Over time I have written a great deal about the need for practice and today’s post is not going to contradict that. All students do need to set up a practice routine, to learn to practice effectively and to practice regularly. Students need the guidance of their teachers to determine how to practice and the support of their parents (the younger they are the more support they need) to get it done.
Most students are excited to meet their teacher and to begin lessons. They see the prospect of learning to play their instruments as a fun-filled adventure. That means that in most cases they will start out wanting to do whatever assignments they are given, they will actually want to practice, to learn, to please the teacher and impress their family and friends. What music students need from their parents is encouragement; the kind of positive reinforcement that helps to maintain and sustain that initial excitement over time.
While gently reminding students to practice might be necessary from time to time it is important not to get to the point where you create a power struggle about practicing which as you know is guaranteed to produce the exact opposite effect from the one you intended.
The ultimate goal is to support and encourage the student while allowing them to own responsibility for their efforts and for their own learning. The desire to practice has to be developed in a holistic and intrinsic manner if the student is ever going to internalize the music lesson experience. Once they do, they are hooked and your job as parents is simply to continue supporting them.
Inherently, children begin by wanting to please their teachers and their parents so the goal is to keep them wanting to behave in a favorable manner over time.Here are some suggestions on ways to keep that initial excitement alive and to keep children practicing without having to nag them. If you would like to share your own suggestions and success stories I would be delighted to pass them on to others, so please feel free to do so.
- Offer simple descriptions such as, “If you don’t practice you won’t be prepared for your next lesson”.
- Any time you catch the child practicing without parental intervention, express your appreciation, “Thank you for practicing without being asked”.
- On occasion take yourself out of the equation and allow the child to make the mistake of not practicing so that they realize the consequences at their next lesson.
- Let things slide once in a while. Daily practice is an ideal but not one that can be realized on a consistent basis.
- Avoid repetitive catch phrases such as “Good job” when praising, instead describe what you liked, “Your new piece makes me feel happy”, or “I love to hear you playing the piano while I am cooking dinner”.
- Focus on the effort once in a while, “Wow, you are really concentrating on those scales”.
- Invite your child to describe what they did with a question, “How did you figure out how to play all of those tricky notes?”
Finally, trust the teacher to know how often and how long the student needs to practice and rely on the teacher to provide appropriate feedback relieving you the parent of at least a bit of responsibility.