How to stop nagging your child to practice their musical instrument

It’s 4 p.m. on a Thursday and your child is on the couch with the iPad. You have to leave for the weekly music lesson in half an hour. You can see dust has gathered on the piano (or flute or saxophone), and another week has passed with only infrequent and erratic practice attempts.

Your child claims to want lessons, but doesn’t seem to be making an effort. The prospect of paying another term’s tuition is the last straw. You order your child to get up from the sofa and direct him to his instrument. What should be a rewarding activity for your child has become a bone of contention between you. And you don’t like the nagging parent you’ve become.

What Parents Say and Do Matters

To research confirms the benefits of learning a musical instrument. It develops lifelong skill and provides children with a way to have fun and express themselves.

Not surprisingly, many parents who can afford the cost happily spend the money to give their children this experience.

Read more: How to use music to tune your child for school

But there are real challenges that sit alongside the benefits of learning an instrument. Difficulty finding the time and motivation to practice, frustration with a perceived lack of progress, anxiety about performing in public, and unhelpful beliefs that innate talent is more important than practice can make the whole process a misery.

Parental encouragement, however well-meaning, can quickly escalate into bullying. And the reality of a child learning an instrument at home – the raw sounds, the seemingly incessant technical work (scales and arpeggios) – can challenge family dynamics.

To research in motivation and music education shows that what parents say and do is hugely influential in the quality of their child’s learning experience. Harassing or bribing a child to exercise only makes the activity seem like a chore. Children who are bullied into practicing are likely to stop playing as soon as they can make that choice.

So what can parents do to encourage their children to practice? The following practical advice is drawn from several studies driven by the musicians, teachers and school psychologists.

1. Start young and stay fun

Most young children love to sing and move. They are also not overly self-aware or preoccupied with self-image. While a teenager may hesitate to sing or play an instrument for fear of the reaction of his peers, young children freely engage in musical activities.

Young children are less aware of making music.

Regular musical play normalizes the act of making music and helps children develop habits that over time will underpin regular practice. A good early childhood music program can help children transition gradually from play-based learning to more structured learning when they are ready.

It is essential that these experiences are fun. Advice to parents? Join to! Show your child that music is fun by having fun with them making music.

2. Praise their efforts, not their “talent”

The media generally praise professional musicians as “talented”. What is lost in the mythology that our culture weaves around these people is that their seemingly effortless mastery of an instrument is actually the result of much effort and learning.

Congratulating a child for their talent reinforces a fixed mindset around musical ability. Whether a child thinks people are talented or not, they are likely to view their own difficulties learning music as evidence that they are not talented.

Parents should praise the effort their child puts into learning their instrument. This recognizes that practice makes perfect.

Learning music should be a shared activity.

3. Focus on the long-term benefits of gambling

Praise from parents has less impact over time on a child’s motivation to practice. Teenagers either develop an internal motivation to keep learning their instrument, or they quit.

But ten years to study of children learning instruments shows that children display medium to long-term engagement in playing an instrument and demonstrate higher levels of musical achievement.

Children who imagined playing their instrument as adults were more likely to be highly motivated.

Read more: Study habits for success: tips for college students

Parents should encourage your children to view learning an instrument as a useful skill that can bring satisfaction and joy into adult life. It’s not just this year’s extracurricular activity.

4. Encourage Appropriate Music

Children are often motivated to learn an instrument in response to a growing interest in popular music. But leveraging a child’s desire to replicate Ed Sheeran’s latest song as a motivational mechanism can be a hassle.

Read more: Brits 2018: Why everyone loves Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You

Although popular music can and should be part of any music education, the latest popular music is not necessarily suitable for use as an educational tool. This can lead to great damage – ranging from disappointment when the music is beyond a learner’s abilities, to very real damage to the voice or fingers.

Mine to research programs using popular music as a means of introducing children to music education may respond to market demand, but may not always be in the best interests of children. The adult environment that surrounds popular music does not sit well with a safe educational environment. Having a seven-year-old sing “Fever When You Kiss Me” hits the wrong note.

Read more: Feeding children classical music is not the solution

Parents should choose a qualified teacher with a well-articulated teaching philosophy that emphasizes progressive learning. Avoid instantly successful teachers on Australian Idol and, especially for young children, parents should ban sexualized repertoire.

Take an interest in the music your child is learning. Get to know the names of the songs they are learning and ask to hear them.

5. Value your child’s music

Classes, exams, and practice schedules are all great, but ultimately music should be a shared activity. Don’t always banish your child to their room to practice.

Create an environment where music is a vital part of the home. Encourage your child to perform at family occasions. As they learn, empathize with their struggles and celebrate their triumphs. Never regret the money you spend in class and never harass.

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