From my experience as a teacher and a parent, practicing boils down to six main questions:
1) How important is practicing?
2) How much should I be involved in my child’s practicing?
3) How do I solve the “I can’t find the time” problem?
4) How do I solve the “I don’t know what to practice” problem?
5) What does my child’s teacher mean by “work it out”?
6) How do I know if my child is making progress?
The Purpose of Practicing
I would like to suggest that the purpose of practicing is to develop an independent musician. If practicing is approached conscientiously, your child will learn how to teach themselves in a systematic way. Therefore, you need to consider yourself a temporary, but essential, part of the process.
Your child does not start off life as an independent musician. Basic musical skills and literacy takes many years to develop. Add to this the technical challenges of learning an instrument, and your child would need to be exceptionally motivated to learn without any help from you. You need to be involved in your child’s practicing.
How to Find the Time
There are no shortcuts or hacks to get you out of the harsh reality that your child needs to find the time to practice. But how? First, make practicing part of their daily routine and don’t have them do a lot of practicing all at once. What your child will benefit from most, especially in the beginning, are multiple, shorter, more focused sessions. Find five to ten minutes, three or four times over the course of the day.
How to Know What to Practice
When your child comes home from their lesson, you should have three questions for them:
- “What did the teacher say you needed to work on?” (Start simple. Usually this involves an assignment of some sort.)
- “Did the teacher tell you anything that you should do to make a better sound?” Getting a good sound is not only a good motivator for your child, but it has rewards for you as a parent as well.)
- “How good does the teacher want your pieces to be for next week?” (There might not always be a clear answer to this one, but sometimes there is.)
Working it Out
Without going into too much detail, the nitty-gritty of learning music comes down to “working it out”. Generally, the best advice is to play through it slowly for accuracy of notes and rhythms. However, that isn’t always enough. Your child needs to have some additional strategies available to them to help with the more difficult parts. Having the right tool for the job makes the time spent much more effective.
The first year or two of being the parent of a beginning string student can be very challenging, especially if your child is in a school setting. However, you don’t need to be musically trained to guide their progress. As long as you stay involved and informed, and help them meet the challenges methodically, you can ensure their success in becoming an independent musician.