Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Will they sink or swim with their musical instrument?

As a music teacher, over the years I've noticed something that holds true for any student, of any age, whether or not they have any natural ability for music:

Almost without exception when a student practices for at least 5 days every week they really progress on their instrument, with both the difficulty of the music they play and the quality of their playing. In fact, in my studio I go so far as to "guarantee" progress and success if a student consistently practices five days every week.

Are you spewing coffee at the screen? Five days may seem like a lot to aim for, but think about music learning the same way you think about learning to read. Would you expect your child to become a confident reader, someone who enjoys reading, if they didn't practice daily in school with a little follow up at home every evening?

I know the reality is that stuff comes up you don't anticipate: illness, a sports schedule change, special school events, homework overload, yeah, you know the list. The occasional four-day practice week is inevitable, and it won't stop progress, but consistently getting in only 4 days a week can be a deal breaker.

Here's the all-to-common scenario: If they're not progressing, they will get frustrated, they will slip to fewer practice days, and eventually they will likely want to quit because it is no fun struggling with something you're not very good at, week after week. The hardest part of watching this progression is that their self-esteem really takes a hit.

Remember, success with an instrument isn't based on "natural ability", it really boils down to putting in the time:

5 Days = Steady Progress
4 Days = Mostly Treading Water
3 Days and under = Grab the Life Preserver!

So how do your throw your child a musical life preserver?

It seems obvious but it all starts with scheduling practice as part of your weekly routine. You can help your child schedule practice by sitting down together and reviewing all their weekly activities. Your child will probably have ideas on exactly when during the day they'd like to practice - this is terrific - they are already taking ownership in the new practice plan.

Encourage them by making this commitment as important as their other scheduled events - write it on your family calendar, electronic or otherwise. Honor the time they've chosen and if something unavoidable comes up help them reschedule quickly. Let them know how much you admire their determination to figure out how to make their five day commitment.

You can help them establish their new routine by setting up a weekly or monthly reward system. The good news on reward systems is that because the success of musical progress itself becomes a reward, you won't need a reward system forever, but that's for another post.

What's going to be your child's biggest hurdles to the magic five days? What incentives work best for your child? We love your comments and Tweets!

Digg Stumble Kirtsy Delicious Technorati Twitter Facebook


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi Francine, can I please use your Sink Or Swim writeup (above) in my music school's newsletter? If so, would you please let me know how you'd like it to be referenced. Cheers Molly ISM Kalgoorlie


Google Analytics Alternative