The only way to improve at anything is to practice. That’s true whether it’s playing a sport, painting, writing, or learning to play a musical instrument. The only problem is, for some (especially kids), the art of “practicing” can get pretty boring at times; especially when it comes to the fundamentals. They’ll try to avoid it, they’ll dread it, and when it’s finally time to sit down and practice, they can end up hating it.
So how do you balance the fun of playing an instrument with the need to learn and practice things that might not always be the most fun, but are necessary to properly learn and excel with their instrument?
Lucky for you, we’ve put together this list of ways to make practicing music fun, even when what they’re actually practicing might not be all that interesting.
You want your child to have a fun, full, and productive practice session, but it can be hard when they drag their feet and don’t want to participate. When that happens, here are a few things to try to keep in mind:
Avoid putting your dreams on their shoulders
Is your child learning to play a musical instrument because they want to, or because you want them to? It’s important to understand the differences between these two concepts because if your child doesn’t have their own genuine interest in learning their instrument, it will be harder to get them to practice and enjoy it when they do practice.
Time of day
Try to remember that not all children are the same, and the time of day that they respond best to music practice might be in the morning, afternoon, or evening. For many children, practicing at a different time of day might mean they’re more distracted, tired, or simply not in a mental place to take full advantage of the practice session. Find whatever works for you and your family, and try to stick to it as best you can.
- Set goals. Well-defined goals are essential to a successful practice session. This way, your child will not only be productive with their practices, they will be able to see their progress and feel a sense of accomplishment. If you don’t set goals, your child is sure to progress much more slowly, if at all.
- Keep sessions short. No child can, nor should, practice all day. Try breaking up practice sessions (especially those dull ones) into shorter segments of about 10 to 15 minutes – especially if they are used to practicing for a full hour. This can help them stay focused and energized.
- Balance the time. As any great athlete will tell you, you’ve got to make time for breaks between intense training sessions. Finding the balance between focus and fun is essential to practice, no matter what it is they’re practicing.
- Don’t treat it like a chore. If you view or treat practice like a chore, your child will too. Don’t even say the word “practice” if it makes them groan. Keep a fun and positive attitude about their practice – that they get to practice, rather than have to practice – and they will too.
Some people seem to go out of their way to rain on other people’s parades: “I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but…”
Whenever anyone hears that their enthusiasm instantly drops. Don’t be that person for your children! So they’re not perfect? Who cares?! The most important point is that they are trying, and if they keep it up, it will be perfect eventually. As the parent, you are their number one cheerleader, who has the power to boost them up or tear them down. Keep these tips in mind:
- Don’t get discouraged. It’s important to remember that if your child is a beginner, it’s perfectly normal for them to be bad. Kids can’t sit down at the piano and suddenly become the next Mozart. It will take months and years of steady and regular routine practice for them to get into a groove of improvement. This is especially important for your child to remember when they struggle and feel like giving up.
- Compliment them. Kids love positive feedback! It doesn’t even really matter what you say, as long as you say something encouraging. It can be as simple as “I loved that song,” or even “You look more comfortable holding your instrument now!”
Try This on for Size
No two kids practice quite the same. If you’re still having a hard time getting them to enjoy their practice time, try out some of these more unconventional methods:
- Be involved. If you play an instrument, practice with them! But even if you don’t, you can be involved by asking them about what they’re learning, or just by hanging out with them in the same room while they practice. Sometimes practicing can get lonely, but music is supposed to be shared, so simply keeping them company can do a world of good.
- Rewards. Try coming up with a system of rewards to help motivate them to practice. This could be almost anything, from ice cream when a new song is learned, to earning tokens or credits towards a bigger reward, like a trip or something.
- Penny practice. Joshua Nakazawa, a renowned cellist and teacher, uses this unique practice method:
“You put three pennies on the left side of your music stand,” Nakazawa explains. “On a troublesome measure, you play it once, and if you get it right, you move the penny to the right side of the stand. If you play it again and get it right, you put the next penny on the right side of the stand. If you play it again and miss a note or rhythm, then all three pennies get put to the left. You must play the measure correctly three times in a row to keep the pennies. The next step is to connect the troublesome measure to the measure before it and continue playing.”
Music is supposed to be entertaining, after all! Look for ways to make each practice lively and fun:
- Play games. Games keep things light and fun, and can also disguise the learning process! A quick internet search is sure to bring you all sorts of ideas for games to keep your child’s practice entertaining, but here’s a site to help get you started!
- Dance & play. Not only is moving to the music fun, it can also help them with memorization, by both taking them away from staring at their sheet music and adding in muscle memory.
- Explore. Listen to the music your children love, and continue to search for new things that may interest them! Go to festivals, listen to Spotify lists, explore YouTube for new videos, whatever it takes to keep their passion for music alive and curious!
Remember, when it comes down to it, it’s your child who must make the most out of their practice. Teach them that they can only get out of it what they put into it, and their interest in music will last a lifetime.