“No matter how hard I try, my child hates practice. I have to fight so many other battles throughout the week and I don’t have the energy to make piano one of them.”
I’m calling this chapter one, because there is honestly so much to talk about on this topic. I have other blog posts planned to cover more angles of this problem. The issue of why some kids won’t practice and what we can do as teachers and parents is probably the first and foremost issue discussed in the music teaching community, and there are many points of merit that I could dive into.
In future posts, I’m going to write more specifically about ways to keep your child motivated to practice, but today I’m actually going to talk about the kids who refuse to practice. This does not apply to the parents who have a practice requirement in their home, or the teachers who have practice expectations specified in their policies. In a way, this post is for the more casual teachers, parents and students. Believe it or not – I’m not actually going to tell you to change anything. I have my own personal beliefs about what should be required in the home, but I’m not going to go there. In the end, you know the appropriate expectations and limits to put on your child in order to best serve the dynamic in your home.
What I do believe will be helpful is a post specifically for the casual-learners, and how they will still glean excellent benefits from weekly music lessons. There are a lot of teachers who will butt heads with this, and I completely understand. Obviously, practicing frequently and consistently is optimal. However, in this blog I submit that there is still a lot of good to be had from weekly music lessons all on their own. Radical, I know.
For the worried parents:
Every teacher has a different outlook on this issue, so it’s important to ask the right questions and communicate openly with your teacher, (check out a previous blog post: 5 Essential Things to Tell your Piano Teacher). What I’m going to share is a unique position and definitely up for debate in the music teacher community. These opinions might not work for every teaching-style out there, so don’t take it as a given with your own teacher.
Finally, let’s get to it. Let’s say you have that kid who just doesn’t practice. You only want to pay for lessons if your child is self-motivated, you are not interested in fighting with your kid every day about it or forcing them to practice. After all, they already have to go to school every day, probably do household chores, not to mention their other extracurricular activities. In this case, I believe that your child can still have an exceptional music-learning experience on a weekly basis.
Studies have shown that students who learn to play the piano are actually learning to activate both sides of the brain simultaneously. For more information, check out one of my favorite articles at https://pianu.com/blog/learning-piano-benefits-your-brain. In this blog, the author explains how musicians increase their ability to multi-task, “strength[en] the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain,” decrease effects of depression and anxiety, exhibit divergent thinking skills, and much more. Seriously, this post is gold and definitely worth taking a look at.
A Note for Teachers:
By no means do I think we shouldn’t encourage consistent practice. I am constantly telling my students that with more practice time the piano will be a lot more enjoyable and they will feel proud of their accomplishments. I even encourage parents to instill a practice schedule and routine in the home, and with the help of the parents, I set practice expectations and commitments with each student individually. But no matter what the teacher does, sometimes practice just doesn’t happen. When you have parents who will not enforce practice-time and students who are not self-motivated, I believe it’s important to let that parent know that their child’s progress will not be as obvious when it comes to their ability to play, but the benefits of weekly music-learning are still worth their valuable time.
In my teaching, I have learned that I actually do a much better job and the student makes more progress if I don’t adhere too strictly to the standard “formula” for lesson-time, and instead adjust my approach according to that student’s patterns and behaviors. If I have a student who is extremely on-task, practices a ton and enjoys the process, then we knock out those lesson, theory, performance and scales books as efficiently as we can. We delve into the “why” behind everything and even take it a little further if I can tell that they’re ready for more complicated musical concepts.
On the flip-side, there are students who do not fall in love with this process right away. One example from my own experience was a student who wanted to learn, but within the first few lessons I could tell she was bored out of her mind. I was surprised that someone who seemed to excited to start was struggling with her enjoyment in the lessons and practicing at home. In this case, it wasn’t due to lack of challenging material. Much of it was easy for her, but we were still covering concepts she hadn’t encountered before. Little by little, I was able to find out that she had a real passion for writing her own melodies. In her case, the songs she wrote actually made musical “sense.” They weren’t just notes mashed together on the piano with no sense of timing or hitting random keys. She was actually writing beautiful little melodies which fit perfectly into C Major and ¾ or 4/4 time. It was awesome! The songs weren’t extremely complicated, but they were beautiful little things! Finally, I came to and realized that I could get her some manuscript paper and teach her the music theory she needed to cover for her level by writing the melodies down with all of the correct music theory elements. We still work on her theory book, but we can often take the concepts from her theory book and include them in an assignment to write her own piece. Since we started this kind of learning, this student’s practice time and motivation has increased quite a bit. There are countless other examples of ways to allow the student’s natural interests to guide the lesson format.
Even when a child is not interested in pretty much any musical topic, I believe that productive lesson time can still be spent on dissecting their songs together, learning music theory and history, and using other musical topics and resources to guide their learning. I believe that it is better to let go of our expectations about what the student “should” be able to play at their age or level of learning than it is to lose the student completely. I know many teachers who honestly believe that they’re wasting their time every week if the student doesn’t practice outside of their lesson time. Let the hate-mail begin, but I believe that we as teachers are there for more than just increasing the student’s playing-ability. In many cases, we are that child’s only exposure to any kind of music learning. We ought to take the opportunity to teach instead of act like that student’s lack of dedication is somehow going to hinder their ability to learn anything. We all know that they will not be able to play the piano as well as the kid who practices every day, but they’ll certainly be able to do more than the child who has never taken a lesson.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment below, and join me next week for my thoughts on spicing up piano practice time throughout the week!