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.

Advertisements

‘Tis the season for holiday recitals: A preparation checklist for students

 

Make sure you're ready for your holiday recital this year!

Make sure you’re ready for your holiday recital this year!

Recital prep 101! Helpful pointers for students working towards a performance this holiday season

Annual or biannual recitals are often a chief component of music schools’ curriculum no matter where you go. And, as a music teacher, I agree that student recitals and concerts are a great way to showcase students’ hard work and give them an extra little push to excel at their instrument.

Regardless of all the benefits of performing, students will get nervous when it comes time to play in front of a crowd. Some don’t worry too much, or they use their anxiety as a way to adrenalize themselves when on stage. For others, their nerves can get the best them, sometimes with catastrophic consequences to their self-esteem once the show is over and curtain is drawn.

The best advice for these nerve-wracked students? Be prepared! Here are a few things to remember in the weeks leading up to your big performance:

Do mock concerts: Have as many little “mock” or mini-concerts in front of a small group of family and friends as you can. It’s often said that it’s easier to be in front of a room full of people you don’t know, than in front of a handful of those you do. If you can get through your piece fluidly in front of your parents, siblings, fellow students or friends, it’s a good indication you’ll be fine playing for a bigger, more anonymous group!

Record yourself: Playing while recording is a good simulation of what it feels like to play for an audience. Additionally, the benefit of hearing yourself played back allows you to correct the mistakes you never may have realized you often make, and add some polish – a touch of rhythm here or sprinkle of dynamics there – to create an even better sounding piece.

Practice mentally: Not all preparation involves playing over and over again! (Though this is never discouraged…) It often helps to mentally prepare as well. Close your eyes and visualize your hands on your instrument as you play, or how you would  breathe and say lyrics as you sing. Visualize the music in front of you, line by line; see what the notes look like and hear what they sound like. Mental preparation is more effective than students think, and will make you more confident in what you’re getting ready to play.

Know the notes: Make sure you know your song, inside and out. Notes, rhythms and finger patterns or positioning should be close to second nature in the week leading up to your performance.

Practice daily: Even if just for 10 or 15 minutes, it is essential for students to practice their piece(s) every day when preparing for an upcoming recital.  Daily repetition will help in memorizing and becoming completely comfortable with the song. For vocalists, it will help to memorize lyrics. Ideally, singers will want to be able to recite their lyrics out loud, just by speaking them as if reading a poem, without any melody.

So you’ve practiced your song for weeks now. You’re ready to go! With the big performance day finally here, what’s left to do? Some tricks to settling any day-of anxieties when you take centre stage:

  • Don’t think you have to start playing right away! Take your time, get comfortable. Adjust your seat, get your music ready, take a deep breath and then begin.
  • If you make a mistake, keep going! A few wrong notes or chords here and there will not be obvious to your audience; if you stop playing completely to starting over, however, it will be noticeable.
  • Try to keep a steady pace. We tend to rush through things when we’re nervous, which increases the chance of making a mistake.
  • Remember you’re up there to showcase your hard work, and your teacher, parents and friends are proud of you! Try to turn your nerves into excitement.
  • Smile, enjoy your time up there, and have fun! Chances are you’ll think it went by too fast when it’s all over.

With these tricks in hand, I hope students will make the most of their recital days. It truly is a fun experience once the nerves are gone and encouragement is there!

———————————————————————————————————————-

Those in the Ottawa area are welcome to join Barrhaven Music Academy’s annual Holiday Concert, coming up on Saturday, December 22, starting at 12:00pm, at 30 Clearly Ave. Admission is free, but donations of non-perishable items will be gladly accepted for the Ottawa Food Bank. For more information, visit www.barrhavenmusicacademy.com.