Advice on Motivating Children to Practice Music
from someone who once hated to practice the piano
In order to persuade anyone to read or believe what advice I attempt to provide, I must first relate that my strong disinclination for music practice is long past, and that not only did I major in music, but practicing the piano is now a favorite form of study and recreation. From growing up among other musicians and my little experience in teaching piano lessons, I have never doubted that inability or reluctance to practice is more common than it is uncommon. I have the firsthand experience of being a reluctant piano student and a trial upon the patience and efforts of several piano teachers and my mother and so would like to help those in that frustrating position by sharing my observations concerning the various reasons which may prevent regular and productive practice by young or beginning music students and offer some possible suggestions for improvement.
It is a funny thing that practicing the piano should seem to require so much discipline. My sister and I were really very easy to manage as children and teenagers. We did well in school, preferred to read books rather than go out, hardly spent any money, were never punished, and did everything expected of us except to practice the piano (we started learning at the ages of 5 and 3). In fact we both so severely disliked piano practice that our usual way was for each of us to play through our pieces for 20 minutes once a week just before walking to our teacher’s house. Incredibly enough, we advanced enough to show that our dislike of practice did not result from lack of ability because we successfully performed at recitals, church and school events, and our parents were proud.
Perhaps it is that discipline in any field is difficult for people in general, but music did seem especially difficult—more so than drawing, karate, math, and even learning German—and in fact it is so. The enjoyment of those on the receiving end of a musical performance often forms the misconception that the preparation behind the result consists largely of pleasure and ease. In actuality music is as much a science as it is an art and as much a discipline as it is a pleasure (and in the result there is only as much pleasure as there was discipline before it). Consideration must especially be shown to children when requiring them to undertake a subject the parts of which may be impossible or difficult to grasp at a certain age, and every effort made to promote the small successes which create the eagerness and habits of long term achievement.
Following is a series of small essays addressing various aspects of piano practice as pertains to children. While my experience is primarily in piano and singing, the principles I relate can be effectively applied to other instruments.