Listening: This is the magic ingredient for good progress. We will not be successful without a consistent listening routine. Click here for more info on listening.
Practice Den: Find a space in your home that will be most conducive for your child to focus and practice efficiently. Ideally this is a room or space that is quiet and free of distractions—no TV’s or screens. Have your instrument, music, music stand, notebook, metronome, pencil, eraser, and anything else you might need ready before you start.
Consistency: Try to practice the same time each day. Some successful times can be between dinner and dessert, in the morning before school, or immediately after school before beginning other projects. Some families have great success splitting up the practice. For instance they might review in the morning and work on newer material in the afternoon. Try not to skip days, do not use practice as a punishment, do not reward by skipping practice (for example “since it’s your birthday, you don’t have to practice.”)
Mood Preparation: This is important for you and your child before both practice and lessons. First, take a couple of minutes to remind yourself whey you are making this effort for your child. Look at your child as an important person separate from yourself, whose self-esteem will be strengthened by the small steps of music study. Then take a few quiet moments with your child to discuss some of the important points of the lesson. Perhaps listen to a tape of the lesson, or a tape of the piece being studied. On the way to the lesson you can do the same things or listen to any music and discuss how it makes you feel, what color it reminds you of, etc.
Model the practice after the lesson: I usually try to alternate activities in my teaching: standing/sitting, fast/slow pace, “performing” (with no interruptions)/working on one small passage, for instance. Keep the atmosphere positive with room for experimenting, questioning, analyzing, and mistakes. Try to stop before it is the child’s idea. Try to anticipate moods (of your child and yourself) and counteract challenging moods with a game or a shortened practice.
Ask, don’t tell: Ask, “what did you hear that time?” “If you have a scratchy tone, stop when you hear it.” You will be surprised that when they take on the listening responsibility, they rarely need to stop. Try, “Do you want to do this activity 5 or 10 times?” “How many times do you think you need to do that passage before you never goof it again?” How fast can you play that?” Give them choices and responsibility along with respect for their thoughts and ideas.
Creativity: These ideas work for some children but not everyone. Keep them fun and not manipulative. Let them choose which work for them. Many of the ideas help the invisible (music) become more concrete. Above all, HAVE FUN!!!
- Charts. Have the child draw something after each accomplishment to “document” it.
- Perform. Play for anyone and everyone. “Let’s practice this new spot and then show dad/mom tonight.” Gather together some stuffed animals and let them each “choose” a piece or activity. Invite a friend who plays an instrument over to play music.
- For review, write down pieces or activities on slips of paper and pull them out of a hat or jar. Mix silly ideas with serious ones.
- Before the practice, write down the list to do that day. Let the child cross each item off. (This helps to keep practice from feeling endless to a child.)
- Work on your own, respectful language. Tape yourself and analyze it.
- Celebrate small achievements. This is different from rewards because it happens as a response. Go out to dinner to to celebrate a difficult piece learned. Go to a a concert as a family (especially if you find out in advance what will be played and can hear it first.)
(Most of these ideas are not my own, they have been culled from conversations with many friends and mentors, including Carrie Reuning-Hummel, Kimberly Meirs-Sims, and Anthony Gilbert.)