Category Archives: Instruments

19Oct/15

Practice Makes Perfect

Is your child is learning to play an instrument? That’s great! Music is such an important part of brain development. It helps with math skills, timing, memory, anticipation, and so much more. For those of you whose children are not playing an instrument in formal lessons, even listening to music, singing or banging on an instrument will help.

When I taught piano, I would tell parents that they should encourage 5 minutes of practice a day and they would laugh at me. I heard, “5 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time to practice,” and “That sounds so easy.” Let’s face it, though. It’s not. Life gets busy and before we know it, we’re reading a bedtime story and we’ve missed that opportunity to practice that day.

Before you beat yourself up, know that it happens to everyone, even to the piano teacher’s children.

Here are four ways to get you off to a good start and maybe even encourage your child to practice on his/her own.

  1. My Initial Chart:

This first idea was suggested by my children’s violin teacher, Mrs. Murphy. Draw your child’s initials in large block letters on a piece of paper. Then draw lines to create small boxes within the letter (think of a checker board inside each letter). Each time my daughter practiced, she could put a sticker or draw a star inside one of the boxes. She would earn a reward for filling in a full letter (new crayons or a pack of stickers) and a bigger reward when the second full letter was full (a special dessert after dinner, a manicure by mommy, family dinner at a restaurant).

  1. 100 Chart:

Create a 10X10 grid (100 boxes) on a piece of sturdy paper. Each time your child practices, she can put a sticker or color in one box. Every 10 boxes she can earn a small reward (bubbles, chalk, stay up 10 minutes later). After 50 boxes she earns a bigger reward (an ice cream cone, a snow ball fight, a bubble bath), and at 100 you need to celebrate together (bake cupcakes or go to the movies).

  1. Yum:

When I used to practice piano in junior high, I would put a handful of m&m’s on the piano. If you don’t want your child eating m&m’s, you could use stickers for your child (but they don’t taste as good…ha ha). Each time I could play a line, or a phrase which was often 2-3 lines, correctly three times in a row without a mistake, I would reward myself with an m&m. I vaguely remember that I adjusted that system for pieces that were particularly hard, rewarding myself for each measure I played correctly. Or maybe, that happened on days that I didn’t really feel like practicing… Be gentle with your child and change things up occasionally. Offer different munchies or stickers for rewards, or alter the amount of music needed to be played three times in a row in order to earn the reward.

  1. Perform:

Have your child ‘perform’ his piece for someone else. A friend or neighbor, even a babysitter would be happy to listen to your child every so often. Your child can even put on an impromptu performance and play for far-away relatives on the phone or via Skype or FaceTime. Each time a piece is played, this is another opportunity to practice.

 

Once your child has a few songs under his belt, arrange for a concert at a local nursing home and have him perform there. If desired, invite siblings and friends to perform, too. Residents will love it, even if your child plays the same three line piece 5 times in a row. Having him play the piece where it is supposed to be played, and then in a higher range and again in a lower range will help make the concert more exciting (for your child).   Having your child perform in a nursing home provides a bright spot in the residents’ day and gives your child a chance to show off and be applauded for his hard work.

Did you catch a 5th way to encourage your child to practice? It was hidden in the last paragraph: Have your child practice his piece in the lower and higher ranges, not just around Middle C where he is expected to practice. It might sound, um, interesting, if your child practices on a different string of his instrument, but that is still practice and a great ear/listening experiment.

As with any long term project or goal, interest will wax and wane. Focusing on the smaller goals of practicing a measure of a line will make it easier to continue. When you reach a big goal, such as completing or memorizing a full song, you can enjoy the progress, and hopefully, the wonderful music your child will be able to make.