Practice and Parents

April 11th, 2015 by Barbara J Gilby

The ideal of most parents of musical children is be involved with practice in ways that maximises usefulness and minimises interference. No one knows your child the way you do – this can be a help but also a hindrance when it comes to music practice.

Most teachers agree that for children of primary school age, and sometimes older, parental attendance at lessons and assistance with practice makes a big difference to the child’s rate of development. The single best thing parents can do to help their child is to be genuinely interested in their child’s music lessons. Communicate the importance of music to a child by your actions. The most powerful way to communicate that we value something is to spend time with it. How many parents would actively encourage their children to be involved in a sporting activity without becoming familiar with the rules and training methods of the sport?

In the early stages of learning a stringed instrument, when the hands and arms need to learn hitherto unknown and completely different skills, parental encouragement and enthusiasm can be a great antidote for seemingly slow initial results.

Some parents worry if they are doing the right thing when they practice with their child. Parents don’t need musical training to make a tremendous difference to their child’s music lessons. It’s important to remember that you’re not a bad parent if your child doesn’t do everything perfectly. You are not solely responsible for how your child plays. However, you are responsible for how you behave during practice.

Parents need to dedicate time to the practice process and they need to be patient. Children want to look good in their parents’ eyes. They need to know they are loved and they crave attention. Irritating behaviours can be a child’s way of seeking that attention. If your child behaves in ways that irritate you, you need to develop a different way of behaving and practice it until it becomes automatic. Teachers, like you, want your child to learn pieces, but there’s a bigger vision that involves creating habits that allow learning to happen easily. Working constructively on an issue relieves the load for both of you – check whether your words and actions are achieving a result. It’s important not to be so occupied that we forget to check whether it’s getting us anywhere.

If what we’re doing isn’t working, parents can start to feel powerless, however even without specific musical knowledge you can ensure the preparation and preservation of a healthy environment for practice.

Try to imagine a sign hanging over your child.

The purpose of practice is to make things easier. The practice is needed because some aspect of the task is not yet easy and automatic. The practice model should be based around specific jobs rather than a specific set amount of time. If the week’s goals do not appear to be met, a parent can help to restructure the remaining practice time advantageously. Most teachers will be very happy if at least some of the week’s goals have been achieved.

Children want things to be immediately manageable and can become very frustrated when they aren’t. Parents instantly provide the necessities of life and a child will sometimes need to be gently reminded that you don’t have a magic wand to make this task easy, although you wish you did. Children don’t necessarily need to have their feelings agreed with, but they do need them to be acknowledged. Acknowledging a child’s feelings – and your own- does get easier as you practice it, even if there are tricky spots that remain. Feeling safe in a parent’s love is one of the basic raw materials of confidence.

Children usually leave their lesson full of good intentions. However, anything that is not actually scheduled into their week may not actually happen. If you want practising to form a part of their day, you have to make it a part of their day. Even if the child suddenly has a lot of homework, music practice time should be off-limits to other activities. If a parent helps a child work out how many practice sessions can happen, when they will happen and how long they may be, those intentions have a better chance of realisation.

Students need to understand exactly what they are trying to achieve during the week. Parents can ensure that the communication between teacher and student is complete by having the student reflect back to them the essential information for the week ahead, as soon as possible after the lesson. Children relate to concrete language. Keep a practice notebook. If you don’t know what the specific language/information is, wait until the next lesson. Some issues are appropriate to leave for the teacher to deal with.


Edmund Sprunger
Helping Parents Practice

Faber and E. Mazlish
How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk New York, Quill, 2002

An excellent resource for parents and students:
Philip Johnston
PracticeSpot Press 2006