10 tips for music practice with kids (by an ordinary mum)

I say an ordinary mum because a lot of the kids I know who are super musicians have parents who are professionals or they have tiger mothers. I don't know what they're doing at home but what I do know for sure is that their kids play a lot better than mine in a shorter amount of time.  Actually, I kind of do know, but don't want to admit it.  They just practice a lot.

So I humbly offer what I've learnt as an ordinary mortal about helping my kids with their music.

1.   They will want to quit - often.  Don't give in.  There are so many great reasons for persevering with music.  Plus you've forked out quite a lot of money so you need to be sure you want to cave in.

2.  They might weep in frustration - often.  It is not easy learning an instrument.  If another person says, 'O, your kids are sooo talented' I might do some physical harm.  It is just hard work (for all of us).

3.  Get them to listen to the pieces they are learning played by a professional.  It helps them know what they're aiming for.  It helps me to know what they're aiming for!

4.  Your music teacher will generally hope for more practice than you will achieve (if you're an ordinary person).  And if they don't they are probably not worth the money you're paying them.  You do want lots of motivation and accountability to come from your lessons.

5.  Your teacher might be a bit disbelieving at the amount of tears that can be shed.  Until they have their own children and discover for themselves how emotionally traumatic the whole parent/child music practice relationship is.  

6.  A little practice everyday is better than none at all.  I have had kids get stuck at various times along the way because they've got bored or found it hard and just saying 'How about you just sit down at the piano for 10 minutes?' seems to help get through those hard times.

7.  Don't let them keep practising mistakes.  They are super hard to correct - it takes about 100 times through for every time they make a mistake so it is worth nipping in the bud.

8.  Repetition is the key to correcting mistakes.  I use a box of little rubbers I found at a $2 shop.  They get to choose which one they want and then we count out say, 10 of them.  When they play the section we're working on correctly they can put one back in the box.  But if they play it wrong, it comes back out.  This is really annoying for them so they concentrate much better to play correctly so they can get their 10 repetitions over and done with.

9.  Practice with them (especially beginners) and when they're older, I listen and yell suggestions from the shower like 'use the metronome' or 'that's a C sharp, NOT a C' (as you might imagine so deeply appreciated by the teenager - not).  If you don't practice with them they will only play what they like playing, keep playing pieces with lots and lots of mistakes and consequently avoid what is hard and get stuck.

10.  Keep going.  It is draining at times and constant.  I feel so weary some days at the thought of having to motivate everyone to practice - especially on weekends when I just want to read the paper!  But we are starting to reap the benefits of our hard work now.  My older three recently played in the music group at church and they loved it, it wasn't hard for them and it was exciting for them to see how they could use their music to contribute (one of my big goals for their music).  They have so much fun being in bands etc - but they don't like the practice.  Not many people do (and if they do, I try to avoid talking to them!).


Tasmanian said…
I am not a tiger mother but I am a professional piano teacher, and your suggestions are gold. Thank you.
Deb said…
And my kids have just started on music lessons...and tears. Oh the joy!
Petrina said…
We're still a few years from this, but given my childhood experience, I suspect we'll need these suggestions :)

Love #8 especially.
What I wonder is, is it really possible for my child to be musical if his parents aren't. WE've progressed past my limited knowledge (after 12 months of organ, 30 years ago!)and I am really struggling with practice time as my son wants help..and frankly I don't know enough to be useful!
Deb said…
I know that one of Tasmanian's best students came from "a non-musical" home.
Jenny said…
I do think it is possible to help your kids if you aren't all that musical yourself. All the tips I've put above are not dependant on knowing how to play the instrument. I can only play the piano and frankly some of my children are ahead of me now. I've never played the other instruments they play. But I can help them with encouragement, motivation and support to help them practice. Often I just say 'that didn't sound quite right, do you want to try it again (and again, and again and again!)'? And if we're stuck I speak to their teacher about what to do - going to the teacher with specific queries is an excellent use of lesson time. Again you're paying the money to an expert - get them to help you where you need the help. You'll also learn heaps as you go.
Karen said…
This post is all kinds of brilliant. And now I know I'm not the only one yelling suggestions from upstairs/in the shower or wherever I am. So comforting.
The little rubber idea is good. We have a whole container of Australian animals here, I'm going to pull those out so I can try #8.
I keep trying to convince them that practising mistakes (or only practising the songs they like and can do well) is not really going to lead to progress....it's a very hard sell though!
Glad I'm not alone in the struggle. It's a long road ahead by the time we get all four of them learning something....
Tasmanian said…
One for a Wish, you certainly do not need to be musical. Like Jenny suggested, just keep asking your teacher how you can help. One of my students with a non-musical dad actually records our lessons on Evernote (iPad) so he can listen to some of my instructions again at home, as well as hear me playing the music correctly.

The teacher can make sure that the home practise is repeating things that were learned securely in the lesson.

My husband isn't musical - he just reads each step of the homework to our daughter and she completes each task one at a time.

I have ninety students. The ten most motivated, capable and naturally musical of these kids have non-musical parents. The one whose mother is a piano teacher is the least motivated.
Sally said…
Thanks Jenny for your thoughts.
It was so inspiring for Kate to see your kids up front at church and to see a way that she can use her music for the benefit of others.
Sally said…
Thanks Jenny for your thoughts.
It was so inspiring for Kate to see your kids up front at church and to see a way that she can use her music for the benefit of others.

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