As the founder of NYC Guitar School, I’ve devoted much of my life to helping adult beginners learn to play and succeed in guitar playing–and the book I wrote for adult beginner guitar players is one of the best selling guitar manuals in the world. ?But although my specialty is teaching adults, as the father of three kids, aged 7-13, I am passionately interested in how children successfully acquire new skills.
While there are many contributing factors to success, the one I’m going to talk about today is the one I hear about from parents more than any other: ?“How do I get my kid to practice.”??Luckily for you I’ve made lots of mistakes with my kids…and I’ve learned a lot from other parents and teachers around NYC Guitar School. ? Here are some tips.
1.??Set expectations of practice. ??Each of my three kids approached me wanting to learn an instrument. ?With my two younger kids I said, “Sure, you can take lessons, but if you do, you must commit to a full year of lessons and practice. ?Are you sure you want to do that?” ?Then we had the following conversation:
Child: ?”Oh, yes, Dad, I’ll practice.”
Dad: ?”I don’t know. ?Lessons are expensive and I’d have to get you a (drum kit)(keyboard). ?Are you sure you’re ready to commit to a whole year of practice?”
Child: ?”Yes, yes, Dad, I will.”Dad: ?(laughs fiendishly, thinking “you have fallen into my trap!”)
2.??Set a practice routine, ideally daily. ?Over the years I have become a big believer in daily practice for kids. ?My daughter Aviv regularly practices before dinner. When we say “it’s time to set the table”, that means it is time for her to go to the keyboard. ?With my older children, the initial routines were to practice several times a week–I can tell you that daily practice is much easier, because there is never a question about whether to practice or not. ?If it is a day on planet earth, it is a day to practice! ?My sister’s two kids practice their Suzuki piano and drums before breakfast. Another parent’s kids practice after dinner. ?The important thing is to make a routine.
- Warm Up With The “Wiggle Drill” on D and G chords…use fingertips!
- Change Between D and G 8 times, slowly, leading with the correct finger
- Play the “Satisfaction” lick 8 times, slowly, using rest strokes
- Play “Satisfaction” once, counting aloud as you read the chart
- Play “Satisfaction” along with the recording, circle any measures where you had a hard time keeping up
4. ?Routine is more important than practice?length. ?I started my drumming daughter on 30 minute practice routines a couple of years ago. ?Sometimes she cried, and when she did, I just figured it was an opportunity for her to practice drumming and crying at the same time–but it wasn’t fun for either of us! ?I consider it a small miracle that two years later she likes to play drums–and still likes me!? So when my seven year old started keyboard, we started with a 5 minute workout, much more pleasant but completely non-negotiable workout. ?Her routine has gradually built to 15 minutes, and her progress has been steady. ?And of course, this routine can be built up in length in the upcoming years.
5. Track practice. ?In my house, when you practice, you get to put your name on the calendar. ?Sticker charts are also extremely effective. ?The act of signing off on the calendar has become a little dopamine source for my kids, and it is fun to look at visual proof of dedication.
6. Teach the connection between practice and results. ?Like most parents at NYC Guitar School, I don’t expect my kids to become professional musicians. ?But I want them to have the experience of enjoying music, and just as important, the experience of putting effort in and getting results out. ?Every single day is an opportunity to say “the more you practice the better you get…the better you get the more fun you have”.
7. Teach independence. By sitting next to your child when they practice, you can have a influence on their habits and skills. But give them as much responsibility as you can. Encourage your child to get out their instrument, to set out their practice materials, and to listen to their own practice.