How do I encourage my child to practice regularly?

by Karen Houghton

As parents, encouraging your child to practice their instrument on a consistent basis can become a battlefield, with parents resorting to offensive strategies such as coercion, attrition warfare, counter-offensive tactics. The child often takes a defensive stance, including fortification, withdrawal, and general wailing and gnashing of teeth. ?

All kidding aside, as a parent you can help your child develop self-discipline and provide them with tools for success in their musical endeavors. The good habits created in developing a productive practice routine will also help them in other aspects of life. Here are some guidelines to aid you in structuring a stable, efficient practicing environment for your young musician.

  1. Schedule the sessions. If possible, have your child practice at the SAME time every day, to establish a routine. For a beginner, usually 20-30 minutes daily is sufficient. Aim for at least 5 days per week.
  2. Set specific goals. Make sure you communicate with your child’s teacher as to what he/she is assigning each week.
  3. Encourage correct posture and the use of proper equipment. In other words, no practicing on the bed while balancing music on a pillow – use a comfortable chair and a music stand.
  4. Create a positive environment. Choose a quiet place away from distractions (i.e. television, computer, cell phone).
  5. Become involved. Have your child ‘perform’ for you a few times a week. They may argue, but most students love to show others what they have learned.
  6. Take a video or pictures. Send short videos to grandparents or other family members in order to demonstrate your support and pride in their accomplishments.
  7. Give incentives. I used stickers, small toy rewards, and treats for my own children when they were very young. This is an option for your consideration, but it depends on your opinion regarding the issue.

I hope that these few guidelines are helpful in establishing good practice habits for your young musician. The discipline, self-confidence, and personal growth that occur from learning an instrument are invaluable. The lessons your child learns will continue to shape them throughout their entire life!

Charlotte Houghton practicing the horn with her grandmother.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Karen. Is there any way I can get a copy of this to give to my student’s parents? I would very much like for them to have this. I can’t begin to express how lonely and almost frustrating it is to teach a student, and never hear from a parent (except to reschedule a lesson) about confirmation of materials they should be practicing, or concerns that their child may express. I also believe that many parents just don’t know HOW to get involved in their child’s development on a musical instrument. You have spoken what many of us private instructors feel, and are concerned about daily. Thank you!

  2. LaNetra: Thank you for your sweet words, and feel free to copy some or all of this article. It is frustrating to not be in communication with the parents. I think most parents DO want to be involved, like you said… maybe this will give them some ideas, or at least a starting point for dialog with you and their child. Hang in there!

  3. One of my students, who I had taught since middle school or early high school, came to a lesson one day when she was a junior in high school. She said the following – “You know Mr. Bear, you are right. I do sound better when I practice.” I managed to stifle all the sarcasm in my soul and be silently thankful. She studied with me through college, became a decent player, and I’m still in contact with her. Once they realize that practice works, and they really are dedicted to the instrument, they are hooked.

  4. I was learning the French Horn when I was teaching my (5 year old) son the trumpet. We practiced at the same time. When my daughter took up strings, she would join us. Now some 38 years later, my practice time is still in the “after school” slot. It’s just five times the length. And they both are still involved with their instruments.

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