One Father’s Journey to Make Practicing Fun and Beneficial
We (parents of music students) have all been there. Homework, sports, dance, time with friends, practicing an instrument or vocal lessons, eating, sleeping, school, after school, child care…don’t be fooled-our days are full, but our kids days can be downright insane. Amidst all of the most important activities that drive the growing-up of our children; the academic and the social, one stands out as continually under-valued, yet simultaneously imperative to the success of all others: practicing and playing music. Gerry’s Music Shop is proud to share a series of blogs that will follow the journey of one dad attempting to make practicing enjoyable for his son who loves music, but has a tough time with peer-to-peer social situations, sharing emotions in socially accepted ways, and processing sensory interruptions that sometimes can simply get in the way of his life. I am a musician. My hope is that this blog will be useful as a guide to help musically inclined parents avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made, and give non-musicial parents some tools for success.
When we first started learning to play our instrument, and learning how to practice altogether, we had to find the right place in our home to minimize distraction and stimulate a sense of creativity and security. We have a space that is near our dining room and a sliding glass door that looks out onto a wooded area, near a computer and audio for play along assistance, and it can be a quiet area during certain parts of the day. Bedrooms full of toys or living rooms full of televisions and video games can make it pretty difficult to focus the attention of some children on the music itself and the learning process.
Once we had the location set, we began to learn how to practice. This will be different for everyone, but generally, you want to warm up, practice material that you are familiar with, work through sight reading and any new material that may have been handed out that week, and then do something for fun that you can’t wait to play. That last part of our practice procedure is very important and missed by parents and kids alike-play something you enjoy. If you are just practicing because you have to, and not actually having fun playing the instrument, then as a player they have a decision to make, and as a parent you should help them make that decision. Practicing can help reinforce the reasons why you picked up the instrument in the first place, or can make you ask yourself why you ever started.
One of the most satisfying events that took place on our journey was the day I realized I could tell my son to grab his instrument, his book, his stand, and whatever else he needed, set up, and begin warming up-AND HE DID IT. This was huge for him. Needing extra guidance and help in school, including rigidly structuring his day so that he knows exactly what is happening and when, thus avoiding unexpected situations that could cause problems (fire drills are interesting), has been part of his school career since we discovered his difficulties. Being able to pick up an instrument and complete certain tasks all on his own have become an important milestone that we were very excited to reach.
Practicing all on his own did not, however, happen on day one. As a musician, I came pre-equipped with ideas about what practice and rehearsal should look like. For a non-musical person, making sure that a quiet spot is readily available, that tuners and metronomes are available, and materials (music book, sheet music handed out by the teacher, and practice logs) are not misplaced is a good start. You will hear sounds-at first, they may be painful, even for the ear that does not hear pitches perfectly. This is ok. The sounds will eventually come together and form actual notes, which will then evolve and combine with other notes to form recognizible songs. For some, this happens quickly. For others, it takes time.
Encourage them. Tell them how great it sounds. Tell them what didn’t sound right. Ask them to explain a quarter note to you. Get involved, even in the smallest way, with how your student practices. Let them perform for you. We are all busy, and we all have other things to do. Never underestimate the power you command as a parent. You do not need to force a musician to play, but if you are there and listening and being constructively honest, you will be quietly assisting to create one.