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  • Writer's pictureCraig Birchfield

How to help kid to practice without fights

I’ve scoured the Internet and also my personal brain for some ideas to help you encourage you kids to practice with out fights, tantrums, tears or general nastiness – enjoy.

Charlotte Kufchak came up with this 

absolutely brilliant way of rewarding her children for practicing. The family got together and painted a bunch of beans lively colors. The kids got paid in beans for practicing. Every so often they could trade the beans for different prizes. I can imaging things like a child’s meal with toy at a fast food emporium or the download of a game or music or maybe an item from the infamous dollar store. They may choose to save up many beans for a concert or more expensive toy or thingie. Reward systems work especially for children.

Here is a tip from Ren Martin-Doike who is a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her best practice technique is to keep track of progress by using goals and benchmarks. She says, “Set goals, hold yourself accountable to them and create a practice log you can be proud of!” This technique can be easily adapted to the little guys. Have a colorful journal where you write down every time a new skill is learned, a song is completed without serious error, a song is played without sheet music, etc. If the children are young special little stickers can encourage achievement. Make some of these goals small and incremental – like eating a minnow and not a whale. Celebrate each little victory.

Ren also recommends breaking up pieces into the aforementioned bite size chucks. From my own experience one of the absolute best practice regimens that I know of is to practice those passages that are difficult over until I master them. I know that I have made my bandmates nuts sometimes when I have them practice a particularly difficult ensemble passage over five or ten times in a row non-stop but it is so much more productive than going all the way back to the start of the page or chorus or bridge or piece just to nail one ornery measure or two.

Some people like the three penny game that was shared by Barbara Nakazawa, who is a flute teacher but she was able to use it with success with her son Joshua when he was learning to play the cello. The game starts with three pennies on a music stand. If a measure is particularly difficult the child gets to slide a penny over each time he or she is able to play the measure properly. If they are successful three times in a row they get to keep the pennies but if they flub they start over.

A positive attitude by the parent is particularly important especially when children are first learning to play. If the parent treats practice like drudgery then the child will pick up on that vibe and shun it like brussel sprouts in cheese sauce. In our instant gratification world we must instill in our kids the idea that anything worth achieving will take effort but that effort can be joyful and not dismal. The best part of the journey is the road, not the destination.

A sure way to make practice twice as difficult is to arrange to have it at a time and in an area that are filled with distractions and annoyances. Siblings running through the area, vivacious pets, TV and general noise and pandemonium will tend to snuff out any spark of concentration or attention your children can muster. Pick a place and time that will be conducive to enhancing and not sabotaging their effort.

I have mentioned this before but the computer game package Music Ace from Harmonic Vision is absolutely brilliant for the little ones who are just starting on their musical journey. The game suite has colorful characters typically in the shape of notes that interact with the children. I guarantee that if they are about 3 to 6 they will love it.

I don’t know how the true classical music aficionados will react to this one but hey, it works. Few things are more boring than practicing with a metronome and few things are more delightful than practicing with a drummer. The result is the same, better tempo control, but drums are so much more appealing to the vast majority of children under 75 years old 🙂 You could hire a session drummer for each practice time but unless you own a software company or are a pro athlete that could strain the budget. Basic drum machines have become pretty inexpensive lately but there are also drum programs for the computer, drums machines online and even drum machine and rhythm apps for you Iphone or Android . Even if you are not a technical wiz or geekishly inclined your kids can probably figure it out. Who knows, maybe Vivaldi to the beat of Ringo, Mick Fleetwood, Chad Smith or even John Bonham could become a new fav…or maybe not. More to come.

Keep practicing,

Craig Birchfield

Posted 10/20/2014

Follow this NPR link for the source of some of my info:

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