Do you find yourself nagging your child to practice music all the time? Does your child seem to get distracted easily while practicing? Has your child’s interest in music seemingly waned over time? Most parents have shared similar experiences. It’s perfectly ordinary for children to be inconsistent with their practice and have their interest to fluctuate over time. We offer six plausible reasons why your child might be practicing less than he/she should be, and some tips to motivate your child to practice.
Reason 1: Your child wants results too fast
Learning music is a long and sometimes challenging journey. Even prodigies who give all sorts of show stopping, virtuoso performances put in countless hours of practice to perfect their craft. As your child progresses to more complex and challenging works, it’s inevitable that more time must be spent to master each piece.
If your child expects quick results , there’s a good chance that he/she’ll be discouraged by the lack of immediate gratification in practicing music. It’s inconceivable that your child will be able to play a piece smoothly after a few bouts of practice. Mastering a sonata might take weeks, or even months!
Your child’s unhealthy focus on results could be innate or due to the expectations placed upon him or her by teachers, peers, or even you. It might not be possible to remove these expectations entirely, but you should always…
Solution: Recognize and reward your child’s effort
While results are indeed important and praiseworthy, you should also emphasize the value of effort in your child’s music education. Instead of harping on getting that ABRSM Distinction, the diligence with which your child invests in mastering pieces should be duly lauded, even if his or her playing sounds wonky. If you notice your child consistently taking the initiative to practice, you should recognize that following a disciplined practice schedule on one’s own accord isn’t easy and encourage your child to keep at it. This will motivate your child to continue being industrious.
Solution: Realign your child’s expectations and help him/her set realistic goals
Apart from recognizing your child’s effort, you should also ensure that your child understands how long and how much practice it might take to master a piece. If the piece is lengthy, having him or her break it down into smaller, digestible portions and work on mastering each part at a time may keep his or her enthusiasm up.
Reason 2: You pay either too little or too much attention to your child’s practice
Most children desire attention, love, and acknowledgment. However, they are often left alone to practice. If your child is always practicing alone, without any acknowledgment of his or her progress, the interest in practicing may soon evaporate. You’ll give him more attention when he or she doesn’t practice after all!
On the other hand, some parents constantly berate their children for not working hard enough. Even worse, they may even heap criticism on their children as they practice. Learning music then becomes a source of tension between parent and child. Instead of bringing enjoyment, learning music brings fear and misery. Children learning music under these conditions may end up growing averse to their instruments.
Solution: If you aren’t already, get involved with practice sessions
Make the effort to accompany your child while he or she practices. Your presence will go a long way in motivating your child to work harder to impress. As you watch your child play, you need to show your genuine interest in his or her learning because children can be sensitive to feigned interest. Don’t play Candy Crush or talk on the phone while your child plays! When you are too busy to accompany your child throughout his or her practice, at least be sure to check on how your child feels about his or her progress after the session.
However, be sure not to nitpick on every minor mistake. That’d take away all the joy of your presence during your child’s practice sessions. That brings us to the next issue numerous children face…
Solution: Know when to take a step back as well
As long as you can see the effort to improve, it’s best to largely leave your child to explore music on his or her own terms. Even if you know how to play the instrument, resist the urge to “help” your child too much. Leave that up to the teacher, who you’re actually paying!
Reason 3: Your child feels demoralized by comparisons.
Seeing his/her peers progress faster, your child might feel inferior. This could be exacerbated by other people reinforcing comparisons between your child and other children. Hearing words like “Tim already completed his Grade 8 when he was your age because he worked really hard. How about you?” could bruise your child’s confidence.
Your child may eventually become inclined to give up on learning music as he or she is led to believe that he or she will never be as good as others.
Solution: Avoid comparing like the plague. Focus on enjoying music instead.
While it may not be entirely possible to put a stop to all comparisons, it is of utmost important that you, as a parent, do not compare. You need to accept that all children are unique in their own ways and exhibit different characteristics while learning music. Even if your nephew might be miles ahead of your child based on ABRSM’s (or any other examining board) defined standards, your child remains a competent musician in his/her own ways.
If you notice that your child’s music teacher tends to pile stress onto your child by making unfavorable comparisons with other students, it’d be wise to politely advise him/her to avoid doing that if possible. Once both the teacher and you are able to accept your child’s ability for what it is, your child will find it easier to enjoy the learning process. Your child should desire to learn music for its intrinsic value (eg. fun) and not to be superior to others.
If your child happens to be a slower learner in a group class and is visibly affected by it, consider having him take individual lessons instead. The dedicated attention and the space to make mistakes will go a long way in helping your child improve. Online lessons are also a viable alternative as they present an affordable option that offers your child the freedom to go at his/her own pace.
Reason 4: Your child has too many commitments and/or distractions
Sometimes, it’s not the lack of interest that leads your child to neglect music practice. It’s that your child is bogged down with too many other important things to do. Chores, homework, taking care of siblings, training for the basketball match, the list goes on. Dealing with all these can leave your child too exhausted to commit to music practice.
At other times, your child really wants to get in some practice, but there are too many distractions at home. Visitors, annoying siblings, and squabbling parents can make the environment unsuitable for practice. There’s no way that your child can focus on music with all these distractions at home.
Solution: Give your child space and time to focus on music
First, tell your child that music is his second priority, after homework.
Once that is established, ensure that it is possible to make music a second priority. Avoid piling your child with chores or signing him/her up for that ballet class. You need to make sure that your child is able to have a lifestyle where music can be a priority, instead of having to contend with competing commitments and expectations. It may be helpful to set a routine for your child, with a consistent practice time each day (eg. practice comes after lunch).
Next, if you haven’t already done so, set up a conducive practice zone at home. This needs to be a sacred ground where distractions are minimized. Apart from your child’s audience, no one is allowed to violate the sanctity of the practice zone. No little brothers or sisters should be messing up the zone. Your child needs feel as if he/she owns the zone and that it’s a safe haven for music practice.
Reason 5: Your child doesn’t know how to practice
Most children possess the basic understanding that they need to practice in order to master their pieces. However, they do not have much idea of how they should practice such that they can become better, apart from the vague notion that they should play their instrument until they’re satisfied. Without any sense of how to improve, you child might be left flailing aimlessly with his or her instrument for the thirty odd minutes, which makes for a pretty torturous time.
Solution: Help your child set S.M.A.R.T goals with his/her practice
You might have attended life skills workshops where coaches repeatedly emphasize that you need to set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based if you ever want to achieve anything. The same principles apply to your child’s practice.
Let your child listen to sample performances of the pieces to be learned. Hearing how good the pieces sound when played well makes practicing relevant. In addition, based on these samples, your child should set specific and time-based goals with his practice (eg. be as good as the performer in a month).
It’d be especially useful for young children if the teacher could specify how many times each part should be practiced in every practice session. Further instructions could be given for mastering challenging passages. These micro goals are a lot more measurable and achievable to young kids than a simple but vague direction to “play the piece nicely” by the next lesson.
Reason 6: Practice feels like an obstacle to be overcome
While learning music should indeed by high up on your child’s list of priorities, this is often overzealously enforced. It’s common for parents to demand that their children practice for an arbitrary length of time, before they can engage in more “fun” activities like playing video games. If the rationale for such
rules are not communicated effectively, children might start to view music as an obstacle that impedes them from doing what they prefer.
Solution: Let your child determine his/her own practice schedule and help him/her stick to it
Once you make sure that your child knows how to practice, have him set his own practice schedule. The empowering feeling of being “in charge” can motivate your child to take ownership over his/her music education. Of course, you should gently guide your child in crafting this schedule. For example, you could suggest that practice should be done after homework so that your child can unwind from studying.
This schedule should allow some room for flexibility too, especially for older kids who have more responsibilities elsewhere. For example, allow your child to skip practice occasionally if there are valid reasons for doing so, such as an abnormal volume of homework.
Your child will need reminders to follow the practice schedule from time to time. However, if your child is always unable to meet the demands of the schedule, perhaps it’s time to review the viability of the schedule or assess what is inhibiting your child from practicing.
Every child is different
In the end, it is you, the parent, who knows your child best. Every child has his or her own unique character traits and learning preferences. The tips above are a general guide and you should tailor them accordingly to suit your child.
Nevertheless, there are some common principles in sustaining a healthy interest in music. Music should be enjoyable, both efforts and results need recognition and your child’s lifestyle and home conditions should be conducive to practice. Devising strategies to reach these ideals is key to motivating your child to practice.
If you have any more tips to share, please let us know what works best for you and your child in the comments section!
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About Liberty Park Music
LPM is an online music school. We teach a variety of instruments and styles, including classical and jazz guitar, piano, drums, and music theory. We offer high-quality music lessons designed by accredited teachers from around the world. Our growing database of over 350 lessons come with many features—self-assessments, live chats, quizzes etc. Learn music with LPM, anytime, anywhere!