Does this sound familiar? Your child asks to play an instrument. They practically beg, and you—being the superhuman parent that you are—go above and beyond to do the research and make this request a reality. After all, this is a moment where your child is requesting to learn a skill that you know very well could have a long-lasting, positive impact on their life. How could you not do all that you can? So you go on Amazon to find a reasonably priced instrument, then you head over to Google or talk with friends about potential schools or teachers. Before you know it, all of the pieces are in place and you are the best parent of all time. You cannot wait to give your child this tremendous gift and opportunity.
Fast forward to the first lesson. Whether it's a brick-and-mortar traditional music school or private in-home instructor, the first lesson is always exciting. Your child comes out of that lesson smiling ear to ear, and already the mirror is out and they’re a rock star. Truly, what could be better? But...as with most things, when our feet get back to the ground, the reality sets in. “Wait, there’s work involved? This is hard! I have to practice? There’s homework?”
“Help, I need somebody!” - John Lennon
Yes, help is needed. Parents need help guiding their young rock stars, and students need help setting goals and creating a clear path to achieving them. It takes a village to acquire a new skill. In the same way that you cannot learn a language without using it regularly, you cannot learn to play an instrument without regular, consistent exposure. Well, you can...but it will take a very long time and be a lot less rewarding. It is true that no two students are alike, and everyone learns differently. These are my personal suggestions, from over 20 years of teaching, for parents who have students that seem to be lacking motivation or simply refuse to practice.
“Accountability breeds response - ability” - Stephen Covey
1) Talk with your child’s instructor regularly. If you cannot be present at the lesson, communicate via text or email. Make sure you know what is expected of them and what the bigger picture goals are. Also. make sure this information is written down. Things that are written down are 80% more likely to be acted upon. At SoundLife, we have practice planners that can be sent via text or email after every lesson for this specific reason. They are cloud-based, so parents can always refer back and they will never get lost.
2) Talk with your child about their assignments regularly. Set a reminder on your phone to talk with your child about their weekly lesson. Make sure they know clearly what is expected of them and how they should go about practicing. Often students get overly confident that they will remember everything in the lesson, but when the teacher is gone, so is the information. This is why having written down assignments is so important.
3) Treat yourself to a show. You, your spouse, a sibling, or a nanny should take at least fifteen minutes out of the week to sit down and enjoy a short performance. Whatever your student is working on in lessons—whether it is chords, scales, pieces of a song, or an original composition—let them perform for you. If you do this on a weekly basis, you will see the machine being assembled piece-by-piece, which is always fun. Remember this is building accountability, so encouragement and enthusiasm are key, and a standing ovation is icing on the cake.
4) Have quarterly reports. In addition to weekly written assignments, it helps tremendously to sit down with your student and their instructor once every quarter for just 10 minutes at the end of a lesson to discuss their overall progress, work ethic, and goals. I believe thoroughly in short and long term goals. The weekly assignments hold students accountable for short term goals, while the quarterly reports not only help keep them aimed in the right direction long term, but also allow them to have input in that direction. This is the time to recalibrate and make adjustments.
5) Incentive is key. If a student is studying the guitar, I always recommend starting off on a small, nylon string acoustic or ukulele, preferably something that is as inexpensive as $99. This gives the student room to grow and plenty to work toward. Momentum is everything. Eventually they will want an electric guitar, and then a nicer electric guitar. And if this keeps going, they’ll have a room full of guitars. In martial arts, the belt system keeps momentum flowing. Students want that black belt and will work color-by-color to get it. Music is very much the same. Incentive does not have to be limited to instruments. Everything, from music accessories to concert tickets to ice cream, works as an incentive. Remember, we do not appreciate that which we did not work for; reward without effort has no value. Do not treat your young learner to these incentives without first making sure they clearly deserve it. A student should understand fully the goal, the path to achieve the goal, and what is at stake.
6) Community is everything. Students who participate in musically-related activities at school or in their free time are far more likely to keep practicing. Their peers hold them accountable more than any teacher or parent ever could. This is why at SoundLife we began hosting monthly jam sessions. Every month students can meet and work on songs together in a band format, each holding the other accountable. Every lesson following one of these jam sessions starts with, “I’ve been practicing.”
7) Take it to the masses. At SoundLife Music Academy, we hold two annual student concerts a year that are open to all students. These are not just some kind of marketing tool for our lessons program. They are a key piece to the puzzle of learning to play a musical instrument. Public performance is the glue that pulls every skill together and pushes students to reach further than they could imagine. When students decide to participate, their lessons become boot camp preparing for battle. Each lesson has a purpose and there is a definite due to date, along with measurable results. Performances also bring out the fun in dressing up, playing a character, and living out that initial rock star fantasy.
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.” - John D. Rockefeller
I have always loved this quote. It speaks true to all areas of life. At the end of the day, learning an instrument is a privilege, as is having an instrument, and with every privilege comes a responsibility. We all want students to just keep playing, but without that accountability, they will never get the full benefit of learning. Try some of these suggestions out in your home and let us know how it goes. We’re eager to hear how we can all make each other better.