My students love their lessons - they tell me. But sometimes, I get the impression that they're not so keen on practising at home. What the children and their parents often don't realise is that practice is the most important part of learning a musical instrument. Without regular practice, students regress more than they progress. And, when a student doesn't feel that they're moving forward, this can lead them to give up altogether. So, it really is vital to get this right!
Practice should happen every day. At first, just a few minutes is enough. Just get the child accustomed to sitting down to play regularly. And, no matter how old your child is, if he/she looks a bit lost or uninspired, sit with him/her! Everyone can benefit from a little moral support sometimes.
Practice should be focused. I love fun piano games. Just exploring the instrument and playing around is valuable. But this shouldn't be a substitute for learning what was set in the lesson. Also, if 'practice' involves playing every piece from start to finish, then your child is most likely not practising properly! Follow the teacher's instructions by working on a particular bar or section, or a particular technique, for example. If this seems tedious or difficult, encourage your child to persist for just a little longer. Children build up a capacity to concentrate for longer, and it does get easier!
Be Positive. Younger children are very much focused on the here and now, and might find it hard to understand that short, regular practising really makes a difference! For parents, it's very important to frame things in a positive way so the child knows they're making a difference with every minute spent focusing. Don't nag. It's not good for you, or the child, or your relationship with the child... and it doesn't work, anyway!
Make it a routine "Practice only on the days you eat" said Suzuki. Little and often is best, and when children are in a routine, they're less likely to have problems with motivation.
Try mornings. Many young children are tired after school. Catch them while they're fresh!
Make it tangible. Sticker charts can be a good way for a child to see their progress and effort. Some teachers like to set incentive schemes for pupils, and this can be useful. Personally, I like for the music to be an incentive. Encourage your child to be happy about practising, not happy about finishing practising!
Set goals. How about a 'performance' in front of family, friends or neighbours? Or, try "when you've finished this book, we'll go to the music shop for a treat, and you can chose a new one".
Make it social. Share! Find a friend or sibling who can play an instrument, and organise a 'music party'. Or ask your child to teach you a tune! Practising can be a lonely experience, so include other people wherever possible!
Find inspiration. Go and watch live music. There is no substitute.
DON'T close the door shut every time a child is practising. Make it 'normal' for others to hear what they do so they can avoid feeling self-conscious! You want to give them the message that what they're doing is valuable, and that, even though their music might not be perfect, it sounds good to hear them working on it, and developing their playing. Build their confidence, so they can enjoy playing the piano to express themselves.
And most importantly....
Praise, praise, praise! Positive comments are fuel for productive practising!