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How to motivate your child to practice music when they want to quit

How to motivate your child to practice music when they want to quit

by Erica Garcia

Your young string student, who once had stars in their eyes over the prospect of learning an instrument, is now fighting with you every time they have to open their case. After all, there is always something else that they would much rather be doing. If this is happening in your home, you are certainly not alone. Nearly all music parents have a war story or two, where neither the parent or child walked away happy. While this is a rite of passage for both parent and child, there are a few methods to calm both child and parental woes.

Why Is My Child Being So Reluctant

Children, like everyone else, love novelty. Once this wears off, students and adult beginners alike begin to drag their feet. Another common reason why students begin to dread their instrument is it feels like a chore. Instead of playing the violin being something they get to do, it turns into something they have to do. Young students crave validation and affirmation. If you, as a parent, are not providing this, students will view it as something not worthy, or even shameful.

What can be done?

Children are naturally curious and are almost always ready to play a game. By re-sparking a student's curiosity, you will be able to engage them with the music. While they are practicing, ask questions such as “How does rosin work” or “How do you know if you are playing the piece at the right speed”. For a more advanced student, maybe ask “Do you know what nationality the composer is” or “Do you know what musical era this piece is from?” When a parent asks the student questions, it allows for the students not only to think more critically about their music making, but also showcase what they have learned.

Another way to aid in students' practice is to keep everything in one room. Anything practice related, including conversations about practice, will happen in a set time in a set room. What often happens, in an attempt for the parent to be involved with their child's music making, is for the topic of music, practicing, and instruments to be common in daily conversation. This leads a child to feel as if there is no respite from this topic, and they are constantly aware that they are expected to practice. By containing practicing to a set, agreed upon time, and keeping all conversations about practice to that time, allows for students to gain a break from this expectation. If a student brings up their music, provide your attention and entertain the conversation, but avoid bringing up this topic to them.

A common way to motivate students is through tools such as a Sticker Chart. For every day the student practices, they earn a sticker on their chart, or simply get to color in the star themselves. At the end of each line, you can put a treat for the student to look forward to. Whether it's a trip to a restaurant, movies, or anywhere else, agree on some rewards with your students. Set expectations for what counts as a day of practice, (a set amount of time, set number of productive repetitions, etc.) This offers students a goal to work towards, and then provides a chance to enjoy the payoff of their hard work.

The Power of Your Words

When your child is practicing, offer specific as possible compliments. When the student is always told “sounds good”, the phrase begins to lose its value. Instead, say things such as “good tone” or “very nicely in tune”. By making compliments about a specific aspect of their playing, it shows that you are paying attention, and noticing their improvement. Also, only make one constructive comment at a time. You may notice a performance is out of tune, not steady, and with a scratchy tone. If you comment on all of these, a student will become overwhelmed and unmotivated. Another word to avoid is ‘but’. When you say something such as “You played very in tune, but your tone is bad”, the focus of that sentence is taken away from their good pitch, and placed on the poor tone. Instead, form two sentences, and always place the compliment first, such as “Your pitch was excellent! Let's work on making your tone sound as grown up as your pitch!” This affirms the student, and also gives them a goal they feel encouraged to work towards.

It is hard to offer patience and understanding when you are frustrated with your child, but the only way to relight their musical spark is to show that you want to work with them, and are curious and excited about their instrumental future.

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