By: Alissa Gittens
When I was a music major in college, I quickly realized that I had a lot of catching up to do as a musician. Never having private flute lessons before in my life, I found myself in the company of other student musicians who attended performing arts schools and received years of training with professional flutists. In order to keep up with them and eventually match their skill level, I had to practice daily for hours. Daily and intentional practice is what was needed to achieve proficiency in my instrument.
As a private music instructor, I strive to ensure that my students are not only enjoying the experience of performing, but most importantly they are learning fundamental concepts that will allow them to pursue a path to mastering their instrument. Naturally, it can be very frustrating to witness students who have great potential cheat themselves from success simply because they do not prioritize their time to include practice and/or are afraid of what responsibility may come as they become a stronger musician. Here are some tips for parents as it relates to promoting consistency in practice time for students.
1. Accountability is crucial.
It is absolutely imperative that you set the expectation that your student practices and hold them to that standard. Whether they receive private instruction or not, students should be expected to commit time to improve their skills. With other activities or school subjects, we readily express the need to read daily or practice a jump shot after each basketball practice. Music instruction must be equally valued. Accountability is an element of life that we must train our students to prepare for now.
2. Create an environment that encourages musical exploration.
For many, it’s usually not a pleasant experience to hear novice musicians practice. Know that any adverse reaction you have as your child practices can instantly discourage them from practicing due to embarrassment so remain positive when you see/hear your student practicing. Furthermore, ensure that there is a room and/or comfortable space in the home where students can practice with little to no interruption or distraction.
3. Learn with them.
Asking your student questions about what they are learning in music instruction will require them to communicate these concepts verbally rather than just executing them through performance. This type of engagement allows the student to cognitively process the information in a new way which can help reinforce that skill.
4. Be present.
Too many times, I have witnessed parents take a passive role in their child’s music education. You don’t have to be a musician to hear the difference between a great performance and one that needs improvement. Take time to listen to your child as they practice. If you notice that there was improvement in their playing from the time they started practicing by the time they put their instrument away, then you should praise them for their effort. Sharing your feedback whether it’s praise or gentle criticism let’s your student know that you are paying attention.
5. Help them build a schedule.
In my years of teaching, I have observed that student musicians tend to participate in multiple extracurricular activities while juggling academics, chores, social activities, and now social media. Young students don’t understand time management and prioritizing until someone explains and models it for them. Be proactive and develop a daily schedule that includes time for practice. A solid daily routine will promote consistency.
6. Don’t let them quit.
During the days of social media and shortened attention spans, students tend to stop trying if a new concept takes too long or appears to challenging to learn at their preferred pace. Likewise, parents can be just as guilty of low patience as everyone is burdened by long work hours and endless to do lists. Children take cues from their parents. If you allow them to stop trying simply because they complained about it being too challenging or you got tired of them complaining, know that you are a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution, and help your child develop discipline and a sense of commitment early in life by encouraging them to finish what they start.
While the idea of performing may be appealing to young musicians, the process of learning can sometimes get boring. Help them to discover the fun and sense of accomplishment in overcoming a challenge by continuing to be their toughest coach and biggest cheerleader.