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La La La La: 5 Ways to Find the Fun in Your Child's Music Practice

Who knew practicing an instrument could be fun-and-games? In many homes it involves shouting, grumbling and even tears, but it doesn’t have to. You can break out of a routine of arguing over music practice by playing instead. Playing games that is.

Children cannot see the long-term benefits of practicing; they rely on their parents support and encouragement to get them through the rough spots. But what if you are just as frustrated as your child and each practice session turns into a power struggle?  Remember that music can bring great joy, and we all learn best in a harmonious environment.

At your child’s next practice, sound a positive note by trying the following activities.

1. Get moving, get the wiggles out, and get the song imbedded in your child’s brain:Listen to recordings of the songs your child is learning. Music-listening is a foundation of the Suzuki method, but is also used widely by professional musicians who listen to several versions of a piece they are preparing. Listen to the songs, march to the beat or dance with the rhythm, then sing the tune before playing. If there is a tough section in the music, sing it to your child and have him sing it back to you. Keep singing it, and having him sing it back until he gets it right. Singing the notes and rhythm correctly is a magic trick for improving your child’s playing.

2. Shift focus on your own terms: Young children will find anything to focus on other than their music, so get creative and provide yours with a controlled distraction. Keep a box of colored pencils and a special coloring book in the practice area. Each time your child finishes a musical task, ask him to color a small, specific portion of a picture in the book, such as a character’s shirt or the dog’s tail. Have him play another section of music or the next song, then color another part of the picture. This will get him moving and provide a break from focusing. Why colored pencils? There are usually twelve or fewer in a box, and you don’t want your child to spend the whole time choosing a color. >>

3. Set up a no-risk audience: Invite all of the dolls and stuffed animals in your house to a special performance by their favorite musician. Your child can line the toys up on the couch while you set up the stand or get out the instrument. Announce the performer with a flourish and have her enter and bow before she begins her practice for the day. When she feels confident with her latest piece, have her perform for the whole family.

4. A little reward goes a long way: As long as candy is not a daily treat at your house, the lure of twenty M&M’s or jelly beans in a small dish can be a big thrill. Start with all twenty or so in the bowl. If your mini-Mozart gets off-task, talks back, or tries to sabotage his practice in some other way, you get to eat one of the treats. Every time. Keep eating them slowly until he settles down. Works like a charm because he gets to eat the ones that are left – if any – at the end of practice. Best of all, you won’t resort to yelling and cajoling.

5. Repetition reaps rewards: When your young musician is struggling, help her identify a trouble spot, then play “wipe-out!” Place three beads, buttons or small toys on the music stand and have her repeat the troublesome measure or line a minimum of three times. Let her slide one bead from one side of the stand to the other each time she plays it correctly. If she plays it wrong, even the last time - Wipe-out! She has to put all the beads back and start over until she can play it correctly three times in a row. Start with three beads for younger children. Some teachers recommend practicing specific measures up to fifteen times in a row.

Start your child’s music practice with one of these activities, or hold them in reserve for when frustrations are running high. Spread them out and use them sparingly for best results. Whatever games you try, stop practice when your child is having fun and things are going smoothly. Ending at a peaceful moment when your child feels successful creates positive feelings which will carry over into the next day’s practice.

Music Practice Resources for Familes:

  • Helping Parents Practice: Ideas for Making it Easier by Edmund Sprunger

  • How to Get your Child To Practice…Without Resorting to Violence

  • by Cynthia Richards

  • To Learn with Love: A Companion for Suzuki Parents by William and Constance Star

  • Musopoly Board Game - Cooperative board game engages all levels in learning music theory. www.musicmindgames.com/Musopoly

Heather Lee Leap is a freelance writer and mom. She and her husband live with three daughters, a piano, a flute, a coronet, a mandolin, several recorders and two violins.

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Tags: Education, Enrichment, Featured Story, Parenting

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