7 Ways to Inspire a Child to Practice an Instrument (Without Tears)

By Deborah Song

Playing the piano wasn’t always fun for me.  In fact, it was dreadful at times.  But starting from age 4, I remained a dedicated pupil for almost two decades, thanks in large part to my parents.  There are things about my training that worked well to inspire me and things I wish I could’ve changed. Here are some tips to help inspire your little one to stick with it.  

Introduce different music genres.  When teaching classical instruments like the piano, cello or violin, many parents and music teachers commit a fatal faux pas and only introduce kids to classical music.  That’s not to discount the tremendous value of classical training. But young kids, who are brimming with energy, respond to beats and melodies that are familiar to them.  (Cue in an instrumental of Frozen). Show them how their instrument fits into the context of different songs and genres. This will at least pique their interest.

Take them to a live performance. A musical, marching band or school play can provide a great context for your child's instrument. For a young child just starting out, learning to play an instrument can be frustrating. They have low attention spans and cute little clumsy fingers. So explain to them that it takes time.  But show them that hard work pays off.

Use peer pressure.  Introduce your child to a role model, preferably someone a few years older who’s been playing for a while. Kids relate to each other.  When they see someone their size play well, they’ll want to do it too.

Instill a reward system.  Slow gratification is anathema for a child.  Kids want now. So a reward system is an absolute necessity for the continued practice and dedication to an instrument.  The system can be as simple as keeping a tally of how many times they played a song well.  It makes an immediate impact to see the tally marks build up. Rewards should be tailored to the child’s interest and age, and doesn’t always have to involve music.

Practice in chunks. Whether your child is practicing for five minutes or a couple of hours each day, break out a song into segments. This makes learning a new song less intimidating. Breaking passages down to smaller segments also helps kids see more instant results.

Try a different time of day.  We all have our productive hours.  If you're having trouble coaxing your child into after-school practice, try the mornings. I used to find morning practices calming.  It was also an easier time to focus than after school when so many other things were vying for my attention.

Let them shine.  Get a pulse for what audience size your child responds well too.  Then invite some family members and friends, provide refreshments and let your child show off.  They’ll feel empowered and encouraged to hear the applause and compliments come from people other than mom and dad.

Posted on Aug 12, 2014

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