There comes a point in time, however, when your son or daughter simply doesn’t feel like practicing.
To help you avoid endless fights and keep you from pulling your hair out, we’ve put together this collection of strategies from music teachers, bloggers, and child psychologists to help you motivate your child to practice.
Treat Music Like a Different Subject
Think back to when you were in school. You had your academic classes and your after-school activities. You knew your daily routine: Math, English, Science, etc. Then after school: piles of endless homework!
With so many different subjects, it’s no wonder adding time to practice music can seem like a burden to a kid. That’s where you come in — you can help shift your child’s mindset!
Rather than treating music like any other subject, create a distinction so your child sees music as something he or she wants to do. The best way to shift your child’s mindset is to let him or her play an instrument they’re actually interested in.
“If you want your child to be motivated to play an instrument, music needs to be different than other educational subjects,” says Bobby K. from Guitar Chalk. “Your child shouldn’t see music as a forced discipline, like Math or Geography. This ultimately comes down to choosing the right instrument, which is going to be the one the child is excited about and wants to play on his or her own.
“For me, that was the guitar, which had me practicing (voluntarily) three to four hours a day at 11 years old. That couldn’t have happened with piano because piano wasn’t “my” instrument. It was just another subject. But guitar was different in that it felt like play, not school work. Getting your child into a similar situation, where their instrument doesn’t feel like just another school subject, is absolutely critical. If it’s not happening, that might be a signal that it’s time to switch instruments.”
This also means you may need to be flexible. While it can be expensive to allow a child to start and stop several different activities, try to work with him or her to find one he or she enjoys and is intrinsically motivated to practice.
Put Your Child in Control
It’s no secret that when we’re told to do something, we don’t always want to do it. During the course of a day, there are several different people (parents, teachers, older siblings, coaches) telling kids what to do. Add music to that list and it’s no wonder motivation seems to dwindle!
Combat this problem by putting your child in control. Let him or her determine the practice schedule, that way they’re more likely to stick to it.
“Kids hear adults tell them what to do all the time; to catch their attention, let them plan their own practice schedule,” says Nicole Weiss, LCSW Psychotherapist and Coach. “Start with the end in mind. Basically, you want to get your child to make the decision that he or she needs to practice so that he or she can play the way he or she wants to play. After the decision is made, the parent can help the child research and figure out how often a good musician practices. The child then sets a schedule based on the reality that, to be good, one must practice.”
Not only will this allow your child to feel a sense of control, it will also help him or her to learn the value of practice.
“The child makes the schedule, then the parent reinforces it,” Weiss says. “I’m sure many parents reading this would say…’yeah but will they do that day to day?’ That’s where you come in — but you have more weight in your reminder. It was the child’s desire to make the goal. Additionally, the reward should be for accomplishing little goals. For example: ‘practice every night this week and we can download that song you want.’ Reward the work.”
Help Your Child Understand the Gift of Music
Show your child that playing a musical instrument is a special privilege and an opportunity that isn’t necessarily available to everyone. Teach your child to appreciate music and all it has to offer. Help them discover that music can enhance their life.
“I believe that we’re here in this world to do great things with the gift of our lives, and we’re here to serve others,” says Heather F. from Music for Young Violinists. “Learning to play [the violin] helps us in both of these areas — we’re drawn up into a level of greatness through the discipline required to study this art form, and in this process, we cultivate a gift that we can share with others.”
This also includes helping your child develop a love for music. Take them to concerts or shows, play music at home, and help them discover what they like.
Many adults wish they had stuck with a hobby or endeavor they started as a child, like playing a musical instrument. While this can be a difficult concept for young kids to grasp, teaching them to appreciate music can help them understand why practice is important.
According to this article from MusicTeachersHelper on motivating students to practice, “…I can’t count how many times I’ve heard adults say to me, ‘I quit taking piano when I was young and it was such a mistake. I wish I could go back and take lessons again.’ Parents can help children know the value that musical talent brings to society.”
Don’t Make Practice an Obligation
This one may seem a bit counterintuitive, right? After all, you’ve invested the money in an instrument and lessons, and you want your child to make the most of it. Plus, if your son or daughter wants to be good, he or she needs to practice!
The key here is to not make practice seem like an obligation, as compared to other fun activities. For example, if your son or daughter loves to play video games or play outside, don’t allow him or her to do this until after completing practice.
Using a fun activity as a reward will create the mindset that practice is the obligation that stands in the way of the fun activity, and this could create resentment or dread for practice.
As Why We Teach Piano suggests, “Don’t set an arbitrary amount of practice time, without specific goals, and then reward them with playtime or video games afterwards. This just reinforces the notion that playing piano is not fun and video games are fun.”
When it comes to any sport, hobby, or endeavor, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize. The same thing applies when it comes to your child learning an instrument; your son or daughter has to have a goal in sight, otherwise, he or she may question the need to practice.
“If you want to keep students engaged and excited about their music education, make sure they’re performing consistently throughout the year,” says Anthony M. founder and author of The Music Parents’ Guide. “There are other profound effects on more scheduled performances for all school programs, as well. We, as parents and teachers, need to foster a growing curiosity and even an excitement about music in our children’s lives. Consistent performances are the best way to do this and continue to motivate our children.”
Not only do performances help to increase excitement, they also work to hold children accountable. Ask any music teacher — even the most unmotivated student will be more likely to practice if it means avoiding embarrassment at a recital!
Let Your Child Choose
Just because you loved playing piano as a kid doesn’t mean your child will love playing just as much. Your child may have other interests, and it’s important to allow him or her to explore different endeavors.
“First of all, I think it’s critical that the child choose the instrument they’re going to learn,” says Matt T. from Unlock the Guitar. “I’m a guitarist, and I’d love nothing more than my son to be interested in learning guitar, but he’s undeniably drawn to the piano. Plus, if an instrument is thrust upon them, practicing it will also be thrust upon them. Letting the child choose the instrument turns this on its head, and into your favor, even if they didn’t choose the instrument you would have liked them to play.”
Be Their Cheerleader
Let your child know you’re his or her biggest fan, especially early on when your child may feel frustrated or discouraged.
Eighty-eight notes school of music suggests listening to your child at home as often as you can and making encouraging remarks about their progress. Also, make sure to ask them how their lessons went.
Take a genuine interest in your child’s musical journey. Your son or daughter will be excited to play for you and show off new skills!
Help Them Engage With Music
Your child is more likely to practice music if he or she feels connected to the process. Help your son or daughter develop an interest and curiosity for music.
To help your child stay engaged, become a part of the process. Whatever you can do to get involved is likely to increase their interest and motivation.
“Motivating your child by reward or punishment will stop working very quickly; instead, help your child get curious about music and develop an inner desire to engage with music,” says Jonas G., the founder of flowkey.”Let your child play around with different instruments. Listen to music and sing together. Your child will naturally want to imitate you, so a big motivation for children to practice is seeing their parents engage with music themselves.”
Rather than telling your child to practice, help him or her set specific goals and challenges. This will help them progress faster because they’ll work on accomplishing specific tasks or mastering particular skills. This idea can be applied to any instrument.
Practiceopedia author and practice expert, Philip J., has a completely different take: “Don’t ask your kids to ‘practice’ — they won’t know what to do. Instead, give them bite-sized, clear challenges to complete: (1) Work out a fingering for measures 24-35 (2) Gradually speed up section B to 85bpm. (3) Be able to play the left hand of the coda from memory.”
Having trouble coming up with the right challenge? Check out Phillip’s website, thebootcampedition.com, for a huge collection.
Celebrate ALL Accomplishments
Learning to play an instrument is a long journey full of peaks, valleys, and plateaus. While you’ll definitely be proud when you watch your child perform, it’s important to celebrate the little victories along the way.
While verbal praise is important, you may also want to create another way to celebrate achievements; familyshare recommends keeping a journal of your child’s accomplishments. When you put it in writing, you’re less likely to forget. If journaling isn’t your thing, you can keep a white board on the fridge, or make a chart that you can display in the house!
Celebrating the little victories will help your child keep a positive attitude when they’re struggling or having difficulty tackling a new concept or song.
Let Them Play Music They Like
While there are always certain signature songs and classics for various instruments, your child will lose interest if he or she doesn’t like the music they’re playing.
Work with your child’s teacher to make sure your child is playing some music they truly enjoy.
According to the Academy of Music and Dance, “As children get to be around 10 years old, sometimes younger, they start to develop preferences for musical style, largely influenced by radio, TV, and whatever they’re most exposed to at home. They will also typically gravitate to whatever their friends are listening to, especially for boys at around age 13 and girls around age 11.”
Use this as a motivational strategy; allow your son or daughter to play at least one familiar song as part of their weekly routine.
Make Practice Fun
According to PianoDiscoveries, “appropriate goals and positive reinforcement will make practicing fun and rewarding. Very few children are self-motivated in their practice. Most need incentives and reminders to keep them focused and moving forward.”
Ask your child’s music teacher for some creative ways to make practice more fun!
Find the Right Teacher
This brings us to our last strategy and one of the most important: find the right teacher! Although practice is done outside of lessons, if your child connects with his or her teacher, they’re much more likely to practice on their own time.
According to Music Central,”…finding the right teacher will make or break the whole experience. Don’t be afraid to try a new teacher if your child isn’t connecting. The best teachers are usually the ones who not only teach, but know how to be a good friend and mentor to your child.”
Find a teacher who understands your child’s learning style, and a person who’s able to teach concepts in a way that keeps your child interested. When your son or daughter likes his or her teacher, they’ll be more willing to take direction and practice consistently.
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Which of these strategies have been successful for you? Do you have other methods that you use to motivate your child? Let us know in the comments below!