by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
The word “practice” is like the word “homework” in terms of how kids will sometimes bristle when a teacher says it, no matter how the teacher says it. But while every guitar student I’ve ever taught wants to sound amazing and impress their family and friends, very few — save for a few teenage prodigies who are now better players than me! — naturally want to put in the amount of work that’s required to make meaningful improvements.
If I had a dollar for every kid who promised to practice an hour a day, and then couldn’t even get motivated to break out their guitar for five minutes between weekly lessons, I’d be able to put a down payment on a new home.
So if you’re a parent, is there anything you can do to get them to pick up their instrument when a teacher isn’t around? Do you need to go the Tiger Mom route and not let your tiny musician in training use the potty until she hits all her notes perfectly?
(We’re kidding about that last suggestion.)
Like any extracurricular activity, playing music is supposed to be an enjoyable endeavor.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas that I know have worked, which will help motivate your young ones to strum when their teacher isn’t around:
- Keep things consistent: As you probably know, structure is good for kids, whether they’re 3 and need a consistent bedtime every night in order to wake up well-rested, or they’re 12 and need to get their homework done before 8 p.m., because they’re less productive at night. “It’s easier for kids to settle into a routine when they have a consistent, daily time to practice,” says Michelangelo Quirinale, a guitar instructor at Brooklyn Guitar School, and father of one. “I often recommend practicing right before or after dinner since most kids’ have a lot of homework and after-school activities.”
- Have your teacher make a video: It’s easy to forget what you learned after your teacher leaves, whether you’re 6 or 60. I’ve found that one of the best ways to engage kids is to make a short, two-minute video that recaps what I taught during a lesson. I’ll have my students film these videos with my phone, and then send them to their parents. This keeps the lesson fresh in kids’ minds and ensures they’re practicing the right techniques.
- Set clear, attainable goals for practice: Sometimes parents expect their children to master an entire Beatles song after just two lessons, while other parents don’t know what to expect. Teachers have a better idea of what’s possible and can work with you to help kids set the right goals. “I usually give most kids three or for key areas to work on that usually include a warmup, a review song, and couple of new songs or techniques,” says Quirinale. “This allows them to cover all the key concepts whether they have five or 45 minutes.”
- Have your teacher give them choices: If students are forced to strum the chords to a song they don’t like, they will start to think of playing their instrument as a chore — not a fun activity. To make sure your kid doesn’t get burned out, check to make sure his or her teacher is assigning them stuff they’ll enjoy doing. Of course, a little nudging might be necessary (they’re kids, after all), but practice should be somewhat fun — not just hard work. “I find that my students that practice the most take an active role with me in planning the practice routine,” says Quirinale.
- Try not to apply too much pressure: Maybe your little one is destined to be the next Jimi Hendrix. Or, perhaps he’ll get bored of playing guitar in a year or two. Pushing your child too hard to practice might make him resentful. So if all of these other techniques aren’t working, it may be time to revisit whether guitar is the right choice for an extracurricular activity — or if your kid needs a break for a while!
- Buy a guitar stand: If an instrument is stuffed away in a case, it might not occur to a child to pick it up and strum. Buying a guitar stand at a local music shop (or on Amazon Prime, etc.) will give your child a place to put their instrument when they’re done with practice — and reach for it when the mood strikes.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.