One of the joys of parenting is watching your child begin to develop their own interests and branch out in their learning beyond the basic life skills you taught them in their early years.
You may be delighted that your child has begun attending music lessons, but if you are not a musician yourself, you may feel somewhat ill-equipped at helping them practice.
Fortunately, just as with other pursuits like sports or academic subjects in which you may not feel particularly skilled, there are many ways to support your child even if you have never played an instrument or learned how to read music.
Here are a few suggestions for how you can help:
1. Be involved in their lessons. Make sure your child is practicing in a way that helps them to make progress and learn new skills. Sit in on the last few minutes of their lessons when possible to get a sense of what they are learning. Talk to their music teacher about what they are working on, what their current assignment is, and don't be afraid to ask questions.
You may find you start to learn a bit about music yourself and it will give you the basic knowledge needed to better understand your child's practice. If you find the terminology used in music a bit daunting, consider keeping a glossary of basic terms handy so that you can quickly look up some of the jargon that your child and their teacher might throw around such as etudes, time signatures, and arpeggios.
Music theory has a lot of technical language even at a basic level so making an effort to understand what your child is actively learning can go a long way in assisting them with their at-home practice.
2. Listen to them play and offer specific feedback. Pay attention to what your child is playing when they practice at home. Are they just playing their favorite song every time and sticking with pieces that they have already mastered? If so, they are not learning anything new and won't see much improvement in their skills.
On the other hand, if they are hitting lots of wrong notes and playing unfamiliar tunes, they are most likely tackling new and challenging material and trying to improve. If you are accompanying them to their lessons and communicating with them and their teacher about their assignments, you'll have an even better sense of how efficiently they are using their practice time.
Actively listen to them and offer positive reinforcement when you hear them get through a tricky piece or show signs of progress. Hearing immediate feedback like this can encourage them to keep at it even if they start to feel a little frustrated when lessons feel challenging.
3. Encourage their routine and practice habits. Your child will progress very slowly, if at all, if the only time they play is during their scheduled lesson. Practicing outside of lessons is a homework assignment just as in other school subjects and your child's teacher will have them demonstrate during lessons to see if they've done their homework or not.
It's usually pretty obvious if a student has taken the time to practice a certain piece or technique. Once they have satisfactorily learned something, they will then be able to move on to the next lesson and enjoy steady progress. The more your child practices outside of lessons, the more they will improve so it's important, as a parent, that you encourage your child to practice daily and to help them establish a routine that is consistent.
Children benefit from daily reminders to practice and just because they don't initiate practice on their own most of the time, doesn't necessarily mean that they don't want to practice. Gentle reminders will help them to make it a daily habit as regular as brushing their teeth.
4. Listen to music together. An especially fun way of encouraging your child's love of their practice is to listen to a lot of music together. Find professional musicians who play your child's instrument and listen to their recordings. Look up their biographies or find interviews with them and read about how they became the musicians they are today.
Listening to music that your child can relate to and finding musicians who inspire them will help to put their practice into context. Find a variety of music genres featuring their instrument so that your child gets a sense of the diverse styles their instrument is capable of.
For example, if your child plays the cello, listen to some Pablo Casals recordings of Bach's Cello Suites from the 1930s and then compare them to Yo-Yo-Ma's relatively recent rendition of them. How do the two versions sound different? There are even modern cello rock groups that offer a completely different sound for what might otherwise be considered a very traditional classical instrument. Opening up your child's eyes (and ears) to the opportunities that a music practice offers them will encourage them to keep at it and establish goals.
You Can Definitely Help Your Child!
Whether you have never played music in your life or haven't picked up an instrument since your own childhood, being actively involved in your child's lessons and sharing in the enjoyment of making and listening to music together are great ways that you can support your child in their own music practice and give them a positive source of encouragement as they pursue their study.
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