I have a lot of admiration for mothers of musically talented children. It’s a big responsibility and challenge to enforce those children to practice their instruments so they’ll be motivated to continue learning. I know first hand because my two granddaughters have been taking piano lessons for three years and I’ve had to be the “practice enforcer” whenever I visit.
Recently, I asked my daughter how she summoned the strength to get them to practice everyday and she admitted it’s often a power struggle. You have to walk a fine line between nagging and teaching them to be self-motivated. My older granddaughter, who is 12, turns into a master negotiator, quibbling over when she is going to practice and the exact amount of time she will devote to the exercises. The 8-year old, on the other hand, just sits down and starts playing.
The benefits of regular practice go way beyond music — it’s a path toward self-discipline and a skill that has hugely positive ramifications for personal fulfillment and lifetime success. But the trick is that self-motivated discipline isn’t exactly first nature for most kids, so it’s up to families to help create positive, engaging and fun ways to practice as a path towards self-motivation.
There are thousands of posts on how to motivate children to practice music. The two most frequently mentioned are to make practice a consistent routine that’s the same time everyday and to provide an audience. Kids love the extra attention and are more excited to play when someone is cheering and applauding for them.
One of my greatest pleasures is to sit beside my granddaughters when they practice. I love watching their graceful hands glide over the keys as they create beautiful music. I encourage them to take a section that’s difficult and just play that part until they’ve mastered it. I love it when their faces light up with satisfaction after they’ve worked through a part and can see the improvement themselves. I try to point out specific parts of a piece where they’ve improved and ask them how they worked through that section.
During a recent practice session, my older granddaughter was working on a new piece, “Starlight” — a beautiful romantic melody by Martha Mier. As she played through the piece, my heart filled with incredible joy and awe at the ease she had in working through the chords. I suggested we make a little video of her warm-up along with the piece so I could listen to it again when I went home. (Yes, I’m guilty of a little grandma bragging here. So go ahead, indulge me!)
Here’s one final bit of advice for encouraging young musicians to practice. Remember to praise the effort, not the end result. Praising the effort is much more effective at encouraging practice than praising the result. Praising the effort rewards the attempt and encourages children to keep trying. Praising the result builds pressure to repeat the performance, and can actually make children anxious about practicing. They may become resistant to trying in case they can’t repeat their good performance.