By Christina Mathis
So, how do you help your child practice?
- Make it fun! The first thing to remember is that kids want to do what is fun more than what they *have* to do. We all know this, right? Kids don’t want to wash dishes or clean their rooms, but they’ll jump at the chance to play a video game - or any kind of game - anytime! So, how do we make practicing fun?
- Have a competition. Set the timer and give each of you a task. Your task might be cleaning the kitchen or folding the laundry. Theirs is practicing their instrument. If both of you can finish your task before the timer ends, you get a prize - a video game or a walk around the block or maybe an ice cream cone!
- Reward practice. Set up a sticker chart. Your child gets to put a sticker on each day he or she practices. On the first week, set a goal to practice 4 days. At the end of the week, if there are 4 stickers on the chart, they can get a reward. The next week, increase the goal to 5 days. Once they are consistently practicing 5-6 days a week, you can aim for longevity, so they’d have a goal of practicing at least 5 days a week for a month.
- Be creative! There’s no limit to the ideas you can come up with for making practice fun! Is there a video game your child wants REALLY, REALLY badly? Buy it as a reward for practicing for 30 days in a row.
- Let them give an in-home recital. This is a favorite in my studio! Once a month or so, gather the family around and let your little musician present his or her favorite pieces learned that month. Record it and send it to grandparents! Or, better yet, have extended or out-of-town family FaceTime or Skype to be a part of the big night!
- Have a set time each day just for practicing. From a parent’s perspective, knowing that practice was going to happen at the same time every day made a world of difference for my children! This designated time created consistency and they began progressing very quickly! (It also got them out of cleaning the kitchen after dinner!) From a teacher’s perspective, I’ve seen the same thing. Students who have the same practice time each day practice more consistently and, as a result, make better progress that students who don’t. It’s that simple!
- Remember that they are kids. This is a loaded statement, isn’t it?! It’s so important to remember, though! I’ve heard a lot of parents say that they want their child to take ownership of their own practice. We as teachers do, too! But that happens at different times for each student. While one student may “get” it and take off on their own at 8 years old, another may not until they’re 14 or 15. Don’t get frustrated or give in! Just patiently remind them to practice. Eventually, they will take ownership!
- Don’t overload them with activities. This is much easier said than done, I know; but it is SO important! If a student is going to make progress in anything, they have to have time to practice it. As a teacher, I am seeing students more and more stressed by the sheer number of activities they’re involved in. And they’re not able to excel in any of them because they don’t have the time to devote dedicated practice to any one activity. And for families with multiple children in multiple activities, the stress is unbelievable! My advice here is to choose one (maybe 2) activities outside of school. If you have more than one child, it might be best to have a season where each child is involved in only 1 non-school related activity. Of course, your child’s music teacher wants this to be music; but you have to choose what is best for your child.
- Talk to your child’s teacher. The ideas I’ve shared here are just a sample of the many, many ideas out there for helping your child practice at home! Ask your teacher if he or she has any tips that can help you.
Now that you have a few ideas for helping your child practice, how do you know what they’re supposed to be practicing? This will depend on your child’s teacher. Ask for detailed instructions. I can pretty much guarantee that he or she will LOVE you for this!
As a general rule, I suggest practicing the day after a lesson so that the information is still fresh on the student’s mind. I ask my beginner students to play through each piece 3 times every time they sit down to practice. (3 times a day, 5 days a week is my ideal for beginners.) This is incredibly simple but very effective. Older students will require more time depending on the level and difficulty of the pieces. By about 9 or 10 years old, students should be writing down practice instructions during their lesson time. If they are not, ask their teacher to pass along what was covered during the lesson and how they need to practice at home.
Lastly, remember that you, your child, and their teacher are on a team and are working together for your child. Communication is KEY! If you don’t understand what your child is learning, ask to sit in on a few lessons. If you have any questions about how to help your child at home, just ask! Teachers LOVE having involved parents!
Happy practicing to you all!
Christina Mathis is a classically trained pianist with a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance from Judson College in Marion, Alabama. Christina has extensive experience as a church musician, collaborative pianist, & music educator. She has been teaching private piano lessons for more than 25 years & in private schools throughout Alabama for 13 years as a classroom music teacher & choral director. She currently teaches private lessons at her home studio & is pursuing a Master of Arts in Music Education from Liberty University Online & national teaching certification from the National Federation of Music Clubs. Christina lives in Decatur, Alabama, where she is pianist at First Baptist Church Decatur, choral pianist & piano teacher at Austin High School, & staff accompanist at University of North Alabama in Florence.