Practicing Tips for Parents

How to Help Your Child Practice Their Music Instrument Properly

How can parents help in supporting their child's musical success?

The parents first responsibility towards their child's musical education is to provide an adequate and tuned instrument.  After that, it is a must to provide a space at home that is conducive to learning and practice.    Make sure the environment is without interruptions, in a part of the house where there is good lighting.  Make sure there is a metronome handy.  I remember one of my students in Texas had a keyboard and it didn't have a chair.  He would practice on the floor or on his bed.  His desk was too cluttered.  An excuse for not having practice for a week prior to one of his lessons was that his batteries died.  

The environment your budding musician is in reflects how they will practice, and will influence their desire in continuing their musical journey.  Tuned and repaired instruments are vital for a musician to properly practice.  

Set aside times that are good for practice.  Talk about practice time and what times are best to practice.  If one time is not good everyday, set aside a time in the morning and then pick-up the remaining in the evening.  Believe it or not, some motivated musicians have an internal clock that speaks to them:  "I need to practice."   This is a wonderful phenomena when built into the musician.  Habit is best established when practice time is at a particular time during most days.  One of my students likes to practice after dinner.  It's always on her daily to-do list in her internal clock, in her head.  She feels empty when she can't get to it.  

 

"If I don't practice for one day, I know it; If I don't practice for two days, the critics know it; if I don't practice for three days, the audience knows it.  - Ignacy Paderewski

  

Not everyone is innately motivated like my student with the internal clock.  For those of us that are not, we need a reward or contract to get it done.  For example:  Set a goal of practicing 30-45 minutes a day.  Have a timer nearby.  A timer allows for you and the child to constructively see how much time was spent at the instrument. Positive Reinforcement Training comes from the parent.  A reward system might be setting a goal for better rhythm and sound.  Then when the song is mastered have a reward in mind.  Sometimes a simple compliment and hearing the finished piece is enough.  Maybe a visit to a concert or a nearby musical event of mutual interest could be a reward and motivator.

Know your child.  Who knows, he may practice because you don't want him to play.  This may be unusual, but I have a friend that had this happen to him.  The parents used reverse psychology and it worked.  Again, you need to pay attention and know your child.  

Motivate consistency.   Take an interest in their musical progress and the songs they are currently mastering.  Ask them questions about their pieces.  Expose them to music you like.  Take them to performances, or concerts.  Use constructive criticism.  Have music quizzes.   Play something, listen and then guess who it is.

 Here are some extra music practicing tips:

1:  For those that want to count minutes, set a timer.

 2: Warm up before practicing with technique or practice songs.  

a.  Wind instruments might play a scale slowly several times concentrating on making a good sound.

b.  String instruments, play a scale and tonalization slowly in the key of the piece you plan to practice.  Do some warm up exercises in you essential books.

c.  Vocalists make sure you know the melody of the line that you sing.  Warm up your voice by matching notes with your exercises.

d.  Woodwinds practice fingering the notes on a new song before trying to play it.

e.  For piano that would be something like scales, "Dozen A Day" exercises, or an etude.

 3:  Make sure you know the rhythm of the song, paying attention to the rests as well as the notes.  Clap and count, if needed.  Pianists might play hands separately many times before putting it hands together.  Keep a steady tempo as you play.  When playing through the complete song, don't slow the tempo for difficult parts and then speed up the tempo of the easier sections. Play through the whole song at a speed that allows for very few mistakes.

 4.  Play through the song SLOWLY.  My instructor would tell me:  "If you can't play it slow, I don't want to hear you play it fast."  DO NOT try to play the song fast until you can play it well slow with counting.

5.  Identify the hard parts of the song.  Isolate those parts.  Play each hard part over several times until you can play it well.

6.  After you can play a song correctly at a slow speed, work on increasing the speed.

7.  Work on dynamics, tonguing, phrasing, bowing, slurring, style,...

8.  Special instructions for individual instruments:

a.  Reed instruments:  Always check your reed before, while, and after playing.  A reed that is too dry, brittle, cracked or chipped will interfere with a good sound.

b.  Flute:  Work to make your sound pure without airiness.  Tongue cleanly.  Be careful of your hand and finger position.

c.  Violin:  Use a chromatic tuner to help with intonation for scales if you don't have a tuned piano around.  Periodically check your sound as you practice difficult passages. Go slow.

d.  Piano:  Keep your wrists level with the piano for forte play and slightly higher for piano play.  Playing with the wrists too low, under the white keys, can cause carpal tunnel and is not good.  Practicing properly can enhance your finger strength and even help those with arthritis.  Make sure your arm weight is held up by your fingers and that your shoulders are relaxed.  I know it is a lot, but worth it.  Shake your hands and arms out to feel your arm weight and relax your wrists and hands.  Piano playing is with the fingers, and relaxed arms behind them.  

e.  Drummers:  Do your practice pad warm ups.  Set a metronome and practice slow before speed.  

9.  Have some fun.  Play with your technique or song by switching dynamics, play melodies in different pitches, see if you can switch hands, or speeds.   Practice isn't all serious, make some of it fun.

     In the long run, supervising, coaching, and motivating your musician is worth it.  It's a task and responsibility we endure as parents. The practice environment does influence our musicians. Have a place to practice, make time in your day to schedule a practice.   And furthermore, motivate with consistency.  Learning an instrument well takes consistent practice.  I believe this is what employers look for in our future generation.  Raise your child to have the ability to remain constant and achieve goals. 

Always remember, our music teachers are not afraid to talk to students and parents about practicing.  If you run out of ideas or need help please ask your teacher.  We love to help!

Loraine Plante