It doesn’t need to be this way. Learn from our mistakes.
Our kids have a lot going on in their lives: sports, art lessons, ballet, martial arts, you name it. For some parents, a musical instrument brought home from school could potentially be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We don’t want to bug our children to do yet another thing.
But the initial stages of learning an instrument is challenging, and without some knowledge of what is going on, your child may miss out on a very rewarding musical life, at least through high school if not beyond.
Give Your Child Ownership
If your child automatically takes out their instrument when they get home and starts practicing….congrats! You are the luckiest person ever, and you won the lottery. For the rest of us, our children need to learn that self motivation and determination through successful guided practice first.
Although you do not need to sit with your child every night and practice, you can go a long way towards helping to give them ownership over their own musical learning. Here are the first things you need:
- A music stand
- A chair
- A (semi-quiet) place for them to practice
- A designated time for them to spend 10 minutes practicing. Why only 10 minutes? It’s better than nothing, and more often than not, 10 minutes turns into 20, which then turns to 30. Get your child into the habit of playing his or her instrument daily and to a certain extent the practice will take care of itself.
It’s important to know that just because you need to remind your child to practice does not mean that they don’t want to practice or that they don’t want to play their instrument. Just as you don’t give your children the option of not doing homework, brushing their teeth, or eating, practice should not be optional. Even if that means you remind your child to do it every day. If I had a dime for every time I hear “I wish my parents didn’t let me quit my instrument”…
Learn about what makes your child tick. Perhaps first thing in the morning is a good time to practice (it is for me). Or perhaps right before dinner. Experiment and see what works.
Don’t let frustration (or even a tantrum) discourage you or your child. These are totally normal. All musicians, regardless of age, hit a wall from time to time. If the tantrum is that bad, put the instrument away. Otherwise, tell them to go back to something that is easier for them to play. That is a good time to point out that they had a hard time playing that as well, but they succeeded with practice. No problem is insurmountable!
Show genuine excitement when your child finally “gets it”! Always celebrate the little victories, and create small opportunities for performances for family members and friends. Make sure there is a positive home environment during practice time.
Finally, make sure you and your child know what and how they are supposed to practice. Every practice session should have a goal. Your child should be able to say “I am going to practice [piece or exercise] at half tempo and slowly increase the speed. I am going to give myself [X amount of time] to complete this.” Very clear assignments should come home with your student after each lesson or rehearsal.
Many instruments sound far from beautiful when played by a beginner, so get ready! Make your child feel that you are enjoying their music, and be sensitive about any “rawness” or imperfections. With just a little amount of time every day, your child will treasure the ability to play a musical instrument; a gift that can last a lifetime.