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Motivating your Child to Practice: Tips for parents

Learning to play a musical instrument well requires practice. The student who relies on “talent” alone will not reach the level of success and personal fulfillment achieved by those who practice consistently.

You wouldn’t want to learn to play an instrument poorly, would you? But, maybe you just want your child to “have fun”. Well, it doesn’t have to be mediocre to be “fun”. In fact, mediocre won’t be fun at all.

Forcing your child to practice doesn’t result in musical progress and instead creates negativity around learning. So what’s a parent to do?

Provide the time for your child to practice. Establish a dedicated time daily, and make this practice time as important as other commitments. Note the time of day that your child is at his/her best: Effective practice takes physical, mental and emotional energy. When a child is tired, practice can become frustrating and unproductive. Experiment with varying the practice time - morning before school, right after school, or evening and see what works best for your child. Have your child keep their own written weekly schedule of activities and include practice time in the schedule.

Set up a dedicated space for effective and efficient practice. Remove distractions that affect your child’s ability to focus: An optimal practice environment is quiet - turn off TV, computer, cell phone, etc. Siblings or parents doing other activities in the practice area while a student is practicing is distracting - dedicate the space to practice during practice time. Many students feel self-conscious when a parent or sibling is listening to them practice. Leave the student alone (and listen from another room). Setting up a special place for practice indicates the value of practice and the value of music making in general.

Have all supplies ready in the practice room. Instrument, music, music stand and proper chair (discuss specifics with the teacher), metronome, pencil, reeds, cork grease, swab and other items specific to the instrument. Having all supplies ready in the practice area will help avoid procrastination and interruptions during practicing. I recommend keeping all supplies together in a tote bag that can be easily picked up and brought to lessons. Don’t forget proper lighting and room temperature!

Aim for quality, not quantity of practice. The amount of time for each practice sessions depends on a number of factors including age, level of ability and musical goals. A short focused practice session is more effective than a longer un-focused session. Some students need to take short breaks during practice (getting up and moving around) to regain focus. A short practice session is better than no practice session. However, students auditioning for district/state bands or other competitions are going to have work harder to be successful.

Encourage your child by noting improvements, even the small ones. Progress usually does not happen on a steady incline. More often, a student progresses through a series of peaks and plateaus. Parent do not need to supervise each practice session. Instead, review the current assignment with your child shortly after the lesson. At the end of the practice week, ask your child to play for you - praise the “good music” you hear from your child and leave the “critiquing” to the teacher.

Motivate your child by listening to music together. Ask the teacher for guidance in selecting music to listen to - recordings of specific performers playing pieces that the child is currently working on or aspires to learn someday. Take your family to a live professional performance or even an advanced student ensemble performance. Encourage your child to listen to other children play - at student recitals or informal musical gathering. With the teacher’s guidance, explore possibilities of auditioning for community ensembles and competitions.

Consistency is key to progress. As your child’s skills improve, so will their self-esteem and self-motivation.

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