While almost all children start off eager and excited to play piano, the drudgery of the traditional thirty minutes of practice daily sets in pretty quickly. What started as a desire to give your child a love of music, a valuable skill and the many other benefits of piano lessons can quickly degenerate into a daily struggle that leaves you exasperated and wondering if it’s worth the effort. After two children and twelve years of being the “Practice Police,” I can assure you it’s worth it and it can be done! A few adjustments to the traditional notion of practice are all that’s needed to end the tears and tantrums and get your child actually begging to practice!
- Fill a treat basket and use it liberally in the beginning. While not something you want to have to do indefinitely, a concrete, immediate reward, even for the first few baby steps, builds a positive association with practicing, especially in the young child. Small, inexpensive toys, stickers and candy work great for this. Gradually expect more work to be done for fewer treats. As your child gets older and more accomplished, you can phase this out.
- Practice in shorter sessions more often. Practicing twice daily for a focused ten minutes yields much better results than one scattered thirty minute session. It’s easier for the child to get through and it offers greater gains in musicianship, which in turn motivates your child to practice more.
- Let them play music they know. Children are far more motivated to practice songs they know, so ask their teacher if they can work on some of their favorite songs in addition to the standard repertoire. A child will get a great kick out of being able to show off by playing the latest song on a friend’s toy keyboard during a play date.
- Make a game out of it. Have your child pretend to be performing on stage while you take on the role of annoying audience member. Really ham it up. Play the obnoxiously proud parent, standing up, clapping, whooping, whistling, and yelling, “That’s my baby!!” after every piece. The more over-the-top you are, the more fun it will be for your child.
- Keep up with previously mastered pieces. While it’s natural to think practice should be devoted to learning new pieces, maintaining music that was previously learned is very motivating. It’s a great ego boost for a child to be able to play songs with mastery and a great reminder that the new piece will eventually be mastered as well.
Once your child reaches a certain level of proficiency, his internal motivation will take over and he will begin to think of himself as a pianist. If you can keep it fun and make it a way to connect with your child, you can keep him happily practicing until that happens.