Have you ever struggled with your child when it comes time for them to practice music at home? Here are some tips to help your child make maximum musical progress while minimizing the drama.
The power of habit. Most kids brush their teeth before bedtime because you have established this habit for your child as part of their daily routine. Like daily tooth-brushing, harness this same power of habit by establishing a daily music practice routine for your child.
Piggyback your practice. To ensure your child’s music practice becomes habitual, ‘piggyback’ it on another daily activity. For example, you can piggyback practice time for your child, so it falls right after dinner. Your child will soon get used to the routine: ‘First I eat dinner, and then I practice my musical instrument.’
Out of sight, out of mind. Children can easily forget to practice if their instrument is hidden away. Each week, after music class, ensure your child unpacks their instrument and sets it up where they won’t be able to ignore it.
Low-tech timer. Buy an old-school egg timer and watch as your child is magically transported to the prehistoric days of ‘BI’ (Before Internet). Set the timer for five minutes so your child can practice their music scales until the bell rings. After the music scales are done, set the timer for 10 minutes so they can work on that new song until the bell rings again, and so on. If you’d like to remain in this decade, use a timer function on your phone.
Structure for results. To help your child make the best use of their time and attention, divide up the daily practice sessions. For example, start with a five-minute warmup (finger exercises or a familiar song), followed by 10 minutes working on challenging material, and finish up by playing a favorite song.
Micro breaks. Kids’ brains benefit as much from moments of rest as they do from periods of intense focus. I encourage students to focus for five to 15 minutes and then take a short break, perhaps for one minute or so, before returning to focused practice.
Use a metronome. The importance of learning to play to a steady beat cannot be understated. Developing musicians often speed through easy passages, slow down at the first sign of difficulty, and then resume speed again. Using a metronome will help your child to ‘bake the beat into his biology.’
Remove the stump. Imagine tripping over a stump midway along a forest path while on your morning run. Would you jog on the same path and trip over the same stump every day? This is akin to repeatedly playing a song from beginning to end and making the same mistake every time. Observe when your child becomes stuck on a chord transition (the stump).
Ask them to slow down the tempo and break down the chord progression to its simplest form. Start by playing one chord per bar - just whole notes. Then try playing with quarter notes, and so on. Once the transition is solid at a slow tempo with the rhythm, increase the tempo by 10 BPM (Beats Per Minute) and repeat the process until your child can play the passage at full tempo.
Repetition leads to mastery. Recall how, as a toddler, your child practiced daily for months to master the act of walking. Now consider how your child walks without giving it a second thought. The same is true for music; daily repetition will program musical skills deep in the unconscious part of your child’s brain.
Chart the progress. Place a practice chart in your child’s music book and ask them to record the minutes they practice each day. Then reward them with a sticker for each day of practice. Track your child’s progress, so you don’t lose sight of just how far they’ve come.
Patience and praise. Remember, your child is still learning and is not a professional musician. Remind your child to be patient with the process and offer genuine praise for each new milestone they reach. Take time to appreciate the little miracles as your child moves from one musical step to the next - just as you celebrated each successful step when your child was a toddler learning how to walk.
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