17 answers

Creative Ideas for Encouraging Piano Practice

I was wondering if anyone had any creative ideas on how to get my eight-year-old daughter to practice the piano. I'm not one of those forceful types; my daughter wants to play the piano. She's been playing for two years and her teacher says she has natural talent. For the first year and a half, she didn't have to work very hard because it came so naturally. Now, she wants to progress and play harder music, but gets frustrated when it doesn't just "happen". I asked her if she wanted to quit and she said no--emphasizing that she really wants to play. That being said, does anyone have any creative ideas on how to encourage her to practice? I want to encourage, not force...we've tried sticker charts, penny jar, and attending concerts of accomplished pianists (which she liked). I want her to realize that if she wants this, it will take work, but it also needs to be enjoyable for her too. Any thoughts and/or ideas are appreciated. Thanks!

3 moms found this helpful

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So What Happened?™

Thanks for everyone's responses for encouraging my daughter to practice the piano. We ended up continuing to attend concerts and do fun recitals; then we told her she had a choice to make: If she wanted to continue, she'd need to practice. It worked for her because she really wants to play the piano and she took ownership of her talent. She picked a time to practice every day and does it along with her homework. I also took the backseat and do not force anything. She is really enjoying it right now, especially because she knows she worked for it. Thanks everyone!

Featured Answers

Hi,

I have two kids who play the piano and just love it! Their teacher has the parents sign how many days a week they practice ( they are supposed to practice 5 days every week) and once they get to 15 days they earn a candy bar. You could try something similar at home. The other thing I have found is that looking for books that have "fun" songs in them. Each of my kids have a solo book in addition to their lesson and theory book. It has disney songs, or songs they know in them and when they pass off so many songs, she gives them a few fun songs to work on that go along with what they are learning.

I would try getting some fun music that she would like to play and let her practice that along with her lessons. When I was taking piano lessons, I would play a lot of songs that I liked and that got me the practice I needed to improve. Now I can sight read anything! Hope this helps! Good luck!!

More Answers

Hi M.,

I read a great article about how to motivate your kids a couple weeks ago- Stop the Stalling: How to Help Kids Stop Wasting Time, you can access it at the link below

http://lifestyle.msn.com/your-life/family-parenting/artic...

When I was trying to find that one, I also stumbled across another article titled: How to Motivate your musical child, from Parenting, which offered the following tips:

1. Sit nearby. Even if it's just for several short sessions per week, you can limit distractions by staying close by while he plays.

2. Keep the instrument handy and in plain view. Seeing it each day will remind him to practice, and he might be more likely to pick it up if it's right there.

3. Build practice time into his daily activities. Setting aside time before leaving for school or right after dinner each day will help your kid remember to make rehearsing routine.

4. Hold "concerts." Have your child perform for you and your family on a regular basis. Tell him specific things you love about his playing, and keep yourself up-to-date with what he's working on so you can comment on improvements at each show."

I like the fourth suggestion the best; often it's hard to recognize our own accomplishments when it just feels like frustration but we don't feel like we're getting any better. A concert for the family will give her something to look forward to and a chance for her to receive recognition for all of her hard work- giving her (only) complements afterward will really help her feel like progress is inevitable:)

I really wish that I had more guidance to pursue my musical interests as a child- it can be discouraging but a very rewarding form of expression when you get good at it.

Definetly make it enjoyable by breaking it down; ie. ten mins. a day on two different songs or whatever will prevent burn-out.

Good luck to both of you.

2 moms found this helpful

I have five kids, and they all took piano lessons from age four on. I told them that it was just like brushing their teeth, it was something that they just had to do. One child ended up taking for 14 years, all of the kids that quit after 4 or 5 years regret it now that they are adults. All of my kids were gifted in math, and I credit their years of piano with helping them in thier schoolwork. The best advice that i ever heard was from an elderly lady that could play anything that you told her to play. the music would just flow from her fingers and she was always smiling as she played or singing along. It was a joy to listen to her. The keys on the piano seemed to just be an extension of her body. She said that when she was a little girl, her mom would say to her, "Pat, I need for you to wash the dishes right now, but if you want to practice your piano instead, I will do that chore for you"

1 mom found this helpful

M.,

First, realize how blessed you are to have a daugther that really gets that she wants to do this. When I was her age my mother asked me a similar question. The question was: If we pay for piano lessons will you practice every day? My answer at the time: NO. As someone that felt your daughters frustration I realize what a challenge practice is for her.
I was born with the natural ability to play anything I heard on the piano. Because of the choice that I made at age 10, I rarely even take the opportunity to sit at a piano.

The best way to encourage: Have her set her standard. Assist her to go deep on this one. How badly does she want it? What sacrifices is she willing to give for it? and Will is hold herself accountable to practice?

This is not something that you get to do. This is something that is up to your daughter. Assist her by helping her to see that she is accountable for her choice.

With my whole heart,
C. TLC (Transition Life Coach)

We all have a choice: Going through the motions of Life
or transcending life and living it to its fullest.

The concerts are a brilliant idea. I would take it a step further. Most artists would give you a brief "interview" with your daughter. I would find someone she really enjoys or is rather accoplished and have them tell their experience of getting over that lack of discipline hump. I ended up quitting violin, although very talented, because we moved to a rural area where I had no easy access to concerts and such. I got bored really quickly.

I would try getting some fun music that she would like to play and let her practice that along with her lessons. When I was taking piano lessons, I would play a lot of songs that I liked and that got me the practice I needed to improve. Now I can sight read anything! Hope this helps! Good luck!!

It sounds like you are very sensitive to your child's signals, which is a great start! I tell my piano students' parents that in order for the kids to practice, 1st and foremost, they have to love what they are playing. When they love it, they will see the benefit in working at it. The 2nd year of piano brings in more challenges that will turn her playing gradually more pianistic-sounding. There is no getting around the fact that at 1st, it will require more effort, like learning any other NEW skill, be it reading, playing soccer, learning how to type, etc. If she is putting positive effort into her practice, you will all see that gradual improvement. Until the new techniques being learned become engrained, it will simply not happen automatically. Everything you are doing is perfect, so don't stop. The reward stickers and concert attendance are so important. I wish everybody did this at home! So as an encouraging parent, which you already are :-) help her see her progress. Find out what gets her frustrated - it may be what I call "tricky spots" - talk to her teacher about how to help her through those spots at home, esp. if you don't already read music yourself. Listen in or sit with her at her practice time, and point out any positives you can find in her playing, even if it's just at the beginning of the piece. When she perceives that her hard efforts are paying off, evidenced by her getting through the tricky spots gradually or by others complimenting her on how much her piece has improved in the last 2 weeks, she will find benefit in her practice, one more reason to "love" her piano practice, and you will find her going to the piano more on her own. Keep in mind that, over time, the stickers will get old, and you'll have to think of something new to replace them. What you want is for HER to see her OWN reward in the love she develops for the songs she is working on, and for music in general. I think she is blessed to have you as her mom in that you are already cultivating that love for her! Best regards!

Aside from the great advice you have already gotten, I have another idea not mentioned: Make a video of her attempting the hard music when she first practices, and then make another one of her doing the same piece after she has practiced it for a week. Seeing the progress she has made may encourage her to devout more time to it.

Best Wishes,

A.

Hi,

I have two kids who play the piano and just love it! Their teacher has the parents sign how many days a week they practice ( they are supposed to practice 5 days every week) and once they get to 15 days they earn a candy bar. You could try something similar at home. The other thing I have found is that looking for books that have "fun" songs in them. Each of my kids have a solo book in addition to their lesson and theory book. It has disney songs, or songs they know in them and when they pass off so many songs, she gives them a few fun songs to work on that go along with what they are learning.

I am a retired flute teacher and my experience has been that if a student wants to learn, if he enjoys it, he will practice. I think your daughter is on the right track. Perhaps she needs more incentive to practice by giving her more music that she likes, music that she picks herself, and music that is not going to challenge her too much all at once. she needs to learn one new technique at a time. If she loves the piece , whe will practice it. Give her lots of praise for her accomplishments and let her show off to friends and relatives (but only if she wants to) Taking her to concerts is a great idea. Other than that , her reward will be in learning to play the music she loves.

I took piano lessons for 3 years. The only thing that kept me motivated and practicing was my piano teachers incentives. Each student got one point (in the form of tally marks) for each time that they practiced a song completely. After each lesson my teacher would write down everything she wanted me to practice each week and then put a long rectangle so I could fill it with tally marks and even go beyond it. I would ad my own songs to the list throughout the week. We got more points for each song that we played for friends and family. If you played in front of a large group (like at church) you got even more points. It was basically a contest throughout the entire year between everyone that the teacher taught. The "winner" received a trophy at the end of the year recital...everyone else got ribbons based on their points. This was great because it didn't make anyone think they were better than anyone else...it just depended on how much you practiced. I was ALWAYS so nervous at recitals and I messed up two out the three years. I did get the trophy each year based on my practice. Kids weren't judged by their performance on that one night but on their performance and commitment over a whole year. It was nice because I could see exactly what I had practiced...made me want to practice more. I would set goals in my head because it was easy to get excited and try for more "tally marks". It might not make sense to suggest this to a teacher because I am sure she has her own system and maybe no end of the year recital. You could, however, use the system to earn some of the things you had offered your daughter before. Also...after my first year my Mom started taking me to pick out my own sheet music which was different than what the other kids were playing. They were hard to learn but eventually my teacher used the new songs and helped me learn and understand how to play them. Your daughter has to understand that it will be hard, not because she's not smart, but because she just hasn't learned about some things yet. I picked out songs from Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Later I was picking out things like "The Wind Beneath My Wings"...sure my Mom liked that! It was more exciting to get to work on things like that, but I had to wait until I had done my other practicing first. Good luck to you and your daughter!! Keep encouraging her...it becomes a really cool thing when people learn that you play the piano in junior high and high school because not that many kids can.

I am a piano teacher. 8 is Too young to push. Have the teacher back off and stay at the same level for a while. Let your daughter enjoy it.
open communication with your teacher will only help that talent survive and develop.

Although I don't have older children, I do have some experience here (masters in music education) - here's my two cents:

Having music that's a little challenging isn't bad. It's no fun to keep playing stuff that's easy. It always feels great to tackle something a little more difficult and accomplish it. However, too challenging is not good, especially for someone so young. Like others have said, I'd communicate with your daughter's teacher about this.

I also agree with others about having music that's "fun" in addition to the standard material. Playing from a popular music book that is at your daughter's level might be a fun way to end each practice session.

There's a great book about practicing that I recommend to any parent with a child in music - "How To Get Your Child To Practice Without Resorting To Violence," by Cynthia Richards. There's great advice and (obviously) some fun humor too.

My mom always set the timer for half an hour at that age and I had to practice before I went and played etc. It worked really well for me. I hated practicing, but did love the recitals and being able to play so it balanced out. I always wanted to play harder music too - wasn't really drawn to pops/movie music - I always wanted to play Mozart and Beethoven but my teacher always gave me silly songs. Make sure her teacher really knows what type of music she is most interested in and finds pieces she can play, or even just the easiest movement of a harder piece to keep her interested. My mom also used rewards - for example once I got an electric keyboard for completing a year of lessons - I still have that thing and my son uses it now ;) Make sure her music is not too hard, but do make sure it is the style of music she is interested in to keep her going. She will have to do the dirty work of scales and working out repetitive hard passages no matter what.
I am a professional clarinetist now and was always thankful for my piano years. It is great to be a stay at home mom and part time orchestral musician so you never know how it will benefit her life! (but it will no doubt) Have her keep it up for a few more years at least!

Hi M.,

I've played the violin my entire life. It's always hard when you're learning something new (like a new and harder piece of music). No one wants to practice something that they don't sound like they're playing well. But you can't sound any better unless you practice - there's the conundrum :-). Anyway, what worked (and still does) for me is breaking things down into small pieces. So, maybe encourage your daughter to learn one or two bars or lines of a new piece - just have her practice those bars, or lines, over and over until they sound great. Once she's gotten them down, let her play an older piece that she really likes and sounds good at in between. That way you're not spending your whole practice time sounding yucky. Also, have her warm up with an older piece she's mastered - getting the fingers moving is important for the agility she'll need mastering the new piece. So, planning older easier pieces in between and at the begining of practice might help.

Another idea - let her pick the music she wants to play occasionally. If she's really in to say, Harry Potter, take her to the sheet music store and let her pick out a book occasionally. Even if it's really hard. I can't tell you how many times I was motivated to play something just because I Really liked the song.

Also, set little milestones. Your teacher probably does recitals, but maybe set a little private recital of your own once or twice a month where your daughter performs what she's learned after dinner for the rest of the family. That will give her little goals to work toward, something to aim for. Even if its just to play the first page of a new song.

Ultimately, it will be the intrinsic motivation that keeps your daughter playing. Stickers are nice, penny jars are good too, but it will be your daughter's love of music (which it sounds like she has!) that will keep her practicing. Find out what she loves about playing the piano - then go from there.

Good Luck!
J.

P.S. Great idea taking her to see some concert pianists. One other idea - does she have other friends that play that she could learn duets with? Or is there someone in your family that plays another instrument that they could play together? Music is always more fun when shared with other people. Maybe think of taking piano up yourself if you don't play already - fun to have someone to learn and practice with!

I have the same problem with my 7.5 year old daughter; too funny. Good to know it's not just mine. I guess that means we should explain that it is just fine to take breaks when something is frustrating you and come back to it once you feel like you can concentrate. We'll have to give this a try and keep each other posted on how it works for both of us. I also use the "5 deep breaths" method; "O.K. you're really frustrated right now. Let's both take 5 deep breaths together to help us feel better."

I played the flute for years when I was growing up. Interestingly, the time I practiced the least was when I was bored with the material - when it wasn't really challenging it wasn't fun (I was a bit older at the time).

So the question is, is she practicing then getting frustrated and giving up when it gets hard? Or is the challenge to get her to even start?

If she gets frustrated, let her take a break for a few minutes. Then have her go back to the part that was hard and play it slowly to get all the notes. If she's frustrated with the rhythm, have her chant it a few times without playing (like duh-duh' duh-duh'). Remind her that every person who is great at what they do has to practice - every olympic medalist, every well-know actor, every musician. Tell her often how talented she is, and that you know she can do it.

If the problem is getting her to take time out of other things to practice, have her help you create a schedule. 20-30 minutes of practice at a time is enough for someone her age. Schedule the time that she practices each day; also schedule her homework time, t.v. time, and her play time. She'll get to see how little of her day piano really takes. And, as long as she is involved in creating the schedule, you can help her take ownership - "this is the schedule you helped me make. If you don't like how it is, we can adjust it. But there will be 20 minutes of piano a day as long as you want to take lesssons."

Boy that is tough because you want your child to be self-motivated to practice. It sounds like you have already tried some great ideas, but what about her piano teacher? Does she give stickers or whatever for each song that is mastered?

You could also talk to your daughter about things in your life that you really had to practice at to master, such as driving or yoga or even taking care of your children! she needs to realize that everyone goes through the same process in order to get good at anything, and when you see someone do something difficult like a professional athelete or ballerina or artist or whatever, don't say "Wow s/he is really good at that" say "Wow, s/he must have worked and practiced a lot to get so good at that"

Good luck!

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