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Music For Kids By Kids
1.10 Daily music-making: maintaining motivation

Learning and performing music is a form of meditation. It is an extremely complex task that requires literally losing oneself. Time and self-consciousness disappear. It is partially this that makes the experience of music so wonderful and so difficult at the same time. Encouraging and guiding a child in the development of the ability to intensely focus is something that will serve him/her well into adulthood.

Generally, parents can assume that the level of support required for reading, writing and math skills, will apply to learning music it is a long-term process requiring consistent pursuit. It is most often in those homes where there is positive parental support on a daily basis, that the child will learn the discipline of music and continue to maintain a strong interest in music making into adulthood.

The excitement of a new adventure is enough to provide an ample supply of positive motivation for the first several weeks of piano lessons. It takes a good teacher and willing parent working together to extend this honeymoon period into a long and rewarding lifetime journey.

It is sometimes difficult for parents to understand the level at which their participation is useful to and desired by the child on a daily basis. This is complicated by the natural ebb and flow of interest and enthusiasm on the part of the student as well as the fact that kids vary tremendously in their need for support and individual attention. Maintaining musical motivation can be a delicate dance that requires great sensitivity on the part of the parents and teacher. If this is accepted as such, momentum can be maintained through the hills and valleys without stress and crises.

Often one of the biggest challenges for the teacher is to get the parents to relax and not project their own less-than-positive childhood experiences around piano lessons (guilt, performance anxiety, unrealistic expectations, etc.) onto their child. A student who starts with eagerness in a non-judgmental musical environment with the teacher will have their enthusiasm dampened by the parents who, often unconsciously, turn the process into a tedious and stressful daily ritual. It is extremely difficult for the teacher to overcome continual negative conditioning on the part of the parents (or a former teacher). I suggest that instead of saying Ok, get in there and practice, try Id love to hear you play something for me, or Could you play some nice music for me while Im writing out my shopping list or Lets sit down and see what we are working on this week.

True support means showing a genuine interest touching base with the teacher at the lesson so you know what is expected for the week, being available to help with the lesson material as much as possible, asking the child to perform for you frequently, giving lots of praise and encouragement, being a partner, not an adversary. Kids who have been at school all day typically want to spend time with family members when they get home, and they need to know that what they are doing has relevance in the daily life of the family.

How much time should my child be spending at the piano?

This is the perhaps most frequently asked question among parents, and the answer is: the more the better. However, since every child is unique in temperament, abilities, self-motivation, concentration skills, and available time and energy, this is necessarily a very individual thing.

I recommend daily music making. Frequency is more important than duration, especially with young children. Shorter and more frequent visits to the piano are usually more productive and more than one or two long sessions during the week. Parents need be sensitive to the fine line between being encouraging and nagging. As long as everything is approached in a positive manner, the child will enjoy playing and meeting the challenges of learning new material. Their interest and staying power will naturally increase as they mature.

On days where the children are tired, stressed by homework, or exhausted from sports activities, they need time to wind down before they are ready to plunge into another serious effort. Sometimes the day is not long enough to fit everything in. This is ok now and then. If the student goes for weeks without having any serious time at the instrument, however, this is demoralizing for both the student, who does not feel good about constantly being unprepared, and the teacher, who will feel unsupported in his/her efforts. It is the parents job to arrange the childs day so that some playing is possible when the child is fresh and alert.

I recommend against setting a specific amount of time each day that the student is required to practice. The timer approach to practicing reinforces the idea that it is a chore rather than play. What would happen if you told your daughter that she had to play with her Barbie doll for exactly 15 minutes every day? Being at the piano should not be about watching the clock, but rather, about getting something accomplished and having fun doing it. I recommend a more project or task oriented approach for each practice session say, learning a short piece or section of one by memory; or playing old favorites for family members; or sight-reading songs from some relatively simple books; or composing/improvising something new. There are a lot of facets to music-making at the keyboard. Mindlessly playing through the assigned repertoire over and over every day until the time requirement is fulfilled is a waste of the students time and is not about music. The teacher and parent need to work together to provide a rich and varied palette of approaches to choose from on any given day. Perhaps playing some familiar songs would be fun and relaxing if the student has already had a long day. If physical and mental energy are high, use that time to focus on new material and challenges.

With some kids, establishing a routine is helpful. Sitting down at the piano at approximately the same time each day can reinforce a daily mental readiness. With other students and families, this is not necessarily desirable or practical.

In any case, music-making should never be about endless hours of tedious repetition. If the teaching is musical and good practice techniques are taught (see chapters 2.3 & 2.5) music can be learned quickly and enjoyably.

DO

Be informed of what your child is working on each week and guide, encourage and assist him/her. This promotes a feeling of partnership between you and the child which is immensely energizing.

Reward both the effort and the achievement. Instead of bribery, give praise and encouragement often.

Involve the child in the decision-making process where appropriate.

Examine your own involvement often: are you providing the right and enough support?

Work with the teacher to find ways to positively motivate the student.

Offer specific help in a positive way. If the child is at the piano and is doing something that sounds wrong, rather than shouting B FLAT from the kitchen, come into the piano room, sit down and listen for a minute. Start with a positive comment, show appreciation in some way, before pointing out something that needs improvement. That sounds really nice, but I think it would sound even better if  . . . .  Should we take a look?

DONT

Force a child to practice. This is never appropriate and will eventually dampen the spirit of even the most enthusiastic child. If the child is resistant to sitting at the piano on a particular day, you can invite the child to participate in a relaxed way perhaps clapping out the rhythms of the new pieces, or singing the ones with words, or dancing to the piece as the parent plays it, or improvising a new piece. Sitting at the piano is the goal. If that is not going to happen, perhaps dancing or listening to a recording of their choice, or watching a video about a composer. All of these are ways to keep learning about music. Always try to understand why there is resistance and then be creative about trying different approaches. (see chapter 1.9). Also, ask the teacher for suggestions.

Lecture, nag, manipulate, guilt-trip, bribe or threaten the child. In return, the child will put forth an equally determined and opposing effort. They will wheedle, whine, bargain or shut down. (Constantly reminding the child that you are paying a lot of money for the lessons falls into this category).

Try to convince kids to practice by telling them that all their current sacrifices will pay off when they are adults and they will be grateful to you. Kids are not future-oriented and this is not only meaningless to them but antagonizing. To constantly push them into doing things they do not enjoy, not only in music but in other areas of learning, causes them to lose sight of their true nature and inner passions so that, by the time they are adults, they dont know what makes them happy anymore. The solution is to find out how to help them enjoy the process now so that long-distance achievements are a happy by-product, not the sole reason for sticking with it.

Tell the teacher how to teach. If you have concerns or questions about how things are proceeding, discuss them in a non-blaming way with the teacher, preferably not in the presence of the child. Always remember that you are in partnership with the teacher. That is the only way it can work. If you find yourself questioning the teacher frequently, perhaps you should find one in whom you have more confidence.

Set up artificial goals and expectations. Children progress at wildly different rates. Some may be able to play Bach and Beethoven after a few months of lessons. Some may take a lot longer to sound proficient. Just be always appreciative of their progress and accomplishments, no matter how  modest they may seem, and understand that patience pays off.

Get stressed out about your child being ready for the lesson. If they havent spent much time at the instrument during the week, there is no point in making them feel bad about it the night before the lesson. This makes the lesson seem like a deadline rather than something fun to look forward to.

Complain to the student about hearing the same song over and over. Kids love to repeat that is how they learn. Part of being the parent of a budding musician is to learn not only to tolerate lots of repetition, but to comment positively when appropriate.

Be critical if the child is performing for you, even if there are lots of stops and starts or mistakes. Performance is different from practicing. The point of performance is to share the joy of music and nothing else.

Let your child get overly stressed at the piano. If they are tired or struggling too hard, shift gears and ask them to play something you know is easy and enjoyable for them or suggest that they stop for now and come back to the piano later.

      

 

 

Expect your child to be interested in making music if you are not showing any real support. There are musicians who have survived being forced to practice, poor teaching techniques and grouchy teachers. But without the parents (or other caring adults) dedication, a musician could not have been created.