Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh Practicing...

Music is Learned as Fast as Possible and as Slow as Necessary 

(if you don't practice it's MUCH slower!)

(I got introduced to PicMonkey over the weekend. Way too much fun. You should check it out...)


As you may have heard me mention, I work part time as a piano teacher. This has turned out to be the most fabulous job for me because I get to use my music degree (yes! It CAN be done, people!) and my "minor" in children's (it has to be in quotes since the school I went to didn't actually offer minors, so I created my own by taking all my electives as the children's ministry courses - thus taking all but 2-3 for that program) AND spend time with my family. It also has fabulous perks like summers, Christmas, weekends and every stat off. And after working for years at a church where I had to work all of those, this is a blessing!

Anyway, I don't talk too much about this part of my life. But in reality, I have 11 extra kids who are "mine." And I love them! As teachers of every kind can attest you often learn more teaching than your kids do learning and it has been no exception for me. They also bring such fun surprises every week with their stories of life, funny comments and little quirks.

As a music student I was terrible. I hated practicing. I remember my mom having to sit me down a time or two and MAKE me practice (and in reality this happened more than a time or two!). Now as a teacher I see it from the other side. Sorry, Mim (my teacher), for being such a terrible student in those early years!

So I started collecting some tips. How DO you get your kid to practice anyway??? Is there a secret? Maybe...

1. It's the Parent's Responsibility. 

At least at first. Sadly, many parents think when they sign their 5 year old up for lessons he's just going to be SO motivated to go and practice all by himself and they never have to think about it again. And he might be for the first few days. But here's the thing. Kids also need to learn HOW to practice. Sounds crazy, but just like you have to teach them the proper way to set the table, and brush their teeth and tie their shoes, if you want them to be successful at music, you have to teach them HOW to practice. This will mean they need some reminding to help it become a habit and probably some one on one time on the piano bench. And keep in mind that younger kids often can't read, so if their teacher wrote every thing down, that's more for YOUR benefit as the parent so you can help them.

2. Structured Routine is Your Friend. 

You know those things that you just do without thinking about them? Like getting dressed in the morning? Well that's because it's an ingrained habit. This came about from doing it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And you probably do it at the same point in your day (right when you wake up or as soon as you shower). Setting up a point in your day that is always the same for practice time will make sure that it always happens. If your piano is in your living room, Jenny can practice while you're making dinner and you're close enough to hear if she's struggling with a section and needs help. Or maybe it's the first thing they do when they come home from school. Or perhaps you practice at the same time as your lesson on all the non-lesson days. You know the structure of your family and what would work best. Just make sure it's planned in or it will easily get the boot. And remember with your older kids who have homework: this is a class. Practicing is the home work. If you haven't practiced, you're not done your homework!

3. Make it Fun and Keep it Short. 

You don't have to practice for 3 hours to get good (at least not at first). Have your kids play through song 5 times each day and break it down into smaller sections of music for 5 times if they have trouble spots (this helps get over brain blocks). You can even break up the songs into a bunch of short practice sessions throughout the day if they find it too hard to sit through them all. Make games out of it. If you play yourself, for the beginners there are often "teacher' duets. Play those with your child to make it even more fun. You can even sneak in practice when you're waiting in lines or at the doctors office or other places of down time by doing music flash cards, or playing other music games (spelling chords and such).

4. Speaking of Playing Yourself... 

Are you a musician? If so, it's important that your kids see you practice too. I know. It's SO much harder when you're adult! But really, it makes a huge difference.

5. If You Want Your Kids to Love Music, Expose Them to Music That is Better Than Them. 

This will keep them inspired. It doesn't have to be at the concert hall (though that's fun too!), but even the neighbor down the street who is a couple levels ahead. Take them to church where they see the band playing (it's free!). Take them to the symphony (if you're local, the CPO does a Symphony Sunday for Kids series, Saturday Morning at the Symphony, and the instrument Petting Zoo which I can't speak enough of it's fabulousness...). Take them to local bands, recitals and such. And even simply playing a lot of good music in your home and your car (especially featuring their instrument of choice) will help keep them motivated.

Practice makes Progress (you might not ever be perfect, but as you practice you will always progress).

I know I have a ton of musician friends who may read this (even some I don't know about...). I also know I didn't cover it all. Anything to add?


  1. i would also add this Melanna

    It is highly encouraged to put the instrument in a place where it can be seen regulary. so for example the piano in the living room, or in a music room on the main floor of the house is great as opposed to the basement for example, where no one sees it and it almost feels like practice time is "punishment" time because you have to go downstairs where it might not be so fun and away from everyone else.

    perks are helpful too. so, giving your child a treat or doing something special with them if they do all the practicing the teacher had wanted them to do.


    1. Yes, nothing worse than being banished to the basement! And I remember finding all SORTS of ways to fritter away the time when my mom set a timer and I was supposed to be practicing. It's amazing how many times you "need" to play your favourite song but the one you hate you "forget" about. Much easier if Mom or Dad can SEE you. :)

  2. ah yes, and in the end it ultimately depends on how badly the child/parents wants to progress! Committed parent and child= progressing child. These tips will certainly be helpful to such students and parents! :)

  3. I always ask who's idea it was for lessons. The kids who bring the idea to Mom and Dad (rather than the other way around) often do MUCH better than those who are forced by their parents. Though this can also be based on how it's sold to them!


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