Why is it so hard to get kids to practice their piano lessons? Why is it so hard to get them to eat healthy, or turn off screens? Good habits take effort and guidance from Mom and Dad. We don't just do it on our own. Practicing piano is just like eating our vegetables. We don't instinctively want to do it but if we are taught the value and expected to do it, eventually we come to appreciate it.
Here are 8 strategies for getting your kids to practice without resisting, screaming, or protesting.
1. Make it part of your routine
We all have things we have to do everyday. Practicing the piano should be just as important as brushing teeth, eating healthy, or exercising. "Is that too extreme?" You ask. Not at all. Again and again, research shows that music study supports brain development, and academic skills. If your child is learning math and reading, then studying music can and should be part of her life. It will serve her well for the rest of her life and the sooner you make it part of the daily expectation, the sooner she will accept it as part of the normal routine.
2. Make practice sessions manageable
Practice doesn't have to take long. A 5-7 year old student will do fine with 15 minutes of practice every day. 8-12 year olds can learn well with 20-30 minutes of daily practice. According to brain research, short sessions repeated more frequently are the most effective for learning new skills. If your child is getting frustrated, let him take a break and come back to it the next day. If he has a question for his teacher, let him put that aside until he can ask his teacher about it. Practice should be challenging but not overwhelming. If he's highly frustrated and overwhelmed, pare down his assignments. Your piano teacher should work with you and your child to make sure that practice assignments are appropriate and manageable.
3. Use a Practice Checklist
Most piano teachers will write out a checklist for your child at every lesson, so she knows what to practice at home. Using the checklist during practice sessions can help your child manage her time and keep frustration at bay because she knows exactly what is expected and when she will be done. Another useful tool is a practice log. There are all kinds of free printable practice cards to use to log time practiced. It can be very helpful for your child to see her progress on a chart and she can use it to set her own personal goals. You can even give her a reward for practicing everyday such as a pack of sugarless gum, a trip to the park, or a visit to Grandma's house.
4. Let Your Child Set An Individual Practice Goal
If your child sets his own personal goal for practicing, he will be more invested in his practicing. Sometimes an extrinsic incentive really helps motivate young students. First, sit down with your child and set a reasonable, attainable goal. (for example, 100 minutes of practice) Write it down and keep a log visible by the piano so that he sees it everyday. Make sure to honor your child's opinion. This is important for him to feel empowered and motivated. Next, plan action steps. Antoine de Saint Exupéry, a French author and poet, said, "A goal without a plan is just a wish." Guide your child through the steps he should take to accomplish his goal. Otherwise, he may struggle to complete the task. Finally, when the goal is accomplished, celebrate with a reward. This can be time spent together, or a trip to the dollar store. Part of the fun is deciding together and letting your child have a voice in the decision.
5. Give Your Child Choices
Most children respond well when they are given choices. This lets them feel a sense of control over the situation and they will be much more likely to cooperate with you. A word of caution: Make sure the choices you give are genuine. If you say: "You can practice or go to your room." You're not really giving a choice. You're giving a consequence for not practicing. Instead, say: "Do you want to practice your lesson pages first or your scale?" Then your child has two valid choices within the lesson outline and either one will move her toward completing the task. Other ideas for giving choices in piano practice are:
Choose the order in which you play your checklist
Play hands separately, or hands together
Play high or low on the keys
Choose a different voice on your digital piano
Play soft or loud
Play fast or slow
Practice for 15 minutes or 20 minutes
6. Plan A Performance
Most piano teachers have regular recitals or piano classes for students to share their music with an audience. The experience of playing for an audience is important because it allows students to share what they have learned and gives them strong motivation to perfect a given piano piece. It also makes them better players. Nothing can teach like sharing with an audience. If your teacher isn't planning a performance for a while, find another venue such as a local nursing home, school, or church.
7. Create an Audience
If you create an audience for your child he will enjoy playing and have an incentive to practice. An audience can be made up of friends or family members or you can even set up an audience of your pets, stuffed animals, dolls or toys. Your child will enjoy setting up chairs and putting out his favorite toys for the show. Practicing for the performance will naturally become part of the fun.
8. Have Your Child Teach You
A great way to test a student's skills is to ask her to teach someone else. She will have to master her piece teach you how to play it. Try having her teach a friend or sibling her piece. If you have two siblings taking piano lessons, you may need to plan ahead so they are working on different pieces that are not familiar to them. You also may want to lay a few ground rules for children teaching children. For example, 1) Respect each other, 2) 10- Minute Limit, 3) The "teacher" should have 2-3 different ways to teach the piano piece, 4) If the "student" becomes extremely frustrated, take a break.
Just Make Them Practice
I have taken piano lessons ever since I can remember. My mom was my teacher and she didn't give my three sisters and I a choice. Practicing the piano and taking lessons was an expectation just like eating our vegetables and exercise. We practiced because we were required to. I didn't fall in love with the piano until I was 13 years old and I mastered a Schubert Impromptu. I worked so hard and was so proud of my accomplishment. After that I couldn't get enough of the piano! If my mom had let me quit lessons when all of my other friends quit, I would not have the same career! Just make them practice. When they're older, your kids will thank you.