“Regular practicing is a path towards self-discipline that goes way beyond music — it’s a skill that has hugely positive ramifications for personal fulfillment and lifetime success.” – Anastasia Tsioulcas from “Getting Kids to Practice Music – Without Tears or Tantrum on NPR
Click here to read a wonderful article from NPR about practicing music. Tsioulcas talks about the importance of short focused practice for the beginning musician. Having a goal to practice a bar or two, the rhythm, or fingering of a song helps make it less daunting than trying to play the whole song perfectly. One idea is to have rewards for practice time. She shares about musician who received beans for practice and they traded in for rewards such as toys, money, and trips. Another idea is to have beads, pennies or items that can be moved from one side to another to mark off good practicing.
Here’s my personal example: I kept a log sheet of how many minutes I practiced everyday. At the end the week, I saw the 20, 30, 50, 15, 20, 40, 30 minutes I practiced during various days and at the end of the month, I totaled the amount I practiced. I was motivated to visually see how much I was practicing and my parents rewarded me with new school supplies or a book at the end of the month. And after seven years, I got a piano!
As of current, I have a private music studio of 19 students, with students going on three weeks of learning to almost two years of study on piano, guitar, and violin. Their reading abilities range from playing by letters, colors, music notes and their playing abilities range from one finger to using all five fingers.
The students and I talk about practicing at home and parents ask how they can encourage music making at home. Depending on the student’s level, instrument ability, and level of focus, I ask students to practice 5 to 15 minutes a day. We talk about the specifics they can do at home, whether it is a song, finger numbers, or reading letters. For some students, they simply cannot because of lack of instrument, though I tell them they can look at their book, read the notes, and practice with their fingers on their table.
A rewards and motivation system is different for everyone. For several of my students, it is earning time on my iPad, which is full of music games, such as reading notes, listening, or working on rhythm, so they are still reinforcing their music skills even while on their reward! For others, it is opportunity to have a minute to play any of the several hundreds of instruments in the music room.
The focus of music lessons and practice is for students to enjoy making music, playing instruments, and keeping that excitement going to continue to learn and to practice. During lessons, I give students time to improvise so that they can express themselves and give them a break from their hard work. At this young age, it’s about enjoying the music while learning the music concepts at the pace they are ready to receive the information. For so many of my students, it blows their mind that the music alphabet goes from A to G and repeats again. There is no H to Z. And sometimes, that is all they can digest in a lesson.