Making the Most of Music Lessons

Making the Most of Music Lessons
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After ten years of music lessons with my children, I’ve learned that the window for learning an instrument opens and closes quickly. If I could go back, I would make better use of the open window. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to make the most of my children’s music lessons:

START WITH THE BEST MUSIC TEACHER YOU CAN. In the beginning, it is very tempting to choose a music teacher “for now” with the intent to switch to a better teacher and program later. What I didn’t realize was how HARD it is to make the switch once you have started. Your children become comfortable and attached to their music teachers. When you want to switch, you are faced with not only the awkward position of telling your music teacher, but the difficult task of convincing your child. Plus, as in our case, your child may have to backtrack and unlearn bad habits.

  • When selecting a music teacher, attend their studio recitals as a sort of “interview.” Do you like what you hear? Are the students prepared or do they all seem to stumble along? Do they use their music? Is it a casual or formal event? What is the teacher’s attitude? How do the oldest students perform? Is this something you want your child to become a part of?
  • Children grow to love what they are good at doing******.** A studio that inspires great performances usually has a studio full of music students who love their instruments. This love is born from the hard hours of practice required by strong music teachers. If you really want your child to love their instrument, give them the gift of the right teacher from the start.
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MAKE MUSIC PRACTICE PART OF YOUR FAMILY CULTURE. We don’t live on farm or have too many chores, but we do have music practice. It is a sacrifice and a bit of a pain for all of us but we are (finally) committed. Thanks to our loving but very strict music teacher, here are some rules we use for practice:

  • Set the timer. My youngest daughter has to practice 30 minutes a day, my older girls 60 minutes a day. They use their cell phone timers or the kitchen timer and have developed a tradition of absolute honesy.
  • Create a daily practice deadline. During the summer, practice must be completed before 10:00 a.m. During school, practice must be completed each morning or straight after school before homework or play.
  • Let them take ONE practicing day off a week. This means that in most cases you still practice the day of your lesson. This also means you plan ahead and are careful with which day you choose to skip.
  • Practice the same time each day. This helps practice to become automatic—like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast.
  • Have a Sunday repertoire day. Use Sunday as repertoire day where you play songs you have played at past recitals, keeping them “performance ready.”
  • Keep the practicing going rain or shine. We don’t even skip on vacation—taking along our roll up keyboard. It’s just what we do.

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USE INCENTIVES. In this post I talked about incentives I use to help my youngest daughter with practicing. For my older daughters, games and stickers don’t work anymore. (For some, they never worked at all!) The best incentive, truly, is a teacher that inspires hard work. But I often find myself having to supplement. Here are the two things that have helped the most:

  • Be unbendable. Make practicing an absolute pre-requisite to any privilege. You want to go your friend’s house? Absolutely. As soon as your practicing is finished. You want to look something up on the computer? No problem! As soon as your practicing is finished. Make practicing the gateway to everything. Close the gate absolutely if they don’t do it.
  • Pay them to practice. Yes they are too old to be inspired by bouncy balls and stickers, but incentives can still work. Let them earn things you might be planning to give them anyway through landmark practice charts. 30 practices in a row could equal a new shirt, a ticket to Lagoon, or Fandango tickets. This summer, 80 practices will equal a ticket for my older girls to see Les Miserables in Cedar City.

So, does all this practicing pay off?

I think so. I’ve learned that the goal with music practice is to make the instrument easy to play. The more they practice, the easier it becomes. The easier it becomes, the more they enjoy it. The more they enjoy it, the more they play from their heart. Once they play from the heart, music practice becomes a want to instead of have to.

Right now, for the most part, we’re still in the have to stage. But I’ve seen moments, especially at their recitals, when they truly “own” the songs. They have worked so hard and so long that they aren’t playing for me, or for their teacher, but for themselves. These moments make it all worth it. I am pretty confident that someday their hearts will take complete control, and I will have successfully worked myself right out of a job.


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