Motivate Kids to Practice

You pay big bucks for your kids to learn to play beautiful music like that. But if they don’t practice, is it worth it?

Music Teacher and recording artist Amy Hansen shares tips to motivate your children to want to practice their instruments!

Although it may seem impossible, there are some realistic and practical ways to help motivate and encourage your child to practice.

1. Positive parental involvement

In my teaching career of more than 13 years as a studio piano teacher, I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme in the majority of my most successful students: parental involvement. I’d like to add the word “positive” to the word “involvement” as well.

You, as the parent, don’t necessarily need to be proficient in your child’s instrument, but you can still play a vital role in encouraging their practicing by keeping it enjoyable. For example, instead of initiating practice time by saying, “Come practice now or you can’t hang out with your friends,” try instead, “Let me hear your favorite new piece you were assigned at your lesson.”

Also, it’s important for parents to monitor their child’s practice session, and further, to monitor their session in a positive way. Something you might try if your child keeps making a mistake would be to say, “Let’s have you work your hardest on that section for three minutes. Then show me your best effort at that passage when the time’s up.” The more positive approach can evoke a different reaction.

2. The teacher: Find the right fit

Since every child is different, it’s important to find the right teacher that can positively encourage practicing. One suggestion to consider is to ask if the teacher incorporates any special techniques in regards to motivation in practicing.

One thing I like to do in my own studio is to use incentive programs. For example, this fall semester my students will be participating in an incentive program I call “Go for the Gold.” They will be working for four months to try to earn a trophy that will be handed out at the winter studio recital. The students will earn points toward the trophy by filling out weekly practice sheets and fulfilling specific goals and assignments in their repertoire. I have found these incentive programs to make a big difference, especially when the student can work toward something tangible, such as a trophy.

3. Fun pieces and repertoire selections

One time I assigned a difficult piece to a later-beginner student, thinking they’d need at least a few months to perfect and learn it. I was happily surprised when they came to their lesson the next week with it completely learned! The key was that the student loved the piece.

As a teacher, I try to pick fun pieces for each student. In fact, I involve them in the selection process: I’ll have some repertoire picked out that’s appropriate for their level and then I’ll play the selections for them. They then pick their preferred piece. I’ve found that students tend to practice their favorite pieces the most anyway.

4. Make practicing a routine

When it comes to practicing, it can be hard to fit it into our busy schedules. One remedy for this is to incorporate a practice schedule or routine. The goal is to make it a habit so the student becomes accustomed to practicing at the same time each day.

You might try this approach: Arrive home from school, allow 10 minutes for a snack, then have a 30-minute practice session, followed by the reward of a 30 minute free-time. This way, the student has a defined routine and knows what is expected of them.

5. Prepare for performance opportunities

There’s nothing like the pressure of performing in front of an audience to motivate practicing. There are many performance opportunities that a student may participate in, such as recitals, festivals, competitions, group performance classes or informal concerts for friends and family. It is natural for a student to want to do well when performing, and having goals working toward that certainly encourages extra practicing.

In my studio we have recitals at the end of every semester. I also incorporate performance classes, which give the student the opportunity to play their pieces in front of their peers. In addition, I also have my students participate in festivals and competitions throughout the year. These performance opportunities motivate students to be constantly practicing and preparing for upcoming events.

By incorporating some of these tips, you’ll surely be able to help motivate your kids to practice their instruments more. But, I’ll keep you posted if I ever run across a magic wand.

Amy B.Hansen is piano teacher and recording artist. Her new CD is called “Fount of Every Blessing,” available at Deseret Book and Seagull Book.

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