Some Thoughts on Practicing: How to Relax and Still Make Progress with your Music

I have been doing some work on making instrument practice more enjoyable at our house.  My two oldest kids work hard at their music and are very self-motivated.  Their hard work shows in the excellence with which they play.  But the two younger ones are still in the beginning stages of their music education, and they need a little outside encouragement to help them work hard at their practicing.  I used to go by the “Just make them do it.,” philosophy, and that is still the bottom line.  But as our homeschooling ideas have relaxed, I look for ideas to motivate without forcing.  Here are some ideas that have helped practice time to be happier at our house.

1.  Intermission.  I am frustrated when the practicing is punctuated by “I have to get a drink of water,” or “I need to use the bathroom,” or “Just let me stretch my back.”  I realize that those bodily needs are real, and that they become more urgent when our minds want let off the hook during a long period of concentration.  Therefore, we plan an intermission halfway through the practice session.  For five minutes, the kids run around, have fun, use the bathroom and get a drink of water.  The activity that is not allowed is picking up a book — I’m afraid they would never return to their practicing, they would get too distracted.  This intermission has helped me to relax about their concentration because they have a set break time.  This intermission does not get subtracted from practice time, so if they have an hour assigned, with the intermission it will be an hour and 5 minutes.

2.  Workouts.  We just began doing intense workout sessions for only ten minutes.  For ten minutes we work on a specific technique without stopping to correct any other flaws.  For example, last week we worked on Lucy’s bent thumb on her bow hold.  For ten minutes she would play easy songs, starting over every time she let her thumb straighten.  She showed marked improvement after just one week of these short daily workout sessions.  This week, we will choose another technique to concentrate on for our workouts.

3.  Recordings.  Eden got us started with this as she was recording herself in preparation for a concerto competition.  Now, we realize that video recordings of just one piece allows the child to critique himself.  We are trying for two recording critiques each week.

4.  Performance.  While we always perform for friends, family and frequent recitals, this month we are trying something new.  The kids and Eden’s piano students will perform at an assisted living center as a charitable act to bring some music to the lives of older individuals.  The kids have been excited to practice, thinking about this performance and the joy it will bring.

5.  Bribery.  Lulu has wanted a camera of her own for some time.  I made her judge of her practicing, and if she feels she has concentrated well enough, she and Max each can earn 50 cents for a practicing well done to save for the camera.  She has been happy to practice, knowing she is earning a reward in the near future.

I hope these thoughts help you as you work with your children on their music studies.  Do you have a great tip you would like to share?  Please leave it in the comments below.

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