“I didn’t have time to practice!”
Choose one of the following:
- “Well my aunt came to visit and…”
- “We went to Zimbabwe and we brought the keyboard, but we forgot the books…”
- “The elephants in Thailand are amazing…”
- “We just moved and can’t find my books yet.”
- “The keyboard broke and my Dad needs to buy a new one.”
Yes these are all real answers I have heard and are in the category of what I call, “excusable.”
But here’s some that I find to be “in-excusable.”
- “I was too tired.”
- “I didn’t feel like it.”
- “I was too busy.”
“Busy? Doing what?”
“Well I have soccer practice and science club and chess club and then language class and then I was just too tired.”
So this is when I go on a lecture about:
- “Practice is the only way to get better.
- “If you don’t practice you won’t get better.”
- “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding…”
- blah, blah, blah…
“How do I get them to practice?”
This is perhaps the number one question I hear from my parents of students (and other teachers too.)
Over the years, I have became conscious of creating powerful habits that make me more effective without effort or thinking about it. The key is a morning routine. My routine allows me to get so many things done that if they weren’t part of a habitual process, would never happen.
For example, before I was a home-based music teacher, cleaning the house was such a chore and something I avoided at all costs! After I started having clients coming to the house daily, I had to change this.
I put it in my routine.
I do my cleaning as part of my morning routine while listening to my favorite podcasts on headphones. I don’t think about it – it just happens and having a clean and clutter-free space does wonders for your mind as well.
Applying Routine To Practice
Perhaps we can apply this to the task of practicing music. By making practice part of a habitual process, it takes away the effort. It becomes just like brushing your teeth in the morning. You just do it.
I try to have all my students set a time of day that is “practice time” every single day even if it’s just 5 minutes. If you devote 5 minutes on practicing what is new and challenging every single day, you will make progress at exponential rates that will astound you!
It could be the 5 minutes before breakfast, or right after school, or before dinner or before bed. By baking it into a set schedule, it becomes habitual. It only takes about 3 weeks to really set a habit in place for life.
Here’s some practice tips I recently sent to my parents.
- Put the instrument in the center of the living area – this shows it’s importance to the student
- Make it a routine – same time every day – this goes a very long way
- Choose a time of day when energy levels are higher
- Use rewards or take away privileges until practice happens (example, no practice? no ipad)
- Focus only on the newest challenge – it could be just a single measure of music repeated 5 or 10 times. The next day, do a different challenge – PRACTICE WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
- Make practice time shorter than their attention span. Then end it with their choice of what to play
- Have some PLAY time at the instrument that is not structured
- Don’t go back to the beginning to fix a mistake later in the piece. Just focus on that problem part and repeat multiple times slowly
- Prevent overwhelm, focus on a small bit for that session
- Tell them Andrew asked about how practice is going
- Praise the effort, not just the being. It’s all about grit. See this TED Talk video for more.
I’ve found this one idea of making practice routine has been the biggest help of all. Kids who were struggling and “not getting it” all of a sudden were making steady progress. Also parents who fear being too disciplinarian and “tiger-mom” can now relax and say, just work on this 2 measures for 5 minutes – do it 5 times or 10 times or whatever.
Let Me Know Your Results
Try this in your studio and see what happens. I’m eager to hear your experiences too so please share in the comments below.
- NPR article on Getting Kids to Practice Music Without Tears Or Tantrums
- Jamming With Your Toddler – How Music Trumps Reading For Childhood Development