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One of the hardest things for a music teacher is to keep their students motivated and disciplined to practice. Encouragement and discipline is key and is what most music teachers try to instill at the start of anyone’s musical education. Practicing without discipline will get you nothing but frustration because students won’t see results. Practicing without encouragement and motivation from friends and family will lead to boredom. Unfortunately, a good many times, the lack of these fundamental items will lead to a student giving up an instrument.
When I start out with a new student, I realize that they have about a month to get good practice habits down. One of the things we do at Troubador Music is to get the student up and playing something fun that they’ll recognize. “Why start with popular music instead of something like Mary Had a Little Lamb?” you may ask, and to this I answer with affirmation: The student needs encouragement right from the start as learning a musical instrument can be very difficult. When a student is practicing a song that family members and friends know it improves the changes of a student being cheered on to “perform” every night. Let’s be honest, who’s ever requested that a band play Hot Cross Buns? Probably never, and we want you child to feel like a Rock Star from the very beginning.
At first you’re going to hear a lot of sour notes. Things are not going to sound pretty as the student is working with all sorts of techniques such as breath support, fingerings, etc. It’s not easy and one of the worst things you can do is discourage or make negative comments. As a parent you might think, “I would never do that to my child.” But after a long day at work or during your favorite show, listening to a child bow a violin for the first time or playing drums in the living room for 20 minutes and your first instinct is to tell them to stop or to practice another time. This is usually not thought of or intended to be offensive or hurtful but even unintentionally implying that playing their instrument is an inconvenience can kill the desire to practice. Constantly encourage. Constantly keep accountability going. Did you practice today? You need to practice. Trust me it is and can be detrimental in getting that practice discipline started.
This is where you can play a vital part in your child’s education. Ask them to play for you and encourage other family members to ask also. When you have a family gathering, and especially if you have other family members who play an instrument, get your child involved and have them perform for the crowd. Most players that have been playing a while can simplify a piece of music so it’s easy to plan a mini-performance for you child to participate in.
I require my students to practice a bare minimum of thirty minutes a day, six days a week, and this is just for a beginner. More advanced students will need to practice more, as there’s more to keep up with. We are creatures of habit and learning an instrument is not like learning a bike – once you get it you don’t always have it, you have to work to keep it. If you learn Sweet Home Alabama and you don’t play it for six months you won’t remember it. You have to stay on top of things such as your scales and also the pieces you’ve learned. One of the most common comments given to me by parents is, “He doesn’t want to practice and I’m not going to force him.” Remember you’re dealing with a child. If your son or daughter did not want to do their homework for two weeks, would you take them out of school? Now is the time in their life when we are teaching our children important life lessons like following through with commitments and doing well in any activity that they choose.
At Troubador Music we understand that today’s child is busy. Sometimes they are busier than most adults, they have planners, calendars, and schedules and they are FULL. So there will be times in the year when your child will want to take a break from the practice routine such as summer vacation or getting into other activities such as sports, drama, and even band programs. Remember to encourage them during these times because the less they practice the less they are going to remember. Just because they picked up another activity doesn’t mean they can stop practicing their instrument. You have to help them find a balance and be sure they aren’t getting burned out with too many activities.
Music is a lifetime journey filled with constant work, effort and joy. I’ve never had anyone come up to me during a playing engagement and say, “My parents made me take piano lessons but I didn’t stick with it/ I didn’t practice so my parents had me quit. Now I can’t play and I’m so happy I don’t know how.” Never ever, ever!!! I have more people tell me that they wish their parents had make them stick with it because they wish they could play now. This is always the case when people approach me. Keep in mind that other activities such as sports are a great thing and teach so much, but you can’t always do them in your later years. This is usually not the case in music; you can enjoy music at any age.
Stay consistent and offer encouragement to your child and you’ll see the benefits for years to come.