We’ve read articles about the science behind music lessons, why music is a great activity for your child, etc., so how can you get even MORE out of your child’s weekly music lesson? How can you stretch your dollar?How can you activate them when they don’t feel inspired?
While these 5 points are just the beginning, it’s a starting point for you, the parent, to help your child get more out of his/her lesson, and in turn get more out of your financial investment!
#1 - Participate
Parental participation is SO important! Your child yearns for your interest and attention, so even if you don’t like hearing the scratchy sound or out of tune notes, finding that extra 5-10 minutes to listen to your child’s practice makes the world of difference. Ask your child questions:
- Can you show me what you’re working on?
- What music did you work on in your lesson? Can I hear?
- What’s your favorite thing to practice this week? Why?
- Is there something that’s particularly challenging this week?
- What did your teacher think of your practice this week?
We all know kids aren’t necessarily the best at elaborating, so ask them to SHOW you. Can I HEAR it? If they’re really practicing and working on their music, they will be proud to show you what they’re working on!
Talking to the teacher is important. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially if you have no musical training and have no idea what the teacher is talking about! We want to help you understand and be a part of your child’s music learning. If your child is struggling with something specific during the week, shoot the teacher an email (or text if you’re on really good terms) and let him/her know. Ask if there’s something that you can do to help. Every once in awhile a parent will email me a concern or question, and after a little explaining on my end, the problem is solved. Even more rarely, I’ll receive a little video clip of one of my students practicing, and this is even better because I can see AND hear if they’re doing everything correctly and send my feedback to the parent in real time.
#2 - Inspire
This is perhaps the most important. The teacher’s job is to deliver knowledge and inspire the student so they’ll go home and play. However, the parent cannot expect the 30, 45, or 60 minutes of music lesson to inspire the child for the next 167 hours in the week. Besides practicing and participating in lessons or ensembles, you can inspire your young musician in other ways:
- Make a goal to attend one live performance per semester. Try different venues and genres to go outside your family’s normal musical comfort zone, but more importantly, take your child to a concert to see his or her own instrument performing at a high level.
- Buy your child musical gifts to peak their interest in the subject - a metronome in the stocking, a music stand to put in their room, a new case to excite them. Nothing says “I want you to practice” like a guitar or violin hook to put on their wall to help them keep their instrument accessible!
- Music Decal - what’s cooler than owning an instrument? Decorating it of course! Buy your child cool stickers for their case, or musical art to put in their room. Help them make a “music space” at home to excite them about music. What about a fancy capo or strap for their case or guitar?
- Encourage your child to listen to new music - set an example by changing up the radio station once in awhile. Hey, let’s listen to classical today! What about country or the top 40. Tuesday is Classic Rock! Irish Fiddle anyone? This will help expose your child (and you!) to all kinds of music, and you both might find yourselves liking something new.
- Look up videos of famous musicians that relate to your child’s instrument to open up another avenue of listening: live performances, old songs, world-renowned orchestras, interesting covers, etc.
#3 - Set a Practice Goal
I can’t stress this enough: telling your children to practice isn’t the same as helping them find time to practice in their daily schedule. Maybe it's taking 10 minutes out of screen time, or waking up 10 minutes early (eek!), but you have to find somewhere to start.
Don’t expect your child to find 10 minutes if you can’t help him/her for a while. Like training a puppy, your child needs help for the first 3-6 months and maybe longer if they’re starting their instrument very young. Practicing will become a daily routine (like brushing your teeth) rather than a last minute thought.
Be strict and follow through with this practice goal. What if the goal isn’t met? Are there consequences? Are there rewards if it IS met? Is there reward if it's met without mom or dad’s prodding? We have to MAKE time to practice each day. Soon those 10 minutes will turn into 15, then into 30! My teacher always told me, “The hardest part about practicing is opening your case.”
#4 Set Performance Goals
Whether it's performing in your living room after dinner, or performing in a recital, concert, or “showcase” as we like to call them, a performance will not only force your child to set a goal for him/herself, but the process of setting a goal, working up to that goal, delivering the product (even if it means being nervous!), and pushing through the obstacles will empower your child! The feeling of pride and joy will resonate and provide motivation to not only practice more, but perform more! Finding performance opportunities for your child when he/she is just beginning will help ease the nerves and find comfort in his/her surroundings from an early age. Performing often will drive your child and prepare him/her for future speeches, performances, and presentations in school and beyond!
#5 - Organize your Homework
Most kids come home from the school day with an assignment notebook. Unlike school, if you come to your music lesson unprepared or unpracticed, your grades won’t suffer. But your progress will. I like to assign homework each week, just like your math teacher does. I write this homework down in a practice log (for beginner and intermediate/advanced) and ask my students to use this list to work through their music at home. Then, they can write questions down and check off the days they practiced. As a teacher, this is a great way of communicating expectations from week to week. Not only do they have their assignments written down, but I like to write little practice reminders down, too. Practice charts can vary based on instrument and level, but these have worked for my string students. It’s important for the teacher, the student, and the parent to be on the same page so we’re not just practicing without goals in mind. We’re all busy, so efficient practicing starts with goals.
I asked some parents what advice they have for practicing at home:
“Parent engagement works so much better for us than just the kids doing it alone. Working with their energy level that day, not pushing too hard if they are tired. Mixing up the practices - not just going with the same schedule each day.” - Real School Parent
“[Find] a more private place to practice, so you don’t always have an audience.” - Real School Parent
“It’s non-negotiable with us; we’re kind of strict about it, but I play with them every time, providing a pitch reference or doubling their parts, or playing the other part in a duet, and I think that collaboration makes it easier and more productive.” - Real School Parent
“[I get my] kids playing together.” - Real School Parent
What works in your family? Feel free to share ideas to help other parents motivate their kids and get more out of their weekly music lesson in our comment section below.