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#84 My Easiest and Favourite Way to Motivate Hard Work in Practice

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

By Christy | The Practicing Pro

If you ask a parent what they want for their children, most will immediately say “for them to be happy”.

If you ask them what traits they would like their children to have, the most popular answers are that they would like them to “be kind, responsible and hardworking”.

Learning an instrument as a young child is an incredible investment and an amazing gift to give your child, but also very demanding. It’s a life skill to learn to do something every day. It is a self-motivated habit that requires dedication, hard work and persistence. As a parent and teacher, it is so important to present their work to them in a manageable way and to encourage them get started and then to continue until the job is done. You wouldn’t hand a 3-year-old a violin and say “alright, now you need to play this.” Instead, you break it down into smaller pieces. Perhaps you will first start by learning the names of the different parts of the violin. Then you move on to learning how to hold your bow. Next, you learn how to play simple notes and then move on to learning how to progress into little bits, phrases, and then eventually a whole song. Young children need your guidance, as well as your encouragement and support. Show them that what they are doing with their music education will bring them joy in their lives right now and also in the long term. Help them feel special because of this unique thing they can do. Perhaps they are the only person on their street or in their class that plays the guitar, for example. Help them to see that being a musician makes them special.

Teach your children that they can laugh about a mistake and try again. Teach them that a mistake is something to learn from, not something to avoid.

I am not a fan of the popular practice game with pom poms. The teacher starts with 5 pom poms in one hand and if the student performs the task assigned to the teacher’s satisfaction, the teacher then moves one pom pom from one hand into the other hand. However, if a task is completed and it’s not to their satisfaction, then the pom pom moves back again into the original hand.

This teaches the child that making mistakes is a negative thing. That making a mistake outweighs doing something well. Never “take away” something given as a reward to a child if a child then experiences a failure and it's now taken away.

If something is too hard, break it down into smaller pieces. Teach them that a mistake is something to learn from, not something to avoid or to be punished for.

In today’s blog, I’d like to share with you a practicing activity that uses feathers and helps children visualize the work they have done and to feel energized by it. Feathers are earned randomly with hard work but not based on accomplishment and never taken away.

Simple practicing activities help children to be more engaged in their practicing and also add a small element of fun where they can "See" their hard work.

One of the comments I hear from parents when looking form a music teacher is "We want someone more strict but also playful and fun." As a parent as well during a home practice more is accomplished when the child can work hard and learn but still enjoy the experience.

To start, have a container of colourful feathers at your next practice or music lesson. Explain to them that they will earn feathers with their hard work. Every time they work hard at something, let them reach into the feather container and choose one they like. If they are playing the piano, place the feather on either side of them between the highest and lowest keys. As an added level to the exercise, you can name the key the feather is being placed, whether it’s a half or whole step between the black keys where it’s being placed, whether it’s “high” or “low”, or in the treble clef or bass clef. They can also place them on certain keys and spell a mystery word that at the end they can read on the piano by decoding the feathers in their placements. The words can also be left on the piano for the next student coming in to read at some point in their lesson. If it is not a piano lesson you can bring a keyboard to your lesson that week or draw a keyboard on a piece of poster board. You can also place the feathers instead on their stand or around them in a circle on the floor. This can also encourage a tiny wiggly player to stand very still!

A Magic Moment not to miss:

At a midpoint in the lesson, when asking the child to work extra hard on a task, point out all of the feathers on either side of them or around them and say “wow LOOK at all the hard work you have done so far!”.

Children may feel unmotivated during a lesson and may not have any concept of time or what they have accomplished. However, if you can “show them” their work, it’s much more effective at letting them understand how much they have done and feel empowered by it.

Some children respond very well to this exercise because they are motivated to continue when they see how much they have already done. Other children prefer to know how much work they have ahead of them. They instead become motivated to know exactly how many repetitions of the section they need to do well before they earn a feather. Or, they are inspired to work hard when they see exactly how many feathers are left in the jar and are motivated to continue till it is empty. So if you notice that they start to not respond after a while to see the feathers they have earned, instead, try telling them exactly how many they have left in the jar to do.

Let them SEE the hard work that they have done and let them SEE what they have left to do.

Being responsible and working hard provides the perfect recipe for happiness. Happiness and kindness can feed off of each other - if you are kind to people and make them happy, this can make you happy and makes those people want to be kind to you. When your child makes goals, both big and small, and they achieve them through their consistency and hard work, they will feel fulfilled. When they feel fulfilled, their life will have more meaning.

This is a wonderful way to achieve happiness - the number one desire parents have for their children.

Try this feather activity at your lessons and home practices this week and teach your children they can make goals, work hard and SEE their hard work.

We all want our children to be successful in whatever pursuit they choose. Right now, we are focusing on learning to play an instrument. Let's also add to that to help them feel like they are "hard work" and that they have our support while they do daily small things to someday accomplish something big!

Check out my Free PDF download Checklist for a Successful Music Practice for teachers and practicing parents.

Your easy checklist for successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent or music teacher, this checklist will help you organize before, during, and after practices for effective and fun practices.

INVITATION from Christy Hodder:

Speaking of amazing practices, let me tell you all about the digital course, the Practicing Pro Academy. This is for the serious practicing parents and music teachers and is an at-your-own-pace, step-by-step, online course to bring you more effective, positive, and fun home music practices. Registrants receive a special package in the mail from me, and I am with you in person with Q&As to answer all your questions.

Learn more about PPA and join the waitlist HERE for the next Practicing Pro Academy course. It's only offered once a year so you don't want to miss it. The registration will only open for a few weeks and I'll let everyone on the waitlist know immediately so that you can grab one of the spots.

LIKE, FOLLOW, and SHARE on Instagram and/or Facebook to be inspired and join the positive practicing music community.

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