When they first started lessons, their fingers were itching to strike the keys. But now the hard work has started. School and extra-curricular activities are piling up and its a struggle to get them to practice even once a week. Never fear! Here are some tried and true strategies for reigniting your young ones passion for playing and singing.
1. Have a reward system in place. Some kids are really motivated by a star/sticker chart or other token system of encouragement. At DoRayMi we use stars to reward kids for practice and respectful lesson behavior so feel free to tie this in at home.
2. Got a wiggle worm on your hands? Sometimes we have to repeat certain measures for mastery on piano or other instrument. This can be tedious, but it is necessary for many songs to become performance-ready. If your son or daughter is having difficulty with this, encourage him or her to get up every couple of times playing a section and do a silly dance or have a jumping competition together. Many kids will end up laughing through this and it will dispel any frustration and boredom.
3. Have timer in place. Not always my favorite method because quality of practice is always better than quantity, but some kids are really beholden to the timer and structure. This is especially true, in my experience, with children on the ASD spectrum who are taking lessons. Consider setting the timer in short intervals and sitting down with your child to explain the structure of the practice time. For example, you might say “I’m setting the timer for five minutes. During this time we will work on your scales on the piano. Then the timer will go off and it will be time to set it for another five minutes, during which we will work on the left hand for your song.” Many kids may also like to set the timer themselves. Once it is set, take it out of sight so that they can focus. When you have lessons with your teacher make sure you ask for clear structured assignments for your child so you know how to structure practice sessions.
4. Quality and frequency over quantity. Always. Kids should practice everyday of the week. Yes, everyday. It doesn’t need to be long at all. New students shouldn’t need to practice more than 10 mins a day, more advanced students can practice for 20 or 30 minutes a day. The brain learns best from frequency, short, effective practice sessions. 2 hours on a Sunday night does not make up for a missed week of practice! It usually does end with tears though! Keeping the practice session short keeps kids interested and focused. Repeated sessions trains muscle coordination needed to improve their skill level.
5. Talk about goals. This is a great idea to get on the same page with you, your child and your child’s teacher about their long-term goals with lessons. Ask your child why he or she was interested in taking lessons in the first place. Then ask what he or she hopes to accomplish in the future with lessons. This might be a skill or a certain song. Then talk together and with your teacher about how you might work together to see this goal completed. Sign it together so you can all be held accountable. Consider keeping a written page of your child’s goals on the wall above the piano.
6. Be involved. The best thing you can do as a parent, is to be involved in your kids lessons, especially if your child is just starting or is very young. Try to spend time sitting down with them and encouraging them as much as you can. If you are taking lessons yourself, keep your practice and lesson commitments to show your child that you are taking lessons seriously, and they should too. If you aren’t taking lessons and you have a young child (4-6 especially), consider asking the teacher for a thorough explanation of your child’s assignments so you can help them at home.
7. Try a practice journal. This works well with older kids especially. Have your child write down the things they believe they are doing well, need to improve on and questions that come up each practice session. Take time to discuss it together and with your child’s teacher. This way they will begin to be more independent during practice sessions and develop theories on their own about how to improve.
8. Tears and tantrums during practice sessions? If your child is feeling frustrated, let them switch activities and cool down. Going outside, dancing to music or having a snack will give them a break. The brain cannot learn as effectively when it is flooded with cortisol. Let them know you will return to the piano in 20 mins when they are feeling calm. Write down any questions you cannot answer to give to your teacher.
9. Listen to lesson recordings together. This will remind you and your child what he or she was supposed to be working on this week. It will also give you an idea of any strategies your teacher may have used in lessons to encourage their progress, or difficulties your child may be having. Be sure to offer plenty of praise. You can also ask older kids and teens about their experience of what they felt they did well or needed to improve on during lessons.
10. Feeling overbooked? Look over your child’s schedule with them and come up with “standing dates” for practice. For example, Monday at 4:30 might work because your child is back from school and had a snack at this point. It does not have to be the same time every week. Try to post this schedule somewhere visible so that you can all be held accountable and avoid day-before-lesson panic.
11. Channel your child’s creativity. At DoRayMi we are fully committed to this idea. Children usually learn well through visual and movement experiences. So if that means painting a picture of the bass clef memory trick or marching around the room while singing Colonel Haithi’s march from jungle book, embrace the silly.
12. Watch/listen/attend music experiences together. Is your child into musicals? Consider splurging on a birthday trip to NYC to see their favorite live. If that’s too decadent, watch one together on Netflix. Check out some documentaries on composers from Handel to John Williams. Learn together.
Every child is different and some of these strategies will work better than others for encouraging kids to practice. Don’t be afraid to develop your own and try them out.