Practice Makes Possible

Perhaps the biggest struggle with parenting a child learning an instrument is navigating practice time. I frequently hear from parents who worry that confrontations over practice time are causing undue amounts of stress and anxiety in the home. This is usually the main reason that a child will quit an instrument (“We’re not going to pay for lessons if you aren’t going to practice” is a pretty common refrain between parents and a child).

There’s no easy solution, but I’ve developed a few strategies to help alleviate the situation over the last twelve years of teaching music to children.

*You aren’t alone. One of my favorite stories to tell to parents comes from my mom. I started piano lessons at age 4 after a Christmas morning snafu. Apparently I communicated to Santa (and not my parents) that I wanted piano lessons more than anything in the world. Of course my parents had no idea I wanted lessons and quickly scrambled to address my tears. Like so many beginners, I loved the idea of taking piano lessons. Of course, as the years went on my interests changed and piano became much harder. My mom recalls that she thought arguments about practicing would “ruin our relationship.” I loved thinking about myself as a talented pianist, but I hated practicing. I dreaded lessons that I wasn’t prepared for and it caused me great anxiety. But I also learned the importance of putting in a little bit of work every day (instead of saving it all until the day before) and being properly prepared. I’m a professional musician now and frequently thank my mom for making me stick with it as long as I did. The point here is that you aren’t alone. There may be kids out there that love to practice and don’t need to be reminded, but they are certainly the exception, not the rule.

*Chipping Away. It’s very easy for your teacher to tell that you haven’t practiced between lessons. 9 out of 10 times my students will offer excuses and list the numerous activities and obligations that prevented them from practicing. I usually counter by asking them if they watched TV or played on electronics (they always have). I do this to let my students know that they can usually accomplish our practice goals by sitting down for 10 or 15 minutes per day. That will add up to over an hour of practice time for the week and exponentially increase both the progress and interest level in music lessons. Of course there are weeks when there simply isn’t enough time, and that’s ok. The goal is to make those weeks the exception.

*What’s the goal? Speaking of goals, I read a great article in the Sunday Times about how pursuing excellence has “corrupted the world of leisure” and hobbies. Basically the idea is that we throw ourselves into sports, music, dance, and other activities with expectations of mastery instead of simply enjoying ourselves. This certainly applies more to overworked and overstressed adults, but I think there’s a lesson for children. I have some seventh grade students that are facing high school tests, tons of school work, and religious studies this year. It might make sense to quit music lessons. However, it’s possible to work with your teacher to adjust expectations and goals. Taking a break from mastering the craft of an instrument and simply enjoying music can be a great way to avoid quitting and even renew interest. The biggest goal should be sticking with it.

I hope these tips help. If you are struggling with getting your child to practice please talk to me (or your teacher) and we can definitely work through it together.


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