learning to play a musical instrument is hard. Your child will go through a lot of ups and downs. Remember to be patient and kind with your child. If there’s a bad day of practice, remember that there’s always tomorrow.