Develop Awesome Music Practice Habits: 6 Points for Parents of Young Learners

music practice

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

—Aristotle

Music Practice: The “Recipe for Success

The time your child spends in the classroom with the instructor is essential. During this time, young learners have the opportunity to solidify material from previous classes, gain exposure to new concepts and branch out to new territory, and (maybe most importantly) get further guidance and ask for assistance.

Getting the most out of class time requires one commitment from the student, however, and that commitment is practice at home. The student who practices and prepares for an upcoming class will get much more from that class than the unprepared student. Likewise, the student who gets the most from class time is better prepared to practice at home. Class time and music practice reinforce each other, and time well spent in both class and practice is the recipe for success.

Confronting the Learning Curve of Music Practice

Young children are constantly learning so much each day. In addition to schoolwork and intellectual development, part of being a growing child involves learning to function socially and how to regulate one’s emotions, including “negative” emotions such as frustration and impatience. Music practice is often met with resistance by young students as they confront the difficulty of learning a new talent or skill. For students of all ages, but particularly for young ones, confronting the learning curve can be intimidating. Sometimes it just looks easier to quit.

Overcoming the learning curve is worth it, however! This article is written for parents to help them guide their young students who are just beginning their individual classes and are new to music practice at home. Because it is so common for young students to “hit the learning curve,” especially when it comes to music practice, let’s get into strategies that will help your child enjoy (rather than resist) getting the most out of music.

Six Points for Overcoming the Learning Curve

  • Resistance to practice is normal! If you see your child get frustrated when learning a new song or technique, or even if they show resistance to sitting down to practice in general . . . don’t worry. All musicians at one time or another feel resistance and frustration during practice, or even about the action of sitting down to practice itself! As a parent, you can surely remember times when you resisted learning something new or committed yourself to a real challenge. The key here is to realize that resistance is normal and is an emotional reaction that can be worked through. It is a step on the path, not the final destination. Music practice is all about the little steps.
  • Trust your child’s teacher. A lot goes into lesson planning for your child’s classes. For all learners, but for young students especially, a careful level of difficulty needs to be maintained which balances risk and reward. If the lesson is too easy, the student learns nothing. If the lesson is too hard, the student also learns nothing. Each class, the instructor gauges the right amount of difficulty for the student so that they can take the next step and feel proud of that accomplishment. In other words, the whole point of the class to normalize the resistance that young students encounter. Instructors will not give students an impossible challenge; to the contrary, the challenge faced by the young student is designed to be overcome. Music practice should be challenging.
  • Optimism goes a long way. Your child’s instructor is optimistic about your child’s potential. This optimism means that the music instructor sees the “long view” of education. Mistakes, frustrations, and even self-doubt about one’s talent are only steps on the way to achievement and success. This forgiving attitude, when adopted by parents at home regarding practice, reinforces an approach of perseverence and learning for the young student. Seen in this long view, resistances are only temporary, just as mistakes or errors are opportunities for learning and correction. Adults have a much more developed understanding of how progress works and looks, and it’s easy to take for granted that young people don’t have this advantage yet. Patience, gentle encouragement, and praise show the young student that frustration or resistance during practice is worth overcoming.
  • Keep music practice fun. Music is and should be enjoyable. If it wasn’t . . . why would we play and listen to it? Music is not an empty exercise. Knowing this, your child’s instructor makes sure the class is fun: enjoyment is important for its own sake, and doubly so for young children who learn more efficiently when they want to learn. There are many strategies to keeping practice fun for your child, and each approach is unique to the individual, but here are some approaches: does your kid like video games? Make practicing like a video game, then, with levels, achievements, and final bosses (such as particularly challenging exercises or songs). Does your kid like to be the centre of attention? Have weekly “performance nights” when your child can showcase the weekly lesson for the family. It’s entirely possible to “frame” music practice within other contexts of your child’s personality and interests. Your creativity can go a long way to keeping your child engaged and consistent when it comes to practicing music.
  • Keep music practice inspiring. The odds are high that your child likes music, even if there’s resistance to practice. One excellent way to break through resistance is inspiration. What music does your kid like? Once again, the odds are high your child likes songs from television shows, Disney movies, or online videos. Kid-friendly songs are often effective because they contain simple, easily-learned melodies—perfect to learn in class, as well as perfect for informal practice. Why not sing these songs with your child while getting ready for school or in the car? (Maybe there’s a middle ground, too, between finding music that you like, as well as your child.) Different music venues around North Vancouver, West Vancouver and downtown have kid-friendly shows: perhaps these are an enjoyable outing for the whole family. If you can show your child how music exists outside of practice, it’s one way of making music practice something worth doing in your child’s eyes.
  • Listen to your child. We’re saying here that resistance to practice is normal; a challenge to be overcome by the collective team of student, parent and instructor. It’s totally possible, however, that your child would be better suited to a change in learning environment. Maybe it’s too early for individual lessons and your child would be happier in a group class. Maybe, too, your child really wants to try the violin rather than the piano. If you notice that your child is struggling with the material, your child’s instructor will help you consider if a change in class, instrument, or other detail will better suit your child’s unique situation. Feedback from your child is important and shouldn’t be ignored in favour of “forcing” practice time, which will only be counterproductive. In short, your child’s instructor is there to help you strategize the best for your child’s education.

Final Thoughts

Practice is challenging for everyone. Young learners deserve extra credit for the challenges they overcome as they commit themselves to sitting down with their instrument. For many, it’s their first time doing so.

The great news is that at the same time that young learners practice their instrument, they also practice how to practice. With time and with some effort, they get more comfortable with practice and understand why they are committing themselves to that effort. Practice gets easier with more practice! As Aristotle says, we are what we repeatedly do. If this is true, then excellence is on the other side of that learning curve. 

Practice is what gets us there.

RESOURCES:

See our handout guide on how parents can support their young musicians.

Check out this useful 10-point list of practice tips.

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