Without a doubt, one of the most confusing (and confounding!) parts of raising a musical family is understanding how to build lasting practice habits with your child. There is so much misinformation about what makes a musician and how much practice is needed. As a parent, you really have no real manual beyond what you believe to be true and it usually goes something like: My child needs to practice everyday for thirty minutes. If they don’t practice it means they ‘aren’t serious’ or ‘just don’t have talent’ and therefore it’s ‘a waste of everybody’s time and money.’
Well, this post is actually not about the long-term strategy of building lasting practice habits, but rather what you can absolutely expect in the first few months with every beginning musician if you do not implement a long term strategy. I have written a whole series of articles on the key steps to building habits…PLEASE read these first.
Here are those articles (start with #1!):
OK…so let me paint the picture of every musician just getting started. And it does not matter the instrument…piano, bass, drums, voice, guitar…the pattern is almost always the same.
Every musician leaves their first lesson super excited. They have gotten introduced to a brand new toy…and they got to play. They may have even gotten a new book and @ Brooklyn Music Factory, they have gotten their new HomeRock binder. Life is good and exciting. And they cannot wait to come back for the 2nd and third lesson.
The lessons are getting a bit challenging but are still fun. But right when they started to become kinda annoying (and the initial excitement has worn off) they get a new keyboard or practice pad or guitar to practice on at home. Yippee!! Life gets super exciting again because they have a toy at home to play with! Practicing at home begins in earnest now that there is an instrument. The parents also get ‘serious’ about practice because they have just spent $200 on a guitar and want to be sure they want their kid to fully appreciate the investment. (This is often where things star to go wrong with long term practice strategy….more on this below)
Practicing started off with a bang and now it seems to have fizzled out. What happened?! That guitar was so exciting for the first few weeks. Your child would ask to play it and you thought, ‘my kid really does have a knack for music!’ But now a few weeks later, he never takes it out of the case. He doesn’t seem that interested in playing. He still likes going to his lesson. He LOVES his teacher. But at home, it has gone from play to a chore. Parents…this is when you hear yourself saying things like, ‘you need to practice. If you don’t practice, I am going to cancel your lessons.’ OR ‘We spent good money on that keyboard, if you don’t start practicing we are going to sell it!’ (We sound an awful lot like our parents!….How did that happen?)
Does this 3 month pattern sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. I just described 90% of all beginning musicians.
Why do I point this out? Because it is vital that as a parent, you manage your expectations in years 1-3 AND most importantly, begin to implement the steps outlined in my previous articles on building habits AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
Why am I being so dramatic (ALL CAPS)? Because I desperately want your child to grow as a musician and love making music with others for the rest of their lives. Anything less than that and I/we have failed them. Music is too much fun to miss out on!
Practice habits are no different than the countless other habits you are building at home. Music isn’t some magical thing that kids just naturally know how to implement into their crazy, busy life. Reading a book isn;t a natural thing either. Drawing pictures or building a sand castle isn;t going to just happen on it’s own either. And Brushing teeth definitely doesn;t happen on it’s own!
Building music practice habits is all about three simple things:
1-Manageing your expectations (knowing that practicing just 2 times a week is fine in year one for example)
2-Providing all the toys (instruments, listening devices, timer, metronome, etc.) and support at home on how to use them
3-Setting a regular schedule and helping everyone in the house remember and support that schedule (we read very night at bedtime to our child but that only happens if everyone knows and respects that as important…otherwise we find ourselves rushing towards bedtime and getting anxious/frustrated)
So…again…PLEASE read or re-read the steps to building practice habits (Making Practice Work – Part 1). And, regardless of what time of year it is OR how many years your child has been playing, start implementing the strategy. Your child will thank you in down the road…I promise!
Onward & Happy Music Making!