When practicing loses its’ sparkle.


When I was a child I asked a neighbour to teach me how to knit. I was determined to learn and went about learning the stitches with enthusiasm. I was working on a pair of slippers and could hardly wait for my piece to grow big enough to wrap around my small feet. After working like mad, having had to restart a number of times due to dropped stitches or the meddling hands of my younger siblings, I became bored with the whole project. How many more stitches were there? Did I really have to keep doing the same thing over and over?!

My neighbour said,” Well if you want a pair of slippers you’ll have to keep going. Push through and you will have a nice pair of slippers to wear that were made by you.” To get me remotivated, she helped me to make some pom poms for my slippers. I was renewed and now excited to finish my project so we could sew the glorious pompoms to the toes. When it came down to it, I didn’t have much choice but to carefully knit each stitch, unravel and redo what didn’t go well, make stitch after stitch after stitch until I had finished my project. After countless tedious stitches I finally finished my slippers and wore them proudly until they fell apart.

When learning to play an instrument I think many students go through the same type of experience. At the beginning of the year there is a new book, high enthusiasm, big goals and the children excitedly get into a practice routine which makes their pieces easy to learn and fun to share in class. Then the fun of Christmas music arrives and there is a renewed sense of energy. Practicing goes fairly well. Now we are in the thick of winter and the comment I hear most from week to week is “My child doesn’t want to practice”.

Like my excitement over knitting, when a task becomes “old hat” and  loses its sparkle, encouragement and motivation are required to help children see that there is a finish line. Most importantly, they need to see that there is something worthwhile waiting for them at that finish line! For some children, the prize is being able to play a piece with ease and confidence, for other children something more tangible is required…a box of smarties, an extra privilege like staying up an extra half hour, the chance to choose a restaurant for a family night out.

Practice is necessary if one is to progress, on that I think everyone agrees…even the children. Our attitude toward practice can have an effect on how enthusiastic our children are to do the task. Practice should never be used as punishment, in fact it should be a privelege. (ie. “If you are practicing you won’t have to help with the dishes”)

Here are a few ideas for motivating your little musician.

  • offer an incentive (stickers, chocolate chip for each item practiced,extra minute on the computer for each minute of practice)
  • try to practice at the same time each day so it is part of daily routine
  • set small goals for each practice so your child can “see the finish line” with each completed task. (for a young child – scale 3x, bar 4 and 5 3x, run through of piece B, one homework page)
  • talk to your child about working toward something, like climbing a mountain…every step is necessary and gets you closer to the top even if you are tired you still have to keep taking steps so you can make it!

The beauty of music lessons is that it teaches our children how to strive for something that may not have immediate reward. How amazing for them to play a piece with ease, especially if it is one they thought was too difficult for them to learn in the first place. Hard work is always worth it! 

I am not surprised that children get tired of practicing, I get tired of practicing too!! This is not a reason to quit, it is a reason to think outside the box and to work even harder at getting to the top of that mountain.

One handmade slipper is not much good to anyone. If I would have quit knitting when the going got tough I would never have had the pleasure of wearing slippers that I had made with my own two hands. Much like if I would have quit playing the piano when I became tired of practice. I would definitely not be living the life I am today!

If your child is finding practicing less than appealing sympathize, encourage, support…bribe if you have to…and try to remember that the road to success is never without its’ bumps, or dropped stitches. You can do it!

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