Tips For Parents of Children Learning to Play a Musical Instrument

Background

As a parent and teacher of many children, I've seen children vary widely in their motivation to practice.   Some do it willingly and come prepared every week to their lessons.  Others struggle to practice regularly.

Parents can do a lot to help children who struggle with rehearsing.   Each child is different; therefore,  the points below present a list of possible ways of encouraging children to pick up their instrument and play between lessons.    In my experience with my own children, I've had to try a number of methods to encourage my children to practice -- some will work immediately, some will not.   Methods that work with one child, don't always work with another.

The idea is to try different things that match the personality of your children, without turning music into a burden or something unpleasant.  Here are a few things that have worked for me.

1.  Provide unexpected reward for practicing

If your child practices more than they usually do, then follow up with an unexpected reward.  For example, let's say your son never practices without being reminded, but one day picks up his instrument and starts playing it.  When he's finished, follow up immediately with a statement like this:

"Because you practiced so well, would it be OK if I took you out for dinner this evening?". 

My favorite is to pull from a bag of dollar-store items whenever my children show an improvement in their practicing, making sure they know it's because they practiced their instrument.

You can also give rewards in the form of affection, thanks, or making them a special meal -- the reward doesn't have to cost anything to be effective; it just needs to be important to your child -- you know what they value the most.  Also, there may well be things you do with your child that cost money -- odd toys here and there, going out to dinner etcetera --  I will often attach these things to the music practicing so the reward doesn't require any extra budget.

One thing though -- it's important for the reward to be unexpected; otherwise, your child will expect you to give them something every time they practice.   Naturally, you don't want to be placed on that treadmill....so unexpected reward, given spontaneously, and occasionally AFTER they practice can motivate your child to play, without obligating you to regularly "pay for performance".

2.  Request a performance before granting a request from your child

When my son or daughter ask me to do something inconvenient, or to take them somewhere, I will often agree, provided they play a song for me.     A typical conversation will go "Dad, can you take me down to the park so I can play?  My answer -- "Sure, but I need you to play me the Theme from Spiderman a couple times before we go".

3.  If they play the guitar or ukelele/soprano guitar, leave it out so it's accessible for spontaneous playing

I notice my son and daughter will play their instruments spontaneously for long periods of time if the instrument is available on impluse.  Our son's soprano guitar is never in its case unless we're transporting it somewhere.  It's always out in the open where he can spontaneously pick it up and play it.  Also, we have more than one soprano guitar so he can be reminded to pick it up in different rooms of the house.   There's a soprano guitar in his bedroom, and also in our music room, and sometimes in the living room.

4.   Incorporate music into family meetings

It's part of the DNA of our home life that if we have a family meeting or game of some kind, someone has to play a song.   At first they grumbled, but now they just do it willingly.  This gives them yet another opportunity to play.

5.  Prepare your children to play for friends and family

When we have people over, we always invite them to listen to a music selection from our children, depending on their interest.  Some people see it as an inconvenience, but grandparents and family members seem to enjoy it. 

As their teacher, I have other "helps" to encourage your children to practice, such as beads they string onto their guitar case, as well as other smaller incentives, as well as parent sign-off sheets for when children practice regularly between lessons.

 

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