Thank you to my current and previous studio parents for ensuring that your children practise.
This is a pep-talk for parents. It solves a parental conundrum.
Many parents have some trouble getting their child to practise daily. I have spent many hours trying to analyze why this is. Centuries of classical music have yielded the following insight:
Those who practise, progress.
The other half of this bit of wisdom is not so often vocalized: Those who don’t practise, quit.
They may take some time quitting, but sooner or later they run out of energy to rehash the same stale technique over and over again, no matter how the teacher tries to keep it interesting.
If you expect your child to learn a musical instrument without practising, you expect them to be the first human on Earth to achieve instant mastery over a very complex and difficult skill. It doesn’t matter whether the practising is self-driven (Mozart) or parent-enforced (Beethoven), but all good musicians practise, and practised in past centuries too. But remember that for every one Mozart there are literally millions of non-Mozarts, and to expect your 5-year-old to be self-driven about practising is also a tall order. Are you a Leopold Mozart? No? How can you expect your child to be an Amadeus?
Children have parents for a reason.
So why do so many parents let their children off the hook about practising?
Here’s one possible answer I have discovered.
For many adults, enforcing a daily practise routine on their child involves a guilt trip, because are they themselves keeping to their own self-enforced gym routine?
Dear parent, let me solve that one for you. Does your child work for 8 – 10 hours daily for a demanding boss, under existential threat of losing her livelihood if she doesn’t outperform herself all the time? The chances are, no. There are laws protecting children from this. The result is that your child is a lot more rested than you are! And she needs her energy channelled into more meaningful activities than television or DS games.
You: “What happened to leading by example?”
Well, the point is that for every routine you can’t keep, you probably have ten that you do so automatically, you don’t even notice them anymore. Do you wash the dishes after breakfast before leaving for work? Do you put your kids into the bath when night falls? Do you reliably go to work each and every day, no excuses? And here is the crux. Most of these routines aren’t even fun. You do them because they are necessary – if you don’t, things start turning bad.
You are already setting a shining example!
You don’t need to sit next to your child in school, ride a bike with training wheels or crawl around a playground with other adults to set examples for your child’s good behaviour. Children are not idiots, they don’t learn exclusively by imitation. In fact imitation is only a very small way in which they learn. A lot is learned by experimentation, by playing around, trying new things.
So, shake off that guilt and make your child practise. Set a regular time of day, to activate that “uh-oh” gene, that trigger, where the child realizes, “oops, the clock is pointing to the big six, it’s now time to practise”, or “Mommy’s cooking, that’s my time to practise”. Don’t let her get away. Don’t let her wriggle out of it. A habit is formed by doing something often enough that natural guilt kicks in when one misses a session. When this internal feeling of obligation is established in the child, it doesn’t matter what is on the menu for practising, she will tackle it. But you enforce that she starts, and finishes, her practice every day.
You are not doing your child or yourself a favour letting them off the hook. The internal sense of obligation is one of the best benefits children learn from doing music. People who have had practise routines as children can more reliably stick to good habits as adults; they are better at goal-setting, persistence and achieving long-term projects.
Why destroy the opportunity to learn these skills?