(Written by Lisa H) Autumn is a busy season. School resumes, team sports kick-off and music lessons start up again. For parents, the challenge can be finding the time to get it all done. Between school, homework, sports practices, music lessons, meals and family time, it may feel like there are not enough hours in a day.
Making progress on a musical instrument can be extremely challenging because it requires individual practice and discipline. So, with such little time, how do you make sure that your child’s instrument isn’t just collecting dust?
Simply putting in time on your instrument is not effective. Good practice habits can make a significant difference. In fact, poor practice habits can actually develop bad habits. So, what’s the best way to practice? Follow these simple practice tips to get the most out of musical instrument practice for kids.
- Limit distractions. It’s difficult to concentrate when kids are competing with the TV, music, or conversations. If possible, set-up a practice area in a quiet part of your home. If this is not possible, try to find a time to practice when there is minimal noise and distractions.
- Choose an optimal practice time. Don’t try to practice when kids are sleepy. Practicing when they are drowsy will only solidify poor habits. If possible, try to break up your practice sessions. For example, if it’s your goal to practice an hour each day, consider two 30 minute practices. That way, once children learn a piece of music in their first practice session they can review it during the second practice session.
- Warm up. Properly warming up will not only sound better it will reinforce the fundamentals. Similar to how a runner warms up with stretches and other exercises, take the time to warm up before launching right into practice.
- Set goals. It’s important to set goals and objectives. Do you want to be able to play a particular piece? Do you want to perform at a recital or concert? Are you striving to be section leader? Think about your goals and what it will take to get you there. Setting up goals and working backwards will help you devise a roadmap for meeting your objectives.
- Drill the parts that need work. A few weeks ago I was working on a piece that was challenging for me. After some good practice sessions, I had most of the piece under my fingers but there were still a couple of measures that were giving me problems. I determined the exact part that was giving me issues and I zoomed in. I drilled those two measures over and over. First very slowly and deliberately and then finally up to speed. After I could play the two measures at the correct speed, I went back to the beginning to make sure that I could play the measures in context.
- Document your progress. Use a notebook to record the details about practice sessions. Over time parents will probably notice patterns develop. For example, perhaps kids struggle with certain keys are alternate fingerings. If parents take notes they are more likely to see patterns and then parents can devise a strategy to breakthrough.
- Record your practice. Recording practices can offer incredible insight. Don’t get caught up in trying to get a professional quality recording. Even a recording from cell phone can offer the feedback kids need to improve. It can also be fun to listen to the progress they’ve made as they improve.
Lisa H. is a mother and musician living in Minneapolis. She writes for several blogs and website including Midwest Musical Imports, where she gets her oboe reeds, reedmaking supplies and instrument accessories.