Teaching your child music is both a dully important and daunting task. With great reward comes great responsibility for parents. After heavily weighing the options for instrument and teacher, then comes the practice routine. The daily grind of begging, bribing and tears for many can wear on a parent’s resolve to keep their children immersed in music. So, just HOW do you get your child to practice piano without tears or fights?
The answer is not simple. Oftentimes, parents will resort to the same methods that their parents used to “encourage” them to practice but these failed attempts from their own childhood will propagate the same cycle. So, to make everyone’s lives easier, we give you a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for encouraging your child to practice piano.
DO make practice time a part of everyday routine.
Ensure that your child sees practice time as a normal and ritual. Including practice daily will build a positive habit that is hard to break. Daily practice should be as much a part of your routine as breakfast. Find a time that works best for your family. This may not always be after school or in the evening. Many parents find that children are tired or cranky after school. Some encourage kids to practice piano in the early morning when their minds are most sharp. Others, use practice as an unwinding time before bed time.
Do whatever works best for your family’s schedule. Track your child’s progress on chart that is visible to the entire family. Encourage everyone to brag on the student. Download a great practice chart here.
DON’T dictate a designated amount of time for practice.
Far too many parents receive the “advice” from teachers to make it a mandatory 30-minute practice time daily. Who is to say though, that 15 minutes of excited practice isn’t better than 40 minutes of begrudged tamping on the keys. Forcing a set amount of practice time can make the task seem like something to be endured instead of enjoyed.
DO allow your child to “play” sometimes in lieu of practice.
Teaching your children to enjoy the music they are learning is so very important. While they do need to learn music technique and to read music, allowing them to be creative will keep them engaged and interested. Some children enjoy writing their own music. Others just want to be able to play a popular song they hear on the radio. Whatever your child’s choice, allow them to have a say in what they play.
DON’T let discouragement dictate.
It is perfectly normal for children to feel discouraged during piano practice times. Do not allow their frustration to heighten your senses. Encourage them to take a break when practicing if discouragement rears its ugly head. Sit with your child and let them play something that they feel they have mastered. Give them ample praise as they do and remind them that soon, they will have conquered the frustrating piece and it will feel great when they do.
DO not feel bad about using bribes.
If you are above bribery, then you haven’t been a parent for very long! Creating a reward system for practice time and achievements will allow you child to track their own progress. Additionally, it will help them have something to strive for other than warm fuzzies of playing a piece. Children are well motivated by items or experiences that they love. Don’t be above bribery to get your child on the right track.
Don’t be afraid to get creative when motivating your student.
Include “games” into practice time to make it more appealing. Set 5-10 pennies, M&M’s, or other small trinkets to the side. Each time a goal is met, reward the child with one penny or piece. Every time the student plays the passage wrong, the child must give up all of the reward items and earn them back by playing more. Check out this list of practice games.
DO set practice goals.
Avoid practice goals being set in minutes. Set the achievement for something such as playing the 6 measures without any mistakes. When given expectations by a teacher, evenly divide these into easily achievable daily goals. Daily goals can include things like playing scales or skills building for various techniques. The cumulative effect of reaching these goals will be encouragement that fuels your child’s desire to continue.
DON’T make deals for practice time.
Children will try to “bargain” away their piano practice time if you let them. How many times have you heard “I will practice double tomorrow!” only for tomorrow to come and the deal is forgotten. Beyond this, it is better to practice steady, even increments daily vs large spurts with days in between. Allowing this gives children the idea that practice is negotiable and sets a precedent that you do NOT want to deal with long term.
DO be enthusiastic and engaged.
Join your child during piano practice time at least one time per week. Review the expectations and talk with your child about their feelings toward practice and their goals. Get excited with your child as they reach milestones and master their pieces. Give them extra gratification and praise every time they complete a practice or goal without complaint.
DON’T raise your voice.
The surest way to discourage a child from practicing is to yell. Raising your voice escalates the tension and insecurity in practice time. Do your best to remain calm. Children can sense your tension so as yours rises, so do theirs.
DO lead by example.
If you yourself play the instrument you are encouraging your child to learn, practice piano with them. Show them that even when you “know” what you are doing, you still need to practice. Let them see you enjoying your own practice time to encourage the same for their own.
The last and final “DO” to our list is – DO what works for your child. We can give you never ending advice but the final deciding factor on any routine is your child. You know them best. If your child is motivated by praise, then over praise them. If your child would do anything for a piece of candy, bribery is your best tool. If your child needs less stringent “practice” make it fun and games. Provided your child is excelling and moving forward you are on the right track to instilling in your child a lifelong love of music!