I’ve been teaching private flute lessons for almost 20 years and the number one question parents ask me remains, “How much should my child be practicing?” Parents are investing a lot of time and money on private music lessons for their child and it absolutely makes sense to ask how to make the most out of such an investment. Should you be pushing and enforcing a regular practice routine on your child? Is it something worth fighting over? Should you (or threaten to) quit paying for music lessons if your child won’t practice?
My answer may be different than most music teachers. In my opinion, if your child is interested in music and generally comes out of lessons with a positive attitude, it is worth it whether they practice or not.
Let me assure you, if your child is studying under a qualified and skilled educator, they will be learning, and they will progress. The speed at which a child demonstrates improved technique and skill on their instrument depends on so many factors other than just practicing for 30 minutes a day. I urge parents to abandon the idea that a set amount of enforced practice time is necessary to achieve the end goal (of what?) and instead, focus on helping the child to find their own motivation for playing their instrument outside
To help spark your child’s own natural curiosity and interest about music, try some of these practical tips:
Listen. Downloading and listening to quality, professional level recordings is a great way to inspire any musician to practice! Explore a wide variety of music and have it playing in the car, on the computer, or even better, attend live concerts together! See what inspires your child and what inspires you! And be sure to regularly listen to professionals playing the instrument your child plays and also listen to similar instrumental sounds around the world.
Record like a diva. Have recording equipment available for your child to experiment with (this can be as simple as an iPod or computer with microphone/recording capabilities or go old-school and find a second-hand device). Recording yourself playing and then listening back is one of the most effective ways to practice music.
Encourage ‘emotional playing.’ When your child is in a receptive mood, tell them that it’s a good idea to find a private place and try playing their instrument when they are sad, angry, overjoyed, or even hyper. Tell them it’s an experiment you’d like them to try sometime and you promise never to interrupt them or ask questions about what they are doing.
Purchase fun sheet music. Purchase, download, or print off sheet music or music books that are exciting and interesting for your child. For example, purchase Disney, Star Wars, Jazz, and even classical repertoire that may be beyond their current level - these are all good suggestions in terms of free exploration and sparking interest!
Jam with friends. Encourage lots of group jams and fun duets with friends and/or family who are also learning how to play an instrument. One of the great benefits of learning how to play an instrument is the team-building experience of playing in an ensemble and being able to connect with others through musical language.
Let it go. Don’t worry about what happens in the practice session (that’s the teacher’s job). If you are just hearing ‘free-play’ and ‘fooling around’ when their instrument is out at home (assuming it’s not physically harming the instrument or being used as a toy), don’t feel the need to step in. All exploration is a sign that the curiosity and interest is there and some learning is happening at a subconscious level; the focus will come with time.
Make it easy to practice! Have a special ‘music space’ that is inviting, clear of clutter, and comfortable for your child. If safe to do so, have the flute (for example) already assembled in an easy-access spot near the music space so that when the whim or desire strikes, your child has no barriers to practicing their instrument. (This may not work if there are pets or young siblings that are too curious to keep away from the designated music space.)
Clear space in their schedule. If you want to help your child begin to see results on a more dramatic scale or to truly have the opportunity for creative exploration, there needs to be space in the schedule for practicing - 9pm on a school night after two hours of homework and three hours of other after-school activities is usually not an appropriate time to do anything other than relax or sleep. Feel free to make suggestions to your child for good times for them to practice. Perhaps Mondays and Wednesdays just before dinner? On Sunday afternoons? It’s certainly a good idea to create space in their schedule for practicing, and it’s just as important that the schedule remains flexible and doesn’t become a chore or an argument.
Goal-setting. Setting goals, such as learning a challenging piece or performing in a recital or taking a music exam, can motivate some students to increase the number of focused practice sessions they choose to do each week. I tell my students that a focused practice session is the time used to develop skills and techniques that enhance their ‘toolbox.’ These might include scales, breathing exercises, assigned studies, and isolating specific sections of music for accuracy and detail. The bigger the toolbox, the more power your child has to learn about their own talents and capabilities, to express their feelings through music, and to share the wonderful messages music offers.
Kristi Kraychy, B.Mus., B.Ed., CHNC, is an experienced educator and Alberta-certified teacher. She is also a professional musician, Royal Conservatory of Music affiliated flute instructor, and a Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant. For more information, visit her website, wellnessandmusic.com.
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