It may seem like I shouldn’t have to say this, but the term “practice” implies an effort to play the current piece “right”. Practicing mistakes, while not completely impeding progress, certainly slows it down. Therefore, students need to be very sure of how to “play it right”. Your child’s teacher has a goal for “playing it right” with a balance of not being afraid to “play it wrong” in the process. The reason for this reflects why we are The By Ear Musician Studio and NOT “Johnson’s Academy of Music Instruction”. Even the most confident student, adult or child, enters into music lessons with a fear of failure. Sometimes, this is reflected by an outright refusal to play at home! Parents might react to this with confusion and fear of their child’s failure that further stirs up doubt in their child’s heart. It is important to share this with your teacher. Don’t feel badly about it, and don’t blame the teacher, either! For reasons that cannot always be understood, some children have very high expectations of themselves. I’ve had students freeze up, cry, berate themselves, jerk away from the keyboard as if it is suddenly too hot to touch; however they choose to express disappointment in themselves and their fear of their teacher’s disappointment – we’ve seen it. We respond with comfort, encouragement, and reassurance that we are not disappointed in them, that their lesson is a safe place to fail, and that they will eventually “get it right”.

To summarize, practice requires consistent effort to persevere through developmental and personality issues. Perseverance requires support from the family by adequately reflecting the value of the effort and protecting “play at home” time. If you have concerns, please communicate them to your child’s teacher, we are happy to help! And now for some specifics:

How to encourage “playing at home”

“I can do it myself!”  Well, even if they can’t (yet), your child not only wants to succeed alone but also needs to know that you think they can! So, look at how you are interacting with music for yourself – what is your child seeing? More importantly, what is your child hearing? Let your child “overhear” you talking about what you hear them play. Find something awesome to say J

Should you bribe your child? Generally, I don’t believe bribing is a good idea. Playing music should not involve the normal “control” issues inherent in the parent-child relationship. Look for ways to reflect the value toward their “play at home” time. Are you rushed and therefore “hurrying” your child to fit in “10 minutes, that’s better than nothing”? Try this: “I can’t wait to hear what you learned today at your lesson.” Smile and say something positive; maybe you could hear a little while you waited and it sounded “awesome”. Even if you are a musician yourself, don’t directly offer to help your child. This may cause them to freeze up around you, thinking that you are always listening for something to “correct”. We are naturally concerned about our children “getting along” with their academics, and music instruction has been shown to support that. But we believe music instruction should also involve the heart.

Where is their “playing” area? Is it in an awkward corner that the child doesn’t want to be in? Is it cluttered with things so that it feels like an area where things “carelessly” collect, waiting to be put away? These visual images speak to the child. Create, if you can, an area of honor, of beauty…well lit, organized with a specific place for their books and class journal. A table nearby with flowers, or some object of value.

Your child brings something to the table: perhaps a well developed musicality, sustained interest in lessons, previous lessons, the presence or lack of aural discernment, a habit of singing, confidence or a fear of failure, great or undeveloped hand-eye coordination. There are so many factors that affect success in any endeavor, we as parents may not fully understand where our child is in the developmental process, or that there are simultaneous developmental processes going on. Do you have realistic expectations of your child? As your child’s teacher, we value the knowledge you bring of this precious person. However, as we work with your child, we see that development in one area hinges upon another skill that doesn’t come as easily. And then there are the ‘intangibles’ – confidence and persistence. Some children seem to be blessed with these qualities; I assure you, they are the minority. But they are so necessary to success in life as a whole! And so we come back around to this idea of PRACTICE, also known as “playing at home”, and how teacher and parent together can encourage your child while enjoying the process.

First Things First – Valuing the process, and the teacher.

We need you! No matter your level of involvement, from “Laid-back” to “Super Committed”, your regard for your child’s experience at The By Ear Musician Studio is more caught than taught. Music lessons are generally considered extra curricular, and therefore, in each family, there is a value placed upon lessons relative to other things that your children, or other family members, are involved in. If home playing time is consistently excluded from the schedule in favor of interests driven by others – whether in favor of another individual or even family activities – these decisions directly affect the student’s attitude, interest, and willingness to persevere through the occasionally tedious aspects of effort required to excel. It would be beneficial to give some thought to the value you want your child to have toward their involvement in music education, and to also consider how you, or any person of influence, might be reflecting that value. Sensitivity to choices that either support or undermine your child’s efforts is a real concern from your teacher’s viewpoint. We love our students! Therefore, we want to give them our very best, to help them be their very best. We believe that the value of music extends far beyond playing a particular piece well, and even beyond a satisfying relationship with their teacher. While we try to make lessons fun, it is very serious fun to us! We ALWAYS want to hear from you, so although our studio structure allows for only occasional interaction with most parents, we are only a phone call away. We welcome you to call or email us with any questions or concerns you might have about your child’s participation in our programs.

The number one issue with parents who are providing music lessons for their children is PRACTICE. How are you handling this issue in your home? If the thought of practice fills you with guilt over what you are not doing, relax.

At The By Ear Musician Studio, we believe that parental support of music lessons is the single biggest factor in a child’s success. So – how do you do that? First, let’s identify WHY you have chosen to give this gift to your child.

There are a variety of reasons you might add yet ‘one more’ thing to your busy schedule: you love music, you play an instrument, you want your child to love music, you feel obligated to develop your child’s potential, your parents/grandparents have offered to pay for lessons (so, why not?), you never had music lessons, you DID have music lessons (and perhaps regret that you quit), you believe the studies that show increased academic success with the association of music lessons, and finally (my favorite) – your child is asking you for lessons. Most of you have multiple reasons for bringing your son or daughter to music lessons, and let me say that all of these are good reasons! But recognize that each of these affect how you interpret the experience your child is receiving AND how you respond to your child’s attitude toward both playing at home (aka “practice”) and coming to lessons. Let’s go a little further.

Which are you:
1) Laid-back parent – your child is playing music at home, so you keep coming to lessons.

2) Super committed parent – you want to sit in the lesson so you can re-teach the lesson at home. This can be helpful in some cases, as long as you are not the…

3) Over-anxious parent – you may or may not have musical experience yourself, but due either to performance and achievement standards, or even due to financial pressures, you are concerned with your child’s “success”.

4) Confused parent – you don’t really understand music, but you want your child to have this wonderful experience! You don’t really know how to encourage your child or how to assess his or her experience.

Obviously, these can’t define every situation; usually a parent brings overlapping perspectives to the experience. There may be conflict because you want to be the “Super committed parent’ but you just don’t have the time. The last thing you need is guilt! Before we actually get into the practical side of how you, the parent (or supportive adult), can encourage success in your child, we have to consider and understand what your child brings.