If you are an adult who is learning to play the piano, you know how important it is to practice regularly and keep yourself motivated to continue to do so. If, however, you have a child who is learning to play the piano, motivating him might not be so easy.
Practicing the piano as a child is an important part of building self-discipline that will be useful for an entire lifetime. Getting your child into a habit of practicing daily, for the same amount of time, and optimally, at the same time of day, is a wonderful way to teach your child that success comes through practice, practice, practice.
Motivation to practice, however, is not instinctual to most kids. Families, primarily parents, must help to create motivation for their children to practice piano.
Below, we will discuss the following points involved in keeping students interested in practicing the piano:
- Finding the right piano teacher
- Making practice fun
- Creating challenges and goals
- Rewarding practice and celebrating your child’s accomplishments
- Giving your child a measure of control
- Developing a love of music in your child
- What to do if your child hates piano
How to Keep Students Interested in Piano
As a parent, how can you motivate your child to practice the piano? Good piano teachers know how to keep students interested in piano. Particularly with younger piano students, it is important for both teachers and parents to learn how to make piano practice fun.
Make Sure to Find the Right Teacher
Before a student can be motivated to practice the piano, he must be matched up with the right piano teacher. If a child doesn’t connect with the piano teacher, this will make practice irrelevant. The best piano teacher is one who can connect on a tutorial level as well as a friendly level with your child. He or she should understand your child’s learning style, any potential barriers to learning (i.e., make sure the piano teacher knows if your child has any challenges such as ADHD), and should be able to keep your child interested in piano.
If you and your child have given a piano teacher a shot for a reasonable amount of time and they just aren’t connecting, don’t be afraid to find a new teacher. Ask friends and family members for recommendations. Thumbtack.com, online forums and Facebook communities/groups are also good places to ask questions about and find piano teachers.
How to Make Piano Practice Fun
The right piano teacher will know how to make piano practice fun and will help you as a parent to motivate your child to practice. Some teachers play games with their students during lesson time or assign games for practice time. If yours does not, there are still some games you can play with your child to motivate him to practice piano:
- Hugs: Younger children especially are motivated by hugs from their parents. You can tell your child that if he plays his scales (or part of a song, or whatever he is practicing that day) a certain number of times, he will get a hug from you.
- Flash cards: You can purchase flash cards like these by Alfred Music at Amazon.com. These can be used during practice time (or anytime) to help your child learn musical notes, terms and symbols
- Stickers: It’s a well-known fact that most little kids (and some big kids) love stickers. Piano teachers know this, and many of them already use stickers to reward students for practicing each week. You can do the same. If your child’s piano teacher doesn’t already reward with stickers, perhaps you could suggest something like this Beanstalk’s Basic for Piano Lesson Level 1 Book/CD with Reward Stickers, available for purchase at Amazon.com.
- Pretend concert: Ask your child to give you a pretend concert during practice time one day per week. (This is especially helpful once your child has learned a particularly difficult piece). Tell him to play the piece through for you, without stopping, even if he makes mistakes, just as he would do in a real musical performance. Make sure to give your child lots of applause and hugs after a job well done!
Create Challenges and Goals
Create challenges for your child to work towards during piano practice. A good piano teacher should be doing this already, but you, the parent, can, too. Write down small goals for each day’s practice session (or work with the piano teacher to do so). For example, practice goals for Monday might be to work out the fingering for certain measures of a piece, get one section up to proper tempo, and learn the left hand of another section.
Reward Progress and Celebrate Accomplishments
When you set goals for your child’s piano practice, make sure that they are attainable. When they achieve that goal, give them a small reward. Make it something that they like (but nothing outlandish). For smaller children, it can be something like a hug, a time-out to pet the dog, or a piece of candy.
Older children might be rewarded each week for completing practice every day or a certain number of times that week. Use a fun activity that he really enjoys as a reward for practicing the piano. It can be something that the entire family does together, or something fun for just you and your child to do.
Track their progress and celebrate your child’s accomplishments. If they master a particularly difficult portion of a piano piece, give them a gold star, so to speak. Keep a list on the refrigerator or whiteboard in your home and celebrate his victory there for all to see. Pinterest has some great ideas for printable piano practice charts that you can use to track and reward your child’s progress.
If it doesn’t bother your child for you to sit in the room with him while he practices, do so. Even if your child prefers not to have an “audience” in the room with him while he practices, be sure to listen to your child practice the piano from wherever you are– don’t go hide in another part of the house. Encourage your child, even when he’s not doing so well. Especially with a piece that may be difficult or frustrating to him, keep motivating him by telling him, “You can do it!” “That’s great!” “That sounds way better than it did yesterday,” “Keep it up!”
Ask your child after each piano lesson how it went. Ask what challenges he’s facing and what he’s proud of. It is also important as a parent to keep in touch with the piano teacher so that you know what his or her goals are and can get feedback on your child’s progress.
Give Your Child Some Control
Piano practice can be a fun part of the day if you as a parent don’t make it seem like an obligation. If you want your child to practice piano in the evening, but he prefers doing it in the morning before school, allow him to choose the time of day that works best for him.
While keeping the practice time of day constant from one day to the next is optimal, sometimes it isn’t practical. If, for example, your child practices piano after getting home from school each day, but on Wednesdays he has after-school soccer, change the time on Wednesdays but stick to the same time every Wednesday. That’s the mistake many parents make in changing practice times – they aren’t consistent with their expectations for their child.
Give your child break times during practice time if he functions better with them. For younger children or kids with attention problems, you might need to break up piano practice time into shorter, multiple sessions-- perhaps 10 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the evening would work better for him.
Develop a Love of Music in Your Child
Not every child is lucky enough to be able to practice the piano. Discuss with your child how wondrous music is and what a privilege it is that he can practice the piano.
Try to develop your child’s love of music. Help your child engage with the music he is practicing. Make him feel connected to the music and to the progression of a piece as he learns and practices it by encouraging him to research the music he’s playing.
If your child is curious about the music, this will help to motivate him. Maybe do a little side study of the music online – have your child Google the composer, the piece, and read about them. Sometimes it might help for your child to hear the piece played correctly, so if you can find a recording online or offline of the piece, let him listen to it.
Another important part of being motivated to practice the piano is giving your child the choice to play music he likes. Although there are certain songs that his piano teacher will require him to play, try to let your child choose other pieces that he’s interested in learning. Talk with your child’s piano teacher to see if he can play songs he likes in addition to whatever the teacher mandates he play.
Plan performances throughout the year. Usually a piano teacher will do this, with one or two recitals scheduled during the year. If not, set up a time every six months or so to invite your child to play for friends and family. This gives the child something to work towards as he practices the piano – an ultimate goal.
My Child Hates Playing Piano
Make sure that the piano is an instrument that your child likes to play. If your child absolutely hates the piano, he or she won’t want to practice at all. Ask your child what instrument he likes or would like to learn to play. If possible, borrow one of those instruments from someone else and let your child “try it out” before committing to it.
As a parent, what should I do if my child wants to quit the piano? If the piano just isn’t your child’s “thing,” no amount of wheedling, cajoling, coaxing or bribery will get him to practice the piano. You must be flexible as a parent. Try to give your child a chance to determine what he likes and feels motivated to practice. There’s nothing wrong with quitting piano practice as long as he’s given it a fair shot. Present it to him as a learning experience and move on to find an instrument that he does like and wants to practice.