Learning a musical instrument is a fantastic hobby and life-long skill that impacts academic success, mental well-being, social skills and creating independent learners. The benefits of music education are massive and there are really no down sides to learning a musical instrument.
The biggest challenge, like so many areas of our life, is creating healthy habits and consistency when we start learning something new. Whether that is eating healthy, exercising, meditation, or learning a new language we need to give ourselves to time to go from a beginner stage to the mastery level and this only happens with time, consistency and practice. Most parents and learners understand the value of having a music specialist guiding you learning and investing in one-to-one lessons, but what should you do between lessons?
Let me share three proven strategies with you that will help your child feel confident and make progress each week.
- Do not turn practice into a punishment or chore
When learning anything new, a positive mindset is key. The enthusiasm to learn, to focus, and to repeat the same concepts more than once needs to be seen as a positive step to improvement. Without a positive mindset you will just focus on the mistakes and lack of progress. This is the route to quitting. It is so easy to slip into the habit of making practice seem like a punishment or a chore and no one wants to do activities that are negative and a punishment. Let’s be honest doing the laundry, mopping the floor, and putting out the bins before you can sit down and watch your favourite show doesn’t really sound a lot of fun!!
So how do you get a balance?
Encourage your child to see practice as an opportunity for self-care and to unwind from the day. A chance to be expressive and experimental. An activity that brings joy to their day. Praise the progress, reward the effort and talk about what your child is learning.
In terms of practice, your instrumental teacher might recommend 30 minutes every day – but don’t force that with a stop-watch. If your child is tired, hungry or thirsty then 30 minutes practice will not be as productive as 10 minutes of focused time. When your child walks away from practising they should feel happy and pleased with their progress, this is more important that a fixed time amount.
Try to listen to your child practice from time to time and praise their progress. I know that can seem hard to do when they are beginners making squeaks or scratchy sounds up in the bedrooms but your encouragement and support really does go a long way. You are your child’s cheerleader and you creating positive experiences around music learning will help their confidence and self-worth which will translate to all areas of their life. Focus on recognising the improvements you hear and of course share video recordings with family – children love to feel a sense of achievement and recognition.
Practising and improving needs to become part of the weekly schedule for your child and of course that will impact you too. The time in lesson with your instrumental teacher is really an opportunity for your child to get specialist advice regarding their current progress and to be given advice about their next steps. However, the time in between lessons is where the learning becomes cemented into the brain and muscle memory and this leads to improvement. Think of it like going to the gym – the gym trainer can show you how to use the gym equipment to improve your biceps, but if you don’t repeat it regularly you will forget how the machine works and you certainly won’t improve those biceps! This approach is exactly the same for playing an instrument or singing lessons.
Ensuring the practice can be included into the weekly family routine is important. Take time to look at the week and be honest when your child can practice. If your child is in elementary school then you will probably need to schedule the practice routine, but with older children they can be encouraged to be responsible for their own practice schedule. In my experience, avoid practising late at night after homework, clubs and dinner – it just doesn’t get the best results as children are often too tired. When I have suggested first thing in the morning or before school to my students as a valuable time-slot, many have seen great results. It’s important that you look for time slots that can be consistent each week and then actually schedule them into planners, diaries and calendars. Routine is key to keeping consistency and to helping with improvement. On those incredibly busy weeks, which we all have throughout the year, be flexible about where the practice happens.
3. Create a great practice space!
Creating a calm space for practice is so important and often neglected. Too many distractions in the space means that your child will struggle to get in the flow for practising and concentrating fully on the task. If you can reduce the distractions you will see an improvement to focus, playing and learning.
This applies to music lessons, especially when on-line. Students are often distracted by other people walking into the space, phones, siblings running in and out of the room, the dog, not having equipment set up for good learning, toys in the bedroom and eating their dinner at the same time as their lesson. Teachers can work a lot of miracles but these situations make it hard to help the student stay focused on music learning and improvement.
Ensure your child is ready for practice – if they are hungry, thirsty or really tired then they will struggle to stay focused and will not enjoy practising. Water or a drink in the practice space is a great idea.
Lastly, buy the musical equipment to help with practice. A music stand is a must and having the music at the right height is essential for good technique and posture and avoids injuries and pain in the future. Ensure your child has headphones (if appropriate) and a piano stool that is the right height. It does make a huge difference to technique and posture. Keyboards rested on a bed doesn’t really help with technique or good playing and tends to lead to children quitting.
Buy the books for lessons and accessories such as reeds. I understand at times the cost can be frustrating but a bad reed for weeks will ruin any enjoyment your child has for playing and practising. Bad reeds, a lack of books, and other accessories do lead students to want to quit the instrument because they blame themselves for not making progress when really it is the equipment letting them down. This also applies for instruments. Please ensure you get good advice from the teacher about an instrument and a respectable brand to buy that will last and then make sure it is serviced annually. We do this for our cars to keep them working in great condition and the same applies to musical instruments.
I hope you find these 3 strategies help you and if you have a week where things don’t come together, don’t panic. Start again the following week and keep positive. Always remember that music teachers are there to support and assist you and your family in music.