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How to Practice with Your Kids

Let's talk about how to practice with your child.

However, I think that the effectiveness of any advice that I can offer is heavily dependent on the relationship that you have with your child. My method worked specifically because of how I structured my relationship with my kids. My relationship with my kids is extremely open.

Before they were born, I decided to NOT treat my kids like kids. I have pretty much always spoke to them as adults and have always strived to use reason in order to work with them as a team.

This means that:

  1. We share the same goals. We are working together as a team to build their skill set.
  2. I always back up my rules/goal setting with a rational line of thinking. I have never told them they have to do something because “I said so”. I have always been prepared to defend my rules or goal setting for them by having rational, logical reasons. Therefore, if you do not have this specific kind of relationship with your kids, then my methods may not work for you.

From the beginning, my number #1 goal was to NOT have to practice with them AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. I knew that it is inherently dangerous to practice an instrument with your child; especially if you are a musician yourself because you will likely be more impatient, demanding and have absurd expectations. All of these negative attributes can poison your kid against music and you very quickly.

Therefore, my strategy for getting them on their own asap was structured around building their skills as soon as possible. Skill in playing and skill with how to practice.

The #1 rule I alway tried to follow was: Keep it as positive as humanly possible. There are two ways in which I tried to keep practice positive:

1. Create the illusion of choice.

Kids like choice because it makes them feel in control and will feel that what they are doing is THEIR idea. Here are some example questions I'd ask them to give the illusion of choice:

  • When should we play a little/practice? After homework/dinner or before? Either choice results in practice.
  • Should we practice together or do you want to practice by yourself? Either choice results in practice.
  • What should we work on now? It could be a choice of pieces or a piece or an exercise. Either choice results in practice.

2. Avoid negative reinforcement by association:

  • Never create the association that them failing at something = you being angry or you turning it into a personal attack against them. Don’t make them feel stupid or lazy. Every time I felt the urge to lash out at them for making a mistake, I would instead chuckle or laugh it off. Oh, no! Let’s do it again but even better! (and keep smiling). If you can’t do it, leave. Make an excuse to get something to drink from the kitchen or perhaps get them something. Kids are sensitive. They will know when you are mad, irritated or frustrated.
  • Don’t make them feel stupid or lazy or incompetent.
  • Sometimes you have to pull the rip cord: If things are going very badly (Either I or the child has a terrible attitude) .

Therefore, you have a couple options:

Option #1: Just say, it looks like we are not in the right state of mind to have an awesome practice today. Should we just do a double practice tomorrow? This again gives the kid choice and can commit them to a longer session the next day. Either way, they get the practice in.

Option #2: Should we practice your pieces today or just do duets? This option is obviously only available to parents who play. If they choose duets, that’s great. The kid and you usually find this much more fun than their piece or exercises. The kid still practices and learns another skill. Also, it’s an opportunity for the kid to associate fun with their parents and their instrument. You can’t be too bossy though. That’ll ruin it.

THE FINALE RULE I tried not to break for myself was to remember that perfection of playing is not necessary all the time.

If I do strive for perfection, it’s mostly to strive for HOW to practice properly. If I can teach them how to practice and practicing is routine, then this speeds up the time, where I don’t need to practice with them anymore!