“While it is important to teach basic technical fundamentals, I believe the goal of a teacher is to inspire the hearts and minds of her students.”
Why do so many adults feel that they lost the opportunity to learn music as children?
What can parents do to inspire their children to play music?
Whenever I am out with friends and I mention that I teach piano, there is almost always a grown-up person who looks at me with a regretful longing in her eyes. “Really? You look so young and nice. I wish I had had a teacher like you when I was younger.” She’ll continue, “I loved piano and I loved music, but I hated my strict teacher. I hated to practice and I’d fight with my parents about it non-stop. Ultimately, I gave up, and I’ve always regretted it”.
I’ve been a piano, guitar, drum, and singing teacher in Los Angeles for 20 years. In these new millennium days, with the fast-paced world of video game technology pulling children’s minds into a passive abyss, children need music more than ever. Parents and teachers can encourage children to turn off the games. This will give children space to learn to create music that truly stems from the heart and that is uniquely their own. Also, music can bring families together, soothing and healing, in times of confusion. When the outside world gets complicated, parents can help to create beauty, art and a sharing community.
The main theme idea to remember is that parents should stay active in the process – from selecting teachers, to participating in the lessons and helping to make practicing fun. I see parents who lovingly ask their young children, “Did you practice yet?”
The whole family may be laughing and talking in the kitchen before dinner and the child replies, “No, not yet” feeling a bit guilty. “No? Ok”, says the trying-to-be-supportive parent. “Go and practice and then we will have dinner” says the mom or dad. The child then reluctantly walks OUT of a happy, warm kitchen, and into a lonely and sometimes dark living room to sit down for a required half-hour to practice. There is nothing fun or inspiring about this. We can change that!
Eight Ways Parents Make Practicing Fun
Parents can play music with children. That means singing along or even having the student teach the parent. If the parent can play the recorder, a drum, or the guitar with the child – GO FOR IT!
Move the child toward the center of family activity and get them out of the isolation of a lonely living room. Can you move the piano into the dining room? Can the family be in the living room while the student is playing? Put the instrument and the child in the center of the action to show the child that the family respects and supports the practicing.
3. Get Your Game On
Students get frustrated, adults can make it fun and relieve the pressure. Turn the energy of practicing songs, scales or reading notes into a game. Offer cool rewards like m&ms, pennies or stickers for perseverance and willingness to try. See if kids can beat the clock or beat their own record. Put the play into playing music!
4. Light Light Light!
Make sure there is plenty of light at the piano. There is nothing better than sitting down at a well lit instrument. Light brightens the keys of a piano and sheet music, giving students a more joyous feeling. Light helps students concentrate and focus on their playing. Light supports kid’s efforts and helps them know the spotlight is on what they are doing and that it is valuable and important. What’s more, they know that the family values what they are doing because the family helped create the place and light for them to play and practice.
5. Clutter No More
Clear off the instrument of coloring books, rulers, napkins and other odd items that can end up on a piano or in a practice area. A clear space helps to facilitate clear playing. And, keeping the space clear also shows that the family respects the student’s work, playing and determination.
6. Eenie Meenie Minie Moe ~
Pick 4 days a week when practicing can happen. Pick days without too much homework. Use weekend time. Try and get it 5-10 minutes of scales before a soccer game or while waiting for the bus! This shows the child and the family members that everyone cares about the music and the practicing no matter what else is going on in a busy family life. And it shows that nothing wonderful has to be sacrificed in order to play. A way exists for all happy activities to co-exist in the child’s life.
7. Mix It Up
Update the instrument of choice. Sometimes a child will start with the piano and be a natural born hip-hop drummer. Sometimes a singer in choir might be called to the cello, and maybe even just for a few years, only to switch to songwriting and harmonica in high school. It is important for parents to recognize and honor these trends and changes within the student’s heart and feed students what they are hungry for during the formative years of a their musical life. There are no wrong instruments. It’s all music and it is all valid, inspiring and wonderful.
8. CD Jam/Iphone
If your child is learning to play a recorded song (pop, musical theater, rock, country) put a CD or ipod on the piano and have them play along. This is a sure-fire way to keep kids learning and playing!We play music for many reasons. Many well-documented studies state that music education significantly improves a child’s spatial-reasoning ability. (And by the way, this is the skill that is necessary in order to learn math, science, chess and engineering). New studies link continued exposure to music and melodies with heightened memory and emotional capacity. But most importantly, people play music for the joy it brings and the confidence it inspires. Families become close when they share in playing music together. Children become empowered when they play music on their own.
By playing on their own, kids learn to become self sufficient and that the people they love respect their effort as well as the music itself. Songwriting, singing, and listening are also wonderful ways to express the music in our hearts. And parents, you can delight your child by learning an instrument and playing with your children. Family jam sessions are the best way to inspire children and a brilliant way for families to bond. Hopefully, parents will take note and sign up for music lessons too. Tuba anyone?
We can make learning music fun for everyone. Let’s fill our world with beautiful music and happy families. And remember: when the young girl arrived in New York City and asked for directions to Carnegie Hall, the wise New Yorker responded, “Practice – practice – practice”. And – don’t forget to have fun!
Deborah Poppink has been a private music teacher teaching since 1991.
She bases her teaching on listening to her students and respecting their individual passions, goals and dreams. She writes for TV and film, raises a family and is the creator of DidiPop: Hip Family Music for Everyday Adventures.
(This was originally published in 2002 but is worth reposting i think. It all still works.)
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