Written by Fiona Lau.
This is the big challenge, the factor that can make or break instrumental learning. Regular effective practice means progress and then a good, enjoyable lesson. Little or no practice means little progress, fed-up parents, unhappy embarrassed children, and tricky times for the teacher in the lesson. So what is the answer?
What works will vary with each child, their character and their age. What works with a “have a go, happy to try anything” 7–8 year old, will probably not work with an exam stressed, hormonal teenager. You, the parent, are the expert where your child is concerned, so you will know best. A good teacher will provide a sound repertoire, a well structured curriculum, a good role model, and enjoyable lessons. All these will help to motivate effective practising.
Things to do and say to support practising
- Make sure they have all the equipment.
- Sit in on the occasional lesson so that you know what is happening.
- Give specific realistic praise-kids can smell bland general comments a mile away.
- Encourage small section practice rather than just playing through the whole piece.
- Employ technology: a metronome, something to record with, apps, playalong CDs or downloads.
Ideas to motivate young instrumentalists
- Remind them. Set a regular time to practise and make it a habit- after dinner, just before bed, first thing in the morning. Little and often is the best way at this stage.
- Make sure they have a clear available space to play and practise their instrument in.
- Have a practice chart: in the practice diary, on the wall, in their music. Stars and stickers work wonders! Small rewards are also useful…
- Show an interest: ask them to play to you, give praise, and give them opportunities to perform for family, friends, at school etc.
- Exams can be excellent motivators and give children that extra reason to practise and a great boost when they pass.
- Communicate with the teacher and support the teacher. Discuss the aims and objective for learning; for example: Are exams part of the curriculum? What music does your child enjoy playing? Is there anything affecting their practice- such as another interest, a long holiday, family circumstances etc.
Ideas to motivate teenage instrumentalists
- Stars and stickers might not work so well now but involving your teenager in their learning will. A good teacher will ask them what they want to play, or get them to compile a wish list. Music in contemporary styles often gets a mention here or music that they and their friends know. The Jazzin’ About series by Pam Wedgwood and arrangements of film themes and pop songs, are very popular. Also duets and ensemble pieces are huge fun and needed for some GCSE and A level syllabus requirements.
- This is usually the age when learners decide if they want to continue with lesson or not. If they want to continue and get serious, DVDs CDs and YouTube playlists are great ways to provide inspiration, as well as anthologies of music.
- Exams may still feature but performance anxiety might get in the way: it’s worth reading Keeping Your Nerve, Jones, for ideas on being prepared for performance and keeping calm.
- Developing other musical skills such as improvisation, playing from a lead sheet, playing by ear, can often give teenagers kudos, “coolness” and fun. Christopher Norton’s Microjazz books are great for this.
My Music Practice Book provides a great and fun way for a young musician of any instrument to keep consistent track of their progress.
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