Practising instruments is the less-glamorous part of becoming a rock god, classical pianist or a social media star! Here’s one expert’s advice on how to get kids to keep at it until they’re virtuosos!
It often comes as a big surprise to my students and their parents, when I tell them that I didn’t enjoy practising piano as a child. I spent many hours in tears and tantrums, begging my Mother to let me get off the piano stool and go outside and play.
Don’t get me wrong, Mum certainly was not asking for anything much but let’s face it, why would you want to practise an instrument when there are a whole bunch of other fun things to be doing?
At about age 16, I decided that music was what I wanted to do with my life so decided I would quit complaining and get on with it. So many parents say to me, ‘we are considering giving up piano, they just don’t practise’. To be honest with you, that is very normal! It takes a rare child to discipline themselves to practise every day without being asked. If you have one of those children, you are lucky.
Practising instruments: Some tips to help
1. Be the leader
Until a child leaves Primary School, you need to monitor their practice, remind them to do it and be there for them. Even if it is just to watch them or read what their teacher has written in their notebook. Do not use practice as a bargaining tool, it is something that is expected to be done like brushing their teeth.
2. Record before and after
Record your children when they are just learning a new piece and record again later when they have mastered it. They will hear the difference in their playing and be proud of themselves and their achievements.
3. Make practice goal focussed (not time focussed)!
Practice should not be time-focussed but goal-focussed. It doesn’t matter for how long they practice. Just get them working on a goal, such as ‘let’s work on bars three and four until we get them right’ or ‘let’s see if we can add all the dynamics (louds and softs) to this piece by the end of the practice’.
4. Focus on the tricky bits
Practising is not playing a piece all the way through. Good practising is focussing on the tricky sections of a piece and getting them right. Work on small parts that the children are having troubles with. It is much too disheartening for them to play the piece over and over again.
5. Play Games
Practice should be fun. Line up some M&M’s in front of you. When your child gets something right, push one over to their side. If it is not right, keep it yourself. If it is not quite there, leave it in the middle and let them have another shot. When you have done about eight turns, let them eat what is in front of them. You will be surprised how much they love these sorts of games.
6. Everyone learns differently
Remember everyone learns in a different way. If they are having trouble with a section, they may need to sing it, clap it, write it down or stomp it around the room. Just playing it over and over again will end in tears if they are not getting better.
7. Have a visual reward
Have a visual representation of how much practice they have done. Whether that is a sticker chart or even putting a marble in a jar every time they practise, if they see what they have done they will be very proud of themselves.
8. Celebrate achievements!
Celebrate their achievements. It is very easy to point out what they are doing wrong. Make sure you point out what they are doing right too!
9. Have fun
Anything that is fun will motivate your child. Keep it light, if they are losing concentration walk away and try again later. Just enjoy your time together and appreciate how much learning is taking place. Remember, learning an instrument is hard work!