Learning an instrument is best when it is an enjoyable and rewarding experience for the student, for parents and for the tutor. Lessons are just a small part of a student’s musical experience. The majority of learning actually happens at home.
Therefore, lessons are geared towards empowering students with tools and musical techniques which they can then apply to their home playing and musical experiences.
Please note that I actually don’t use the word ‘practice’ (other than the heading, because it’s the term most people are familiar with). I prefer the word ‘playing’ because that is what is actually happening. You can read more about my own story and personal views on this over here. Practice has a different connotation as children grow, when they start to hone their skills through particular finger exercises, sight reading pieces, and methods of improving playing skills through working with challenging parts of their music.
PLAYING AT HOME HELPS CONSOLIDATE LEARNING.
That is it’s primary function, especially at this young age.
At the same time, my approach is that young people’s first experiences of music be joyful.
Here’s some tips that I recommend for making home play a fun and easy part of home life:
- Support your child with a musical environment. Play a variety of musical styles and genres on CDs, computers, tape or record players (a very fun learning opportunity- and music recorded on these ‘old fashioned’ mediums are actually easier for our ears to hear because they are analogue rather than digital). Clap in time with music. Sing songs in the car with or without music. Dance. Have a few percussion instruments around. Stomp with the beat. Basically, make music a part of life so it’s seen, heard and appreciated. Play ‘high and low’ or ‘fast and slow’ games. Miss out words in familiar songs.
- Sit down with your child when they play. Give them your attention. If there is a musical activity I’ve suggested to work with the piece, do the activity with them. Because we would already have done it during our lesson, your child may love the opportunity to ‘teach’ you the game. Your child needs the same support learning to read music as they do learning to read language.
- Be curious about your child’s lesson. Ask your child about what they learned during their lesson. Try to do this on the day of their lesson. Be lightly curious and ask if they learned a special game, dance or song. Ask them to sing it to you. Other things to ask about might be: new notes, new fingers, loud/soft, fast/slow, finger exercises, warm-ups. As my own children got older and knew more about the alphabet, I asked them ‘What three things did you learn today, starting with the letters __ , ___, and ____’. We had a lot of fun with that!
- Sing the songs or hum the tunes. This can be done doing the dishes, travelling in the car, or going for a family walk. The more familiar your child is with how a song sounds, the more able they will be when they come to playing it. I could go on and on about how many ways this supports musical development! In a nutshell, it will help your child with pitch, musical memory, aural listening skills, rhythm, and your involvement and familiarity with their musical content smooths the bumps between school and home.
- Short, regular playing times can work best. This isn’t the be all and end all, and many households simply can’t do this due to after-school activities and work life.
- Generally, the more you play, the better you get. The only time this may not be true if you are playing incorrectly. This may mean playing incorrect notes, rhythms, using the wrong fingers, holding the wrist too far down or up. I will do my best to make this easy for you, dear parents! This does emphasis the need for adults to be present for practice, at least some of the time.
As your child’s music tutor, my main focus is creating a joyful music experience and supporting students in playing songs they enjoy– people generally play what they enjoy doing. We can make them enjoyable by combining each tune with activities, challenges or movements. I teach students from where they are each lesson, regardless of how much home play has been done. I do not consider it my job to reprimand students for not ‘practicing’.
My own belief is that playing times and expectations need to be negotiated between parents and child. Some parents articulate that ongoing lessons depend on practice commitments from the child (though this is probably best left for older children). Other parents are simply happy their child is participating in lessons willingly. All of this I leave up to the parent. I encourage you to talk to your child and discuss what you require of them in order to participate in lessons as they grow older.
You will notice that each of your child’s tunes has a ‘Weekly Challenge Box’ of nine squares, which can be marked off as they are practiced to help keep track of where they are up to. To celebrate the child’s success, a ‘Completion Sticker’ is placed upon tunes when all nine squares are marked off and they have played the tune to me as well as they can. I will often focus on certain things: clear notes, fingers, rhythm, keeping a beat. Your child and I may go through a ‘Self Review’ so they learn to self evaluate, rather than rely on my input, before we decide whether or not we should place the Completion Sticker on the piece yet. I try to make it less of a ‘rewards system’ (though for some students, that’s how it works), and more of a self monitoring and tracking process.
As a final consideration, here is some advice from well known Adelaide psychologist and author, Louise Porter:
“The point of musical expression is to give children a creative and emotional outlet. It should not be another avenue for coercion, tyranny or the imposition of guilt for not living up to expectations. At those inevitable times when children refuse to practice, they need to hear that we understand that they feel discouraged. Talking with them about the reason for their feelings and communicating until you jointly find a solution might not always result in persistence, but imposing solutions, threatening punishments, or flattering their skills certainly will not.”
For me, the point of music lessons for young children are to help the child develop musical skills and understandings, which are required for creative and emotional outlet as they develop as musical beings. At this stage, they are having fun while they are learning these foundational skills and understandings. Playing at home greatly assists in consolidating this learning. Anything we do consistently builds skill. My biggest desire is that young children’s introduction to music be a joyful one. They will be more likely to continue with their musical journey. They will access the wonderful developmental perks musical learning offers. And they will have a good sense of themselves as a musical being.