Written by: J.T. Lee
We all know our kids should practice, right? We spend good, hard-earned money on their education and interests, and we want them to excel, so we may find ourselves pushing hard to get them to practice and prepare. How can we as parents motivate our young music students to practice and stay involved? Here are a few tips for encouraging practice, even if you don’t know a thing about music:
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The more informed you are, the more you can help make sure your child is progressing the way they should. At the end of your child’s lesson each week, take a moment to ask the teacher what the child is supposed to accomplish for the week. Remember, when it comes to lessons, you’re paying for time, so use a few minutes of that time to learn for yourself what your child should be focusing on. Personally, as an instructor, I build this time for communication into each lesson, because I learned early on that if the parents are informed, there is a much better chance that my students will practice.
If your student is struggling, don’t wait until the next lesson to ask questions. Most instructors care about their students and hate to see them struggle, so they won’t mind if you reach out via email or text with questions that the student may have. Teachers are happy to know that the student cares enough to ask for help, and teaching the lesson is easier for them when their students are well prepared. You may need to be patient, as it may take your teacher a little time to respond, because most teachers are juggling a busy schedule, performances of their own, and so on, but don’t hesitate to reach out.
Consistency Is King
Kids lives revolve around having a consistent schedule, and in order to ensure that they practice regularly, it needs to be included as part of their regular schedule. Our kids all have multiple activities, and scheduling in practice time may mean that sports schedules and other activities need to be adjusted, but it can be done. Just ask my star piano student who is also a starter for his high school baseball team!
Recently, one of my families with a young boy who is very involved in sports came up with a fantastic solution: He practices every weekday at the same time as his regular lesson. This ensures that he gets plenty of practice time every week, and he has a consistent schedule that is the same every day whether he has a lesson or not. I thought this was a genius idea and have been suggesting to the families of many of my younger students. Another idea might be to have your student practice after dinner every night, if this is the most consistent part of their daily routine. Find a regular 15 or 30 minute block of time for practice each day and make it a habit.
Create Rewards and Incentives
I am NOT a believer in completion trophies, participation ribbons, or rewarding students for simply fulfilling their basic responsibilities, but sometimes to create good habits, you may need to set up a system. My favorite is trading practice time for screen time. You know they want to get to that iPad or watch television, so try cutting off the wifi until they finish their homework, chores and practice, then give them the password as a reward. Their music practice time can be used to teach them that work comes before play.
Some kids also need easy reminders and evidence that they are succeeding. Try making a large visual chart in their practice area, and use stickers to track their practice days. They’ll enjoy earning stickers, and the large visual reminder can help keep practice in the front of their minds. You can also try making a game out of practice, so it seems like fun and not a chore. For example, see if they can play their piece with no mistakes in a certain number of tries and then keep score!
Collaborate With Your Kids
You can learn alongside your child! Have your student teach you what they are learning in lessons. Ask them to show you how long a quarter note is, or where D is on the piano. Have them clap or count a rhythm for you, or have them play their piece for you. One thing I’ve learned is that teaching is one of the quickest ways to learn something, so you’ll be plugged into what your child is learning, while accelerating their learning process by having them teach you.
This can also help you check in on the quality of instruction your child is receiving. If your student can’t teach you something, it means they don’t fully understand it themselves, and that is something you should discuss with your teacher. Teachers are human too, and we can have blind spots when it comes to our students. We may think they are grasping a concept, when they don’t know how to tell us that they really don’t understand it. Your involvement at home can help us identify problem areas that need attention and concepts that we should focus on.
If you found this article helpful, please share it on social media or via email! Have you or your teacher come up with other tricks that work great for getting kids to practice? Share them in the comments below!