I started playing the piano when I was four years old. I loved to play, but I definitely did not always love to practice. Sitting still was hard for me, and I much preferred to be outside running around than sitting on a piano bench. I will always be grateful to my mom for sticking with me, and making sure I practiced. When I hit my early tween/teenage years, I started performing quite a bit, and something changed for me. It became something I was personally invested in, and my life has never been the same. All through high school, college, and now as an adult, playing the piano has been a huge part of who I am. As a mom, I’m so happy to be able to pass along the opportunity to have music lessons on to my own children.
That said…getting them to practice is not always easy. They might not want to sit and practice, because there are so many other things pulling for their attention. I TOTALLY get it. But I also know how many benefits there are to children playing musical instruments, both in the short term and in the long term (which is another post altogether), so we stick with it. It’s a priority at our house, so we figure out how to make it work. I was also a piano teacher for a long time (until my sixth baby was born), so between teaching, my own experience playing, and as a mom of music students, I’ve learned a few things along the way to help make getting kids to practice music a little bit easier!
I’ve got kids playing several different instruments, and these ideas are applicable to all of them. Hopefully they’ll help you too!
Establishing a practice routine takes all the guesswork out of the question “when do I practice”? This may need to vary by day, depending on your schedule, but it’s helpful when a child knows what to expect. I like my kids to practice while I’m making dinner, because our piano is close to the kitchen. I can hear them while they’re practicing, and dash in to help answer a question or watch them play a piece.
Break up practice time
Sometimes 20-30 minutes is just too long for some little ones to sit. And even older ones too! One strategy that can work really well is to break up their practice time, and have them do half in the morning, and half in the afternoon or evening. 10 or 15 minutes at a time doesn’t seem as daunting as 20-30 minutes. If your school starting time cooperates with this idea, it really can make a big difference for some students.
Find the right teacher
I do believe that finding the right teacher is a huge part of a child’s success. Teachers teach differently–they all have their own styles–and children learn differently, and when you have a good match, it can be key. I’ll never forget the teacher I had throughout my tween and teenage years, and the one that has had the most impact on my musical life–both then and even now. I went to her home after school for lessons, and when I got there, I really wanted to talk. I talked to her about my day, what was going on in my life, and she listened. She taught me the piano, and a million other things too. She let me be me, but she pushed me and challenged me to be better. Talk to prospective teachers about their teaching style, what their methods are, what they expect from students, and how they help motivate them.
Apps for learning notes, etc.
Let’s face it. This is the digital age, and kids are almost always wanting to be on some kind of electronic device. Using them to your advantage is key! There are some great apps out there that are perfect for helping kids to learn notes, pitch, rhythm, instrument sounds, and more. Use them in combination with their regular practice, or as an incentive–whatever works best for you. Here are a few music education apps for your reference…
-Notes for Little Composers
-My First Orchestra
Opportunities to Perform
When I was around 11 years old, I started playing the hymns for our church congregation. All of a sudden, I had a reason to practice! I had always had a reason to practice, but when you are going to get up in front of people to play, there is an extra incentive to do well, and a goal to work toward. My best friend was a talented singer, and so was her whole family, and starting at a pretty young age, they gave me many opportunities over the years to play and perform. It honed my skills (both for playing and getting up in front of people) and made me a better pianist and accompanist. It also increased my desire to practice!
Finding a place to perform, and let your child use their skills is a great motivator–whether it’s at church or school, putting together a recital for friends & family, or visiting the local nursing home to play for the residents.
Okay, let’s be honest. Sometimes good old
bribery rewards is what make the world go round when it comes to practicing music. I know it works for my kids! I like using basic practice charts, using stickers for each day they practice. You can create your own rewards system based on what works for your kids and family, but my kids can earn small treats and be able to choose from the prize basket when they receive a certain amount of stickers. The next level means they’ve earned a date nigh with mom or dad, a late night staying up to watch a movie, going to get ice cream, or even choosing a new book. Every child is motivated a little differently–I know one of my girls will go for the candy or ice cream every single time, while the other one is usually more enticed by the trip to the bookstore. But giving them something to work for that they really love is key, and helps them stick to their practice time.
Another idea is Music Practice Bingo! Every day they practice, they get to choose a bingo piece and either tape it on their chart (I like washi tape!), or mark it off with a crayon or marker. You could also slide it into a sheet protector or laminate it, then use a dry erase marker if you wanted to re-use it again. When they get BINGO, they get to choose from the prize basket, or whatever small reward you would like to give.
I’ve got both the Bingo Game and Music Chart for you to download, if you’d like to use them! Just click on the links below to open the files, then save to your computer. Print into white card stock!
(Music clip art from ClipArts)
music practice bingo (print two copies, and cut all the squares out of one of them–those are the pieces they’ll draw from.)
Happy practicing! I know it can be a struggle sometimes, but I know it can be SO worth it in the end! If you have any specific questions, please let me know in the comments below–I’m happy to help!