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This may seem obvious to those that have gotten pretty good at something other than their job, but it bears repeating: Building a consistent routine is essential. No seven-year old boy needs to be playing music one hour a day, but they do need to be visiting their instrument or playing a music game for a few minutes a handful of days per week. Short and consistent is the key.
In the beginning, we are going to set a goal of just two days per week.
PS: If you have yet to read parts 1-3 of this series on building better practice habits. Please stop reading this and read the first three entries:
I repeat: In the beginning, we are going to set a goal of just two days per week. What?!? Only two days per week?
Now, I know some parents think that if their child stands any chance at greatness (or even improvement), they need to practice at least an hour a day, every day. We have all heard that if you miss just one day of practice, you take two steps backwards. Or we have heard of a friend of a friend whose child gets up everyday at 6am and plays before school. We’ve also all probably read the studies claiming that without 10,000 hours of practice, your child will never master anything, let alone music. Total panic sets in after the first few weeks of piano lessons, when your child has not shown any inclination towards daily practice. At the current rate, he’ll need three lifetimes to reach even half those 10,000 hours!
We need to slow down.
There is a paradox that we struggle with and it’s this: We don’t wish for careers as musicians for our children–“how does anyone make a living playing music…especially these days?!”–but we DO want them to become concert pianists and taste true mastery of the art. Every parent has had this thought at one point or another. It’s only natural to want to protect our children, yet to dream and imagine the possibilities for them at the same time. Is music worth it, if they are not going to become highly proficient?
The reality is this, however: One in a thousand kids choose music as a career. (I’m making that number up, and it’s probably smaller than that… Actually, I have worked with thousands of students in my 25 years of teaching, and I’m guessing fewer than 30 have chosen music as a full time career. Also, out of the kids that DO choose a music career, most do not pick the path of performer. (There are lots of other great music careers–teacher, engineer, therapist, etc.)
So….Let’s re-assess and establish some real goals for our kids and music:
Maybe you have a few more goals, but these are the ones I hear from parents year in and year out. So, with those goals in mind, let’s build a realistic practice routine around them.
A Realistic Music Practice Routine:
GOAL: We want our children to experience a lifetime of joyful music making, so let’s not turn music into a chore for them, like cleaning their rooms (or dare I say, doing home work!)
SOLUTION: Start with a couple practice sessions a week. Make them the same time & same days. Keep it simple. They need to know and expect to practice then. Eventually (trust me on this) they will even look forward to those sessions. BUT…only two times a week. You can even just start with once a week. Manage your expectations & consistency are key here.
GOAL: We would love for our kids to play in a band with other kids.
SOLUTION: Next time your kids have a play date, encourage them to show their friends what they have been playing and maybe, just maybe, those friends will then want to share what they have been playing. This is the start of a jam session. You can also sign your child up for a band class. Make music social from the start. Do not wait until you think they are “good enough.”
GOAL: We want our children to learn what it takes to get good at something.
SOLUTION: Be sure to congratulate them every time they go through their HomeRock (our version of lesson notes, i.e. what to practice at home). In fact, they have just one weekly musical goal each week. Read that weekly goal out loud to them and high five them when they demonstrate that they can play it. We give our students places to check off everything they accomplish. We even give the younger students sheets of stickers. Check marks and stickers are simple rewards, but huge for someone starting out. Getting good at anything requires lots and lots of patience. Celebrate every step along the way, and we’ll stand a much better chance of reaching the next goal.
GOAL: We want our children to be self-motivated.
SOLUTION: Create a routine to encourage your children to learn and grow. Help them build a pattern of behaviors that will result in a super fun gig or jam session with friends. They will connect the dots and realize that they will be able to solve more music riddles with more of that same routine. Success and staying motivated has nothing to do with talent or natural ability, but everything to do with setting up and following simple routines–and experiencing the rewards.
GOAL: We want our children to love music because we do.
SOLUTION: Share your love of music every chance you can. Play the music you love now and the music you loved when you were younger. Sit and listen to the music they love. Dance to the music. Sing with the music. Practicing an instrument will only intensify passion for music if it already exists in your home. Your kids want to see and feel your passion for music.
Here is the real breakdown on how many days per week a student must practice to have a chance of success with the above goals.
Year 1: A couple days per week. (Set the days and stick to them whenever possible.)
Year 2 & 3: Add a third day, possibly a fourth if your child chooses to.
Year 4: Four days per week.
Year 5 and beyond: At this point, a student can expect to have a solid routine five days per week (always take off the lesson day). It is their routine and not yours at this juncture. You will need to trust and stay out of the way as much as possible. Absolutely still read their weekly goal to yourself and any chance you get to sing or play with them…do it!
Does this seem doable? I have seen it work with lots of students at the Brooklyn Music Factory. What has your experience been? Please share with our readers.
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The times that I write best are when I’m thinking about what I want to say, not what I want people to hear. It’s when I am listening inward, not outward, that I write from my most honest place.
But how do we teach that at the Brooklyn Music Factory? If songwriting is about expressing one’s self, how, as the teacher, do we not become simply part of the external noise? As musicians, we all have our own ideas of what defines a song. We all have our own notions of what the final stroke on a finished piece may look like. There are individual rules, that whether we intentionally made them or not, we abide by. For the child who has never written a song before – a clean slate – how do we set free our own personal rules?
At the Brooklyn Music Factory, we have found that the key is to not be a teacher but to be a guide. You want to find out what the students’ thoughts and ideas are, and simply give them the tools to turn those thoughts and ideas into songs. Whatever that may look like.
What are the tools we use?
1. Lyric inspiration games.
BMF games such as “Paint a Picture,” where we draw inspiration from various photographs, and “Lyric Brainstorm,” a free association lyric exercise, ainspire kids to create their own lyrical stories.
2. Melody and Chord Games.
BMF games such as “Mood Jam,” where kids draw inspiration for different musical moods from their own drawings, teach students how to experiment with melody and chords.
3. Most importantly, we avoid making suggestions and instead ask questions.
For lyrics we ask questions such as:
Who is this song about?
What is he/she feeling?
Why is he/she feeling this way?
Where is this story happening?
For melody and chords we ask questions such as:
Should the music sound happy, sad, or something else?
What kind of chords and melodies sound that way?
Do you imagine the tempo to be fast, slow or somewhere in the middle?
Letting the student freely answer questions like these leads us teachers to musical and lyrical places we would have never imagined. I often find that through this process I am actually the one who ends up learning. Thinking to myself, “Wow, I would have never thought of going there.”
Ultimately, the goal in songwriting at the Brooklyn Music Factory is to shed light on what a child wants to say, instead of teaching or telling him what to say. Kids come up with ideas we would never dream of, if we simply let them.
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Musical instruments are toys. Yes, you read that correctly. They are not delicate museum pieces that should be handled with kid gloves as if they may break at any moment. Your child needs to feel comfortable getting their hands dirty with their guitar often. They need to be able to bang on the piano if that’s how they feel. They need to be able use and abuse that bass guitar!!
Ask yourself a simple question: How often does your daughter play with a china doll that may shatter at any point? Yup…never. Either because she doesn’t have a fragile doll, or because you keep it out of reach. Kids don’t need instruments that they–and you–are afraid of breaking.
When starting out, children need instruments that are basic, rugged, and replaceable.
Often parents will ask about the investment… They may say something like, “I’m not sure I want to invest in an instrument until I see that they are truly interested.” Totally understandable. Instruments can cost a bunch of money, and what happens if your child quits after only three months? Nobody wants to get stuck with more stuff in their apartment, especially when it cost a pretty penny and is just collecting dust.
But hold on…. No Instrument = No Fair = No Fun = No Music.
I want you to think of another activity and whether or not you have made an investment. Let’s start with an easy one, soccer. Did you send your child out onto the field without a uniform and cleats? Probably not. Or what about something even more basic like school? You made sure to invest in books and supplies and probably a whole lot of other items (fancy erasures & pencil sharpeners that were totally unnecessary…BTW), but you were hoping that by buying the equipment, you would inspire your child to learn & even love studying.
Music is absolutely the exact same. The only thing that is guaranteed is that your child WILL quit if you do not invest at least something in an instrument.
Without a toy to play with, kids are not going to stick around the playroom.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on an acoustic piano or a Fender Strat guitar, but you do need to invest a few hundred dollars. And in the case of drums, you can get away with a lot less than that to start.
So, let’s talk about our top choices in each category: keys, guitar, drums & bass.
All of these links are for an online retailer in New Jersey that is cheap and 100 percent reliable. If you want to shop local, try the Musician’s General Store on Smith & Wyckoff, and ask for Brian or Mingo. They will give you 10 percent off when you mention you are part of the Brooklyn Music Factory community. Bam!
Now make your move by clicking the links below.
3. The Beginning Drum Set Up
Mini Drum Kit (Great for Ages 6-16!)
Electronic Drums (need it to be as quiet as possible?)
Have fun playing with your new toys!
This is the second of a four part series that will walk you through building better practice habits for yourself and/or your children. The intent of these posts is to take the mystery out of practicing and ultimately build sustainable practice habits.
My goal is to help you never have to say, “My kid just wasn’t into music, and I could never get him to practice.” Or worse yet, “It was such a chore, and I just didn’t want to force her to play. I wanted music to be fun.”
If either of these quotes sound familiar, this blog is for you. I promise there is a better way to grow as a musician. And if you are just joining us on the Brooklyn Music Factory blog, I highly recommend starting from the beginning of this series.
So what is step two to building better practice habits? Knowing where to practice.
In marketing, they say location is everything. If you build your store where there is lots of traffic, then you are already half way to getting people in the door and that much closer to making a sale. Your home music playing environment is the exact same. If you set up the piano or hang that guitar on the wall in a part of your home where your musician will pass it often, he or she is 50 percent more likely to play it. If the instrument is in the basement or the front hall (‘out of the way’), then he or she is 50 percent less likely to want to play it.
My mom never had a nice instrument in the house where she raised me. She had lots of them (piano, guitar, African drums, drum set), but they were all pretty beaten up. Nothing fancy. But I can picture exactly where they lived in our house. You could see the grand piano the moment you walked through the front door taking up more than half of the dining room, which was essentially part of the kitchen. My drums lived in my bedroom (mostly for sound reasons!), but I often took them out to the back yard and played there while my mom hung laundry (that sounds SO Little House on the Prarie…it wasn’t). The instruments in our house were a part of our life. There was almost no way I could not have played the piano each time I got home….I literally had to scoot around it to get into the kitchen for my snack!
Studies have shown that the single largest indicator of how quickly a child will learn to read, and ultimately how proficient and interested he or she will become in reading, is how many books can be found in his or her home. Makes sense, right? The studies have found that, more than even reading aloud to your child, just having books sitting around your home shows your children that you are interested in books, and your interest inspires their literacy. The pile of books on your bedside table says that reading is something mom loves to do. It tells your child that reading is a valid way to spend time. It makes picking up a book and trying to read it easy to do.
Playing a musical instrument is exactly the same. Lots of instruments lying around says that mom values music and playing it (even if she doesn’t play anything yet!) Show the importance of music in your home by putting the instruments somewhere central. Make practicing them or just playing them an obvious and valid choice.
Here are three things you can do this week to promote music and practice at home:
I challenge you to take these simple steps in the next seven days. Order what you need online, and take 20 minutes over the weekend to set it all up. Or maybe you have already done this? If so, share the results with us below in the comments. Please let our readers know what you’ve done to craft a music space in your home.
Hey parents! For 37 years of my life I had time for my musical self. I could practice when I chose, write when I chose, record when I chose. Then came baby. Two years in I have finally figured out how to find time to fit music back into my life. These same tricks can help you make time for your son or daughter’s practice. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Do less more often
Most of us don’t have time to sit and practice for an hour at a time. If ten minutes a day are what you have, then do ten minutes every day as opposed to an hour a few times a week. It’s more realistic and will keep you honing those skills!
2. Make a plan
Schedule that practice time in your daily routine just like you would schedule your office hours, and your time at the gym. That way, you don’t wake up a week later not having touched your instrument. You know on a daily basis when that practice time will happen and can count on it.
Listening moments can be turned into learning moments. Actively listen the song you are doing dishes or walking to the train. Whether it’s lyrics, form, melody, a lot can be rehearsed through an active listening session.
4. Make practice fun
If you want to do it, you will do it. The Brooklyn Music Factory provides tons of ways to make practicing fun (like jam tracks, and games you can play at home). In addition, find your own way to make it fun—turn up the distortion, dim the lights–whatever works for you!