Build A Routine (one day at a time)
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:
- We want them to experience a lifetime of music, not just a year or two of failed lessons.
- We would love for them to play with other kids in a band or orchestra. We know that is cool and looks super fun.
- We want them to learn what it takes to get good at something. Going deep, learning to learn. This is universal.
- We want them to be self-motivated ultimately. Again..universal.
- We want them to love music because we do. Music is magical to us… If only they could feel what we feel dancing to our favorite band.
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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