Growing up, my parents would sometimes suggest that we practice our instruments, but there wasn’t much in the way of oversight and they rarely sat in on our practice sessions. As a teenaged beginner, I was pretty self sufficient and figured out quickly that regular practice was paramount to making progress week to week. For younger children, even if they greatly enjoy music lessons, they will probably need regular nudging to stay on top of practice.
For most kids, having a parent in the room with them while they practice is beneficial. A caregiver presence is a reminder to stay on task, and for younger students, it may be useful to have a parent double check that all assigned practice tasks have been completed. If a student fails to complete given assignments, it’s important to know why. Maybe the student is tired and plans to work those missed tasks during another practice session later in the week? Maybe they forgot to complete part of the assignment, because they weren’t using their assignment log? Sometimes a child hates a piece because it’s an unfamiliar genre or they are struggling with a technical element, so they skip the assignment altogether. Sometimes the student is exhausted by long hours at school or daycare, followed by a battery of enrichment and social programming. These are all important considerations for the teacher and parent in designing accessible at-home practice plans that will help the student learn and make progress.
If the parent or caregiver has music background, they may be able to help a child work through trouble spots. However, it’s also important to let children make mistakes and realize them on their own. If you hear a mistake once or twice, give your child a few minutes to auto-correct and problem solve on their own. If they fail to auto-correct, ask them if they heard a problem in the excerpt. If the child isn’t hearing a mistake, or hears it but struggles with troubleshooting, then it’s ok to step in for a moment, gently correcting and guiding them in their practice. The key word here is gentle; the power of failure and importance of developing critical problem-solving skills can not be understated. As with anything, allowing your child some independence in their practice time is important for their growth and development.
Most children love sharing what they’ve learned in lessons. It’s a good idea to encourage practice with regular mini home recitals, even if the audience is just mom and the family pet. (Or maybe the audience includes a grandparent on Skype or Facetime?!) Provide your child with the applause and high fives they crave, and don’t forget to have the kids practice their bows and curtsies!
As an experienced teacher and parent of a young music student, I’ve learned what a huge difference parental or caregiver involvement makes to the success of an elementary school aged child in music instruction. As we enter prepare for the new school year, consider what you can do to help your child get the most out of your investment in music lessons.
Rachel Sarrano Winograd is a composer/singer/pianist based out of the DC region. She is owner of the independent studio Fair Lakes Music and has been teaching for nineteen years.