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How to help your child practice a musical instrument without overdoing it

Allie Williams

This particular subject is tough. As a violin, piano, voice and music theory teacher, I know a lot of parents who go overboard making sure their children practice. One girl’s parents required she practice two hours a day, one hour before school and one hour after. She never had time for anything but school and practice, and two results came out of that: 1) She was very good and her technique was awesome, but 2) she hated it with a passion.

Another student of mine was one of my most talented clients, but her parents told her she could practice whenever she wanted, and because of that, being 8, she never practiced. I had all sorts of students from all ages and skill levels, and the only thing that has never failed me in my advice to the parents? “Fifteen minutes, twice a day.” If they’re older and more capable, 30 minutes twice a day.

Here are some ways you can help your prodigy progress!

1. Follow the twice-a-day method, but don’t take it overboard

I think a fairly good rule of thumb here is that until they’re 11 or so, leave it at 15 minutes a session, twice a day. This keeps everything fresh in their little minds, as sometimes they may forget when they skip a day of practice. Naturally, if that’s too much, just stick with once a day. Obviously you know your child much better than I do, but the most important thing is that they’re practicing daily.

2. Inspire them

Remind your child of the joy of music by letting them spend some time watching kids their age play their respective instrument on YouTube. This was a favorite method of mine to get my kids interested in playing their violin or piano again when they decided they were terrible at it and wanted to quit. Thanks to YouTube, lots of my kids picked it back up again with a renewed interest when they saw these kids doing what they were thinking was impossible! Also, anytime it’s possible, brag about your child’s skills and ask them if they’d like to play a song for your friends. This is a really easy one to push too far though; don’t make them perform. They’re not monkeys, and no child likes to be treated like one. A healthy dose of performing for people when they want to encourages them to practice more so that next time the guests come over, they can show them what else they have learned!

3. Let them teach you

Something. Anything. Just spend one of their practice times with them at least once a week to solidify a couple things: 1) I’m here for you and I support you in your endeavors. This is very important. Some of the kids I’ve taught had parents that did a lot of traveling and were never home. The kids always seemed to improve on the weeks that their parents were in town. Kids need that support from you, moms and dads. 2) Teaching you something makes them feel like an expert in their field and also makes them want to learn more and more so that they can teach you or at least talk knowledgeably about it.

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