Today I am going to address a frequently heard question I often get after concerts: “How do you get your children to practice their music?” We also hear, “I wish my children were that talented”. Or someone will say, “Do your children like to play music/practice?”
Let me begin with saying that I truly believe it is only the grace of God that enables our family to take our music on the road to encourage families and lead the lost to Him. But we need to be prepared and willing so that God can use us.
Following are a few things that we have learned about music.
- Sing together. Sing hymns, Scripture songs, and songs that will glorify the Lord. Psalm 100:1-2 says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” Sing while rocking your baby. Sit with your toddlers and young children and sing action songs, hymns, and more. Children love to sing! Singing with your children is a solid foundation for further education in music.
- Listen to good music. Collect a selection of quality music that you can listen to in the house and in your vehicle. For me, that means quiet instrumental music since we normally have an abundance of words and noise; we need the calming effect that classical music or some quiet piano or acoustic guitar cds, has on us all. 🙂 We do listen to other kinds of music but it is usually listened to with earbuds, in the car, or in an individual room of the house. Take your family to concerts where they can see and hear good musicians perform. Take your children up to meet them afterwards and talk to them about what all is involved with the group’s music, how they started, etc. Invite the musicians to a meal at your house so you can ask them questions and learn from them. This may mean getting out of your comfort zone!
- When you know that your child is committed to playing a specific instrument, buy the best of that instrument that you can afford. It is a whole lot more enjoyable to play a good quality instrument than a cheaply made one. Pray for God to provide. Sacrifice in some other area of your life so you can invest more money in instruments.
- Pray for a good teacher. When you find a teacher, make sure your child is committed to practicing on a regular basis. At our house that means 5 days a week, except for short seasons here or there. Before we traveled, we would take a few months off in the summer. Now they play year round except for those times when we don’t have the place or available time for practice. Going to lessons without consistent practice is really a waste of money. We found that practicing on a daily basis taught our children good character. It also greatly improved their mastery of the instrument. We have heard the argument that “We want our children to like playing music, so we aren’t going to ‘make them practice’.” Back when our older girls had their own studios and were teaching violin/piano, they would tell us about 2 kinds of students—those who practiced and those who didn’t. The average student who diligently practiced nearly always played better than the very gifted student who wasn’t committed to practicing.
- Look for opportunities for your child to share his music. When our children were quite young, I took them to the nursing home where they scratched out some violin tunes, played simple piano melodies, and sang “Jesus Loves Me” and “This Little Light of Mine” to the delighted residents. Be willing to have your children play special music at church. Take them to visit an elderly friend who will be blessed with their singing. Sing at family devotions or around the dinner table.
- Be involved in your child’s lessons and practices. To keep everyone motivated, especially the younger children, do a music motivation chart for a month or two. For example: the student earns points for 1. practice 2. learning a hymn by ear 3. practicing cheerfully 4. listening to the Suzuki cd (if using Suzuki method) 5. playing a duet with a sibling (2 violins, 1 violin & 1 piano, etc) 6. passing a song 7. bonus practice time. The points can be used to “buy” items in a treasure box. The box can be filled with a coffee shoppe or library date coupon, hair bows, sweet treats, a book, coupon for fun event like going to the park, etc. Be creative!! Make it possible for the child to earn a gift 1-2 times a week, if they are willing to work hard. You don’t want to make the goal unreasonable but you also want them to work a little harder than usual in order to win the prize.
- Love music and do it for the right reasons. All of our music should be done to bring honor and glory to God. The Lord tells us in John 12:32,”And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
- In conclusion, please know that none of our children are musical prodigies. What you see on stage is the product of years and years and years of plain ole’ hard work, sweat, and even tears. Over and over and over again, we hear parents/grandparents say things like “I wish my children were that talented!”, or “My children don’t like to practice!” or “My child lost interest in playing piano/guitar/violin.” or “Do your children like to practice?” Our response? “We told our children to practice even when they didn’t FEEL like practicing. Practice is a discipline, a choice, and a commitment. ” I remember more than one of our children announcing that he/she no longer wanted to play ___________. I kindly informed them that I don’t always feel like cooking meals for them (although I love it very much) but I do it anyways! 🙂 This was usually for a child who had begged to play a certain instrument, had a year or two or three of lessons, etc, and had tired of practicing. I then told them that “quitting” wasn’t an option. For piano, we had most of our children take lessons through the 4th level, at which point they could move on to a different instrument, if they wanted to. Ask any musician-they will tell you that you need to practice whether or not you FEEL like doing it. Parents need to give their children a standard of excellence. Make it a priority. At our house, music usually is done before playing, reading, or any type of media. Our aim is to do it cheerfully, consistently, and to glorify God.