In these free and easy times when we love and respect our children and acknowledge their rights and feelings, it is sometimes hard to enforce the need for self-discipline in order to get homework and piano practice done. In music lessons I see many bright children who make very little progress from week to week. They have not yet realized that they should be practising their set work daily.
The need for daily practice applies to learning an instrument, a sport, a game; in fact any skill that needs to be mastered needs to be practised regularly if it is to be mastered. Parents make two big mistakes:
1. They don’t realize the need to practise in order to perfect a skill. Only a few become a professional footballer, or professional musician. Even just to learn an instrument for fun, a child needs to acquire some competence in order to gain much enjoyment.
2. If the parent realizes the need for practice, they mistakenly think that children will organize their own practice – nothing could be further from the truth.
Your child should practise 20 minutes a day, 30 minutes by the time they have been learning a year. And no buts!! Children thrive on routines, they love to know that life has order, it makes them feel safe. Once a routine has been established it is as easy as brushing their teeth (and lots more fun!) You may need to help plan practice time, especially if your child seems to have finished everything in 5 minutes!
So here are some tips to help establish a practice routine:
1. Find a set time to suit the child and the child’s age, so piano practice is not competing with a favourite television programme.
2. Young children, even up to eight and nine will need you to take an active interest in their practice. Older children will still need you to make comments to show that you are interested, and make the whole thing have value for the child.
3. Very young children, 4-8, will need you to be very enthusiastic and make the whole thing an enjoyable activity that you do together. Be gushy in your enthusiasm!
4. Tape your child’s lesson so that it an be replayed and remembered later.
5. Sing as you play together.
6. Let an older child teach you! This will make them listen to the lesson so that they can teach and not disappoint you.
7. Be endlessly supportive and encouraging, just how you were when your child was learning to talk.
8. Bribery works well! A sticker chart for good practice – small reward for so many stickers.
Commit to giving your child the gift of music for life. Don’t be half-hearted. You invest a lot of money in lessons. Showing interest is the first step. Helping children organize practice is the next.