Should I make my kids practise…?
…Well sometimes, yes!
To round off our series focused on practising, we’re going to address something that pops up every now and again, and it is to do with a child’s practice motivation (or lack thereof).
While they might enjoy their lessons, learning piano, guitar or singing takes practice. We sometimes hear parents saying that they shouldn’t have to force their child to practise, and that they should want to practise – and to some extent this is true, but in reality it is a bit of both.
First of all, no matter how motivated your child, or how much they enjoy practising, there are going to be days when they need a little push. We’ll talk later about some motivational tactics to ensure the least amount of nagging is required, but the fact is sometimes as a parent you have to make your kids do things they might not want to do at the time (clean room, go to bed, do homework etc.).
Inevitably at some time or another, music practice will fall into this category – some days they aren’t going to feel like it, and that’s where you need to step in.
This is particularly the case with younger students and total beginners (of any age).
Give them a chance
Firstly, and this is a biggy, is the important issue of getting to a reasonable competency to be able to enjoy playing. For example, beginner guitar students have to get through the uncoordinated feeling of learning a new fine motor skill, as well as potentially uncomfortable fingers from fretting strings, before they can even play a melody or chord. There is no way to sidestep this, but the more practice, the quicker this phase passes. It not uncommon for self-taught adult, beginner guitarists to give up in the first month, claiming that they physiologically just ‘don’t have it’. Another way of saying they didn’t give their fingers a chance to get around the new demands.
Be persistent, and patient!
Learning an instrument is full of moments like this, where some new technique is posing problems, and particularly for younger students, it is down to the parents to keep encouraging and help them get through it. Not only is this a good lesson in terms of being persistent, but the musical rewards of learning the new technique will come, and as they progress they’ll get a profound sense of achievement.
We think it’s hugely important that students learn music they actually like, and although we can simplify arrangements to cater to all levels, to be able to play their favourite songs or pieces takes some degree of ability. You need to give them the chance to get ‘good enough’ to enjoy their instrument. When they start out, as well as on the ‘bad’ days, this means getting them to practise.
It is a good idea in general to incorporate practice into the daily routine. This is great for those periods when motivation is lacking. We’ve seen of a lot of success with students who do their practice before school, or at the very least at a specified time each day. As you’re probably aware, routines work really well with kids, and if 4pm is practice time, non-negotiable, you won’t find yourself having to nag, as this is simply ‘the rules’.
Motivation – the key to any kind of learning
Fundamentally, if someone doesn’t want to practise, it’s because they aren’t motivated. Conversely, if they are motivated, it is simply a case of feeding them the knowledge they must have(!).
Motivations can ebb and flow (gym membership? New year’s resolution, anybody?).
You need to help your child get through the ‘ebbs’.
Before long, their consistent practice will see them finding new reasons to be motivated: new songs to learn, performances, showing off a new skill… To keep with the analogy – this is the flow part.
Right, so let’s look at some practical ways to get musically motivated:
- Have practice goals! Not time limits! As we’ve said before, by having small goals, achievements abound and motivation soars. If your goal is ‘pass grade 1 exam’, it’ll be a long time before any achievement. Instead, think about daily/weekly/monthly goals, and don’t forget genuine, relevant praise!
- Performance can be a great motivator. While we have two recitals per year, it doesn’t mean you can’t set smaller ‘performances’. Fridays after dinner, Grandma’s next visit etc.
- For the younger learners: games! That’s how kids learn. And it’s fun. Your teacher can suggest some practice games, there are loads of apps as well as online music games.
- Find out what aspects your child enjoys most – some prefer learning pieces, others pop songs, some like mastering techniques and learning new scales, or maybe improvising and composing. Ask them, or observe what they do at their instrument when they ‘should be practising’. A well-rounded musical education is the goal, but students tend to favour some aspects over others. That’s fine.
- Learning the right stuff. If your kid wants to learn Justin Bieber instead of Beethoven, talk to your teacher about the repertoire. Very important! While some pieces (perhaps from a method book) might function as effective avenues to new techniques, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be learning music they enjoy as well.
- Go and see some live music! Take them to see something they like (a pop concert at Rod Laver Arena will leave them buzzing for months!). We’re lucky in that there is a lot of free music in Melbourne, and even if they aren’t into it, they’ll see you and everyone enjoying the music. This will show them how much enjoyment music can bring, and they’ll naturally want to be better at it.
- Exams aren’t for everybody, but for some they can provide a great incentive to practise.
Ok, so motivation is important, to say the very least. If you can work on finding out what motivates your child musically, they’ll thrive.
- You can’t expect anyone to be motivated all of the time, as a parent you need to get your child through these periods by reasonably enforcing regular practice. This is especially the case for younger learners (under 12), and total beginners.
- Set a regular time for practice, and soon it will be incorporated into the daily routine, just like brushing your teeth.
- Find out what motivates them, use the above motivational ‘tactics’ and the rest will follow.
If anyone wants to get in touch or add some ‘tactics’, please leave a comment!