Often parents don’t know quite how to encourage their children who are studying music, especially if those children struggle with practicing or if the parents are not musicians themselves. At our music studio we found that the students who did poorly were the students who received little support at home. We also found these were the top seven ideas that helped the most:
1. Give lots of attention to your music student as he practices. If you cannot be in the room with him, make a recording and play it back later. Comment frequently about his playing.
2. Set goals with your music student. What does she wish to accomplish in a year, two, five? Review the goals periodically and talk about them often
3. If you know music, be sure to help him when he asks. Be careful about offering too much help or answering all his questions. Avoid sounding like a know-it-all parent. Encourage him to take questions to his teacher. (If you are non-musical, take lessons with your student and learn from each other)
4. Reward her with something she wants if she does the required practicing. Ask her what a good reward would be for her. Remember what gets rewarded gets done! Little rewards are great — stickers in the practice log, daily charts showing accomplishments, M& Ms filling a glass jar, one for each day’s practice. Be imaginative. Don’t go overboard with gifts. Give verbal encouragement three times daily (minimum). Let music lessons be a reward, not a punishment for your child. Be enthusiastic about the lessons; let nothing come in the way of music!
5. Have mini-recitals at home. Let your child practice performing a lot. Take your child to concerts and varieties of musical performances — make a family “event” of these opportunities so they are memorable. Talk about what you hear, both at the mini recitals and the concerts!
6. Brag to your friends about your child’s determination to learn music (it is OK if the child hears this). You don’t need to broadcast the child’s natural genius (as that likely is not really the case), rather his determination to learn.
7. When your child has had a bad day or bad lesson, talk with him about how life is sometimes up and down. Teach from the music experiences they have.
Personally, with my five children, I simply told them “You have to brush your teeth, make your bed and practice the piano until you are 18. No choice. That’s just what we do in our house, so get used to it.”
Perhaps I was not a ‘kind’ mom, but as grown-ups the children are all happy with their musical abilities.
Parents need to experiment to find the style that works best for them. Above all, stay with it!
Marilyn Spittle is the performing arts director for East Valley High School and Legacy School in Mesa.