Wouldn’t it be great if every child had the burning desire to play music? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your son or daughter had tenacity in practicing, wasn’t intimidated by learning a new skill, was never distracted by all of the myriad of other attractions and entertainments that beg for attention, didn’t have other commitments that interfered with practice and never, ever became discouraged? These are some of those horse wishes that I think we can lump in with winning the lottery, becoming the heir of a long-lost rich uncle and having our family come into our room and sing a lovely hymn to our greatness as a spouse and parent. Right, that will happen. It seems like a truism that nothing worth having or achieving is ever brought into our life without some effort or investment. Likewise, having children who become adept at making music does require some work on the part of the child and the parent. The good news is that, unlike that unknown rich uncle dying and leaving us a fortune, having children that love music and will practice without a court order is definitely doable. Here are a few ideas:
Always be upbeat and confident in their success. Never ever plant seeds of doubt. Never say something like, “I think Sally Sue might like the piano but she typically doesn’t stick with things very long so we’ll let her take a few lessons and see if she has any interest.” Double black points if you say this in front of her. It’s called programming for failure.
Make practice a daily regimen, hopefully at the same time each day. Make it a habit. Also, I think shorter practice sessions on a daily basis are much more profitable and far less taxing than a marathon session to get ready for her lesson the following day.
Praise every achievement no matter how small. Also, a few small rewards along the way for reaching certain bench marks go a long way towards greasing the wheels. This is also known as the pizza and ice cream piano method.
It is helpful if you are part of the learning experience. That means that you have some grasp of what she is learning this lesson and when she is doing it correctly or not. Some parents go as far as taking lessons with their children. This isn’t always possible or practical but taking a little time to sit down and see and understand what your child is working on will have a two-fold benefit: it will help you mentor them and it will show a genuine interest in what they are doing.
The younger the student the more helpful it is to make learning a bit of a game. There is actually some good software out there like Music Ace by Harmonic Vision for the little guys to play video games that actually help them learn music fundamentals. If you know of some other good resources, software or online, I would be happy to list them in a latter blog. A Google or Bing search for Music Learning Games could yield some profitable results.
Make sure the instrument is appropriate. When was the last time the piano was tuned and serviced? Over a year? Is the action good or is it like driving a truck? Is your son trying to learn on a 60 year old spinet that didn’t sound all that good when it was brand new? That Radio Shack keyboard that you bought at the garage sale might have been a good buy but I would venture that a fairly large percentage of kids became discouraged or failed at learning to play because their instrument was not only not great, it was not even good to fair. If you do not want to work on a computer that is a generation old don’t expect your son to learn music on an un-restored piano that was old when the allies hit the beaches of Normandy.
Finally, try to inject some joy into learning music. Paint vistas for your child of how much pleasure they will get out of playing even after a few months of practice. Try to get them to think long-term. The disciplines that they learn now will aid them in high school, college and the workplace. Remind them that it took a while to learn to ride their bike, skate board, play ball or learn that tricky video game. Exude confidence in them that they can win over those tricky black dots and fences in their music book.