What’s the point of music lessons if my child won’t practice?

From time to time, parents of beginner (and more often than not, young) music students face a tough challenge: their child’s motivation to learn wanes to a gradual standstill. They no longer want to practice and it becomes a daily struggle just to get them to open up their music book that sits atop the piano collecting dust. Alas, dragging them to their weekly music lessons is as easy as drawing blood from a stone.

As a music teacher, I admit my bias when I say that quitting lessons, no matter the age, instrument or level of the student, is probably the last thing you’d want to encourage. Like anything worth achieving in life, it is important to keep children, or even teenagers, in music through the good times and the bad.

But, as some parents say, what if my child is just too young? Surely it would be better to wait until they are older, so they understand the importance of practicing and a good work ethic.  The answer may surprise you – it’s actually better if children start music at an early age.  In fact, the younger the student, the easier it is: “You can put the study of science on hold, but not with piano,” says renowned musician and instructor Ernesto Lejano, who teaches one of Canada’s best known pianists, Angela Cheng. Not to mention the cognitive and developmental benefits that has been attributed to learning music early on in life.

Even still, parents are often anxious to keep their children in music out of fear they may kill their child’s love for the art forever. Not true, says psychologist and author Dr. Susan Bartell of New York.  “Children often give up quickly when success isn’t easy or immediate,” Dr. Bartell explains. And, because music is just like any other academic subject, some students won’t be successful right from the start. Like in math or science class, children should learn to push past the frustration of not being instantaneously good at something – the reward of success will be much more appreciated once they accomplish their goal!

Dr. Bartell continues: “If you allow your child to give in to uncomfortable feelings that make him want to quit, you communicate that hard work and perseverance aren’t important. In fact, by not pushing your child, you deny him the opportunity to learn to cope with frustration, and eventually he will stop trying at anything.”

In other words, to allow a child to quit is to communicate to them that they are not capable of succeeding. Dr. Bartell suggests that if quitting is imminent, parents should continue with the activity until it reaches a “natural conclusion”, such as the end of a school year or term.

So, you’ve decided it may not be time to end lessons just yet. How can you encourage your child to keep going without forcing their interest?

Be patient

Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day, and Mozart didn’t become a virtuoso overnight! It may take some time for kids understand what practicing is and how it will make them a better player,  so don’t be too quick to assume that your child isn’t fit for music if they start losing interest after 4 or 5 weeks. The ebb and flow of enthusiasm will vary week by week; it’s important for parents to stay positive and encouraging even during those times where the student’s progress has stalled or hit a plateau.

Music students, especially young beginners, will need to gradually get into the routine of practicing their instrument. It may take 3 to 6 months for them to get settled into lessons. Don’t overwhelm them by asking for too much practicing – even 5 minutes a day is enough to build a good foundation of musical knowledge.

Be encouraging

Parents need to keep in mind that their positivity will inspire their children to be positive themselves. Be sure to use encouraging words and phrases during your child’s home practices. If you are sitting alongside them, avoid criticizing or giving negative feedback. If you feel your child just isn’t getting one part of a certain piece, scale or riff, explain to them the benefit of trying again and how they will become better after repetition.  Never assume or say they can’t do it.

Create the right environment

Along with creating a positive music education experience, it’s important to help create a supportive environment of inspiring peers and mentors where this student can turn to if they need help. If that environment or support network is not there, one doesn’t have much of a chance of getting through the (potentially tough) first months of learning the fundamentals! Additionally, make sure the physical setting where the student practices at home is warm, inviting and well-lit. Students will be more encouraged to practice at a piano that lives around a main part of the house (like a family room or living room) then one that hides in a dark basement or is tucked away in a spare bedroom.

Talk to your teacher

To get the most of music lessons, communication with the student’s teacher is key. If you find it’s a struggle to get your child to practice, mention it in the next lesson, and ask for advice on how to best motivate them. Chances are the teacher will be more than happy to offer a handful of tools – practice charts, games, prizes, etc. – that will help encourage practice time at home. Letting your teacher know of a student’s struggles at home will allow them to tweak their approach to how they instruct so they can get the most out of each lesson.


Is your child ready for music lessons? 5 signs to look for

As a music teacher, one of the most common questions I am asked is “What age should my child start music lessons?”

Surprisingly enough, kids can actually start formal music training as early as age 3, when their brain circuits start to mature and are ripe for learning music. Studies have shown that learning music as young as this can increase brain development and cognitive power.

No matter, you have to take each child and situation on a case-by-case basis, as all children have different learning styles, interests and goals. Here are a few things to look out for when deciding if your child is old enough to take the plunge into formal music training:

Actions speak louder

Observe and listen to your child attentively. Could they be displaying an interest in music that they don’t yet know or how to verbally express? Are they running around the house dancing, singing or creating rhythms on their own? A full-sized instrument (such as piano) may be too intimidating for them; your child may be comfortable with creating sounds and rhythms using familiar object and toys. This could be an indication that they enjoy music and would appreciate lessons.

Is there interest?

Young children who display a natural fascination for music will soak up lessons faster than those who display no interest at all. Look for signals that your child enjoys listening, dancing and creating music on their own. Do they talk about music? Do they ask questions about sounds, make comments about different tones, pitches and timbres? The more they display an inclination to music, the better suited they will be for classes.

Talk about it

Talk to your child! Discuss with them how music lessons work, what is involved and what they need to put in. Explain the benefit and necessity of consistent practice and how it will make them better over time. A lot of young students love making music and hearing sounds, but they can fail to understand that music lessons, like regular school, require a little bit of effort to make it enjoyable and beneficial in the long run. If your child is okay with putting in the effort to learn, they may be ready to go!

Be supportive

Even if, as a parent, you have no background in music or the arts, it is important to lend support and encouragement to your child if they are keen on taking lessons. Even when a child doubts their own abilities, stay supportive and remain positive; explain that hard work is necessary but the benefits far outweigh the costs. If they do well, praise them! Let them know you are proud. It is important that your child knows they have a network of support so they will want to continue to learn.

It should be fun!

Never, ever, force a child to learn music if they absolutely do not want to. This will only lead to a waste of their time and yours. Keep in mind, if a 4 or 5 year old displays no interest in music, that may not be the case a few years down the road. Starting a child too early is music can have adverse effects and ruin any love they could develop for that particular art if they are given the time to express it on their own, at a later time. First and foremost, learning to play an instrument should primarily be enjoyable. If your child isn’t enjoying it, then perhaps it isn’t time just yet.

It’s not an exact science to determine the proper age for a child to start taking formal music lessons. As a parent, it’s up to you to determine if your child is ready based on what you’ve seen and the inclinations of each child.  If you don’t think your son or daughter is ready for formal music lessons, try joining an early music education program which focuses on fostering a love of music, rhythm, and self-expression. By exploring how different instruments sound, and how music makes them feel, your child may learn to appreciate music more than they realized!

No matter what the scenario, age, or instrument, the most important thing is that your child’s experience with music is fun!