Our Best Tips for Getting Kids to Practice

Getting our children to practice their instruments – or any important skill – has long been a challenge for parents.  All families want to make the most of the investment in musical instruments and lessons, and are anxious to see their children benefit from the discipline of learning music.  There is no magic pill to solving this sometimes daily squabble in homes, but here are our 10 best tips that could change the struggle to celebration. 

Having fun with guitar#1 ~ Music is fun to play!  Your positive attitude will convey that learning music can be a great source of fun and satisfaction.  Yes, those phrases can sound less than sweet, and often repetitive, but when a parent responds to the effort with positive, non-judgmental acceptance, children will also judge their imperfect efforts as steps towards progress rather than evidence of failure.

“Fun means engagement, doing and learning what has meaning and purpose, and it means being challenged. Embracing this belief should have a profound effect on what and how we teach.”  Valerie Strauss, of The Washington Post[1]

#2 ~ Make practice time a routine, every day. Choose a sensible time for your child to practice, Avoid planing practice at 'grumpy' timesavoiding those grumpy times when they – or you – are tired or hungry.

“getting in the habit of practicing each day is much more important than practicing for hours on end.” Holly Schindler, music teacher & author[2]

“If you’re having trouble coaxing your child into practicing, try doing it at a different time of day. In our house, the mood, and the amount of stuff we could accomplish in less than 10 minutes changed really dramatically when we switched from practicing in the early evenings to getting it done before school.” Anastasia Tsioulcas, Assoc. Producer, NPR Music[3]

Some days are just too crazy, and try as we may, getting practice in feels impossible.  Don’t bargain to skip today and ‘practice twice as long tomorrow’ only to have it turn into a looming mountain of time.  Some practice is better than none.

“My kids were always waiting for me – for the bus, for a ride, for dinner. Rather than letting them play video games, I had them use that time to go over a portion of their lessons.”  Nancy Karuzis, co-owner, City Music

Praise children for effort - not ability#3 ~ Praise the time spent practicing – not their ability or accuracy.  This is a common suggestion from our instructors.  Once students master a scale, phrase, or song, you can then offer them an opportunity to demonstrate it for a significant person, if they wish.  And congratulate the courage it takes to choose to play for others, regardless of the outcome.

“It is much better to praise a child for effort.  When children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance and self-esteem.” Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck, Dept. of Psychology researchers at Columbia University[4]

“Compliment your child’s effort and hard work rather than innate ability.  Studies have shown that students who are praised for their effort significantly outperform and are more motivated than students praised for natural ability.  This gives the child a greater sense of control and responsibility over their progress.” Nathan Samulak, City Music instructor.

“Parental involvement is very helpful. For younger children, keep practice time short. Shower your child with hugs and kisses for a moment or two when they finish and tell them how wonderful it is that they practiced. Then walk away!” City Music instructor, Joanna Katzen

Set age appropriate practice goals#4 ~ Set age appropriate practice goals.  Small children cannot be expected to sit for 30 minutes, playing brief three note pieces.  A couple 5-10 minute sessions in the course of the day take the ‘gruel’ out of it – and they add up!  The older, more focused the child, the longer sessions can be.

“For four- and five-year-old beginners, 10 minutes of practice time is a common recommendation, unless the child is a prodigy or unusually self-motivated. The important goal for these very young piano students is to establish practice as a routine, daily responsibility and to make it fun.” Piano Teachers Federation[5]

#5 ~ Review new material with your child.  Ask your teacher to demonstrate what to practice and write down specific goals for the week, so you both will know what is expected.

“ask her to show you what they learned as soon as you get home. This reinforces the concepts they’ve been introduced to and gets them over the hump of starting a new week’s lesson.” Holly Schindler[2]

fender mandolin#6 ~ Don’t put that instrument away.  This can be difficult with younger siblings and boisterous pets, but an instrument that is in view and ready to play, is a great incentive.  Wall hangers or stands for guitars and other instruments keeps them in site.   Do children really have to practice in their room?  Having the instrument in the family room can make it a talking point and a source of pride.  This is a great idea for musicians of all ages.

“Keep the instrument in a place where it is out and readily available.  The fewer physical barriers there are and the more a child sees the instrument the more likely they are to pick it up and play it.” City Music instructor, Nathan Samulak

#7 ~ Feed the fun factor!  Kids love the challenge of games.  Offer token rewards like stickers or other collectibles to a keep a record of daily practice, length of practice or other goals.  This is a popular theme Feed the FUN factor and keep it freshamong our teachers:

“Kids relate to video games – so I remind them that learning an instrument is just like learning a video game.  You start basic and work towards more challenging – the better you get, the better the ‘loot’,” Greg Prendergast, City Music instructor

“It’s very helpful to keep a chart that shows a check mark for each day they practiced, and to show it to your child’s teacher at the next lesson so that the teacher can praise him or her too,” City Music instructor, Joanna Katzen

#8 – Keep the fun fresh.  Playing sheet music ‘just for fun’ – providing it is appropriate for their ability – can keep enthusiasm up, and create personal goals to aspire too. City Music has a great selection of pop music, Disney favorites and holiday classics that come in easy, intermediate and advanced levels, for a variety of instruments.  Listen to and watch videos of music and artists they enjoy.  You could even try singing or playing along.

“Have your child listen often to quality music performed on their instrument. Take them to concerts.  Ask their teacher for listening suggestions or live music in the area. Students who are inspired by great music are more likely to develop an intrinsic motivation to play.” Nathan Samulak, City Music instructor

Share how you practice to master new skills#9 ~ Set an example.  Are you learning something new for fun or work?  Share how you practice, demonstrate how you set time aside to master your goals.  Avoid disparaging comments towards yourself – that you “aren’t musical” or “aren’t smart enough”.  Be sure to share your successes, too.


#10. All of the above, again and again.  As students grow and progress, the material becomes more challenging.  Scheduling regular practice, parental support and praise remain all important.  Some students can get discouraged by the size or difficulty of their pieces.

“It was a revelation to me when I realized the frustration my son expressed was from his idea that the work being hard meant he was not smart.  By talking more about the value of the hard work, not the ease, we helped him see that things worth learning take effort – they don’t come easy” City Music co-owner, Nancy Karuzis

Celebrate the effort! Practice skills last a life-time

“As the material gets harder, I tell my students to pick different sections to work on.  Do not always start at the beginning of the piece, never giving the end of the piece enough attention.  Breaking it into pieces makes it more manageable.  We have a tendency to just go back to the beginning every time we make a mistake.”  City Music instructor, Charlene LeDoux

City Music instructors will be happy to talk to you about practice goals and strategies for your child, to keep it fun and celebrate music – and practice – in your home.


Play on!

[1] http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/learning/why-fun-matters-in-education.html

[2] http://dailyparent.com/articles/6-ways-to-get-your-child-to-practice-video

[3] http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2012/06/18/155282684/getting-kids-to-practice-music-without-tears-or-tantrums

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/14/science/praise-children-for-effort-not-intelligence-study-says.html

[5] http://pianoteachersfederation.org/how-much-practice-is-required-to-learn-piano-at-different-levels