Motivating Your Child to Practice

Motivating Your Child to Practice

Here are some excellent writings on this topic by the real experts (parents!)…

This first item was posted to the Trumpet Players’ International Network internet discussion group by Bryan Edgett. This is posted here with the author’s permission.

I am vitally concerned about this issue. This forum has proffered many “how to-s” for getting kids to practice. Some positive comments have included taking them to concerts, playing duets, some form of extrinsic motivation (new this or that, trip, etc.,) buying them CDs, and listening to them perform at home. These may or may not work depending on the child.ย I am concerned by the philosophies that drive the statements below excerpted from some posts to this thread:

  • “Make it fun!…If you demand it of him, he will ultimately turn away from it.”
  • “My recommendation is don’t push it, or put bluntly, let him quit if he wants to. If he is not behaving badly in other aspects of his life, then let him make his own choices.”
  • ” I WILL NOT fight/force/threaten anyone to practice. The second you do that is the second you lose them to music, maybe forever!”

Among the most troublesome issues I see today is the view that people think that “I am the center of my world.” That begins very early in some families. Children grow up believing that the world owes them something, that they should make most of their own choices, that they have few if any responsibilities, that everything must be fun and that if they don’t want do do something, they should not be made to do it.
I have a technical term for this, but list rules preclude its use. Malarkey will have to do.
As much as I love music and eagerly desire for my daughter to do well in it, some life lessons carry far more gravitas (Do you remember when that word simultaneously appeared on every news talk show on the same day?) in terms of importance. In my view they are these:

  1. Parents are in charge. Authority exists for a reason. It derives from its root, author, but I won’t elaborate on that now. In our home, if mom or dad establishes a policy, we expect it to be followed. We promise to do what we believe to be best for our daughter. We listen to her and we hear her concerns. As she demonstrates maturity, we release some controls on her life. But with our family, what we say goes. And it hasn’t made her neurotic; it’s kept her sane. I have confidence that she will have a proper view of authority throughout her life.
  2. Parents should be parents; kids have friends to be friends. By this, I do not mean that we should be detached, aloof, and unfriendly with our kids. But parents should be wiser, know more, approve better things, and make better decisions than children do. It seems to me that training our children requires us to evaluate what is best for them and to lead them in that way. Sometimes, that sets us at odds with our kids. They may be mad at us. We’re the grown-ups; we brought the kids into the world; we need to suck it up and have backbones that handle childhood irritation.
  3. We believe that God gives gifts. In our family, telling God that you are unhappy with what he has given is not a viable option. My students who come from a similar religious background to mine frequently hear me say, “God has gifted you in music. It is not respectful to tell him through neglect that you do not want the gifts he has given.”
  4. Lots of things in life are not fun. A talented, artistic, and strict viola professor who taught at one of the schools I attended posted a sign outside her door with a message that read “perhaps the most valuable result of all education, is the ability to make yourself do the thing you ought to do, when it ought to be done, whether you feel like it or not.” At times, practicing can be a pain in the rear. Each of us knows that. Anything that becomes part of the routine of life can become mundane, boring, and, by consequence, not fun. Many times, overcoming the part of an activity that made it not fun, turns out to be more rewarding than doing those things which come easy. But even if not, maturity and character are developed through endurance. They allow us to deal with that which is not fun.
  5. Excellence is its own reward. This speaks for itself.
  6. Coolness is way overrated. Many kids quit band in junior high because it’s not cool. Helping kids to see the shallowness of “cool” is among the most important tasks for parents of teenagers. Coolness often causes kids to avoid lots of things that are tremendously beneficial while encouraging them to pursue many things that are detrimental. Folks for whom cool is king pay a steep price when they grow up. Often, they spend money they don’t have, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t even like. The earlier this self-destructive attitude can be curtailed, the better.

My daughter is 13, a 7th-grade trumpet player and a very normal teenager. I have been her teacher since the 4th grade. I believe that teaching is among my jobs. Teaching one’s own kid has some challenges, to be sure, and I know that it does not work for everyone. And I have my moments, too.
I bought her an excellent horn (She’s played a Bach Strad almost from day one.”), I take her to concerts, we play together frequently, and I practice with her almost every day. She has hours of homework on most evenings, much more than I remember having at her age–certainly more an I ever did. That leaves early morning as our practice time. We practice together from 6:30 or 6:40 to about 7:15 each weekday morning. On Tuesdays, she has jazz band at 7:15 AM (I know, that’s nuts!) so we only get to warm up on those days. It is a sacrifice for me. I’m up at 5:45 after teaching at the university some evenings until 9:00 PM. But I care about music and I am certain that Bethany benefits from warming up with me.
She has the same rhythm problems that beset students her age. She is an average reader. But she does play with a good sound to a” most days and to c”’ on some. We don’t fight about practicing. In fact, her mistakes irritate her so much that she gets mad while practicing. But she will continue to play, at least through high school, for reasons we’ve discussed here before.
At the same time, we’ve told her that music need not be her thing just because it’s our thing (my wife is a hornist.) But we believe it to be a vital part of a child’s education. And we sacrifice some for it to be vital to her.
Children of junior high school age need structure. Their shoulders are not sufficiently strong to carry all of their own weight. Part of good parenting, in my view, is the willingness to look to the kids’ best interests even if they may not like it. Practicing falls into that category, as I see it.

This second peice comes from Michael Anderson. As with the piece above, it was originally posted to the Trumpet Players’ International Network. It is posted here with Mr. Anderson’s permission.

I have a 13 year old, 7th grade son who plays trumpet. He has more natural ability on the horn than I ever had or ever will. He also plays the piano very well.. however – he says he ‘hates’ it all.

You have to realize that this difficult situation is made worse by the fact that I am a musician and eat, sleep and breath it. On the surface our kids simply don’t want anything to do with what we love. My wife and I are both music professors and professional musicians – this is what we do.. My son wants to play baseball for a living. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s how we handle the practice situation….

From the VERY beginning we told our kids that they MUST have music in their lives. They were told when they were 6 or 7 that they really had no choice in the matter. My son was really into sports and we made sure he knew that to be in sports he also had to do music. Because they both took piano before starting band in school it was clear to them that ‘doing music’ meant more than just playing in band. 15 minutes of practice 5 days a week was required.

Now that they are teenagers this becomes more and more difficult to maintain. My son made it into the Omaha Youth Orchestra program as a 7th grader and did it all this year.. he said he ‘hated’ it, but I know there were times when he loved it.. he would just never admit it to me. I would have killed for an opportunity like this when I was a kid… he could care less (on the surface). He knows that he is required to audition for the group next year. He knows that he is required to go to band camp this summer. He knows that practicing is required.. he doesn’t like it and fights it, but I think he knows its just gotta be.

Fortunately, he has had EXCELLENT band directors who know a little bit about motivating a kid.. especially one with ability. Like me, sports is diminishing in his life because he isn’t top-shelf material in that area in our town. However, he is experiencing great success in the area of band – kids look up to him there..he has status there – and that’s a great motivator.

Another factor was our middle school has a jazz band that is pretty good and he just loves that kind of playing. Jazz band saved us in the area of trumpet practice. He had to play a couple of solos there and practicing – memorizing them was something that kept the horn on his face. I bring him jazz etudes to play – or solos from actual jazz band tunes… this helps. Now his teacher has him taking a solo to contest.. i don’t know how she talked him into it, but she did. I wouldn’t have picked this solo, but since she did, he thinks its ok to work on it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m staying out of it and even not coaching him on it (much).

Another thing I did and something you might want to consider is I made a deal with him – yes, call this a bribe, but it works and I’m not ashamed to have done it. He loves skateboarding and a lot of his friends skateboard. I agreed to keep him in high-quality skateboarding stuff if he practices 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. This works. It has cost me about 0 in the past year, but it has been worth it. He gets something that he loves, which provides him entertainment and great exercise, and he continues to practice regularly.

You have to be very, very careful how you push them. It is really helpful if you can have another authority figure they respect push them too. I would talk privately with your kid’s band director and ask them to encourage him to work on and play solos. If the band director can provide situations that require him to do more than just play in band that is ideal.

Motivating your own kids is an uphill battle.. be creative.. find out the ways to keep them at it… I firmly believe that eventually, my son will really turn on and motivate himself to higher levels of playing… in the meantime, itโ€™s up to me to do everything I can to just keep him going so that he doesn’t quit and waste such potential. At this age I would never just leave it up to him to decide if he keeps going or quits.. no way. He is simply not mature enough or rational enough to make a decision like that.. this is what parenting is in my mind.

He went to see Maynard Ferguson about a month ago… he was in our small town – he noticed that most of the guys in the band went to school at North Texas.. the other day he says to me: “Dad, do I have to go to college at Dana (my school) I said: ‘Not necessarily.’ He said: “Good, because I want to go to Denton and play jazz!” This blew me away. Maybe there’s hope that he will do this on his own soon

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