Brr! Grab your coats and your pumpkin spiced beverages, it’s starting to get chilly outside! When the trees start turning yellow, pumpkin pie is for sale, and turkey is being advertised, we know we are approaching the time to be appreciative and thankful. Thanksgiving is right around the corner with winter fast approaching, which means Winter Recitals will be here before you know it too! In anticipation of our recitals, we all know our students need to be practicing their pieces before they perform, but how can you get your children to make the most of their practice time?
Perhaps you’ve noticed the dust gathering on the piano, guitar, or saxophone or maybe you are noticing infrequent and erratic attempts at practice. We know that no matter how excited your child is initially, there may come a point in time when your son or daughter simply doesn’t feel like practicing and it can be seen as a drab chore. Well no worries, we will be going over some strategies that you can try out at home to make practice more fun for you and your kids, and you’ll be thankful you did!
We also have a special practice challenge for all of you to try and complete at the end of this blog, so make sure you read all the way to the end!
#1. Don’t Make Practice Time an Obligation
We understand this one may seem a bit counterintuitive, right? After all, you’ve invested the money in an instrument and lessons, and you want your child to make the most of it. Plus, if they want to do well and see improvement, they need to practice!
However, the key here is to not make practice seem like an obligation when compared to other fun activities. For example, if they love to play video games or play outside, we normally wouldn’t allow them to do this until after completing practice. When you use a fun activity as a reward, it can create the mindset that practice is the obligation that stands in the way of the fun activity, thus creating resentment or dread for practice.
Instead, try not to set an arbitrary amount of practice time without specific goals, and don’t give rewards of playtime or video games afterwards. This will just reinforce the notion that playing their instrument is not fun and video games are.
#2. Let Them Take Control of Their Own Practice
We understand that practice can often be a drag and it’s no secret that when we’re told to do something, we don’t always want to do it. Throughout the week, there are several different people such as parents, teachers, older siblings, coaches, etc, telling your child what to do. When you add music to that list, it’s no wonder motivation seems to dwindle!
One way to combat this problem is by putting your child in control. Let them determine their practice schedule, that way they’re more likely to stick to it. Basically, you want them to make the decision for themselves that they need to practice so that they can play the way they want to play. After the decision is made, you can help them research and figure out how often a good musician practices. They can then set out to make a schedule based on the reality that, “to be good, one must practice!”
Not only will this allow them to feel a sense of control, it will also help them learn the value of practice as they should notice a difference for themselves when they do (and don’t!) follow through. But, I’m sure you’re wondering if they will actually stick with their plan enough day to day to make this work. That’s where you come in — you’ll have more weight in your reminder since it was your child’s desire to make the goal. Additionally, a reward should be given for accomplishing little goals. For example: ‘practice every night this week and we can grab some ice cream or you can go over to your friends house’. Try to reward the work!
We also have a great exercise below that you can try with your children to help both you and them understand why they may not be practicing and come up with ways to make it more enjoyable.
Try asking your child on a scale from 1-10 how much they want to practice.
If the child answers 3 for example, you can then point out that it’s not a 1 and inquire about why it isn’t and focus on the aspects of practice they do enjoy that way.
Then, you can ask what it would take to make it a 4 — they may come up with some easy ideas such as moving the piano to a more quiet, dedicated space that will make their practice time more productive and looked forward to. This requires your child to think creatively and to find their own ways to make practice more enjoyable, which definitely gives a sense of control that they will appreciate. It also builds a helpful skill that they can use later on in life to find ways to improve almost anything and be more independent thinkers!
Once you’ve made the change they thought of and their practice time rises to a 4 sometime when you ask again, rinse and repeat the above steps to get it to a 5, 6, 7, etc!
#3. Help Them Understand the Gift of Music
Show your child that playing a musical instrument is a special privilege and an opportunity that may not be available to everyone. You can teach them to appreciate music, what it has to offer, and how it can be a tool to enhance their life. This may include helping your child develop their interest into a love for music. You can take them to concerts or shows, play music at home, and help them discover what they like. If you have the time, you can even try learning an instrument alongside them as well. Sometimes just having music be a daily part of life in the home by singing silly songs with them in the car or using music to enhance family game night can make a big difference!
Many adults wish they had stuck with a hobby or endeavor they started as a child, like playing a musical instrument. While this can be a difficult concept for young kids to grasp, teaching them to appreciate music can help them understand for themselves why practice is important and the value that musical talent brings to society.
#4. Let Them Choose their Instrument
Even though you loved playing a particular instrument when you were young, it doesn’t mean your child will love playing it just as much. Your child may have other interests, and it’s important to allow them to explore different endeavors. This will work in your favor since they most likely will want to practice their instrument of their own accord since it is something they themselves are interested in and passionate about.
If an instrument is thrust upon them, practicing it will also be thrust upon them. Letting your child choose the instrument turns this on its head, and into your favor, even if they didn’t choose the instrument you would have liked them to play. We know that many parents want their children to start with piano because it provides such a solid foundation for other music avenues they might pursue later. While that’s true and there’s nothing wrong with starting with piano, if the child is more interested in guitar for example, you might find their interest in learning an instrument in general tends to fade if you make them start with piano first and it’s not as fun or fulfilling for them. The concept of something being good for them in the long run even if it’s not fun right away is much more easily grasped by an adult than a child. You can always add piano in later once they understand how helpful it may be for them to achieve their music goals. But especially for young kids, start with something they love, whatever that may be, so that you can build a joy in music that can last a lifetime!
#5. Become their Cheerleader
Let your child know you’re their biggest fan, especially early on or whenever they may feel frustrated or discouraged. Try listening to your child at home as often as you can and make encouraging remarks about their progress.
Also, make sure to ask them how their lessons went! One great thing you can do is to have them take 5-10 minutes every week to show or explain to you what they learned in their lesson. This is a great way to help them summarize what they’ve learned and better their retention, and it also helps you keep track of their progress while still letting your child feel in control. If you take a genuine interest in your child’s musical journey, they will be excited to play for you and show off new skills!
Learning to play an instrument is a long journey full of peaks, valleys, and plateaus. While you’ll definitely be proud when you watch your child perform, it’s important to celebrate the little victories along the way, and support them through the hard parts too.
While verbal praise is important, you may also want to create another way to celebrate achievements; you can try keeping a journal of their accomplishments. When you put it in writing, you’re less likely to forget. If journaling isn’t your thing, you can try keeping a white board on the fridge, or make a chart that you can display in the house!
Celebrating the little victories will help your child keep a positive attitude when they’re struggling or having difficulty tackling a new concept or song.
#6. Create Challenges for Them or Turn Practice Into a Game
There’s nothing better than a good ole’ game or a befitting challenge. Creating unique games to encourage your kids to practice can be a great way to make practice time something to look forward to. Coming up with crafty ways to beat the boredom is the key to completely changing how kids see practice time. Down below, you can find some examples of games that families have used in the past to successfully get their kids to enjoy practicing at home.
Buy some dried beans and some sparkly paint and then start painting the beans, be sure to make them as colorful and pretty as possible. Then you can pay your kids in beans for practicing. Maybe you can have each quarter-hour of practicing worth a certain number of beans, and each child could save, exchange, or spend their beans as they like. You can incorporate a list of prizes for special treats, toys, or even real currency. The beauty of this is that it can be tailored to each child's needs and each family's budget and priorities!
Put three pennies on the left side of your music stand. On a troublesome measure, you play it once, and if you get it right, you move the penny to the right side of the stand. If you play it again and get it right, you put the next penny on the right side of the stand. If 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 can also be customized so that you can use more pennies, or quarters instead, etc. so that it’s a motivating reward for your particular student.
Here’s a picture below of a parent who went all out and actually created an awesome board game for their children’s practice time - clearly there’s room to be as creative as you’d like to be here!
If games aren’t your child’s thing, rather than just telling them to just practice for an arbitrary amount of time, you can also help them set specific goals and challenges instead. This will help them progress faster because they’ll work on accomplishing specific tasks or mastering particular skills versus just meeting a certain practice time quota that may or may not have actually been productive. This concept is very powerful and can be applied to any instrument.
This would definitely be a different take on traditional ‘practice time’ if they’re used to just playing their instrument for a certain amount of time each day, so try to give them bite-sized, clear challenges to complete. For example…
Work out a fingering for measures 24-35.
Gradually speed up section B to 85bpm.
Be able to play the left hand of the coda from memory.
And so on…
Of course, rewarding your children for completing challenges just like you might for the games is a great way to give incentive for doing them as well! Sometimes older children in particular will react better to incentives than to games, so try seeing what works best for you and your family. If you reinforce these ideas with some of the previous points such as being their cheerleader, you can have really positive results.
Remember to have fun with your child during practice and show genuine interest in their musical journey, no matter where they are at in it! Your positive energy will rub off on them. Make practice time something your children can look forward to and there is nothing that they won’t be able to overcome!
Before we end this blog, we have our own goal-based practice timeline challenge below that we'd like to invite all of our students to try and complete before this year’s Winter Recitals. Let us know if you give it a shot, and good luck! We know you’ll do great.
Timeline Practice Challenge
Three weeks before their performance…
Students should be able to play their pieces accurately and up-to-tempo. There most likely will be a few small things to polish, but overall their music should flow comfortably and sound like the intended piece. This is also a great time to start working on any areas in their music that might need a bit more polish. Students can try to crack down on these spots separately at each practice session. Recording themselves playing and listening to it back can be a great way to solidify any remaining weak spots in their pieces.
If students are performing from memory, they should be able to comfortably play their music by memory from start to finish without any major memory mistakes. Make sure they are practicing their music in multiple ways over the next few weeks to test for secure memorization. Slow practice from memory, playing hands separately from memory, starting from memory in several different spots in the music, and thinking through the piece away from their instrument are all great ways to test their memory.
Students should also practice getting into character and “performing” their music cold, without an extensive warm-up. Doing this at random times throughout the week will help students get quickly into “performance mode” and replicate what to expect at an actual performance.
Two weeks before their performance…
We’ll need to request help from some friends and family! Try to encourage your students to do at least two practice performances for family members or friends. Having students record themselves performing their pieces is also a good way to get them the performance experience.
You can even help students get more comfortable playing through distractions. Turn on the TV, walk around the room, cough… replicate sounds your students might hear in an actual performance setting and see if they can stay focused and keep playing.
One week before their performance…
This week, students should practice doing a dry run of their performance, both in lessons and at home. Students who are playing in a recital should practice walking “on stage,” performing, and taking a bow. Replicating the performance experience will give them confidence and help with stage fright.
If students are wearing any special attire (for example, a fancy dress, a suit jacket, or new shoes) they should try practicing a couple of times at home wearing these items. They should make sure they can play comfortably and have a full range of motion—there is nothing worse than buying a nice new recital outfit and then finding out that you can’t move your arms comfortably as you are on stage performing!
The night before or day of their performance…
Remind students to get a good night’s sleep so they are well-rested and ready to perform. Students might enjoy taking a walk or another form of gentle exercise to help with any pre-performance jitters, but don’t tire them out too much! Keep it light and calming.
As their performance time approaches, remind students to breathe and relax. It is totally normal to be a bit nervous; just remind students that they are well-prepared, and everyone in the audience is rooting for them! Ask students to take a few deep breaths and to visualize themselves having fun and giving a great performance.
Then it’s time for them to go out and “break a leg!”
After their performance…
Now that they’ve finished their performance, giving them positive affirmation of how they did can really mean a lot. Then going out to celebrate their hard work will really go a long way and boost their confidence for future performances to come!
Here's a fun infographic below of the challenge that you can download on your phone to keep on hand and track your students' progress with!