How can I support my child’s practice?

1 month ago
Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall is a private, peri and classroom music teacher from York. An award winning author she has written 17 publications to date including ABRSM Piano Encores and joint edited Piano Star Grade 1. She is a co-author of the beginner piano method, Get Set! Piano as well as being trained in teaching music to special needs students. She is passionate about all children having access to a good quality music education.

As a parent you will want to do all you can to aid your child’s musical development and a key part of this is encouraging your child to practice. Practice between lessons is essential for musical progression and developing a love of music generally can go a long way to help practice materialise in later years. However, it can be tricky to know how to encourage practising and here are some practical tips to consider.

Ask the teacher what they expect your child to practice
Success is most likely to be achieved working in partnership with your child’s teacher. Many teachers will automatically inform you about what they expect of your child or they are willing to do this if asked. It is difficult for children to remember themselves what to do after the lesson and this aid memoir means you can support your child at home. This can also be done digitally via practice apps such as Music Case, which connects teacher and pupil and allows practice goals to be set and monitored.

Provide a functioning instrument with suitable accessories
Children need an instrument that works otherwise practice can be a struggle! If applicable, you could ask your child’s teacher to train you or (or if old enough) your child, to tune the instrument. It is very hard to play a melody if the strings themselves are not in tune and this can be off putting for children. The right stool for a piano is also important so poor posture does not make practice become painful. Spare reeds for woodwind (if they split you cannot play), valve oil for brass (stiff valves make playing tricky) all help to encourage practice to happen.

Find the best practice location in your home
Cold or noisy is not ideal for practising. The practice space needs to be inviting, free from distractions and if possible, keep a music stand always ready with music on it.

Be child led, learning an instrument takes time
If they are struggling to cover everything on the practice list, or finding certain things tricky do communicate this to their teacher. Be aware that learning an instrument is a long-term commitment. Remember, hard work does go a long way and natural ability can be exaggerated. Be positive and celebrate what your child has achieved and be realistic. It can take on average of three years or even longer for a child to achieve Grade 1 level on some instruments. Seeing things develop slowly with gradual persistent hard work is a valuable skill for your child to acquire that can help in other areas of their life.

Have realistic expectations of what practice is possible and try to avoid reminding too often
It can work well if teachers provide expectations for children’s practice and parents simply are the child’s ‘greatest fan’. If the child themselves set the practice frequency this can be very empowering. Try to make practice a minimum four times per week (every other day).

Avoid criticism
Some parents have fed back to ABRSM concern about making the mistake of not praising their child enough and being drawn to pointing out their child’s mistakes. It can be really hard to hear a child play a mistake over and over. Or listen to a child play too quickly encouraging error. However, if you as the parent continually critique, a child can quickly become demotivated. Going back to the principle of ‘teacher teaching and parent praising’ is useful. This praise needs to be genuine though. Children know when things aren’t going so well. Simply let the teacher know (very discreetly) where the problems are and they can help your child learn the skills to practice more effectively and iron out problem areas in music.

Frequency not quantity
In beginning stages, doing a very long one-hour practice once a week isn’t as effective as four practices of 15 minutes every other day. Regularity is incredibly important. Several ad-hoc five-minute practices in a day can be extremely worthwhile. Practice time does need to increase along with level of difficulty. Intermediate music (e.g. Grades 3 – 5) will require on average approximately 4 hours a week spread over 7 days but this can vary from student to student.

Make it a routine and consider rewards
Families have reported that making music practice part of the family routine - same time each day – is helpful to instilling practice. In addition, some families have reward systems for doing it. Rewards could be stickers to or earning a treat and every family is different so work out what is best for you.

Celebrate music, learning an instrument is a journey not a destination
Sometimes children can play their instrument a great deal but not do much or any of what they’ve been instructed by their teacher. Making any music is a good thing, this needs to ideally be complimented by structured material that aids progress, but at times children can struggle to comply. Parents and teachers have a careful path to tread here. There are times when a less structure approach can be beneficial, from playing familiar music by ear from You Tube, to music from a latest film or pop song - it is all music making to be celebrated! Try to encourage making the instrument a potential life long friend - there’s so much value in music making for over-all well – being, with this in mind, be flexible with the type of practice or playing that is being completed taking a long-term view. Children can just as quickly suddenly (without prompt) return to traditional scales, repertoire and their teachers suggested curriculum.

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