How to help your child practice

Practice makes perfect.

That’s the standard wisdom, but like a lot of “standard wisdom” it really isn’t true. And furthermore, that kind of statement can set up an immediate road block to what practice is really supposed to be. Playing music is about joy, not perfection!

“Perfection is an awesome expectation to drop onto the shoulders of a kid who is forcing his first squeaks and squawks from a clarinet,” writes Jeff Bredenberg in a Better Homes & Gardens article.

Instead, he prefers the much truer (and more helpful) statement: “Practice makes you better,” provided by Rebecca Weingarten, an educational consultant.

Weingarten explains that if you start practicing with that goal in mind–to simply get better–all of a sudden the pressure is off to be perfect. And that’s a great beginning to a rewarding way to approach the discipline of practicing an instrument.

And to dovetail into that spirit of practicing to improve rather than to attain perfection, there are other ways to make practicing an instrument rewarding and fun.

Here are some tips from the pros:

Mark Corey is the band director at Addison High Trail School, and president of the Illinois Music Education Association. He tells columnist John Keilman of the Chicago Tribune to get creative when setting up practice time with the kids. For example, instead of mandating that your child go practice her viola for 30 minutes, ask her to play for you instead. Corey says that most kids will want to perform well, and will go off by themselves to practice before they perform for you. You’ve just got your child to practice her instrument, and you never used the “P” word! Music-lessons

In the same article, Brayer Teague, chairman of the fine arts department at Downers Grove North High School suggests that brief but consistent rounds of practice are extremely beneficial, even sessions as short as 10 minutes each.

As part of that approach, Anastasia Tsioulcas writes in an article published by NPR: “Instead of packing up the violin after each day’s practice, we leave the instrument and bow out all the time (albeit in a safe place), so that as our daughter goes about her day, she can pick it up and play whenever she likes. This way, it’s as easy to grab as a book or a toy.”

Make practice goal oriented, advises Tsiouclas further. A short practice session devoted to learning three short passages may be enough for the beginning or younger child. So, instead of setting a predetermined amount of practice time, which can automatically start the “can-I-be-done-now?” clock-watching, set a demonstrable goal like learning those three passages. And, using Corey’s advice from above, ask your child to demonstrate when he’s done.

Brendenberg makes sure he leaves his daughter time for playing, too. Practice has goals as we’ve discussed, and those goals are necessary to enhance what we all really want from music—enjoyment and fun! So, make sure you leave time, or make time, for your child to simply enjoy playing her instrument. Ask her to perform for you if she enjoys that, or have her play along with a favorite recording, or just let her improvise and noodle away after she’s completed her technical practice. If you play an instrument, jam with your kids if that’s something they would enjoy.

Taking the trash out is a good chore for kids, and teaches them responsibility, the value of helping out, and the discipline of doing what needs to be done. But taking the trash out will rarely ever become fun.

Not so with practicing music. When your child practices the technical aspects he becomes better (not perfect), and with those new skills he can realize the joy of making music—alone or with others, and that is a great reward!


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