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Supporting Your Child's Musical Pursuits When You Know Nothing About Music

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Congratulations! You’ve decided to invest in your child’s future by enrolling her in music lessons. You are probably aware of the fact that learning an instrument is incredibly beneficial to young children and their developing minds.  The only problem is, you know nothing about the instrument, and very little about it yourself.  So how, as your child’s first teacher, do you stay involved in her new musical pursuits?

More importantly, how do you encourage your child to practice?
And how will you assist them when you don’t even know the difference between a bow and a bridge?

 

Here are some tips for the parent who wants to be involved but isn’t sure how to:

  • Children inherently wish to please their parents, so the first step in encouraging your child is demonstrating your pride in the process and her progress.  Ask her specific questions about her lessons. Enthusiastically request that she show you what she has learned. Let her play for you, as you are sure to be her first and favorite audience.  This will not only tell your child that you are truly interested in her endeavor, but will serve to educate you in her instrument as well. If your child sees you are genuinely interested in what she is doing, she will be more inclined to keep doing it.
  • Ask your child’s instructor for tips.  You will have no better resource than the expert who is teaching your child.  Assuming that the teacher has had plenty of experience working with children, he should be able to give you great ideas for encouraging practice habits.  It is important to choose your child’s instructor with care.  Check references. You are your child’s main advocate, but when you know little about the instrument yourself, you need to feel confident in the teacher’s skills.
  • Attend a lesson with your child.  What better way to learn about what your son or daughter is doing than to actually be there while he or she does it?  Again, your child will see your interest, and will react in kind.  Be sure to simply observe, quietly.  Older children may see anything else as being overbearing and may not appreciate your involvement.
  • Keep in mind that you needn’t be a musician yourself in order to stay involved and encourage your child’s daily practice.  Depending on your child’s age, he or she is unlikely to always be self-motivated. Practicing an instrument takes discipline, and discipline needs to be taught before it becomes habit.  The discipline that must occur while learning an instrument will be carried with your child throughout her lifetime, whether she continues playing, or not.  Regardless of your understanding, as a parent, it will be mutually beneficial to help your child set daily practice goals.

 

Anastasia Tsioulcas, a respected writer and producer for NPR, has some suggestions for every parent who wants to persuade his child to practice, without having to resort to the dreaded pleading, begging, or yelling:

  1. Have a goal for each practice session (how long, which pieces, etc). Decide ahead of time what that goal is, and refer to the suggestions of your child’s teacher.  Log everything when finished, to have a concrete reminder of what has been accomplished! This makes each session less intimidating, and more likely to be completed.
  2. Reward every practice session!  Consider your child’s preferred “currency.”  Does she like sweets?  Computer time?  TV time?  Decide what it is, and allow her to enjoy that treat as a reward for a job well done.
  3. Turn practice into a game.  Literally!  There are many websites with great suggestions for making your child’s practice times fun.  All it takes is a little extra time and effort — not musical know-how — on your part.
  4. Keep the instrument easily accessible at all times. Consider allowing your child to leave it out in plain sight, so as to encourage her to pick it up on a whim. Family schedules will not always allow for a consistently dedicated practice time.  Within reasonable limits, letting your child decide when she wants to practice will transfer some power of choice and responsibility to her. This helps eliminate potential parental nagging.  The goal should always be eventual self-motivation on the part of your child.

 

Hopefully the suggestions in this Parent Guide will persuade you to be fully involved with your child’s activities, in spite of any lack of instrumental know-how on your part.  Remember, you needn’t be a musician yourself — just a loving parent.