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Supporting Practice: A Parent's Guide

So your child started taking music lessons - this is fantastic! Congratulations on investing in your child's musical education. The benefits of music lessons are incredible and reach far beyond actually learning to sing or play their instrument. While your child may be very eager at the beginning, and you may find yourself begging them to stop practicing for a moment so they can eat supper or do their homework, you may also find that motivating your child to practice is about as painful as a root canal without any freezing. The most successful students are the ones who have some support at home when it comes to practicing, but what does that look like? How can parents encourage practicing in a way that keeps the family harmonious?

creating the space

Isn't it the dream to have your child be able to wander into their music corner and start practicing of their own accord? Then we have to make sure they have that space!! Having a quiet, distraction-free zone for practicing is *soo* important. I know you already know this, okay? Learning anything new requires concentration, right? But setting up a quiet space isn't the only ticket to a great practice space - we want the space to feel personal and inviting.

Making music is a very vulnerable thing, so having a safe space that feels like their own is very helpful for students. That doesn't mean parents aren't allowed in (in fact, if you have a young child, I encourage you to be engaged in their practicing), but allow the student ownership over the space. Try to keep it relatively clutter-free, and keep all the materials they need for their practice like their music, a stand, a pencil, etc. all in that space to make it convenient for everyone. A welcome side-effect is that then it is very easy to pack up for your music lessons, too!

The Parent's Role

When it comes to practicing, the parent's role is that of encourager. While many parents have a musical background and may even know a lot about singing, it is best to let the teacher lead in terms of instruction. Your voice teacher has highly specialized training to guide singers to use their voices in more healthy, expressive, freeing ways, so when you encourage your singer to trust the process, it helps us work together as a cohesive unit.

Sometimes, well-meaning parents say things in practice that sound encouraging, but can be counter-productive or confusing to the child. Things like "Just sing out," "You just need to have more confidence" or "Breathe from your diaphragm" are perhaps things you heard in choir or from TV, but these phrases are not incredibly helpful and in some cases, not even accurate (I'm looking at you, "Breathe from your diaphragm!"). Below are 5 ways to be your child's musical cheerleader.

things to try

  1. Praise the effort, not the result. Saying things like "Wow! You were so focused on your goal in that run-through" or "I could hear that was challenging for you, but you kept trying" is so affirming! It shows them that you're really paying attention to the process that they are going through and that you're there to cheer them on through the ups and downs.

  2. Sincere compliments. The more specific the compliment, the better! Listen for parts in their music that you're loving - maybe they're singing a section softly and it is just perfect, or maybe they're holding a long note and keeping it strong to the end. Find what you love and let them know it! If you're not really sure what to listen for, I invite you to come to a lesson and write down the feedback they get from me.

  3. Ask questions. If you think that your child is not really working on something the way you think they should be, ask questions rather than offering suggestions or instructions. Humans do not like being told what to do. So instead of saying "Aliah said to sing that part more quietly," perhaps ask "How loud do you want that part to be?" or "Why don't we look at the words together - do you think a loud or soft sound fits best here?" Be curious and take sincere interest in their ideas.

  4. Routine. Most humans also thrive on routine, so building practice as a habit in your daily life can be very successful. I say this with the caveat that I understand just how busy families are today, and that not every student is going to be able to make this happen. That's perfectly okay! But if you set it up that your child practices for 10-15 minutes before school after breakfast, that's more beneficial than cramming in 45 minutes on Sunday before your lesson on Monday. Shorter, more consistent practice sessions are easier to incorporate into daily life, and then students get used to the idea of regular practice. Success also breeds excitement, so the more diligently a student is practicing, the more success they will see, and the more excitement they will have to continue learning and improving. It's a beautiful cycle once you're in it!

  5. Gamify it! A little friendly competition never hurt, right? Check out THIS BLOG POST to learn all about gamifying your practice time using your Muzie account.

Still hitting a wall?

Have you tried it all and it's still a fight to get your child to practice. Know you're not alone. This can happen for any number of reasons. The first thing I want you to do as your teacher is to let me know - maybe we just need to find some different music!

If you're still getting a lot of pushback, I invite you to think big-picture with me...

My #1 goal for my students is to foster a lifelong love of music. Fighting over practicing consistently usually leads to students hating the whole process, quitting, and sometimes never making music again. Not everyone is going to love music, and that's okay. Either way, the student is learning a whole bunch about themselves, and if they quit singing to pursue baseball, then that's fantastic!

However, if they love their lessons and resist practice, my professional opinion is that it's best to change our expectations, at least for a little while.

Students are still learning, even if they aren't practicing. They might not progress as quickly, but I'm not one to gate-keep music learning and tell students who don't want to practice that they are not invited to learn in my space. We maximize the time we have together, and some day they will look back and think "I had fun at music lessons" rather than "I would fight with my parents every day after school about having to practice." I have also seen a number of students who have been given the opportunity to just enjoy lessons without the pressure to practice who have become diligent practicers later on because they had time to fall in love with it. Just because they won't practice now, doesn't mean they never will.

We can also change what practicing looks like. Maybe we need to shift away from actual music making and repertoire for a while and focus on listening, going to live music events, playing theory games online, or exploring songwriting. There are so many valuable activities that enhance music learning that do not involve singing or playing the piano.

I know it can be challenging and frustrating as a parent. I am committed to working with you to find a harmonious balance in your family that allows the child to create music with joy and curiosity.

Want to know more?
what does good practicing look like?

Gone are the days of practicing simply being "sing your song three times in a row" or "play this scale 17,000 times a day." A practice session is going to look different for each student to match their age, goals and abilities. Some practice activities may not even require the creation of noise (shocking, right?). Keep in touch with you child's teacher to know what to expect for practicing. I share some general advice in another blog post HERE if you'd like to know more about how practicing works at Music Mindfully studios.

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