Updated: Jul 3
By Christy | the Practicing Pro
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Is it a challenge to “get your practice time started?”
Getting your kids to listen can be one of the hardest parts of parenting. Now introduce a difficult task into the equation, like learning to play a musical instrument and needing to have a daily practice. It’s not a small feat and can be very daunting.
Has something like this ever happened to you at practice time?
You ask your child to practice over and over again, and soon you find yourself yelling. You are frustrated. They get rude and disrespectful. It's a mess.
Why can't they do what you ask them to the first time without speaking back or being disrespectful?
Maybe you just shouldn't do music lessons? You don't want to create a bad relationship with your child, right?
Let’s talk about some strategies today for HOW to set yourself up with your child so that practices can get started as smoothly as possible.
You need to do three things first to decide when you will practice, and this happens at your end as the parent - to make daily practice happen. I have also made a blog on each of these topics to give you more guidance if needed.
Practice is scheduled into your daily routine.
Have a specific time each day that is non-negotiable, set aside to practice. It's on the calendar. Treat your practice time just like a lesson. You arrive on time, ready to go at 3 pm and finish at 3:30 pm. Here is more on that:
Choose an Ideal time.
Make sure the time you choose is when they are not round up, hungry or tired. You might need to observe them for a week or two and take notes of when they are most tired to figure this out. More to help you decide their best time here:
Put their practicing right next to an activity that they already do daily without issues and that they like. This one is crucial. More here on that:
GREAT - Now you have the perfect time of each day set aside - before sometime they like and already do every day.
Let's look at an example.
A young singer didn't want to practice. At all. She was really resisting. She liked brushing her teeth each night though and never missed it. At night time, she’s in a better mood than morning or after school. Her parent asked her to look in the mirror and with her toothbrush (use it as a magic wand) and practice her Monologue from Harry Potter. Then she brushed her teeth and did one vocal exercise. Then she sang her song with her parent while getting into her PJs.
See how 1) she is learning to do something every day in her routine 2) it's at night which is her most focused time 3) she is habit bundling it with her bedtime ritual.
Now, this can progress after a month, add two exercises, and sing in her room two songs before she gets her PJs on. Eventually, she can work up to a full practice after brushing her teeth and before her bedtime.
Being creative, other strategies could be to keep her music bag in the bathroom and practice in there. Have a speaker in the bathroom and do her listening while she's in the tub. As she gets older she can practice first and then head to bed. She can also get ready for bed, practice then do homework and head to bed. The routine and habit can start while she is young with 5 minutes and eventually, over the years be something she does independently on her own.
But it started with a small few minutes as a habit bundle with brushing her teeth.
So often when it's time to practice, while really observing your child you will notice one of the hardest challenges is to STOP a previous activity to get started on practicing.
(Note: What about if moving from one activity to another is especially challenging for a child? There is a great infographic you can print from Blog #74 on 10 ways to help your child not to have a meltdown and it's a great one for everyday activities. I suggest printing it to keep handy on the fridge or in the car and just reading it once in a while as a reminder to keep these 10 strategies fresh on your mind for changing activities in general HERE.
Otherwise, today we are focusing specifically on getting music practice started and 8 ways to do that smoothly.
Set a routine.
Children do best when they know what's going on and what’s happening next.
Make sure they know when practice time is, and it’s not a surprise. For the example above, after a few months, the girl knows. - teeth brushing equals singing. It's a thing - so its not a surprise, and it's always the same—way fewer issues.
If every day isn't the same, then talk about it to start the day with a recap.
“Sunday, we go to bed earlier and spend PJ time together - so we brush our teeth when it's still light, practice, then watch a movie, play a game, read a book. That's Sunday night.
Monday - Friday, same
Saturday is our adventure day and group class day, so we brush our teeth and then pick ONE song to sing while we get into our PJs, so not a practice but one review song from our review chart. If it's a “go out” to an event night, it's like Saturday.
See how that works?
Young ones - start each day with a quick recap.
Older ones - know the day of the week. And they know it's always the same.
Give them a warning.
Let them know when it's 5 minutes before their practice starts. Let them help pick when they are ready. This helps them feel like they have control.
“Sarah, it's almost time to brush your teeth and practice. Are you ready now or in 5 minutes? You can pick. Would you like to set the time, or would you like me to?” Children love physical times that they can set and use themselves. They also like setting a phone timer using Siri. “Hey Siri, set the alarm for 5 minutes”. If you are consistent with this, then over time, they will depend on it and transition easier. What doesn’t work is saying five minutes and sometimes coming back in 5 and sometimes getting distracted and making it ten or forgetting altogether. Do what you say and say what you mean. Be dependable to your child. Use a trimer. Then the timer is deciding, not you. You might be “the bad guy” in 5 minutes, but the timer won't be.
Look into their eyes when you give them instructions for about 5 minutes - Be in the same room and never yell instructions from another room. Come close to them, squatting down at their level and use a calm, gentle voice to look right into their eyes.
Make a transition fun and with a choice.
Give a child as many choices as possible but make sure they are always things you mean and not open-ended choices.
Don't say (thinks that can give a NO reply):
“Do you want to pick out your PJs?”
“Do you want to put on your PJs?”
“Would you like to wear your red or blue PJs?” “Would you like to lay down and put on your PJs with me or standing up tonight?”
“Would you like to take out your violin tonight, or would you like me to?”
“As soon as …then….”
Try to couple things they like less with something; afterwards, they like more.
“As soon as we finish practicing these three things, then you can choose our bedtime story.”
“As soon as we practice, then we can make our bedtime snack.” “As soon as we finish practicing, then I'll be happy to watch a TV show or go to the park.”
Notice when they listen.
It's very easy to get into the habit of telling them when they are not listening to you, not pleasing you or when you are frustrated. It can be more effort to talk about and notice the good behaviour. Try to “catch them in the act.”
“Thank you for coming right away.”
“You heard the alarm and came right away. Thank you.”
“Thanks for listening and coming so quickly. I appreciate it. That gets us started faster, and then we finish faster and get even more time today to play at the park before dark.”
There are other things you can do to help have a smoother start to practice, but there are a few of my favourite ones to focus on first.
Print the infographic and post it where you can see it often like on the fridge or in your car to review in the carpool line after school.
Just like a child has lessons from their teacher to learn and things to practice and work on for the week or the month parenting takes the same effort to learn and practice each day too.
You’ve got this! See you next time.
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:
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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.
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