Home > Brandenburg, Children, Education, Music > Instrumental in Practicing (part one)

Instrumental in Practicing (part one)

August 21, 2008

At about the age of six, I couldn’t wait until I could do dishes. Once old enough to wash them, in very little time, I lost that passion. However, my parents never lost their conviction about my participation, even though Sunday dinner dishes stacked like a bad comb over.

I bring dish washing to your attention because it compares with instrument practice as an example. Kids start out wanting to play, so they practice. In less than a year, the newness wears off and they stop practicing. How can you keep them practicing?

The Philosophy behind the Means for Continuing Practice

Before you ever start choosing instruments or playing them, both parents should have their mind made up about why their children will play. This needs to be a dad and mom thing because it is often too tough for one parent. Both parents have to know why.

I’ve talked to a lot of secularists on this and most who I talk to say that you can’t force a child to play an instrument. They imply that it is wrong to do that. They say that the child must want to play. They tell me that your child must have fun with it, that you don’t want to pressure them. If children don’t want to play, these experts say, they shouldn’t have to. I nod my head to that and smile. I don’t believe it.

The typical parent of the world will also tell me that the greatest players loved to play. I believe that. They imply that the great ones are so good because they always liked playing. I don’t believe that. I think someone must love it if he will be great at playing. That doesn’t mean that he has always or even mostly brought that affection to his instrument.

I have witnessed the following as a pattern. Kids start out loving it. Love turns to like. Like turns to dislike. They mainly don’t like practicing. They also don’t like being criticized because they’re not good. They aren’t good and they can’t get better without criticism. They like other things better. They don’t have the discipline to say “no” to their favorite activities. There are more of them today than ever: television, movies, DVD, video games, cell phones, sports, and sleep.

When they first get the instrument, which is new to them, they like that. At first, it’s fun to make the sounds the instruments make. They’re the ones making them. They get a ton of praise because parents want them to like it and be good. Then they find out that they can’t get better without work. Work is hard. It isn’t fun. See Dick practice. Practice, Practice. Dick doesn’t like the instrument any more. He wishes he never started. He might even despise his instrument. He might even wish he could use his aluminum baseball bat on the instrument.

I mentioned criticism. Gertrude’s teacher might be one of the “new school” fun teachers, but little snookems will still get criticized. Parents criticize the practice, the lack of it. Parents remind junior to protect the important instrument, paid for by hard-earned money. “Look at me. I’m serious.” Squawk, squawk, scratch, chink, blurp. Bad notes. More criticism. The teacher complains to the parents. The parents give the good talking to, among other things.

There will be a lengthy period during which most children don’t like their instruments. And then they start getting better. They start sounding good. They start using the instrument in enjoyable ways. Other people start noticing how good they’ve gotten. And finally they love the instrument and their music. They might even become great.

So, to review: Short period of love, long period of hate, even longer period of love. That’s how it occurs most of the time. During that long period of hate, parents must remember why it is that they started that instrument. That overriding reason will keep them keeping their child playing and practicing.

A parent will need the motivation found in the reason why he has his child playing an instrument. Often the child will take his dislike of practice out on the parent. The child will use techniques to wear away the parent’s endurance: sour looks, tongue snapping, groaning, loud exhalation, tears, puffing, lack of care for the instrument, bad playing, trouble with the teacher, “forgetting” music, and more. These are likelihoods. It doesn’t mean they have to continue, but they will usually happen once or more.

You’ll notice that other people’s children just love to practice. At least that’s what it looks like. They’ve got these alien-like creatures who do it and keep doing it. They play their fingers to the bone like prisoners in the gulag, all with a smile. How did those parents get those kids and you got yours? I admit. Some children tend toward enjoyment of instrument practicing more than others. Very few, however. I don’t actually know any personally, but I guess I’m still thinking there are some out there.

If you get the instrument, you’ve also now got a battle on your hands. It comes with a lot of reward too, but it isn’t easy for a parent. So again, I come back to the philosophy, your reasons why it is that you got started in the first place. That will help you help your child.

The Methods for Getting Practice and Good Practice

(next time)

  1. Mike Marshall
    August 22, 2008 at 5:11 am

    I saw an interview years ago with Wynton Marsalis, who is the best trumpet player I have ever heard. He said in the interview that the secret to his success was…… scales, scales, scales.
    I also played the trumpet, practiced for a year and quit practicing. My band instructor was forever riding me saying “you have no idea how much talent you have. If you would just practice….”. Well, I did not.

    In my adult life, I learned to play the guitar. I knew that I needed to practice. I started with that old standard: Scales. I still play them to warm up. To keep engaged, I practice by learning a song, a more challenging song than I have played before, so when I am done practicing I feel like I have accomplished something. That way I keep practicing. I also practice the scales that the song I am learning is based on, so down the road I can improvise.
    So for your children, if you can give them songs to learn as practice, and not just practice for practice sake, you make get farther. Have them warm up with scales and arpeggios, and then practice by learning a hymn or two. For warm up they can practice the same scales that the hymn they are learning is based on. Once they get better, ask them to improvise using the scales they practiced. This makes it fun, allows them some creativity, and keeps them engaged. At least it works for me. And after all, I’m just a big kid. 🙂

  2. August 22, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    I took lessons for the piano for a year or two back while I was in Jr. High School. I never practiced and my parents, although they encouraged me to, never really made me. I wish now that I would have had the discipline to do it more or that they would have forced me to continue lessons and to actually practice even while I didn’t enjoy it. Great post. I hope to learn from this and have my children to develop their talents in this area. Thanks for the great article.

  3. August 23, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Thanks for the comments. It reinforces having a philosophy solid before we move into enforcing practice.

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