It is not enjoyable to do something that you are bad at. It is not fun to be a failure. Struggling is generally not a pleasurable experience.
Because of this, the less a student practices piano, the less a student wants to practice piano. If you do not practice, you will not progress. The songs in the books will continue to get more advanced, but your skills will not improve. For this reason, a student who does not practice will find that playing the piano seems to become more and more difficult, even less and less fun. In a sense, they are getting “worse” at piano, because they are more and more behind where they ought to be. More and more they will find that their skills are inadequate to perform as they feel (and their teacher feels) they ought to be able to.
What makes playing the piano fun? When you are good at it– then playing the piano is fun. It is enjoyable to be talented and skilled. It gives you confidence to know that you are capable. Playing the piano– PRACTICING the piano– is fun when you are good at it.
How do you become good at playing the piano? Through consistent practice. This is the only way. You practice the piano, so that you are good at the piano, so that you enjoy practicing the piano, so that you desire to practice more (because it is enjoyable), so that you get even better at playing the piano, and so on.
So, you ask, how do you get your child to practice piano? First, you must face reality: at first, most students do not want to practice. There are certainly exceptions to this, but it is much more common that they do not want to practice (because practicing is not yet fun). So you can “remind” you child all day long that they “wanted to practice piano” or that “taking piano lessons was their idea,” that “they wanted to do this,” so “they better practice.” But when it comes right down to it, they actually don’t want to practice. Because practicing is not enjoyable (yet). Humans generally do not want to do things that are not enjoyable.
There are four means by which you will succeed in getting your child to practice piano:
- Make Practicing Easier. Learning to play the piano and read music are difficult enough as it is– don’t let it be harder than that. Make sure that the piano teacher is explaining to your child (in a way that your child understands) both what to practice and how to practice. Not just the theory of technique, but the actual execution. More than just the notes to play, how to actually read the notes with accuracy, fluency, and understanding.
- Make Practicing More Enjoyable. So, it might not actually be FUN (yet– it will be!), but it can be a lot MORE enjoyable and much less painful. How? It’s more fun if your child knows what is expected of them. It is more fun if your child knows when they will be done, and what they are going to accomplish in their practicing when they sit down. It is more fun if your child has help when they need it (especially if your child isn’t yet a confident reader). It is more fun if your child isn’t LONELY! Take a few minutes out of your day, sit down, and spend some time being supportive of your child’s practice. You don’t have to know a speck about music– you just have to be a friendly ear. You don’t have to try to teach your child yourself (this can often do more harm then good). You just have to support them with your friendly presence. This small thing can make an incredible difference between your child successfully learning to be a passionate and skilled musician or not.
- Expect Practicing. Make practicing the norm, and make practicing important. No, of course you cannot play video games before you practice piano. Practicing is important, and it is the only way a student will improve and obtain the joy that is playing music. Expect your child to practice. You will not always have to use your authority as a parent in this way, but if your child is not interested in practicing, for a time, you must.
Harness the Power of Habit. The most important thing for your child to learn in the beginning is the habit of practicing the piano. Once something is a habit, it is easy. It is easy to remember and it is easy to do. Do you ever forget to eat dinner? Rarely, I’m sure. Do you think about how it is SO MUCH WORK to chew all your food? I doubt this. It is a habit, you are good at it, and it is enjoyable. This is how playing the piano will be. Done as a matter of course, with much pleasure derived. (Only so much more pleasing, with room to grow and advance the beauty of the sounds you create.) Habits form the most easily when they are done at the same time each day and in the same manner. Practice piano every day after breakfast, or every day before bed. Or maybe every day after school, after a snack. The time doesn’t matter so long as it remains constant. Habits are easier the more consistent you are about them. Your child does not need to practice 7 days a week, but most students find that it is easier to practice 7 days a week than it is to practice 5 days a week.
It is that simple. Make practicing a little easier and more enjoyable, then use your power as the authority figure to enforce (however you generally do so for chores, etc) consistent practice for the first few weeks. After just a few weeks, your child will have a habit– and one that will serve him well! Your mom didn’t tell you to do your homework because you thought it was fun– but now that you’ve received your college diploma and gotten your dream job, you’re sure glad that she did!
Even after your child has the habit of practice, there still might occasionally be days when they need a little extra push. We all have days when we don’t feel like eating our vegetables. Use your intuition. Maybe your child needs a day off. But don’t let “days off” become a habit. A habit of consistent practice will reap great rewards and a lifetime of beautiful music. Be your child’s best advocate and support their future joys.