There are many reasons why a parent might encourage a child to pursue a musical instrument. Practicing music from a young age can lead to better performance in school, encourage the development of social skills, invoke higher levels of self-esteem, and teach children valuable lessons like patience and cultural awareness.
While the benefits to learning an instrument are many and the process can be stimulating, even the most enthusiastic young musicians may find that practice can sometimes seem less like an exciting challenge and more like a frustrating chore. To inject a little more fun into a child’s music routine, consider the following five tips.
1. Start out small
Young musicians may have a difficult time staying focused for 30 minutes on any task, let alone attempting to master an instrument that they are just becoming familiar with. To fight off boredom, parents should start practice sessions off small, with the first few lessons lasting no more than 10 to 15 minutes each day. As the child progresses and becomes more familiar with the instrument, parents can extend practice durations in small increments, allowing the child to work up to daily practices that last the standard 30 minutes. The point of this approach is to make sure that the lesson ends before the child becomes bored, encouraging him or her to associate music practice with the positive feeling of learning something new and having a good time.
2. Always work toward a goal
One of the most common reasons that new musicians of all ages start to feel unmotivated and bored when learning an instrument is that they do not set goals before practice sessions. The tedious nature of attempting to play through a single song can rob musicianship of its appeal, and the task then becomes one that the child dreads.
To make practice more enjoyable, parents should help children choose goals before every session, such as perfecting a specific, difficult measure of music within a song. To help make this approach entertaining, parents can try using the “three penny” trick to allow the child to keep track of his or her progress during practice. Three pennies are first placed on the left side of the music stand. When the child plays through the difficult measure of music perfectly, he or she then moves one of the pennies to the right side of the stand. The child attempts to play the measure perfectly two additional times, but if at any point he or she makes a mistake, all three of the pennies must be moved back to the left side of the stand. The lesson can be complete when all three pennies have been moved to the right side of the stand, indicating that the measure has been played through without error three times.
3. Incorporate prizes
Using rewards as incentive to accomplish a task is an approach used widely in Western culture, from adult workplaces to children’s classrooms. Reward systems may be applied in the case of music practice as well. While some people see rewards as bribing a child to act a certain way, the use of prizes when a child is learning to play an instrument can improve self-esteem, encourage more effort, and instill greater contentment in the overall process of learning to play. This is best achieved if parents set reasonable, specific goals and abide by consistent rules during the process.
Parents who choose to use a rewards system should consider creating a chart used to account for the number of practices completed or specific music goals achieved. This way, the child can monitor his or her own progress, and learn that rewards come with time and hard work. Examples of good choices for prizes include special privileges like skipping a chore, getting extra time playing video games, picking out a small, inexpensive toy, or enjoying a special occasion such as a sporting event or a day out at the zoo.
4. Take it somewhere new
Adherence to the same routine day in and day out can make any task less enjoyable, and music practice is no exception. A simple way to make time with an instrument more fun for children is to occasionally encourage them to practice in a new space. Consider setting up your child’s music stand and any other necessary supplies in a different part of the house than usual, such as the backyard. The novelty of a new practice space can jumpstart a practice routine that has become monotonous and renew a child’s commitment to learning the instrument.
5. Show interest in their progress
Practice is usually a solo activity, but a parent who takes the time to act as an audience during practice and make encouraging remarks can do much for a child’s self-esteem and confidence. Parents can take this effort a step further by asking their child to demonstrate how to play a note or a chord on an instrument, thus allowing the child to have fun teaching the adult. Being asked for a small lesson reminds children that that even though their progress may be slow, they are still developing a special skill that they can share with others.