Practice makes perfect. But with young kids, it’s easier said than done. At My Little Conservatory we want our students to enjoy both their lessons and at home piano practice. Playing the piano should feel like they are doing just that – playing. It’s how kids learn best and why we have play activities during piano lessons. The last thing we want is tears over having to practice and for it to feel like a real chore.
If practicing piano at home is feeling like a chore for your child, or you just want to avoid that, there are ways you can help them find the fun. And if you’re finding that just getting them to practice leads to an argument, we have some tips for that too. Here’s some ways to help you make piano practice fun and easier to do.
1. Put your child in control.
For many children, if they were in total control they may never practice the piano at home. I know that may happen some weeks, and their lesson becomes their practice. But if you let them feel like they’ve decided when to practice, they most likely will feel like they are not being forced to do it and will stick with it. So work with your child to come up with a weekly schedule of when they will practice. Ask them:
Do you want to practice before or after school? You might lead them toward a certain time by pointing out how they feel at certain times of the day and other obligations they may have.
How many times a week? Ideally your child should do a little bit everyday, but when they are really young that might not always be realistic. Saving all their practicing for the weekend will make for a long practice session. Work together to decide on the number of days per week.
How long do you want to practice for? For youngest students with short attention spans, just 10-15 minutes a day or every other day is enough. As they get older, you can add more time to their practice sessions. However, if they’re looking like they’re distracted stop the practice session before time’s up.
How many times do you need to repeat a song? Setting a baseline on the number of repetitions will help on those days where everyone is feeling very unmotivated and practicing needs to be cut short. With a minimum number of repetitions set, you know they’ll be progressing.
2. Use incentives.
When little ones are just starting out, they need to develop a routine and learn how it feels to practice according to the agreed schedule. So in the beginning, it can be helpful to reward your children with small things to get them to practice. Some people may feel that you’re bribing your child to practice. Just like you’d expect to get paid for your work or a bonus for going above and beyond your job duties, your child can benefit from rewarding them for their hard work. Here’s how you could set it up:
Use a sticker chart or points system. For every scheduled practice session, your child earns a sticker or a point. They can earn more stickers/points by practicing on days that are not scheduled.
Write down the rules. Make sure that you write down what makes a sticker/points worthy practice session. This way, if your child doesn’t really practice, you have a something to refer to that says that a sticker is not given for that session.
Decide on a reward. Discuss what the reward will be and make sure both you and your child know what is needed to attain it. You can even create different levels of rewards. This way by meeting the minimum they get a reward, but there’s also something there to encourage them to try to do more. Perhaps there’s a weekly reward of extra screen time, but if they do two extra practice sessions each week then at the end of the month they get to go see a movie they’ve been asking about.
Display the reward chart. Place the reward chart somewhere it will remind your child to practice in order to earn their reward. In their room or next to the piano can be good places for it.
Once your child is old enough to understand that the more they practice the better they’ll play, you can retire the reward chart and practicing becomes something that leads to an even better reward – pride in their talent.
3. Make a game out of it.
As Mary Poppins says, “You find the fun, and snap, the job’s a game.” She might have been talking about tidying up their rooms in the movie, but it applies to anything, including practicing the piano. And there are many ways to make a game out of piano practice. Here are just a few:
Flashcards. Your My Little Conservatory piano curriculum comes with flashcards. Instead of just running through them, place them on the floor. Then, you play a note or rhythm that’s on one of the cards, and your child has to run and tag the appropriate card. Not only do children learn how to read music with this game, but it also trains their ear.
Color. Most children love coloring. Our program includes a workbook that allows your child to color specific parts of the piano and notes with a designated color. It helps them memorize notes on the keyboard and reinforces learning the notes on the staff. Alternatively you can find many coloring sheets online to give more variety.
Guess the notes. Using pennies and pieces of paper, write the note names (A-G) on one side. Place them face down on the keyboard on the correct notes. Then have your child come over and say the note before turning over the penny/paper. Repeat until they get them all correct.
Write a song. Draw a very large staff. Using the same pieces of paper/pennies from the above game, have your child place them on the staff. Play the notes on the piano. Your child can move them around until they like what they hear.
Tempo game. Play music using either the CD that goes with the My Little Conservatory curriculum or your own music. Have your child dance, move, tip-toe to the beat. Switch between fast and slow tempoed music without warning and watch your child match the tempo. You may get some rather goofy interpretive dance. If you record them moving to the music, your children can have a laugh watching themselves afterward.
4. Record their playing.
Many children like to watch themselves on videos. Watching their own playing can be both fun and educational. Not only do they get to show off their playing, but they’ll hear a little more objectively what their playing sounds like and what needs improvement. They can even pretend that they’re creating an online video tutorial. Teaching others can reinforce what they’ve learned, and then they can have fun showing their video to family and friends.
5. Practice with your child.
You don’t need to know how to play the piano to practice with your child. What’s most important is that you’re sitting with your child while they’re practicing and showing them that they have help. Just sitting next to them while they play shows that you support them and you are there for them no matter how well they’re doing. You can also ask them to teach you what they learned, so that you can learn alongside them and help reinforce their lessons. It can be fun for your child and you to learn how to play piano together.
And if you do know how to play the piano, you can play the accompaniment music in the lesson book while your child is practicing. Or you can divide up the work with your child playing the right hand and you playing the left hand. Then switch!
After a few years, as your child grows, they won’t need your help as much. And you’ll be missing the days that you got to be their piano buddy and play with them. So while in the beginning it may take a few tricks and games to get your child to practice, you’ll see their love of music blossom because of it.
Let us know the tricks and games you use to help make piano practice fun and easy to do.
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Written by Amelia Vitarelli, owner and educator of My Little Conservatory in San Jose, CA. Amelia has be enriching the lives of children in Silicon Valley for over 20 years.