We’ve all heard the saying ‘practice makes perfect,’ but it is often easier said than done to convince our children of this fact! When your child is just starting out on an instrument, it can be frustrating for them to master even really basic skills, and agonising for you to listen to! As your child matures, and wants more control over their lives, practise can become even more of a battleground. At every stage, parents have a crucial role to play in supporting their children to practice effectively, so if you’re a parent looking for help and advice, here are Learning Music’s five Top Tips for supporting perfect practice.
1. Establish a routine of ‘little and often’
Almost all of your problems with practice can be conquered by simply establishing a practice routine. If your child knows that they always do their practice straight after school, while you’re cooking the dinner, or at another specific point, there will be less opportunity to get into a screaming match about doing it NOW!
Practice is more effective when done little and often, so when establishing your routine, you might want to go for just 10 minute slots initially, as this is easier for your child to commit to. You will also want to avoid practice taking place every day, as this can feel like a never-ending task to your child. Maybe you will have a structure of practising every other day, only on weekdays, or only on days that they are not taking part in another musical activity? The main aim is to establish a workable routine that doesn’t feel like a horrible, inescapable chore. After all, we want our children to enjoy their music-making!
2. Allow autonomy, within reason!
Within the practice routine you will want to allow your child some autonomy. You’ve already taken some control away from them by telling them when to practice, so as long as they are independent enough to do so, allow them to decide how to practice. Maybe they want to play their pieces first and leave their scales until last? To a music teacher that would be a bit random, because scales help you warm up so you can play your pieces better, but it’s not a dealbreaker! Having said that, practice is for the things that you can’t do, not the things that you can! There’s no point your child just playing pieces that they are good at – although that can be a nice way to start or finish a practice session – they need to work on the bits that they’re not so good at.
Your child’s teacher will have provided specific instructions about which aspects of their playing they need to work on, and that should be your child’s focus for their practice session. One of the most useful things you can do as a parent is to ask your child what their teacher has told them to do, so that they don’t just go into auto-pilot mode and play through everything that they are currently learning without thinking about it. Once you’ve established what they should be working on, they can use their own autonomy to decide which order to complete the tasks in, or which aspects to focus on each practice session, so long as everything is covered by their next lesson.
3. Don’t worry if you’re ‘not musical’
You might feel that you aren’t ‘musical’ enough to support your child’s practice. But your role is to ensure that the practice gets done, rather than to critique it! Parents who are musicians have just as much trouble helping with practice as ‘non-musical’ parents – sometimes more so, when their children resent feeling like they are being ‘taught’ by their parent. Your main job is to set a routine for practice, and then help if and when you’re asked to. And don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ – your child will love the novelty of being more knowledgeable than you about something!
4. Reward effort, not achievement
Sometimes, even practice doesn’t make perfect! If your child is finding something really difficult, and not managing to conquer it, praise and reward them for their effort, not their achievement. This will help them to build up the resilience to keep at the problem until they fix it, which is a fantastic life skill as well as being useful for mastering their chosen instrument! Whether it is verbal praise, a reward sticker, or a bigger treat, show your child how proud you are of their tenacity.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Just because we’re adults, doesn’t mean we all know everything, so if you are unsure about how to support your child’s musical learning, don’t be afraid to reach out to their teacher for advice. Whether your child is refusing to practise, becoming distressed during practice sessions, or maybe even practising obsessively all the time, they’ve seen it all before! Your child’s teacher will be able to help you come up with a solution that works for your child, and for you. After all, your child has to ‘do’ the practice, but it’s you that has to listen to it…!