“Did you practice this week?” If you teach young students, you have likely received sheepish grins on their little faces at least a few times in response. While it benefits students to start learning an instrument as early as they can, it probably leaves you wondering how to help these distractible, under-cooked humans make the most of this formative time. Here are a few tips to help you motivate your youngest students to practice and stay committed to their instrument.
Involve the adults.
With little ones, it is especially important to involve their guardians in discussions about practice. They are investing in their child’s music education by hiring you, the expert, and they count on you to help them make the most of their time and money. They need to know that practice is vital to progress and that lessons are unproductive without it. Communicate what a student should be practicing each week with them. Adults can also make sure their student has a quiet space and at least one chunk of time every day to practice. If you suspect they are hovering over a student or otherwise dampening a student’s motivation, you can gently suggest more helpful ways to be supportive.
Involve the student.
Choice begets motivation. Make a weekly plan with your student: How much time do they think is appropriate to practice each day? What pieces will they work on, and in what order? Learn about their musical preferences and appeal to them as much as you can through your instruction. The more agency a student feels they have over learning music, the more they will want to engage with their instrument.
Keep it developmentally appropriate.
Most young students have an attention span that allows them only 10-15 minutes of practice at a time. Don’t expect sessions longer than this. Fortunately, it should be easy for students to schedule that into their day, and perhaps more than once per day.
Students should be able to learn the music you assign in the amount of time they plan to practice. Music that is too easy will give students a sense of accomplishment, but it won’t build their practice stamina. Music that is too difficult, on the other hand, will likely frustrate students and curb their motivation. It might take some trial and error, but you will get a feel for what each student can accomplish within the limits of their practice schedule.
Private lesson teachers utilize a variety of incentives. Some students respond well to stickers or other prizes, which you can award based on either the pieces that a student learns or the amount of time they practice each day or week. Others respond well to performance opportunities, since they can make an immediate connection between their practice time and public acknowledgment of a job well done. And every student appreciates sincere, specific praise for their effort and progress from you, so be generous with it!
Since your youngest students are digital natives, adding technology to their practice sessions can only help sustain their engagement. Practicing platforms like MatchMySound provide immediate feedback and allow students to track their growth with both color-coded and numerical ratings. Recorded accompaniments, which are accessible through these practicing apps and music streaming services, help students hear the music they play in context. Additionally, sight-reading apps and online music theory games develop their skills beyond the repertoire you give them.
Whatever you do, however you adapt these ideas, strive to foster a positive relationship between the student and their music learning. When they feel competent, when they feel supported, and when they feel in control, students will be motivated to continue having fun with their instrument– even through the occasionally tedious moments of practice.
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