As a music teacher that goes into a number of schools, I teach many children every week some as young as 6. I see them achieve something new every single day, and that’s an amazing thing.
Just today I had a child of 9 who was struggling with a rhythm and after 5 minutes said, ‘I can’t do this!’ and tried to give up. My response was to ask the child to put down his guitar and to clap the rhythm along with me. After a couple of minutes, he was clapping along perfectly and then was able to play along to the song without making a mistake.
The thing I found most inspiring about this was not the fact he played along so well, but the fact that he’d just achieved something that a few minutes earlier he was convinced he’d never be able to do. That’s amazing, and I made sure I told him so.
The other side to teaching so many children is that I also see quite a few who either give up playing or come very close to it, and the main reason for this is frustration. Most of the time this frustration comes from two sources: one is the child’s self-belief – they simply don’t think that they can achieve; and the other is slow improvement, which can lead to boredom too.
Now luckily there really is one thing that can help with both of these, and that’s Practice. (Notice the capital 'P')
Practice for children is something that can be tricky as, on the main, they will need to be told to do it, but this is where a few strategies can help.
One important thing is to understand that practice for a child is not the same as for an adult. It won’t be something they plan themselves, and it won’t be driven by an achievable goal, or future desire. (See my other blog entry about this).
Now, we can’t expect children to do this and nor should they. Instead, think ‘Fun’, ‘Short’, ‘Regular’ and ‘Positive’.
Whatever they are practising, it needs to be fun. Children live in the moment, and it’s so much easier to engage with something when it’s fun.
5-10 minutes is enough as long as it’s regular.
Just twice a week is plenty for new things to start becoming embedded; routine is very important to children’s development.
The experience needs to be positive and this is really where the parent comes in. Give praise and encourage.
But how can you help your child practise? Here are some simple ideas:
1. Ask your child to show you what they’ve done the day of their lesson. This is really important because the longer the gap between the lesson and the practice, the more that will be forgotten. Now when I say ‘show you’ that doesn’t mean that they hand you the book and walk off, it means they get out their book, remind themselves of the lesson and then play it for you. No matter what they play, your response to it must be positive. After you've done this a few times this will lead to your child automatically showing you what they’ve done after each lesson day because they will feel positive after doing so.
2. Another idea is to play a simple game. Look at the book they’ve been using and call out some of the notes or chords they have studied. Again, give lots of positive feedback each time with maybe a reward once they reach a certain number of correct answers at the end of the week.
3. A fantastic way, and maybe the best, to encourage your children is to learn with them. Get them to teach you!
These simple tips will get your children playing more, and once they’ve learnt their first 4 or 5 chords, and know them well, they’ll be able to play a large number of songs, which will help lead to a love of music for life.
One thing that is inescapable though is that as a parent it is going to be up to you to enthuse your child and to encourage them. Learning an instrument is a lot like learning to read and write. Children need a lot of input and regular practice. The music teacher can only show the students the new material and help them understand it, but unfortunately one short lesson a week is never going to be enough for people to really learn, and children can’t plan effectively for themselves.
However, armed with just these few simple ideas and a positive attitude, empowered parents are the answer to everything!