What's the hardest things about learning an instrument? Practice. So for our first Blog post, I'll jump right in and give some guidance on how to best support your child.
As music teachers we throw the term "practice" around a lot, as if everyone knows what we mean but actually the word practice means tonnes of different things in different contexts. In very basic terms it equates to "homework" when learning an instrument and it really is the only way a student can improve. To put it into context, at school, children might learn a new math’s skill on Monday, then they have a lesson every day for the rest of that week, where they revise and hone that new skill until its embedded.
When learning an instrument, students see their teacher once a week so pupils need to embed that knowledge on their own, for the rest of the week. Without that vital practice, it's almost impossible to see progress week to week.
Don't worry! It's not impossible and we're here to help! Here are my top five suggestions for achieving successful practice.
1. Set A Routine
We know how busy family life can be and sometimes finding a space to practice can seem impossible. As a child I learnt 4 instruments, did 3 forms of dance class and had a full academic calendar, but I always knew when my practice time was. Setting a specific time during the day is the best way for a child to build music practice into their weekly routine. Try to keep "work time" and "rest time" sacred and separate, then your child won't resent practice for encroaching on their down time.
2. A Little Goes A Long Way
Regularity is more precious than duration. We see more improvement in a child doing 15 minutes every day than a child doing 45 minutes 3 times a week. My loose guide would be:
Beginner to grade 1 = 10 minutes a day
Grade 1 to 3 = 20 minutes a day
Grade 4 - 6 = 40 minutes a day
Grade 6 + = 45 to an hour a day.
However this doesn't work if it's not regular! You should aim to be doing this a minimum of 5 times a week.
3. Set Time Limits
Divide your practice time into chunks. Your teacher will probably have given you more than one task to complete and,let's be honest, scales and studies always end up at the bottom of the list. If you set time limits for each task it means you'll always tick each thing off and everything gets attention. For example, at preparing for an exam you might spend 5 minutes on each piece, 5 minutes on scales and 2 minutes on sight-reading. So literally set a timer and move on once that alarm goes! It will make practice feel so much more manageable and the time will go a lot faster!
4. Set Manageable Goals and Rewards
Don't run before you can walk. If you have struggled to get into a routine with practice so far, start small and set out the goals clearly so they are easily achievable . Even starting with 10 minute a day, will be a huge improvement and your child will see the benefits almost immediately. Discuss a small reward for achieving this and stick to it. Never underestimate the power of stickers!
5. Give Us Feedback
Tell your teacher what your practice goals and routines are so that they can celebrate and encourage improvement. Jot a note in their red practice book telling the teacher what your child has done well and what they've struggled with. This will really help your teacher direct their attention in the best way. Equally if you have a week where the routine has gone awry let them know! Then your teacher can be understanding and help your child not worry that their practice hasn't been as good that week. If your teacher doesn't know then they can't give the best support even though they want to!
I'll leave you with a personal story:
As a child, the only thing I said I wanted to be was a violinist, I would fantasise about the beautiful dresses women wore to perform, and was sure I was going to marry Maxim Vengorov (Google him). I loved performing and my identity was "Agnes is good at music". However, I would do everything in my power to avoid practice...My sister and I would work together being look outs to see whether our parents were coming to listen, and we regularly beefed up the amount we had done. BUT, the routine and normality of practice was so ingrained, that even so we managed to succeed and thrive. My point is, it's completely normal for your child to find excuses not to practice and not to take themselves off under their own steam.
Our teachers are some of the most highly trained musicians out there, studying at the most prestigious institutions, playing on the most celebrated stages and all of them will have stories about how they didn't want to practice.
Before you question your child's interest in their instrument because they never want to practice, take a step back and think about this. The biggest motivator for a child is feeling like they are good at something, and the praise and feedback they get through that.
The tool and key to achieve this is practice. Good luck! And keep us updated with your wins by tagging us @pelicanmusic and using the #practicewins