How to Help Your Kids Practice an Instrument

This may not be the most glamorous topic, but it’s an important one. Kids will do better learning an instrument, whether that be piano, guitar, singing, or theremin, if they have parental involvement. This doesn’t mean you need to be some kind of piano virtuoso to help them. It just means that you should be involved, if at all possible, at least at the beginning. If they’re just starting lessons, chances are you’ll be able to stay a page or two ahead of them and be able to help, even if you’ve never looked at an instrument before. Here are some tips to help your kids practice an instrument.

1. Ask Your Teacher What They Should Be Doing at Home

Some teachers will be strict and have a set amount of time the student should be practicing each song or concept. In this case, she or he will probably be very specific and detailed about what your child should be doing at home. There is nothing wrong with this approach, as long it’s realistic for your family.

I tend to have a more flexible approach with the families I work with. I don’t have an ideal amount of practice time in mind, because every child and every family is different. If your child has the time and patience to practice 2 hours a day, does that mean you’ll make faster progress than someone who practices 10 minutes a day? Well yeah, probably! As long as they don’t burn out quickly and stop altogether. But if there’s no way your family has the time and energy to put in an hour a day, let alone 2, I’d rather work with what is realistic. If a parent can devote 15 minutes a day to helping their kids practice, I’ll lay out a practice plan that’ll take roughly 15 minutes, and if you can help your kid maintain it, I promise you, they’ll be better off than most kids out there trying to learn an instrument.

In any case, the first step to helping your kids practice is knowing what they should be working on, and their teacher can help with this.

2. Create a Routine For Your Child

If your child knows that she needs to practice guitar for 15 minutes when she gets home from school, it’ll eventually just become what she does. It’s daunting to create a new habit, and a routine will help create that habit and help her see consistent progress.

3. Especially If They’re Young, Sit Down With Them

It’s highly unlikely your 6-year-old will head over to the piano each day and practice what he’s asked to do. Just taking the time to sit down with him to keep him on track will help him make a lot of progress.

If they’re taking voice lessons, think about recording the lesson and putting that on for your child so that she can sing along with the vocal exercises and songs that happened in class. Even if you only have 10 minutes and the lesson was 30, singing through just one or two of the exercises is much better than nothing.

I’ve been taking my 5-year-old to piano lessons for about a year now, and when new concepts or songs are introduced, it can be challenging to keep him motivated. Sitting down with him each day, even if he just makes incremental progress, is very important. After he learns a song, he’s much more excited about it and tends to go practice on his own (wherever and whenever he sees a piano). It’s during those difficult, low-motivation times that it’s especially important you’re there.

4. Help Them Through the Concepts

Even if you’ve never touched a piano before, you can probably stay one step ahead of your child for a while (and have the added bonus of learning the basics of an instrument yourself!) Sometimes just being able to help them identify middle C on the piano and quizzing them on it so that they know how to get their hands into position can be hugely helpful. Once your child understands the basics, you’ll probably be able to back off over time.

5. Short and Frequent Practice is Better than Long and Less Frequent Practice

Your child will probably get much more out of 15 minutes a day than 105 minutes in one sitting. Coming back to the same thing over and over again will help reinforce it, while one marathon session tends to just burn people out.

6. Give Them a Chance To Like It

It’s certainly not true in every case, but people tend to like what they know how to do well. I’ve heard so many times from parents, “I don’t want to make them practice. I just want them to do this for fun.” The thing is, going to your lesson week after week and not knowing how to play your instrument isn’t fun for anyone. Sitting down to practice when you have no idea what you’re doing isn’t fun either. Playing the guitar is fun when you can, you know, kind of play the guitar. Maybe your kids will practice for years and never fall in love with it, but that’s actually pretty unlikely. Making music is joyful, and everyone deserves the chance to learn to do it.

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