Getting Your Kids to Practice Music Is Not Impossible

Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

We've heard it a million times, "practice, practice, practice." Now this saying doesn't just apply to music, although we will be focusing on that today. In fact, the concept of practicing until perfect can be found in just about every activity from sports to cooking. Practicing music undoubtedly falls into this list. Getting your kids to practice music is certainly possible and they may, dare I say it, even enjoy it.

I think it is safe to assume that we all agree that in order to excel in anything, we must first, at the very least, do the actual thing we are seeking to excel in. Doesn't matter if it's sight reading music or playing chess. However, how much practice and application is enough? Once, twice, seven times a week? One hour, two hours, or 10,000 hours?

Effective Practice Routines

The first question to answer is what does an effective practice routine even look like? Once we answer that, we can turn to the question of how we get kids to practice music. We may assume that it's simply a matter of rote repetition until a certain skill flows with ease. In truth, effective practice is as much a physical discipline as it is a mental one. In a great article by Anastasia Tsioulcas for NRP.org, she details the science behind effective practice as explained in a TED Ed lesson by Annie Bosler and Don Greene.

She goes on to explain that research has shown techniques for successful practice may be different than what we've been taught as children. Many elite performers use these techniques to achieve high level of proficiency in their field.

Highlights from the talk include:

  • "Focus at the task on hand." Shut off all those digital distractions.
  • "Start out slowly, or in slow motion. Coordination is built with repetitions." Get it right at a slow pace and then work on increasing your speed while still playing the music correctly.
  • "Frequent repetition with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers." Do what many pros do: split your practice time into smaller, super-concentrated chunks, working multiple times a day.

Setting Up for Music Practice Success

One point that was made by Annie Bosler and Don Greene that specifically references music practice is:

  • "Practice in your brain, in vivid detail." Visualize playing your music without actually playing it. Put yourself through the music, note by note. Imagine what it feels like to press that key, or take that breath, every step of the way.

I found this idea fascinating. I came from the school of metronomes and plugging away until fluidity was achieved on that Beethoven Sonata. Brute force was my school of practice. I now see and have come to relain over the years that there are more effective forms of practice. It is a mental game as much as it is a physical one. Who knew?

Practical Solutions for Great Music Practice

So you may be thinking, "this is all great and everything, but how do I make my kids to practice music?" Below I share a few tips to get the most out of each practice session for your kids:

  • Have instruments out on their stand. If they are in cases all the time, kids are less likely to use them
  • Split each practice into smaller chunks, known as "chunking." This makes even difficult parts of a song easy to handle
  • End with a listening time. Listening to music is just as important as playing
  • Try to choose the same days every week when possible
  • Have them teach you what they learned. Show interest in their instrument. Added bonus is that you can learn to play as well!
  • Share music as a family. Watch a live performance on TV occasionally of a band that your child likes. Ask questions about the musicians in the band and how they play

Share Your Tips

What are some practice tips that work in your family? Share in the comments below. There is no perfect way to practice, however, we can all learn from each other and offer our children the best musical experience possible.

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