Practice, Practice, Practice
I love talking to other instructors because I love seeing how they teach and some of their favorite tips to give students. When I asked Meredith Todd, one of our voice and piano instructors, for some tips to share with all of you, she said, "Make practice a priority! As kids are in lessons, it's easy for them to be excited and then lose interest. It comes in waves! But, just like homework in school, practicing is the ONLY way to actually make progress as a musician! You wouldn't expect your kiddos to understand fractions after one math class, so help them understand that practicing needs to be important!"
Meredith makes an excellent point. As music instructors, we encourage our students to practice because it really is the necessary step for becoming a musician, and this reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a parent and I have had with many parents over the years. It normally goes something like this: The parents recognize that their child needs to practice, but they do not want to force their child to practice, which may result in their child hating the instrument they are learning. So how do they get their kids to practice?
1. Make them practice.
I know parents sometimes fear this. However, many students (especially the younger ones) cannot see the long term benefits of practice that the teacher and parent can. There are some stages of lessons that can be repetitive and sometimes boring. However, the only way out of those stages is to practice. Meredith's comparison of practicing music and math is spot on, and it leads me to point 2:
2. Treat practice like homework.
Just like school, your child is working on learning something. I have taught many students who will only practice in their free time, but then they fill that free time with going out with friends. Music practice takes work throughout the week just like math or English. Some of my most successful students are the ones who do put their practice time in with the rest of their schoolwork.
3. Give your students smaller goals to work toward.
Maybe the goal could be that they can pick a fun song to play after they finish the rest of their practice. Also, I know many parents who have been successful when using a practice chart to keep track of their child's practice. When the child completes the chart, they may get some sort of prize. Often giving the student the option of picking out a new, for fun song book helps motivate the student to practice.
4. Ask your student if their are difficulties they are having that are hindering their practice time.
Sometimes students may not remember how to play a song, what certain notes are, and such that make it difficult for them to practice. However, some students may be embarrassed that they are having a hard time with something, but oftentimes the obstacle they are struggling with is something that their teacher can help fix.
Strong practice habits take time and work to learn. The tips here are general tips that I have found helpful to parents in the past. However, if you are unsure which approach to use in order to help your child practice, talk to your child's instructor. They understand how your child plays, learns, and grows and may be able to give more tips more thoroughly tailored to your student.