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What to do when your child doesn't want to practice
Mom, I don't WANT to practice!
by Cherylann Bellavia, Music Educator
How many times have you heard this phrase from your child? When a child starts to learn an instrument, the experience is often treated as the new adventure it is; but after the first few weeks or months, the novelty can wear off and the child becomes distracted by other attention-grabbers like TV shows, playing with friends, and other things that don’t require sitting for 20-30 minutes for concentrated practice.
One thing I always stress to parents is to try and experiment with what works for your child. Sometimes having them sit for 15, 20 or 30 minutes at a time is like torture. It may not even be the sitting part that’s killing them and torturing you, it may be the lack of incentive as well. Here are my Top 10 Hints for dealing with practicing before -- or once -- it's gotten out of hand.
Top Ten Hints to Survive Practicing
- 1) Try breaking up the practice time into two segments each day. Have your child practice for 10 minutes before school and 10 minutes after dinner.
- 2) Come up with an incentive such as a quarter in a jar every time they practice. At the end of two weeks, let them spend their money at a store or to treat themselves to a fast food goodie.
- 3) Try a chart. If your teacher doesn’t all ready use one, create one at home listing the seven days of the week. Place a check mark, star, or sticker, and when the chart is full (I would say do this month-to-month), then give your child the chance to do something fun.
- 4) Sit with your child during practice time. Not only is this a great time to learn with them, but it keeps them on track.
- 5) If your child’s teacher is saying “you must practice 30 minutes a day,” try cutting it back a bit to something like 20 minutes--and do that for two weeks. Then add five more minutes on for another two weeks, and then the remainder of the time after that.
6) Have your child give you a concert at least once a month. Nothing builds up a child's confidence and makes him or her feel like an accomplished musician like having Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa there as an audience. Plan the “concert” ahead of time and tell your child that they need to practice their lesson and then pick out four of their favorite songs to play for their big day.
- 7) Balance out practice time with an activity you know she likes. Practicing DOES NOT have to be just playing your songs 3-5 times each. Integrate music flash cards, a book from the library about music, listen to some sort of classical or jazz music with your child and talk about the instruments you hear.
- 8) Let your child be the teacher for 10 minutes of practice time. Have them give YOU a mini lesson. You’d be surprised what you can learn from that little one!
- 9) DO NOT make practice time a yelling match or struggle of wills. Have you given thought to the fact that maybe your child just DOES NOT want to play that certain instrument? Sometimes kids like something but it’s not their “cup of tea.” They may be truly interested in other things such as dance, another instrument or sports. There ARE times when kids just need a break from the daily routine, but let them know that that break is for one day only and the next day they will have to add some time on to makeup for their missed practice the day before.
- 10) Teaching them commitment and following through: Developing a consistent routine for practicing teaches your child that once they start something, they need to see it through even if it’s just for a given amount of time. I often tell parents of new students that at the end of three months’ time, I will let them know if this is something the child really wants to pursue. With kids who are in junior high and high school, they are often distracted by friends and their social lives and school activities.
If your child has been playing for a few years, you may want to tell them that they need to be committed through the school year and you will stop lessons in June when the school year is over. For older high schoolers, I recommend switching their lessons to every other week as they are often bombarded with an overload of homework and activities. One week is not enough to practice and become proficient at a piece when you’re pulled in a lot of directions.
The BEST piece of advice I can give all parents is to stick with it. Be there to reinforce good practice habits. As teachers, we can only do so much reinforcing. It’s best to work as a team to help your child develop their talents and gifts. Praise them often even when they hit a few klinker notes!
Tips from KOA Readers!
Tip from the KOA Publisher: My daughter (Madison, the one pictured above) was having trouble practicing with good grace, which is what first inspired me to ask Cherylann to write this article. One thing that helped a lot was that I found a practice book with patriotic songs, ones she knows and likes to sing. So now I have her start her practice session with one of her favorite "American" songs, which gets her into the spirit of practicing. It was important that I get the book at exactly her level (neither too hard nor too easy).
Read on for more tips from KOA readers!
My son usually does not like practicing and had been threatening to quit the baritone after his first concert. I decided that I should video tape him playing it in case he really did quit. Also, when you're in a concert with other players, it is hard to hear your child's individual performance, so I told him that I wanted a video tape of just him performing. He was very eager to be video taped playing his instrument. He wanted to play his whole repertoire for me while I taped him. When he made a mistake, he wanted me to rewind the tape and let him do it over. He did decide to stay with music lessons after the first concert, so I plan on making periodic video tapes of him so that I can capture his musical progress over time. -Michele
Not every child is suited to every teacher. If your child complains about the lessons, be sure the problem isn't just a mismatch of teacher and student. Observe the lessons. Does the teacher rush the child through the lesson? Does s/he answer the child's questions? Does s/he take the child's musical style, preferences and personality into account? Does s/he challenge the child on the appropriate level at the appropriate time? If they enjoy the teacher and the lessons, they will be more motivated to practice. -Anonymous
If you have other ideas for getting kids to practice, please comment below!
© Cherylann Bellavia