Why is establishing a habit so important? It’s because when practice becomes a habit, your child will become more eager to practice, there will be fewer struggles, and everything becomes easier. Translation: more happy music-making. (Time for pom-poms and a dance of joy!)
“Practice only on the days you eat,” said Shinichi Suzuki. He knew the power of daily practice.
So what are the 7 steps to a strong practice habit?
(In case you prefer to watch a video with the same info, click below.)
Step 1: Know your WHY
It’s important to know why you want your child to make music. For example, do you want your child to be able to play at Carnegie Hall or is music something you want your child to use for self-expression? Knowing your “why” can really help clarify how much music practice you want your child to accomplish and in what ways.
Step 2: Get your Child to the Instrument Every Day
There’s no way around this and, honestly, this is one of the best things you can do for your child because when your child goes to their instrument every day and begins to practice, they develop this habit. Your child will realize, “Oh this is something I have to do every day.” It no longer becomes an optional task. It’s just something they do–kind of like brushing their teeth. So, make sure that your child gets to the instrument. Even if in the beginning it is only for five minutes, it helps establish that daily routine. Eventually, this will help your child actually see that when they’re practicing they improve and that will help motivate your child to then get to their instrument even more.
Step 3: Begin and End with Playing
I like to think about music practice and music playing on a continuum like this:
PRACTICING ————————————- PLAYING
On the one end is practice. That’s the stuff where you have to be really diligent and break things down and do a lot of repetitions. On the other end is playing, which is carefree and joyful. It’s important for your child to begin the practice session with something that they really enjoy and then end that same practice session with something that they also enjoy. This is also the time when you don’t make any critical remarks. Just let your child play. This will help your child ease into their practice session and then also leave them on a high note at the end of the session. Don’t worry, we will talk about the other end of the continuum next.
Step 4: Make Quality Repetitions
The most important part during the practice session is to make sure that your child is making quality repetitions. That means they might have to break things down into small chunks or slow things down. This is probably the hardest part about practice and it requires a lot of attention and focus. If your child doesn’t have that, it’s really important that you help them and you guide them and you support them so making sure that your child repeats in a way that allows them to then play it in a in a correct way. This will actually give them a lot of motivation because they can see, “Oh wow, with repetition, I get better.” Then they will want to get to their instrument even more.
This step is really hard for most people–parents and kids! If you want help figuring out how to guide your child to make quality repetitions, I recommend checking out the “How to Raise a Musical Child” Online Parent Class. Recently, a parent who took the class said, “It was very interactive and far exceeded my expectations! In addition to helping my child with his musical skills, I gained parenting skills as well. It’s a great class!” (Ryan Paquette, parent)
Step 5: Focus on the Positive
We want our children to play correctly, but sometimes our comments are too critical. I’ve been guilty of being harsh or even getting upset during practice. It does nobody any good if you’re angry or if you’re yelling at your child. As much as you can, use positive language like pointing out what they’re doing well and for the parts where they need to fix. Then just point out, “Oh it sounds like we need to focus on X Y and Z.” Or, “It sounds like the tempo is really unsteady and that was what your teacher told you is the main point for this piece and so make sure you are focusing on the temple. Directing your child back in a positive way that’s also gentle can be very effective.
Step 6: Saturate the Environment with Music
The more your child is listening to music and seeing people make music, the more they will be excited about making music. If you want some ideas on how to saturate the environment with music I actually have a free download: The Top 15 Ways to Inspire Kids to Make Music. This list includes well-researched ideas that make a big difference in getting kids excited about making music.
Step 7: Supervise Practice
As much as I wish we didn’t have to supervise practice, that’s just the reality of it! The reason why we need to be there and support children with their practice is because kids do not develop executive functioning skills until they’re well into their 20’s. What are executive functioning skills? They include task initiation, organization, perseverance, and focus. All of these are developed in the brain’s frontal lobe and kids don’t have them yet. Thus, the best thing we can do to support their music practice is to be there with them. We have to be their frontal lobes in a sense.
I’ve worked with hundreds of parents and there’s really no way to get around it. The parents who have kids who thrive with music are the ones who are present with music practice. With young kids, it means sitting next to them and helping them figure out what to practice. Of course, as they age, like when they get into their teenage years, you can be a lot more laid back. The teenagers will then practice on their own but it’s still important to check in. You’re still supervising. You’re still making sure everything is running smoothly.