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  • Stuart Barr

"Music Practice Sucks!" – How you can help children to love practice

“Mum, when can I do my practice?” If only that were the daily chorus of an estimated 100m children learning instruments worldwide! But as parents know it’s far more likely to be the parent saying “when are you going to do your practice?”.

We all know practice is vital for success, but the reality is that for so many children practice can be a chore rather than joyful and self-motivating. Perhaps the biggest barrier is that learning an instrument involves delayed gratification, a concept at odds with an X-Factor generation led by the deception that great skills are instantaneously got, rather than learned by hard work! Without being able to derive immediate pleasure from the small steps of practice, it’s no surprise that it frequently results in low self-motivation to practise.

It’s so common to find children:

• Not making the most out of their practice time

• Losing focus quickly

• Not doing the practice that their teachers want them to do

• Just running through whole pieces rather than targeting tricky passages

• Not able to spot inaccuracies, and thereby ingraining bad habits

• Ending up frustrated or disinterested because they don’t find it fun

• Watching the clock to see when practice ends

Parents often respond by resorting to nagging them to practise, or bribing them with extrinsic motivators, neither of which result in what parents really want: children who love to practise because of the love of playing music! It’s no surprise that parents end up disappointed that their considerable investment in music lessons isn’t being made the most of.

So, how can parents best help children to get round the problem of delayed gratification? One of the best ways to help your children thrive in-between lessons is by having an empathetic 2nd set of ears. A practice buddy is far better for them than a nag! Children can thrive in-between lessons by having an empathetic 2nd set of ears.

Music practice experts suggest these 4 strategies to nurture budding musicians:

Structure. Encourage them to start by setting the practice goal: structure it according to what their teacher wants to do – but accept that big steps are only made by lots of little small improvements.

Feedback. Praise them for good effort, not just for getting things right. That helps to embed a sense that it’s about the journey as well as the destination. It’s important to help them correct wrong rhythms and notes too, to stop the embedding of inaccuracy. (Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent!)

Creativity. Encourage them to use their creativity whilst practising. They’ll be so much more enthused if they experience music practice as an expressive activity not just something they need to get right. Try getting them to try putting different emotions into pieces or even scales. Or playing a piece as if they were lying in the sun; as if they were playing a game of football; or as if an alien was talking to another alien!

• Create a Virtuous circle of fun. If a child ends up frustrated at the end of practice, then they’re less likely to develop the self-motivation to want to practise again the next day. You can break this and create a virtuous circle by making sure practice finishes on a high. E.g. why not get them to perform whatever they’ve practised to their teddies or unicorns. Or get them to record it so they can hear the fruits of their labours.

Sounds good, but it can be tough for a parent to be the perfect practice buddy, either through lack of time, musical ability or the tricky nature of parent-child relationship. That’s why it’s very useful to have a set of ears other than your own, and is exactly what Skype-coaching from does. Practissimo trains conservatoire-standard music students to be practice buddies for children by Skype. Typically, parents opt for one 25-minute Practissimo session each week in-between lessons. Coaches are trained to give just the right level of feedback and have a great repertory of top-tips and games – helping children practice and solve their musical problems without treading on the toes of their regular teachers.

Results show that practice coaching leads to more self-motivation to practise outside of Practissimo sessions. Budding musicians turn up to their regular lessons fired up, having made more progress than before. For that reason, instrumental teachers love it too! They can also work on the auxiliary skills that instrumental teachers rarely have enough time to work on: aural, sightreading and musicianship.

Try out their no obligation free trial today, and you too may experience the joy of having your child saying “Mum, when can I do my practice?”

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