September 6, 2012
I don’t teach kids how to play or sing. Not really. I teach kids how to practice. The rest is up to them – and you! I understand very much the struggle for consistent practice. But I also know that without it we are all wasting our time. It’s tough to fit everything in. I know. Last night when I was practicing with my kids I seriously wanted to quit. And it is our first week! (It seems like practice time has a way of skimming attitudes to the surface that need attention…mine and theirs! : )) But we press on….
No doubt about it, the best way to get practice in is to make it a habit. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years (about 30 years as a musician, 16-17 years as teacher, and 7 years as a music mom). Man, that makes me sound so OLD!
MAKE UP YOUR MIND. Make practice as much a part of your schedule as eating meals or laying out school uniforms or signing homework papers. It sounds simplistic, but a made-up mind is one of the best tools for a habit.
BE THE PARENT. How many times have my kids missed their practice because I simply haven’t stopped what I was doing and made sure someone was getting their books out (and helping when necessary)? Realize that as a parent the ultimate responsibility is yours to see that the practice happens. This becomes less true as the child moves into high school, but even then, you are most likely paying for the lessons and the meals and the lodging….and should make sure the practice is happening. This doesn’t lessen the responsibility of the student, it just means that the ultimate responsibility is ours as parents. Amen and ouch.
SET A TIME. It is so much easier for everyone to know when practice is going to happen, rather than having it hang over everyone’s head until bedtime. Actually writing down the designated time for each day makes it official. Your scheduled practice time may be different each day, depending on your schedule. Ours is right after they get home from school and have a snack. It is a great feeling to go on with the rest of the evening knowing it is done.
EARLIER IS USUALLY BETTER. The longer in the day you put off practice, the less likely it will get done. Ask me how I know. J
BE CONSISTENT, even if it’s a little! 30 minutes is a traditional amount of time expected for average elementary students. (I studied with some kids who were not average, but most of us don’t want to give blood for our music lessons.) As levels progress, time should also progress. But I have done this long enough to know that the student who practices 30 minutes every day, all semester, is rare. So I have developed the philosophy that we need to start with simply developing a consistent habit. Practice a little even if you don’t have time to get a long time in. I have even told some students to shoot for 15 minutes…..or even 5! The goal is to make it a habit. Once it is truly a habit for your family, the time will grow. And the results of consistency are remarkable.
KEEP TRACK OF PROGRESS. It’s easy for practice time to be out of sight/out of mind. That is one reason I have a place on the semester practice sheet for parent initials. To make you aware. We actually have ours (5 of them) hanging on the wall so we can see how everyone is doing. But you’re not allowed to hang yours on the wall because I don’t want you to forget it. : ) The practice sheet is required at each lesson, because it helps me to know why a student is progressing as they are. As you keep track of your child’s progress, there are also some other incentives you can do as a parent, but that’s a subject for another letter.
I come to you as a student, a teacher, and mostly a mom. I’m there with you and face the daily responsibility of my kids’ practice. For us, this adventure is as much about raising disciplined kids as it is about music. Probably even more. May we all simply amaze ourselves this semester! : )
Sincerely, Sarah Next Week: Incentives