We’ve heard the many benefits of music education. We know that the human mind is an instrument and music is a highly effective tool to train and maintain it but no matter how hard we try, kids dig in their heels and refuse to practice. Why is this such a common problem? Consider a fresh mindset.
1. Keep It Together
Music is a group activity. For at least 42,000 years humans have been playing music together. It’s in our DNA—at the roots of our culture and civilization. Music developed along with language and art. These all have meaning in social context. Keep music in the family, with friends, take lessons together, play together, practice together. Enjoy it. Make it a part of family life.
“…music may have been one of a suite of behaviors displayed by our species which helped give them an edge over the Neanderthals – who went extinct in most parts of Europe 30,000 years ago.
…played a role in the maintenance of larger social networks, which may have helped our species expand their territory at the expense of the more conservative Neanderthals.” –BBC Science and Environment
There’s a good reason kids don’t want to be sent to their room to practice alone. They know better!
2. Have Fun
We call it playing music for a reason. The highest level master is still just playing. We need to keep that sense of play intact throughout music education. Kids learn through play. They love games, they love to use their imaginations, they love the excitement of being outside—running around playing with friends, freedom, adventure and mystery. Music has all of these elements!
The next time you pick up your kids from a music lesson, ask them “Did you have fun?” If yes, then “Great! What did you do? Oh, that sounds exciting. I don’t think I could do that! Can you show me how? I want to play too!” If no, then “Why not? What would be fun? What do you like about music?”
That is a more engaging, inspiring conversation than “What did you learn? Show me. No that’s not quite right. You’re going to have to work at it. Go practice. You’re not practicing so I’m not going to pay for lessons because it is a waste of money.” This way of thinking has one or more missing links in its DNA.
It takes faith to relax and allow kids to learn. We want results not play time, laughing and toying around with music. Think for a moment how your child learned to speak. How silly would it have been to throw the Oxford English Dictionary in the crib and tell them “I want 5 words on my desk by Monday?”
Music is a language, an art and a form of human expression that comes naturally. At first we just need to provide the environment. We need to play with kids, practice with them, make it a game. Give it meaning. Turn words to rhythm and stories to music. Play music in the house, go see an outdoor concert, make a drum set from pots and pans, a shoebox guitar and a washtub bass. Have fun with it!
Greet your child’s first notes with the same enthusiastic welcome as their first words. Allow them to fumble, play their own way and find their own voices.
3. Identify With It
In middle and high school, kids identify with music. As they identify with music they are inspired to create and practice on their own. It is a common theme for kids to get excited about music at this stage in life. They begin to see themselves as musicians and see practice as a form of self improvement that leads to inclusion.
Introverted kids might discover music as an escape from unhealthy social pressures—a way to find self respect while both differentiating themselves and fitting in on their own terms. Extroverted kids might see music as a way to take the stage. They might be motivated by performance to work hard at their instrument.
Playing in an ensemble has these opportunities built-in. Kids can find the best ways they work with a team and explore roles on their own terms.
This is a time when kids experience immense pressure. They can really suffer without an outlet for self expression. Music can provide a healthy escape and an emotional release while building confidence and social skills.
We don’t have to wait until middle school for kids to get inspired. Just make sure music is an inclusive, fun activity at home until self motivation takes over as the driving force.
4. No Pressure
Don’t force it. Key words—self motivation. It is common for kids to be forced to practice only to fall into a routine of ineffective drudgery in which they go through the motions of required practice time with little or slow progress. This pitfall is typically misinterpreted as a lack of talent. How many people do you know who were forced to take piano lessons or learned music from classroom worksheets, hated it and now say “I have no musical talent. I could never do that.” A block has been formed. If this is you, give it some thought before subjecting your kids to the same methodology.
Locking away the creative spirit is a tragedy. I would strongly encourage anyone who believes they have no musical talent to try a fresh, open, more forgiving approach—no matter the age. Just try to enjoy learning, rather than forcing the results. We live in a results based world but not everything can be achieved by hard work alone.
Once the fire gets started the reward is life-changing. It is impossible to describe the sense of freedom a musician feels when they begin to test their wings.
5. Goals First, Then Work
So you’ve established music as a group activity, you’re open to learning through play and you’re maintaining a sense of adventure. What’s next? Goals! Every adventure needs a goal—a mountain top, a rescue, an escape, a conquest. This could be in the form of mastering a song for a band, preparing a solo, mastering the scales, chords and rhythms that enable the student to perform at a high level. It all falls into place, opening the door for practice as a healthy, stimulating release with countless benefits throughout life.
I’ve heard a lot of interesting tricks and incentives from parents over the years—everything from not requiring kids to practice at all, to making kids pay for their lessons out of their allowance if they don’t practice 30 minutes every day. What’s your trick? How do you get your kids to practice? Do they enjoy it?