Daily Practice Tips

Getting children motivated to do their instrument practice can be daunting. As parents we have our hands full juggling work and home commitments. Our kids too, are almost as busy, with many after school activities requiring attention. In this hectic busy schedule we need to motivate ourselves first, in order to be of help to our kids.

Here are some tips to bring back the fun to practice. It does require a little effort on your part, but it will soon become much easier.

Action plan.

1. Set a daily practice opportunity time slot.
Work out with your child a time in the day for practice. It needs to be the same time every day. Frame it as their ‘opportunity’ to practice rather than it being a chore. The idea is to establish a practice habit. You want them to be self motivated so they don’t need constant reminding.

2. Focus on quality not quantity.
Explain that there is no set amount of time that must be completed. Together you want to find the quickest way to practice well. A short time of meaningful practice is what works best. You will find that by removing time limits your child will begin to practice more, not less.

3. How to practice.
Your child needs to know how to practice, a strategy, a simple method. Here is one that works and is easily explained to younger children. The child should play the piece through as best they can and identify the trouble spots. They then play those bars over a few times carefully and finally play the whole piece again.

4. Praise and more praise.
We all respond best to praise. The very best motivator your child can have is your approval. Compliment them on their playing, often. Praise them when they sit down to begin. Tell them how much you enjoy listening to their pieces. Make a big fuss.

5. Provide an audience.
When you can, give your child the chance to perform for you and other family members. Take older siblings into your confidence (they’ll love it) and explain the need for positive feedback! By giving them the chance to show off their skills, they not only feel special, but will want to practice in order to give a good performance.

6. Liaise with their instructor.
Chat to their teacher often to get a feel for their expectations and suggestions. It allows you both to work together to achieve the best for your child. Also, review the quarterly DMA updates for each student. This tracks their progression, while usually offering additional at-home suggestions.

7. Rewards.
Some children respond to rewards and incentives. These can be useful. The most effective are ones which relate to their instrument or music in some form. (For instance, rewarding them with a trip to the music store for new strings, drumsticks, piano music for a new song, or a CD they want to learn a song from.)

Playing an instrument is a skill which can bring you and your child lasting pleasure and enjoyment. It is meant to be fun. It is meant to be joyful. Motivate them by encouraging their natural playfulness, in making up tunes and experimenting with sounds and harmonies. Continually offer your support and words of encouragement. Our modern kids want to play modern music. Being able to play the latest pop song to their friends may prove to be the best motivator of all!

Internal and External Motivation

We believe there are two types of motivation involved when learning an instrument- Internal and External. Many people wish their parents would have pushed them harder to continue their piano lessons when they were young. This is external motivation, and we believe there is good cause for external motivation, especially for young kids that can’t yet see the value of hours of practice to gain a skill worthwhile. At the same time, Internal motivation is really what it takes after a student “clicks” with their instrument, and helps them take their skill to higher levels.

Benefits of External Motivation
There are many benefits of external motivation especially when you are young. The main reason that motivation from a parent or teacher is great is because it requires that you stick with something that you might otherwise opt to abandon. Kids are fickle and are prone to ceasing any activities that require them to invest effort over an extended period of time. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t want to learn to play an instrument like the piano. Parental motivation can cause them to commit to learning something that they would regret quitting down the line.

Additionally, external motivation tends to push you to go further with an instrument than you might on your own. A parent or teacher will encourage you to go to the next level. You might be content to just keep playing the piano in a messing around kind of way but that external motivation will teach you skills and move you to a more advanced level of playing.

Benefits of Internal Motivation
In contrast, internal motivation is more difficult to maintain. You’re always going to have competing interests, especially when you are young. Trying to stick with one thing, like playing the piano, isn’t easy. But it does have its benefits. A major benefit is that you’re going to enjoy the experience more. People who are forced to play the piano don’t derive the same sense of enjoyment from it that people who love to play will get from the experience. Even those people who feel proud of their accomplishments don’t necessarily enjoy playing if they’re told they must from an outside source.

An additional benefit of internal motivation is that you are more likely to excel at the instrument if you are driven to get better at it because you really want to do so. A parent or teacher can push you to taking that next level of instruction but they can’t make you want to do well. That sense of striving must come from within. If you have internal motivation, you’ll want to do better and practicing will be a joy.

In Summary
The reality is that there are accomplished (and happy) piano players who fall into each of these camps. It might be best to have a combination of the two sources of motivation. An internal drive can be supported by the encouragement of a parent or teacher so that you can do your best at what you want to do.