Meri’s Musical Musings

8 Ideas on getting children to practice their instrument

Posted on: April 2, 2012

After the first few weeks to few months of learning, many children practice less, or not at all. Here is a collection of tips that I have mostly gotten from parents of my students on how they get their children to practice.

The one that most frequently came up as a practice incentive is music practice in exchange for computer, video game, or TV time. For younger children, this is probably done best as a 1 minute of practice for 1 minute of computer time, but for older children, it might be better to do it for 2-3 mins of practice for a minute of computer, video game, or TV time. This tactic especially works for boys, who are more likely to be into video games and computers than most girls.

Another one that works well, though generally with older children, is goal-oriented practice. The object is to achieve all the goals the teacher has outlined for the lesson and long-term progress, but a student can take as much or as little time they need to achieve those goals. But to make this work, they have to prove to you that they can perform them well and consistently.

A third idea is to give them a choice between a household task they don’t like or to practice. So far the children who were given such a choice that I’ve taught always have chosen practice!

A fourth idea that I have tried mainly with students at least 10 or 11 years old, is a practice journal, where they are to write down their thoughts, discoveries, and questions. One of my highly gifted 11 year old piano students loved this idea so much after I introduced it to him and shared my practice journals, that he consistently has up to 2 typed pages per week. (and it builds their writing and spelling skills too!)

Fifth, you can use practice logs. There are a number of styles of practice logs, from one that you fill just the amount of time you practice, to those where you colour or shade off the goals achieved. I prefer the latter.

Sixth, and this is considered a controversial one, is to pay children to practice. Either tie part of their allowance to practicing (and earning bonus money if they exceed expectations) or have then earn say, $2 per hour practiced, up to a maximum of say 15-20 hours. This one, however, should probably only be used with children who are extremely reluctant to practice.

Seventh, provide additional opportunities to perform beyond what the teacher provides. Encourage them to perform in school talent shows, put on mini-concerts for friends and family, perform in a church, or perform at a cultural center.

Eighth, take them to see performances of slightly older children or adults who play really well. There are a number of fine high level bands and string ensembles in many parts of North America, even for kids in elementary school, and some places, especially in larger cities, have at least one high-level youth symphony orchestra. For piano students, don’t just take them to solo piano recitals, take them also to recitals where the pianist is playing with a solo instrumentalist or concerts where they are part of a chamber group, especially piano with a string trio or quartet. The point here is to inspire them with what they can achieve when they stick with it for a few to several years.


3 Responses to "8 Ideas on getting children to practice their instrument"

You should take part in a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I will recommend this site!

I have found that making practice fun with music practice games to be a great way for kids to find success with their instrument! When practice is fun, they’ll look forward to it and start practicing more, which means – success!

Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life. This is the way we do it at my studio,… anyway…

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  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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