Taking music lessons in Toronto, Canada’s most competitive music scene, can come with a lot of pressure for kids and parents alike. Regardless of whether your kid has aspirations of being a professional musician or you just want them to reap all of the many benefits of music lessons, the subject of practice can become a battleground in any home.
Until around ages 12-14, kids lack internal motivation. The expected benefits they think they’ll get from music lessons aren’t enough to make them want to practice. Even delayed rewards, like a possible music career ala Taylor Swift is not enough to motivate most kids. These developmental milestones can come earlier or later than average, too. For example, kids with ADHD may reach this later than their peers. Some kids may not reach it at all: there are plenty of adults who struggle with internal motivation, so don’t rely solely on that if practice is still an issue at age 16.
We don’t recommend forcing practice. Why? For one, you can’t actually make them sit down and play music. You can lead them to the piano, put the guitar in their lap, or rosin their violin bow, but you can’t actually force them to play. Secondly, by the time you’ve had to lead them this far, you’ve lost the battle anyway. They’ll go through the motions and practice but they will have lost ownership of their music lessons. At that point, they will feel that they are doing music for you, not for themselves. It is no longer a gift, but a chore and a burden. That will only make your life and your child’s life more difficult.
We do recommend motivating your child to practice. While kids lack internal motivation, we all know different ways to incentivize our kids, and it allows them to do what we are asking without the resentment that comes with a more forceful, authoritarian approach. Here are 4 tips to regain control of practice time and motivate your child:
Make it easy. Find out what issues they have with practice and work with them to create solutions. If they have attention issues, you might let them break those sessions up into 3 ten-minute sessions or 2 fifteen-minute sessions. If they hate people hearing their practice, buy headphones or see if you can find a better time or place for them to practice.
Provide incentives. Rewards and incentives are powerful motivators for all of us and kids are no exception. A trip to the park, video games, or internet use can all be great ways to motivate your child. Try something like this, “you can watch 30 minutes of TV once you’ve done 30 minutes of practice.” Be consistent with this and you might be amazed at the results.
Approach them differently. For younger kids, get excited about what they’re learning in their music lessons and ask them to share it with you. Ask them how they want to do during their next lesson and how they plan to make that happen. For older kids, be aware that they want some control over their life and may want you to be far away from their practice and their lessons. Try to give them some breathing room if you can.
Consider a change. They may not love their instrument. They may have been dying for guitar lessons and you put them in violin. Ask them. Find out what instrument they’d try if they had a chance and consider making a switch. Even if they once loved piano and now want to try vocals, remember that this is normal during childhood and most musical skills transfer fairly easily.
Keep in mind that your kid isn’t ungrateful, and they’re not rejecting you or the gift of music when they don’t practice. If you make it less personal for you, it will be more easy for you to troubleshoot and set up motivation. Regular practice requires a level of discipline that most kids are not yet in possession of. At least not naturally. By motivating them and talking to them, you can make practice time less stressful for everyone.