Look, I get it. I am a mom of a Suzuki violin kid, as well as a music teacher with private piano students of my own. NO ONE enjoys practicing. Not kids. Not parents. BUT practicing NEEDS to happen in order for kids to be able to play their instruments well. So where does that leave us?
I like to call it the DANCE. The dance I perform with my child while she is unaware that we are dancing. Some may call it mild manipulation…I think dance is more positive.
As I sit and observe our weekly violin lesson, I am in awe of how focused and receptive my child is for her extremely gifted teacher, Hayley, from Upper Beaches Music School. I think to myself - I can make our practice sessions just like this. I AM a music teacher after all. BUT, and there is a big BUT here,…this is not my student. This is my child. The parent/child dynamic is extremely different than the teacher/child dynamic. So how have we made home practice a little less painful?
We experiment with the following:
SIMPLIFY IT. Instead of thinking in terms of length for practice time, we pick one or two points of focus for each practice session (e.g., sempre staccato for Etude or exact finger positions for G major scale).
FEELINGS. For a while there when things were really tense for practicing, I would stop and say, "now is not a good time to practice. You are too frustrated." When things were calm, we would talk about how she wants to FEEL when she plays her instrument. If she is upset and tense, then her musical brain won’t be able to do what she wants it to do. If we can begin from a place of calm…we can accomplish so much more and FEEL good while doing it.
TEACHER. Always have the teacher’s words in your back pocket. “HAYLEY says…” - because you know that the teacher’s words hold more authority than yours when it comes to what’s what with their instrument. This means you REALLY need to pay attention in the lesson.
MOTIVATOR. Until your child develops intrinsic motivation for practicing, motivate them with some type of reward. TV, iPad time, family board game, and candy are big motivators for my kid. Don’t do this every time. It is most effective if it is used as a surprise reward for a great practice session. Not knowing when it can happen is the beauty of this motivating technique.
SELF-REFLECTION. Video tape your child at the beginning of learning a piece…then video tape them when it’s learned. “WOW! Your hard work paid off see…practicing really works!” This way you can really encourage the effort they made to go from point A to point B.
Please don’t think after reading this that I have cracked the code and every single practice session is sunshine and lollipops at our house (unless lollipops are the motivator).
As I said previously, motivating your child to practice ANYTHING is a fine dance. The older she gets - the more challenging the music - the more complicated the dance steps. But please keep on dancing. It’s good for you and great for your kid. Stay focused on the big picture and the end goal of developing a beautiful musician with intrinsic motivation.
Rhonda Hanson is the mom of a happy, budding musician, an extremely satisfied customer of Upper Beaches Music School, and the owner of Set the Tone. For more information on her music and yoga classes (private and group) visit www.setthetone.ca.