I just finished a wonderful article in the Sunday Review section of the NY Times: The Science and Art Of Listening. Seth Horowitz makes the simple yet profound point, “listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload.” He goes on to better define that listening is something that is truly challenging (and a real skill that we humans develop – or not – over our lifetime) while hearing happens automatically and acts as our first line of defense in our environment, in other words we have a ten times greater chance of hearing a warning before we see it. Another way to say this is that when our children seem to ignore us as we advise them to put on a warmer jacket, we ought to be saying ‘did you listen to me’ rather than ‘did you hear me.’
I just had a great conversation with a mom whose kids take private piano lessons and each play in a BMF band. A family totally committed to making lots of music each week. She revealed, though, that she is struggling with getting the kids to practice regularly at home. It feels somehow more like homework than playing music. Sound familiar?
- Parents Need to Let Go. This adventure called music is not your adventure it is your child’s. It is very difficult for us to let go of the experience and let our children have their own version of music. They need to sit at the piano or guitar and discover practicing and playing on their own. You can make sure they have their Play Along tracks handy and their lesson notes easy to find and even read their “Goal” out loud but beyond that, let them ask you if they need and want help. You are not defining their musical experience, they are. You are not being judged.
- Redefine Your Definition of Practice. At BMF, we believe strongly in the notion that all music can and really should be played from a place of joy. This may sound ‘new age’ and silly to some…but in fact, when you think about it, the traditional music lesson says that only hard work pays off, sometimes it’s not fun, but you need to force yourself to play anyways…but the thing is, most of those students end up quitting and possibly never explore music again. SO…if your child does not want to play/practice..don’t force them. Just suggest listening to a Play Along or their gig song a few times instead. Or play them one of your favorite songs on iTunes. Or just perform a song for them yourself if you play an instrument. And if you don’t, sing them a song. Everyone sings. BUT always do it from a space of joy and desire…not…out of guilt or a sense of duty. Music is meant to be a joy, even when practiced.
- Shorten Your Expectations (for the first 3 years at least…): The most important part of practicing is the consistency of it. Slow and steady wins the race. In the beginning, meaning years one through three, all a student needs is 10 minutes with their instrument each day. The key is 10 minutes regularly and at the same time each day if possible. If it becomes something that we just try to “fit it” then life takes over and finding 10 minutes feels like trying get an appointment with your dentist…impossible! Make it every morning for 10 minutes while you make breakfast OR 10 minutes before going to bed. Every family is going to have a slightly different time, but try to find yours and stick to it. Your child will be much happier knowing when to play each day.
- Put the Instrument Where the Family Plays. This may seem obvious, but many families over look it. If the piano is in the hallway or in the back room where no one ever goes (except to get their jacket!) it’s easy to see why your child won’t want to just sit down and play. They don’t want to practice alone. And they certainly don’t want to be sent away to practice. Music is a social medium…it is meant to be played with others…or at least with others around. Keep your instruments in high traffic areas where you can listen and others might even sing along.