You buy the instrument. You buy the books. You take your child to the lessons, only to have your child refuse to do any practicing! You invested all of this time and money and now your little angel is refusing to do the one thing they need to do to make it all work! It’s infuriating.
While it is easy to take a child’s refusal to practice personal, it is actually very common. Practicing regularly is no different from exercising or washing the dishes, it is almost always easier to put it off.
It is hard to start something you don’t want to do. For kids often the idea of practicing is far worse than the practicing itself. Here are a few things that can help your child overcome their aversion to practicing.
Warm It Up
Have a fun warm-up piece or exercise they can play well. For guitar, this could be a simple open string pattern or a song they have memorized—anything that gets the guitar in their hands and gets them playing. This is especially helpful for children with attention issues, as it will help them start to focus on the task at hand.
Keep It Short
Have a very short practice window. If your child is having a hard time practicing, don’t demand an hour of practice a day. To start, have them practice five or ten minutes. It takes time to build a habit, and five or ten minutes of focused, productive work is far better than thirty minutes of sporadic torture. While it doesn’t seem like much, 15-minute practice sessions are optimal for beginning students, so practicing for five or ten minutes is an acceptable way to start developing the habit.
Keep It Focused
Make sure your child has a clear idea of what they should be practicing. They should have a small number of very clear goals or exercises that they are working on. Sometimes teachers give students broad goals like “learn the first two pages of this song”. In this case, you may have to provide a little guidance in deconstructing the song to find the specific sections that need the most attention. Unfocused practice can completely drain your child’s motivation, so help them have clear goals when they sit down to practice.
Keep It Moving
The main reason children don’t practice is that they don’t want to sacrifice their immediate pleasure for some undefined long-term gain. In a world full of couch forts and video games, why would I spend 15 minutes doing something that makes me be critical of myself? As parents we can relate, why should I organize my tax receipts when things are happening on Facebook right now. While personal growth is one of the most powerful long-term motivators, it is often at odds with immediate pleasure. One way to deal with this universal impediment to the development of human excellence is to set and track very clear, short-term goals. Here are just a few of the short-term goals you could try:
Learn a song by memory:
- Record “Happy Birthday” for a relative
- Record a video to share with a relative
- Prepare a song to play for show and tell
- Arrange a performance at a church or community function
- Practice a song or section of a song until it can be played at a particular metronome marking
A performance or recording provides external motivation and taps into the reasons that your child wanted to learn an instrument in the first place. Performing or recording a song requires practicing something to a much higher standard. It is challenging, but it can be highly motivating.
The Secret: There is No Secret
These are just a few of the ways you can start developing your child’s practice habits. There is no one single trick that works every time. So keep experimenting and don’t get too frustrated when something doesn’t work. As long as you keep trying to get them to practice, they will be growing more than if you give up. What techniques have you found that work? Feel free to share them in the comments section.