How can I support my child’s practice

Having your child learning an instrument is really exciting for you both. As a parent you will want to do all you can to aid your child’s musical development and a key part of this is encouraging your child to practice. It’s a known fact that practice between lessons is essential for musical progression and developing a love of music generally can go a long way to help practice materialise in later years. Parents are an integral part of their child’s potential musical success. Remember also that success is most likely to be achieved working in partnership with your child’s teacher.

The wider musical world ….

For a child to want to practice an instrument cultivating a love of music is a very important first step. This can be started at any stage some classes are even available for pregnant Mums. There are a number of pre-instrumental musicianship classes you can take your child along to, do check in your area via google. Simply singing in the home nursery rhymes (which also help with literacy skills at school) or playing ‘with your child on your lap’ games like horsey horsey (where the child is bounced on the knee imitating the pulse) all benefit. Having classical music to listen to (in the home or car) along with doing informal performances when play-mates visit, all aid a desire to make music. Do check out events by local orchestras. Many do performances specifically for younger children. Exposure to inspirational music can be really exciting for children and pay dividends in the long term.

Mary, mother of 16 year, Beth (Beth wants to be an Opera singer), said: “When Beth was 6 years she took part in a memorial service when she sang with a small group of children. As part of the event a male Opera singer performed. She was so mesmerised by his performance and spoke for weeks afterwards about his amazing sound and story telling actions. I think it was this exposure that first sewed the seed for her singing ambitions. She even recounts the story today.”

Once your child starts lessons, here are some practical tips to encourage practice:

  • Ask the teacher for a record of what they expect your child to practice - Many teachers do this automatically or are willing to do this if asked. It’s difficult for children to remember themselves what to do after the lesson and this aid memoir means you can support your child at home.
  • Provide a functioning instrument and good physical space to practice with suitable accessories - Children need an instrument that is functioning. Without this practice can be a struggle! If you can, get your child’s teacher to train you or (or if old enough) your child, to tune the instrument. It’s very hard to play a melody if the strings themselves aren’t in tune. The right stool for a piano is also important so poor posture doesn’t make practice become painful. Spare reeds for woodwind (if they split you can’t play), valve oil for brass (stiff valves make playing tricky) all help to encourage practice to happen. Find the best practice location in your home (cold or noisy is not ideal) it needs to be inviting, free from distractions and if possible, keep a music stand always ready with music on it.
  • Be clear about what your child is suppose to practice, many teachers provide details of this (as mentioned above). If you are not clear, and your child appears un-sure, clarify this with your child’s teacher.
  • Be child led, learning an instrument takes time - if they are struggling to cover everything on the practice list or finding certain things tricky do communicate this to their teacher. Be aware that learning an instrument is a long-term thing. Remember, hard work does go a long way and natural ability can be exaggerated. Be positive and celebrate what your child has achieved and be realistic. It can take on average of three years or even longer for a child to achieve Grade 1 level on some instruments. Seeing things develop slowly with gradual persistent hard work is a valuable skill for your child to acquire that can help in other areas of their life.
  • Have realistic expectations of what practice is possible and try to avoid reminding too often. It can work well if teachers provide expectations for children’s practice and parents simply are the child’s ‘greatest fan’. If the child themselves set the practice frequency this can be very empowering. Try to make this minimum four times per week (every other day).
  • Avoid criticism - Some parents have fed back to ABRSM concern about making the mistake of not praising their child enough and being drawn to pointing out their child’s mistakes. It can be really hard to hear a child play a mistake over and over. Or listen to a child play too quickly encouraging error. However, if you as the parent continually critique, a child can quickly become demotivated. Going back to the principle of ‘teacher teaching and parent praising’ is useful. This praise needs to be genuine though. Children know when things aren’t going so well. Simply let the teacher know (very discreetly) where the problems are and they can help your child learn the skills to practice more effectively and iron out problem areas in music.
  • Frequency not quantity – In beginning stages, doing a very long one-hour practice once a week isn’t as effective as four practices of 15 minutes every other day. Regularity is incredibly important. Several ad-hoc five-minute practices in a day can be extremely worth-while. Practice time does need to increase along with level of difficulty. Intermediate music (eg. Grades 3 – 5) will require on average approximately 4 hours a week spread over 7 days (NB. this can vary from student to student)
  • Make it a routine and consider rewards - Families have reported making music practice part of the family routine - same time each day - helpful. In addition, some families have reward systems for doing it from stickers to or earning a treat. Every family is different so work out what is best for you.
  • Celebrate music, realising learning an instrument is a journey not a destination - Sometimes children can play their instrument a great deal but not do much or any of what they’ve been instructed by their teacher. Making any music is a good thing, this needs to ideally be complimented by structured material that aids progress, but at times children can struggle to comply. Parents and teachers have a careful path to tread here. There are times when a less structure approach can be beneficial, from playing familiar music by ear from You Tube, to music from a latest film or pop song - it is all music making to be celebrated! Try to encourage making the instrument a potential life long friend - there’s so much value in music making for over-all well – being, with this in mind, be flexible with the type of practice or playing that is being completed taking a long-term view. Children can just as quickly suddenly (without prompt) return to traditional scales, repertoire and their teachers suggested curriculum.

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