I’m a parent, too. And even though I am an owner of four guitar schools, a piano school, and a drum studio…and even though my three kids love music and play guitar and drums and sing, I have heard the following:
- “I don’t want to practice.”
- “I don’t need to practice”
- …and of course the famous “I’ll do it later.”
Of course, you and I know that practice is a necessary element of improvement in music. And we know that the habit of working to improve at something is essential to success across life, from playing guitar to algebra to even improving relationships.
So I brought my concerns to an expert on motivating kids, a super successful teacher of children. I said, “My kid said he didn’t want to practice.” And the expert said, “Of course he doesn’t want to practice. It’s hard to practice and it requires discipline.”
Oh…yeah, I guess that’s right. Difficult and disciplined doesn’t sound very fun. So here is Parent Tip Number One:
- Practice for a child will not happen unless you, the parent, help make it happen!
You matter. A LOT! You are very, very important. And by helping your child practice, you are not just supporting guitar learning, you are teaching them the most important secret of life, which is “Effort In Equals Results Out”!
You don’t need to know how to play guitar…but these are basic ideas which will help you have massive influence:
1. LIGHTEN UP! It’s playing guitar, not carrying rocks. Have fun and be patient.
2. COMMIT to a plan and a regular schedule. Avoid arguments and have more fun by making a commitment. A default of “practice every single day” is much easier to negotiate than a default of “practice sometime during the week”…a default of a regular schedule like “practice right after school” or “practice immediately after dinner” is easier than a default of “practice sometime during the day”. And a commitment of “a year of guitar” is easier to negotiate than a commitment of “let’s see how it goes.” After the semester or year is over, revisit the plan. With younger children you can set the schedule–but with older kids it is important to let them take the lead in setting their schedule.
3. MAKE PRACTICE A PRIORITY. What is more important, going to a friends house, doing homework, cleaning your room, playing computer, or practicing? There are more worthwhile things to do on the planet than could ever be done! You could waste your entire life on legitimately life-changing YouTube videos alone! If you include un-worthwhile things, the list of potential activities really gets big. Saying “yes” to practice will always mean saying “no” to other activities.
4. QUALITY REPS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN TIME! If a child does several quality repetitions of a practice assignment, they’ve accomplished a lot more than poor quality practice while watching the clock. (This is true for adults, too–you can read my blog on quality practice HERE).
5. KNOW WHAT YOUR CHILD IS LEARNING! If you can, sit in on your child’s lesson occasionally. Talk to their teacher. Sit next to them during practice. Look at their book regularly to see what the practice assignments are.
6. SHOWS HELP CEMENT LEARNING! Playing in a show is fun, it provides wonderful recognition, it exposes young players to other kids who are role models, and it demands a deeper engagement with the instrument and material. (What about butterflies? Well, I think they are OK. Do you think your child might need to do something challenging some day? The butterflies before a show are great practice for the butterflies of life.) If there isn’t a show coming up for your child, ask your teacher!
7. COMMUNITY MATTERS–A LOT! When my son turned 14, he seemed to lose interest in guitar. But then he got around some hard practicing kids, and suddenly he was practicing WAY more than he ever had before, without any encouragement from me. That’s why I believe that summer camp is so important–it’s an opportunity for a kid to solidify their identity as a musician, to bond with other young musicians, and maybe even to imprint on some young role modes.
THE ULTIMATE GUITAR PRACTICE INSIGHT FOR PARENTS
8. IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE GUITAR. I love to play guitar–but just because it is my thing doesn’t mean it needs to be my kids’ passion. The important thing is that kids have the experience of connecting effort to outcomes, and experiencing the joy and discipline of growth over time. I love the “One Hard Thing” rule advanced by Angela Duckworth, the author of the best selling book “Grit“. It says:
1. Everyone in the family has to do something hard.
2. You have to finish what you start.
3. No one gets to pick the hard rule for anyone else.
So please, if you sign your kid up for guitar, don’t be afraid to let them move on to tuba, coding, or fencing.
It can be challenging as a parent knowing when to insist that a kid “stick with it” and when to move on. Remember that exposing your kid to multiple opportunities gives them multiple options for deeply connecting with something. Also, your child not only needs to learn to make a commitment–they also need to learn to say “no” to committing to things they don’t care about. So after they’ve made and kept a commitment to guitar and they want to move on, encourage them!
9. DON’T KILL THE LOVE. After 15 years of running a guitar school, I’ve seen so many examples of kids (and adults) coming back to guitar after a hiatus. Avoiding judgment and baggage makes this an option.
10. YOUNG KIDS LOVE STICKERS. At least mine do.
On to greatness,
Founder, NYC Guitar School