8 Tips on How to Get Kids to Practice
The biggest pain point for most parents putting their children through music lessons, is getting them to practice. As teachers, we all want our students to reach their potential and develop a love for making music. But it’s up to parents to take over their musical progress once they leave our studios. So how do you get a child to want to practice? At what point will they instigate practice time? And will they ever stop resisting and arguing about it?
Everybody is different and strategies that might work for one child may not work for another. It's important to try as many strategies as possible. Below are some tips to try or to continue improving:
Attend recitals and concerts.
Musical inspiration comes from experiencing other people making music. Attending musical performances reminds one of the rewards of hard work. We appreciate musical performances because we know the many countless months that went into preparing a fine performance. We are especially moved by extremely virtuosic playing because we can empathize with the performer’s commitment to their craft.
Attend recitals in whatever instrument your child is studying. If your child is taking piano lessons, make it a point to attend piano recitals regularly. This doesn’t have to be an expensive event, in fact, check your local college or university for free student recitals. Many occur in March, April, and May. Check your local library or event center for public music recitals. While professional symphonies are a treat, you can find terrific larger-ensemble performances in many genres again at your local college or university.
Structure regular practice. And stick to it.
Most music lessons are scheduled once a week. Practicing should also have an established schedule. Students should be practicing at least 1.5 to 2X the length of their lesson on a daily basis. If their lessons are 30 minutes, they should be practicing for 45 minutes per day, every day (30 min/day for beginners). This time commitment should be non-negotiable. Ideally, plan practice at same time every day. Generally, parents should be involved with that practice for the first 6-12 months of lessons.
Involve your child when creating her schedule, and when there’s a conflict with practice time, make up those minutes. Part of practice time can involve more than just practicing repertoire, it includes music theory (workbook, writing), technique (scales and chords), composition (writing music and improvisation), and listening (active listening to classical music or other genres). Practice time should never be exactly the same. Rotating the aforementioned list can help eliminate the drudgery of practice while making your child a well-rounded musician.
Participate in music recitals.
The group piano recital is an invaluable opportunity for a child to meet a measureable benchmark. We all need those benchmarks to bring closure to one project so we can open the door to a new one. These are big wins that need to be celebrated. Recitals feel like the end of a quarter or semester. It’s a bit like Finals Week and it’s stressful for all involved.
But, once it is over, there is nothing that rivals the feeling of that accomplishment.
I could write an entire essay about how participating in music recitals help students prep for the real world, which they do, but I’ll suffice it to say that all of that pain (for all those involved, let’s be honest), working toward this goal is very much worth it. By having a long-term goal like a music recital, students will be motivated to practice more due to the built-in outer accountability.
Incorporate popular music, tv/film/gaming music, world music, and other genres into their repertoire.
Structured lessons should focus on repertoire that progresses a student’s reading and technique, but that doesn’t mean every song or piece should be from one method book. Kids are inspired to practice especially with familiar music they know. I’ve seen kids spend hours trying to play the theme from Harry Potter. I’ve seen students actually surpass their musical level just because they were so committed to learning that anime piece. Incorporate music that is relevant to them!
Play music for retirement or assisted-living homes.
You don’t have to wait for your music teacher to schedule a recital. Many retirement or assisted-living homes have recreation rooms with a piano. These facilities are always seeking experiences that will uplift their residents, not to mention, that music is used in many forms of therapy, especially, in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Imagine how much joy a short musical performance would bring to such residents. Your child will learn many valuable lessons in giving, empathy, and compassion, by sharing their music with folks that really need it.
Practice chart and reward system.
Some kids respond to having a chart so that they can visually track their progress. Create an art project out of this—make a month-long calendar and have your child decorate it any way they want. Let them add a sticker for each day they practice. Provide an incentive for a full week of regular practice. This could also be done on a special white board dedicated to your child's practice, but creating their own would allow you to collect the charts and track yearly progress.
Visit the music store at least once a month.
Plan to visit your local music store (one that sells sheet music) once a month. These stores can be like visiting the library--you lose track of time looking through all of the books (at least I always did!). It’s really fun to look through all of the popular music single sheets which include the latest top 40, music from films and television shows. Gaming music is also becoming increasingly popular.
Music stores are full of inspiration. Make sure to make it an event so as not to be rushed while visiting.
Schedule “home recital” performances.
Schedule monthly or bi-monthly informal home recitals with the family. Involve anybody who is studying in the performing arts to participate. The point is to celebrate music-making which shows your child that what they’re learning is important to you. Scheduling regular home recitals also helps kids grow comfortable for public performance.
Have you tried any of these tips? Please let me know your own tips for keeping kids motivated to practice!