The Myth of playing music for fun
Music lessons are different than many other activities because they often lack the ‘game’ element. Hockey players practice and run drills but they also play games, Karate students practice their fight moves but then enter competitions, drama students rehearse regularly in order to put on a show. However, music students are often told they are to ‘play for fun’ and then practice and practice without any other outlet or specific objective or goal. Sometimes practice is boring and while we may know that once we get good playing is fun, how do we know when we are good? What motivates us to practice if we don’t have an objective to practice towards other than “it will be fun someday?” Even as adults we need objectives and outlets. Setting up a putting green in our office or hitting the driving range is practice to improve our golf game. While the driving range is fun would it get boring if we never played a round of golf? Maybe not but here are 5 things you can do as a parent or a student to create an objective for your child and help motivate them to practice.
Recitals and performances
Does your school or teacher host a recital? Yes, playing in front of people can be a terrifying experience but I have written in the past on the value and benefit of performing publicly. Performing at a recital not only has tremendous personal benefit but it is a valuable goal that teachers and parents can use to motivate a student to practice. Weeks before the recital your child and their teacher should pick a piece to perform. Now with a specific goal, they should have plenty of motivation to practice regularly in order to perform that piece.
It doesn’t’ need to be a recital. Do you have Christmas carols or holiday songs that they could perform for the family while you decorate for the holiday season? Could they prepare a song for a grandparent on their birthday, or play a song at a wedding, a birthday, or a graduation? Make performing a part of your family. Give your child ample time to prepare and practice. Make it a big deal. Let the family know that little Johnny is going to play at granny’s birthday party so the whole family expects it and can celebrate the performance.
Tests and exams get a bad rap sometimes. We often hear that people want their child to play for fun and not do exams. Yes, exams can be stressful but in order to move up a belt in Karate, we get tested. To pass their art class a students work needs to be assessed. You could even argue that hockey playoffs are an assessment of the cumulative work a player puts in over the course of the year. Most of the organizations that test students understand that kids are nervous and stressed and they have adjusted the exam process to accommodate the students. Music exams today are not the same exams or the same exam process as when I was a child. It is also important that we position the exam properly for the student. The exam is simply a way to assess the progress of a student to ensure that the teacher and the student are covering the necessary material. It is a way for parents to ensure their child is receiving a complete education and that their progress is on track. It is also important to remember that the exams are not prerequisites or required for progress. So even if a student were to flop the exam completely that doesn’t mean the student can not progress to the next level and test for the next level the following year.
Rewards big and small
My wife saw a dress she loved so when I encouraged her to buy it she said ‘no, not until I lose 10 pounds’. Rewards can be a powerful tool to motivate people. “I’ll buy those golf clubs when I break 90’ “I’ll buy that car when I get my promotion’ ‘Mom is going to make my favorite supper if I get over 75 on my english exam”. Does your child want a new guitar? Do they have a video game that they are begging for? Maybe if they have a month of practicing five times a week they get that Lego set they are looking for? Maybe they get dinner out at their favorite restaurant if they learn and memorize that new song? Rewards don’t need to be big either, maybe they get that bag of m&m’s but they can only eat it at the piano while they practice.
New outlets playing in a band, recording, composing
Sometimes a change is better than a rest. Exploring new ways to express your musical creativity can be a tremendous tool to motivate your child to practice. Playing in a band can bring students of a similar age and interest together. This is a fun and social experience but it also motivates the child to practice in order to make the band better. They need to learn so they can improve the band and they need to learn new material for the band. Even without an outlet to perform playing in a band can be an amazing experience and a wonderful motivational tool.
If your child is not the social type or even if they are recording or composition can be an amazing tool to get your child sitting down with their instrument. Working on creating a piece of music takes time and dedication. A creative outlet can motivate a student to work on their song both to perform it better for the recording but to improve their abilities and utilize the knowledge they gained in with their teacher. Then they can promote their work and sell the song on iTunes or cd baby, post it on SoundCloud or youtube or even just press it to disk and give it to their grandma for her birthday.
Make it a family affair
Kids love to spend time with their parents, I know mine do. Rather than turning on the t.v. try making family time music time. You could take up playing yourself so that you can sit and practice together. If you both start at the same time you can learn the songs together. If you are competitive it can be a game to see who will progress the fastest, if you are cooperative then you can help each other through a difficult passage or exercise. If you learn different instruments you could work together, play together or even ‘jam’ in your own little family band.
Even if you don’t play a musical instrument or have no interest in playing try to make it family time. Sit in the room with your child and read a book or work on some paperwork from the office. Sit in the same room to listen and encourage your child, give them praise for the work they are doing and acknowledge their accomplishments when they practice.
Practicing your instrument is not always fun and sadly it can be boring and difficult. Even as adults it can be challenging to do things sometimes but it is especially hard if we don’t see the results immediately or have a goal to work towards. In music, it can take years before music is fun and practice time is our ‘happy place’. Our trick as parents is to find ways to motivate our child long enough that they are still playing when they know enough and music can be just fun. Of course, you are never alone, if you need ideas or help talk to your teacher or if you are part of a music school talk to the administrators. Together we can find the tools and tricks to make music fun so we can play for fun…. Even when sometimes it is not so fun.