Why your child isn't practicing - and how to change that!

Parents can often become frustrated with the fact that their child isn't practicing during the week. After all, you are spending good money on lessons and on the instruments themselves. Finding out why your child is not practicing can help you discover how fix it. 

1. They don't know what to practice

Sometimes information overload can occur during their lesson. This results in them coming home and not knowing what needs to be done. I encourage all my teachers to write down exactly what needs to be practiced during the week in a notebook. It can also be beneficial to sit in on the lesson and learn from afar - but remember to chat with the teacher before doing so.  

If you are having lessons with a teacher that doesn't write things down, buy a notebook and ask if they would documenting what they expect to be covered before the next lesson. 

2. They don't know when to practice

Some children struggle to practice if they don't have a set time to do so. Parents often ask me when the best time to practice is, and my answer is always the same. First thing in the morning is prime practice time as their minds are fresh. If this is not an option, try and set a time as early in the day as possible. Practice when they are tired is a recipe for frustration and demotivation. Try to set aside:

  • 10-20 minutes 3 days a week for absolute beginners (first 2-3 months of lessons)
  • 15-30 minutes 5 days a week for beginners

3. They don't know where to practice

Allocating a practice-place can help the child develop a solid routine. Try to choose a private area of the house. Learning an instrument is a very private experience and it often causes a sense of vulnerability. I would also strongly recommend that the allocated practice-place is quiet and undisturbed. 

4. They don't know how to practice 

Practicing is not playing a song once, mistakes and all, and moving on. It is about working on areas you are having difficulties with and looking at the song as a whole. Repetition is key. When a student consistently makes a mistake in the same area of the piece, I get them to play it again and again, until the mistake is no longer there. A parent (who happened to be a neuroscientist) once explained this process using this analogy: 

"Imagine you are walking through a forest. The trees are dense and there is no path. It is very difficult to walk through the forest for the first time as there are a lot of obstacles in the way. However, as you take the same path each time, you start to break away some of those obstacles. Eventually you clear the path completely, which allows to to walk easily through the forest."

This is very similar to practicing. The first time you attempt a part of the song, it is full of challenges, but each time you try, you overcome those challenges to a degree. Eventually you are able to conquer that part of the piece completely. 

Encouraging your child to patiently repeat challenging aspects of a song will result in skilful practice. Remember, practice makes progress.

5. They don't know why they have to practice

Although the reasons to us may seem obvious, some children don't see why it is important to practice. Sitting down with your child and explaining that practicing during the weeks will keep music fun is vital! If a student hasn't practiced during the week, the teacher will most probably have go over the same points again, and again, and again. This becomes tedious and boring (for both parties!)

Methods to motivate vary from child to child, but I find overall, positive reinforcement is the most effective. Sticker charts, technology time, food, and allowance bribes are all examples of methods I have seen parents use effectively. Each child is different, so find out what works for you as a family.  

6. They aren't having fun

If your child is not enjoying the piece they are playing, they won't want to practice it. Open communication with your teacher is a must! Remember, nothing is set in stone. If I find that a student is not enjoying a piece, I won't force it. That is a recipe for disaster. I am a strong advocate for taking breaks from songs (especially exam pieces). Keeping things fresh and interesting is an important aspect to encouraging practice. 

7. They aren't a good match with their teacher

Having a solid rapport with their teacher will result in higher motivation, increased comfort levels, clearer communication, higher satisfaction and in turn, an increase in quality of work produced. Sometimes, a student and a teacher just don't click. Having the right teacher is vital, so don't be afraid to say something if you don't think they are on the same page.

8. You, the parent, are not involved

Leaving your child to fight their way through practice time by themselves won't result in high quality practice. My number one piece of advise relating to practice is: Be there to support your child

Sit with them and go through the motions. You don't have to be musical, just follow the instructions in their notebook. The teacher should clearly outline what needs to be done. I know it is unrealistic for us to expect you to sit with your child every single time they practice, but doing so once or twice a week will make a huge difference to their progress.