How to encourage your kid to practice their instrument, according to music education experts

happy girl practicing piano - how to get your kid to practice music

The benefits of music education among kids have long been heralded, from increased mindfulness and confidence to improved reading and listening skills to increased social skills. However, there comes a time in nearly every music student’s life when they beg a parent to quit.

But sometimes all that kids need to stick with their music education is a little extra encouragement. As teachers and administrators at Grace Music School in Long Island, NY, here’s our best advice and strategies for guardians and kids to power through the harder times in order to maintain a lifelong positive relationship with music education.

Try setting a goal to help your child feel motivated to practice their instrument

The popular belief is that a motivated student will be a practicing student. However, it’s very important to understand that it’s the action which fuels motivation, not the other way around. For a young beginner, it’s important to set a daily routine for practicing. Learning music is akin to learning another language, so it takes diligence and discipline. It can be helpful if there is a goal that your child can work towards. Recitals, competitions and different assessments, even regular weekly lessons, can all provide the opportunity for the student to decide that they want to do well, and, for better or for worse, there’s only one way to get there: practice.

Aim for consistency over duration

Practicing is like the foundation of a building—it provides stability and support for growth and excellence. This applies not only to academics and sports, but to music as well. Music is just as much a mental challenge as it is a physical challenge. Any instrument requires particular motor skills, dexterity, as well as limb independence, and all of that takes a significant amount of time to develop. Good control, proper posture, efficient techniquethey all need to become automatic, second nature, and this is only achieved through mindfulness and the consistency of regular repetition. The same is true for reading comprehension, as well as all other skills pertaining to artistry, and musicianship itself.

It’s hard to answer the question of “how much time” is ideal for practicing. That question isn’t necessarily the most important one. Instead, one should be asking “how often” is it good to practice, and the answer is, as often as possible! Daily practice is the most effective way of achieving steady and relatively quick growth, as the information practiced is being refreshed before it’s forgotten. The time spent during each practice session will vary based on the experience level, as well as the length and difficulty of repertoire. It’s important to understand that a six-day practice routine of spending even as little as just 10 minutes practicing will yield far greater results than a once-per-week, 60 minute practice session would.

Make practicing fun

Practicing can sometimes feel like a chore and that can take the fun out of learning. You can turn practice sessions into small performance-like events for your child. Gather the family and have them practice (perform) in front of them. Another fun strategy is to attend as many live performances with your child as you can, whether it be Broadway, a concert hall, a rock venue, or even music in the park! Witnessing the skill and artistry of others can serve as inspiration and motivation for your child to hone their craft.

Alternatively, keeping a log of practice sessions can also be a highly effective strategy. Similar to a star chart, each practice session or musical activity can be awarded a certain number of points, the accumulated points can then be redeemed for rewards. You may also choose to award or deduct points depending on the teacher’s weekly feedback. No matter which method is used, it should be phased out over time, so that practicing doesn’t forever remain tied to the idea of a physical reward, but that the sense of success and accomplishment becomes a reward in and of itself.

Recognizing when it’s time to switch instruments

It isn’t uncommon for a student to not fully connect with the instrument on which they have initially started taking lessons. There are numerous reasons why this can happen, and it’s very important that any major decisions be first discussed at length with your child. “Giving it a fair shot” might be an answer, but that might not always mean the exact same thing to everyone. It is generally a good idea to try and reach at least an intermediate level with an instrument before attempting a permanent switch. Sometimes, beginning to learn two instruments in parallel might actually work out really well too. This way all the principles of notation and reading comprehension are used across a few different instruments and contexts. Frequently this can promote rapid advancement in the understanding of music. If the student clearly connects better with the other instrument as opposed to the first one, then a permanent switch might be more beneficial.

Ideally, we should do all we can to avoid a pause in music education. There are too many stories of adults returning to music lessons later in life, only to express serious regret that they stopped taking lessons in their youth. Music education can be a lifelong skill, and a lifelong source of joy not just for kids, but for the people around them as well.