While there are certainly many benefits to music lessons for children, getting them to practice their instruments isn’t always the easiest task. Samantha D., one of our Rock Star teachers who frequently works with young children, sent us the following list of her best tips and tricks for encouraging children to practice.
— In my experience, the responsibility of practicing relies strongly on the parents until the child is in middle school. Before then, children do not have the capacity to send themselves to their instrument to study for a set period of time. Most young children, if excited and confident, will sit down and play their instrument but will tend to “noodle,” not focusing on what was taught in the previous lesson. Parents must encourage and direct their children to spend time practicing and oversee what they are practicing with gentle reminders. If pushed too hard and forced to practice, the child will no longer see music as fun, but rather as a chore to add to the list.
– Have the parents sit down with their child and look at the family schedule. Involving the child when scheduling practice time will go a long way and help them feel like they are part of the decision. Keep in mind that practicing in smaller increments throughout the day is much easier on small children than forcing them to sit still for one hour.
– I find that setting a timer does not always work with kids; they will end up not practicing what they should for a majority of the time because they are just waiting for the buzzer to go off. Instead, I suggest that the parents have them play the song a set number of times during each practice session. It is a fine balance that parents will struggle with, but pays great rewards in the end.
– It is mostly the teacher’s job to create the desire for the child to practice. Music should be fun and rewarding - not a chore. So if the child is eager to improve and eager to impress their teacher, practice time will naturally happen. Teachers should create an environment that feels safe to the student and promotes confidence.
– Rewards are an excellent way to encourage practicing. However, there is a fine line between reward and a bribe. A bribe is used to persuade the child to do something they really don’t want to do, while a reward is used to encourage good behavior. Stickers have always been the prize of choice, but I go one or two steps farther. I use a regular sticker when we have finished a song, but if the child has worked extra hard on a more difficult song, I have ‘special’ stickers that I give out. I also set goals with each of my students; when they reach a goal that we have set early on and check regularly, they may choose a prize from a basket of items from the Dollar Store. They know that if they do not put in the time to not even bother asking for a sticker, let alone a prize.
– My last incentive that I am just starting to incorporate is a points chart. Let the children race each other to see who can accumulate the most points by the end of the semester. Points are awarded for good behavior, listening, sight reading and theory, as well as practice times. I encourage the parents to also have an incentive chart at home so the child can keep track separately from me and have an extra reward. Most parents are happy to do so, as they want to see their child succeed just as much as I do!
– As a teacher, it is my job to keep my students excited about every step forward, no matter how small. Concerts are another way to create a sense of accomplishment. Kids LOVE to perform for their peers and are not put off because another student played the same song or they are not at the same level as another student. Another idea I am working on incorporating is “Day of the Week” concerts favored by Suzuki method teachers. During one week every month or semester, students from each day’s lessons will play for each other. Then they are constantly working toward a performance, rather than waiting 6 months in between concerts.
– The best thing you can do for a young child is to encourage them every step of the way. They will put all of their effort in to playing their best for you if they know that you truly care and will always support them no matter what.
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