We Asked Parents: How Do You Get Your Kids to Practice?

Monday, September 12, 2016 - 12:00 AM

What's the best way to encourage your child to practice her or his instrument? What's the best way to encourage your child to practice her or his instrument? (Kim Nowacki/WQXR)

Back-to-school time also means back to music class and/or private lessons for a lot of students, so we asked parents for some tried and true tips for getting kids to practice their instrument. We also asked what doesn't work. Parents from New York to California chimed in, many with children practicing piano, cello or violin. Here is what worked, and what didn't, for them and their aspiring musicians:

The Getting Involved Approach
"The more I'm involved in her classes or practices, the easy it is for her to continue to do so." — Juan, Mexico City

"Sit with them and engage with the work. Don't harass or say negative things." — Julie, San Rafael, California

"When he was 8-years-old, I'd tell my child after dinner that I was ready for a concert. We would go into the living room, I would sit on the sofa and listen as he practiced. He felt like he was giving a concert instead of practicing. He is now 24-years-old. As he grew up, he played in many honors orchestras (and even played with one at Carnegie Hall), but the best concerts of all were always the private concerts he gave in our living room as he practiced." — Carolyn, Huntington, New York

At Their Own Pace
"I let him go at his pace. When he was less interested for a few years I let him practice less time (15 minutes) per day and made his lessons every two weeks. He was able to give that limited time and after a year or so asked for a weekly lesson again." — Charlotte, Newburgh, New York

"My children decided for themselves when to practice and for how long. Anything I did or said to 'get' them to practice failed." — Antoinette, New York

"Do not make your child practice. This is especially true for older children. My mother would make me practice the violin an hour a day, at a preset time, which always involved a tedious ordeal of arguing and quarreling, of me saying that nobody in our school practiced, that I have too much homework, etc.

"This past spring and summer, however, I was in exchange in Germany ... For the first two months in Germany, I barely practiced at all, since it was my choice. Towards the end of my stay, I was practicing almost two hours a day, because I could decide when I wanted to practice and when I didn’t. Another thing that helps me practice is competitiveness. In Italy [while attending a music festival], I was surrounded by amazing musicians who would practice five, six, hours a day, so by the end of my stay there, I would find myself practicing almost that much too ... I think the most important thing a parent could do is not force their child to practice, but encourage it." — David, 16, Chestnut Ridge, New York

A Classic Tactic
"Reward System: One hour every day will generate points toward a new video game; two hours every day will generated points toward a new iPhone or Android." — Linda, New York

What Doesn't Work
"Threats." — Linda

"Grounding." — Charlotte

"Pushing without a goal." — Juan

"Telling them to practice in another room and going away to do other work." — Julie

"Parental input. When I stayed out of it, my son practiced on his own. He's at Juilliard now. It took me a long time to learn that it was always up to him." — Antoinette

What are your tips for making practice an enjoyable, or at least, tolerable experience? Music students, what is your advice to parents? Let us know in the comments.


Kim Nowacki


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Comments [7]

Cheryl from Richmond, IN

I still remember an LP with Roger Williams and in the album blurb he mentions his mother always putting a plate of cookies on the piano - he would practice until the cookies were gone. Sounds like a great idea to me! I was blessed with a daughter who loved to practice and I never, ever had to tell her to practice.

Sep. 16 2016 10:57 AM
Amy Nathan from Westchester

Here's a blog entry on "Walking the Music Parenting Tightrope" with good suggestions from veteran music parents, who are also all featured in a recent book "The Music Parents' Survival Guide" by music parent Amy Nathan (Oxford University Press, 2014), a book that is chock full of helpful suggestions for music parents on practicing and more besides.


One of the best ideas that worked for me while raising two musical sons (one has become a composer, the other is a saxophone-playing political scientist) was to get them involved in playing in ensembles outside of regular school, giving them a chance to meet other kids just as passionate about music as they were, as well as opportunities to play more challenging music than the in-school ensembles. This was fun and also gave them a "reason" to practice—to keep up with the out-of-school ensemble, not let their new musical friends down by being the one to mess up the piece, and also to have a chance to learn really cool music that excited them....

By the way, I love the suggestions posted so far in this comments section for other parents! Great ideas!

Sep. 15 2016 11:10 AM
Nancy from Bronx, NY

As a child I wouldn't practice when my mother was home because she would yell at me every time I made a mistake or played a note out of tune. Therefore I rarely practiced. L a e your kids alone unless they ask for help.

Sep. 15 2016 10:58 AM
Cindy from Mechanicsburg, PA

We treat practicing like homework at our house. It's a given that you do your homework every night; it's a given that you practice your instrument every night.

Sep. 14 2016 09:57 AM
Barry Owen Furrer from Lake Monticello, VA

The public school district I recently retired from uses SmartMusic technology allowing students to access all lesson materials, band repertoire, as well as hundreds of etudes, scales, and technical studies from this computer program. Students can play along with all online materials and receive instant feedback on pitch, rhythm, intonation, etc. My only objection is students can simply hit the "play" button to hear how a passage is played rather than learning it the "old fashioned way." This technology seems to keep many of the younger generation interested and engaged.

Sep. 13 2016 06:32 PM
Floria from NYC

As a child, I had lessons - voice, piano, ballet - also belonged to a children's theater group ......it was all part of my life. I never thought of not practicing (I will admit I liked voice the best, it was my most successful and I performed quite a lot for a tot!!) I was not pushed into it, but it was a part of my family life, listening to music and attending concerts and opera....yes, the Met opera from age 8 when it traveled to our city! I was never "rewarded" for practicing but gently encouraged. Teen years I opted out of music....but that only lasted until I was 16. Then I suddenly became proud of classical "music" (opera) and ever since then spent most of my life in it. So parents, my advice - don't push, but constantly have it in your child's life.

Sep. 13 2016 03:04 PM
Dan from Atlanta, GA

Parents, especially early on, have to be involved. Like some have mentioned, we will gather around my seven-year-old's piano and have a "concert," which is essentially practice almost every day after dinner. I may sit nearby and read while he plays, then comment as he moves through his work. We also periodically make phone videos of his "performance" to send to family, which encourages him to try harder.

We also try to play music in the car that ties in to what he's learning.

We don't do a reward system, neither direct nor implicit, but I can see how that would help, especially early on. We try to condition him to enjoy playing and share what he's learning. So far, so good after three years of lessons, practice, and concerts.

Sep. 12 2016 08:05 AM

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