How to Get Kids to Practice Their Instruments
My girls’ wonderful flute teacher sent me this link and also weighs in as both a parent and teacher on how to get kids to practice their musical instrument. I don’t know about your experience, but I found that it’s the rare child who will practice his or her instrument consistently without constant prodding and nagging. My younger sister, who is now a piano teacher, studied classical at a rigorous studio that included monthly performances and many, many competitions. Despite this pressure to perform, she wasn’t a kid who liked to practice. I think the reasons are many:
- It’s lonely.
- It’s like homework.
- There’s no audience.
- It makes your brain tired.
- It’s frustrating when you get stuck on something and have no one to get immediate assistance.
- You’d rather play.
- Correcting parts of a piece that you’ve learned incorrectly is frustrating and repetitive.
- Learning a new, difficult piece is slow and tedious.
I completely understand that it’s work to learn to play an instrument. On the other hand, mom and dad are paying a small fortune in private lessons.
We are having better luck with practicing once my girls switched, after many years, from piano to flute. At first it was nirvana. They practiced eagerly for weeks to earn stickers and prizes from their teacher. As they progressed, the music got harder thus the time spent practicing went up. And now it’s more of a struggle to incorporate practicing into a daily routine. So when my flute teacher sent me this enewsletter, I immediately zoned in on the article on practicing. Here it is. And here’s the link to this excellent blog, GreenRoom.FromTheTop.org, which showcases the preeminent showcase for the nation’s best young classical musicians.
p.s. What seems to be working for us is:
- A set practice time. For us, it’s immediately after dinner.
- An audience of one. My kids want me to listen to them practice. I don’t always have time, but I try to carve out “audience time” for them. My flute teacher would recommend that I listen to them practice daily.
- Encouragement, praise, and pointing out how far they’ve come.
p.p.s. That cute little boy is my flute teacher’s son when he was six. Here’s the link to the post from GreenRoom. FromTheTop.org on Musical Beginnings. Josh is now in post-graduate school for music performance. Expect to see him performing as a professional cellist with an orchestra soon!
Welcome to our third installment of the Parents’ Perspective – a mini blog series for parents, by parents, to lend advice, share stories, and more about raising musical children. You can also read past posts on music resources and musical beginnings.
Today’s topic is on practicing: How’d you get your kids to do it? What schedule worked best for you? Was it easy or difficult to get your child to practice? We received a wealth of feedback from parents, and also had guest blogger and piano teacher Maria Rainier weigh in. Enjoy!
A structured practice schedule is helpful!
Roberta McGuire says: “On weekdays, when people have to rise early for work the next day, finishing practicing before 10pm at the latest worked best in our household. Sometimes, Patrick would practice in between the starting of other subjects’ homework – Practicing seemed to serve as a break from the homework.”
Susie Wuest remembers “Eric would race home from school to practice then and often again after supper. I think he was bored in school, and the violin presented him with a challenge. Eric was very athletic and liked to be busy — gymnastics, tennis, baseball, or just playing with friends. I always made sure that time was saved for practicing everyday.”
Barbara Nakazawa says “For the young musician a calendar with a sticker reward chart shows a visual form of success. After a certain number of stickers the student receives some type of reward. In my studio I have a prize box. If it is your child, perhaps going out for ice cream, a movie, or a little toy that they are looking for may be more suitable. Always remember that happy and proud is the bottom line. As a parent your job is to help make practicing joyful and fun. Laughter is ok too!”
Barbara is a flute teacher in Massachusetts. For more information on her studio, please visit www.newtonfluteteacher.com
Charlotte Kufchak used a creative and unique approach when it came to maintaining practice schedules: “We bought two sizes of dried beans and some sparkly paint. We had a lot of fun making the beans as colorful and pretty as possible. Then we paid the kids in beans for practicing. It was great – we never ran out of ‘cash’.
Each large bean was equal to 10 small beans. (There were some math lessons in there too). Each quarter-hour of practicing was worth a certain number of beans. Each child could save, exchange, or spend their beans as they liked – we had a list of prizes. Examples were special treats, legos, $5 deposit in their bank account, a symphony concert. The beauty of it is that it can be tailored to each child’s needs, each family’s budget and priorities. And, the kids were willing to practice!”
Guest blogger/piano teacher Maria Rainier advises: “Having mid-year and end-of-year recitals can be a huge motivator for practicing. Students get excited about performing for family and friends, which means that they’re happy to practice more and make the big moment even more impressive. Just make sure that your students aren’t too nervous and that they don’t try to put in excessive practice hours just before the recitals. Practice burn-out makes recital performances flop and discourages students, contributing to the idea that practice doesn’t increase success. It always helps to talk to your students about their feelings and apprehensions before recitals.”
Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching areas of online degree programs. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.
The Suzuki Approach
Judy Merritt has had great success with the Suzuki approach: “The practice went through phases because it was a Suzuki approach, which requires active parent involvement on all levels. That means that when both Ted and Emma started music at age 4, every Saturday was a full morning of Solfedge, Eurhythmics, private and group lessons, and performances at the end of a semester at City Music Center at Duquesne University. Every evening was practice that we structured as parents until Ted and Emma were around 12, at that point they took over.”
Other Words of Advice
Roberta McGuire: The desire to improve needs to come from the child and can’t be forced. The best thing a parent can do to be supportive is to relax, support the child the best they can with a practice space, the materials they need and let the private teacher set the expectations and ground rules. If you try to force them to practice, the extra stress will only discourage them. A better strategy is to let the private teacher do the “heavy lifting”.
Vicky Robbins says, “Since my son (Sean Robbins) plays traditional Hawaiian slack-key guitar, his teachers were very flexible, informal and encouraging. He would learn new repertoire then practice on his own until he became more comfortable playing the pieces he’d learned.Performing at informal gatherings was also a way to become more skilled, while at the same time improving his comfort level in front of an audience. (Something that came in handy for his From the Top appearance!)”
Barbara Nakazawa: “I teach a practicing method called “the three penny practice.” (Be sure to have a jar of pennies in your possession.) You put three pennies on the left side of the stand. On a troublesome measure that you are “practicing” you play it once and if you get it right, you put the penny on the right side of the stand. You play it again and get it right, you put the next penny on the right side of the stand. You play it again and miss a note or rhythm, then all three pennies get put to the left. You must play the measure correctly three times in a row in order to keep the pennies. The next step is to connect the troublesome measure to the measure before it and continue playing. This teaches a student how to practice and not just simply play through something once.
Maria Rainier: “Warming up is an important part of practicing and should be the first thing on each week’s assignment sheet. For example, you might have a set of index cards with different warm-ups written on them for students to choose when they come in for their lessons. Many students enjoy having a role in their own instruction, so allowing them to pick a card from the stack makes all the difference. You can easily copy the cards from your studio and send some home with your students for their daily practice warm-ups. This establishes consistency between home and the studio, helping students to feel both more serious and more comfortable about their practice sessions.”