Enhanced – read by the author
Practice Makes Perfect title image
by Tracy Selle
Child playing acoustic guitar on their bed
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by Tracy Selle

a piano teacher for more than twenty years, I’ve discovered a common theme with students—most kids are excited at the thought of playing an instrument—it’s practicing the instrument that isn’t much fun. What’s a parent to do? No one wants to nag all the time. (And I guarantee your children don’t want you to nag either!)

Good news! I’ve got some practical tips for you that don’t require your children to practice for hours on end, and they work for any instrument. Best of all? You can help your children be successful even if you’ve never had a music lesson in your life!

Young girl playing piano with tutor
Top Ten Things You Can Do TODAY
Make practice a priority. Your kids won’t learn to play their instrument unless they actually spend time playing it. Yes, that sounds obvious, but so many parents forget!

Here’s the sad truth that affects so many families—children don’t practice, so they don’t play well, and then they start to believe that they can’t learn to play whatever instrument they’ve chosen. They get frustrated and discouraged. They feel like a failure, so they give up. Who can blame them? But of course, the truth is that they’re completely capable—they just didn’t put in the practice time.

The bottom line is that success won’t happen unless your kids practice several days each week. Prioritize practice! Every time they play is a step in the right direction!

Remember consistency is key. Consistent practice of four or five days a week is better than one or two days of longer practice. A short, focused fifteen-minute session will do wonders for your children.

Some very young kids may only be able to do ten minutes, but if they’re consistent with that ten minutes every day, their learning will soar! Even children with the busiest of schedules can find just ten minutes a day to practice.

Have your children practice right after their lesson and the very next day. Why? Everything their teacher taught them will be fresh in their minds. That’ll make for more effective practice. This is one of the best ways to ensure good quality practice!
Urge your children to look a song over before they begin practicing it. Teachers will often mark tricky rhythms or easily missed notes.

When your kids start by glancing over the piece and noting those sections—before playing—they’ll be much more likely to pay attention to those sections when they practice.

This simple concept takes less than a minute but can make a big difference.

Teach kids to break tougher sections down into smaller parts. This tip often works better with older students because they understand the goal. (Younger kids can get frustrated because they just want to play music!)

If your kids are old enough, have them find the toughest line of a song and play only that section three or four times. Then they can gradually expand by playing the sections around that, eventually moving on to the whole song.

Initially, it’s okay if they don’t play the entire song through. The goal is to play correctly. Most teachers would rather hear a shorter section of music played properly than listen to a student carelessly rush through an entire song.

Remind your children to practice. Really, it’s okay! Children wouldn’t brush their teeth if we didn’t tell them to. It’s no different with musical instruments.
Have your child play old favorites. After your children have practiced their assignments for the week, encourage them to go back and play some of their old songs. This is a great way to keep their skills fresh, and it’s fun—for the whole family!

The more they play, the better they’ll get, and then they’ll want to play even more. This is a great way to accomplish that!

Encourage (don’t pressure!) your children to play in front of people. If they start performing early, they won’t get as nervous at recitals later.

This doesn’t have to be a big deal. A phone call to Grandma during practice would work just fine. Perhaps you have pets. Children love to play for their animals. Quite frankly, a stuffed animal concert would work too! Just have your kids line up their plushies on the couch and let the show begin!

Decide on a minimum number of years your child will play that instrument. Your children are learning more than how to play an instrument, they’re learning dedication and commitment. Making this agreement with your children early on will save you arguments in the future.

Plus, once kids get past the first couple years of learning to play the instrument, they’ll often find true joy in playing and stick with it for years.

Motivate with rewards! We ALL need motivation sometimes. Get creative! Perhaps you could offer a coupon to get out of a chore in change for an extra day of practice. Would your children like to earn more electronics time or maybe a sleepover with a friend?

Believe it or not, I had one student who would memorize just about anything for a can of chicken noodle soup! I kid you not. Another student loved cats, so occasionally I’d reward her with a coupon to play with our cats for ten minutes.

The reward possibilities are endless and you could always ask your children for ideas too.

Note: rewards aren’t just for kids. Try rewarding YOURSELF if you get your children to follow the set practice schedule! Starbucks anyone?

Bonus tip: Pray about it.
All children are different, so spend some time asking the Lord to show you what practice strategies would work best for your children. After all, learning to play an instrument is about so much more than the actual instrument. Your children are learning responsibility, commitment, and follow-through. It’s worth the time to seek the Lord for direction!
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racy Selle is a veteran homeschool mom who worked as a piano teacher for more than twenty years. She’s the author of 101 Piano Practice Tips and 101 Music Practice Tips. She now works as copy editor for Homeschooling Today magazine. She’s been married to Kevin for nearly thirty years, and they have one son in college. Tracy loves to encourage moms with medical needs since their son has Type 1 Diabetes.