How to keep your child motivated.
by Murray McLachlan, concert pianist, Head of Keyboard at Chetham's School of Music, tutor at the RNCM, Chair of the UK section of the European Piano Teachers’ Association (EPTA UK), editor of ‘Piano Professional’ Magazine.
Mastering a musical instrument takes many years of regular practising. It requires patience, concentration, resilience, will power, determination and a channelling of intellectual resources through excellent co-ordination skills, time management and organisation. That's quite a tall order for your child. Therefore it is important for parents to take an active, dynamic role in their kids' daily musical development. Parents can do so much to help, via stimulation, encouragement, inspiration and motivation. Let's look at key aspects for musical motivation:
1 Make music an important part of family life:
The more music you have in your daily routine as a family the better: Your child's instrumental progress will be positively influenced by constant, extra curricular aural stimulation (have classic FM playing constantly in the kitchen, put radio 3 on for every car journey) family singing (have fun by spontaneously errupting into song in the middle of meals, or simply hum along as you do the housework/gather the kids up for the daily school run first thing in the morning). Movement and dancing are vital regular activities that will yield positive results in time. They are also tremendous fun. Encourage swaying movements, gentle bops in time to TV advertisements or situation comedy theme tunes, and conductor hand-arm movements whenever you hear music! Kinetic involvement is the key. Avoid passive apathy at all costs... Finally and most importantly get the whole family into the routine of going to concerts as soon as possible. Try and choose shorter midday recitals at first, and do not worry if your kids can only sit still for part of the concert at first. Build up to larger, more serious affairs. The point is to keep going, weathering storms and protests. If you stick with it, eventually your children will 'get the concert bug' and enjoy being regular attendees (even if they would never dream of admitting to this!).
2 Make Music Lessons a Family Activity
For very young children in particular it is very helpful to attend as many lessons as possible. As a parent you need to know what your kid's teacher expects, so do keep communication channels open and do take an active role in the lessons. There is nothing more dispiriting for a child than the feeling that Mum and Dad are not interested in what s/he is doing, so if it is not possible to attend lessons, ask if the teacher would mind lessons being recorded. Recorded lessons can be watched with your child and you can then note together what needs to be achieved in the practise sessions before the next lesson. Go over lesson notebooks together. After a lesson ask your child to tell you what happened in the session with the teacher. What was praised? What was especially mentioned as being important to work on for the next lesson? And make regular, informal family music sessions a part of your weekly routine. It is important that every musician in the home plays to the family- even if it is only part of a piece played hands separately at a slow pace. Sharing is a vital activity that humans need to practise if they are to flourish!
3 Embrace technology and the internet
If your children enjoy computer games and camcorders, make these part of their musical development. Search Youtube to find performances of the ABRSM grade pieces your child is preparing, record them playing, get them to record themselves. Consider buying an electronic keyboard if you do not have one already (you can often pick up bargains on e bay and elsewhere) and explore the infinite resources possible. This can include CD backing tracks that are often inserted in the jacket covers of educational sheet music these days- excellent resources for improving co-ordination as well as being tremendous fun.
If your child is struggling with sight reading, aural tests, theory or scales and arpeggios, surf the net for Apps and websites that can offer additional support. Kids that enjoy computer games can become immediately more focused and co-ordinated when tackling theory if it is presented on a computer screen rather than in a text book.
4 Keep Practising inspirational
One of the main reasons kids give up music is that they become overwhelmed with the drudgery of 'decoding' notation. Technical limitations can also become overwhelming, so it is important that there is always an emphasis on quality of sound, musical shaping, ideas, a 'story', dance rhythm or colour(s) in every piece, scale and exercise that you child is preparing. If work begins with inspiration, it ceases to feel like 'work". I do not think we can blame children for becoming demotivated if their practising does not start from a creative, intuitive standpoint. Once a musician has an idea, sound or feeling inside them that they wish to realise, it becomes far easier for them to work on securing the notes, refining intonation and securing memory.
5 Make your music room attractive
It is worth spending time with your family to ensure that the practice areas of your home are places you want to visit and stay in! Give your child as much space as possible. Put favourite photographs, pictures , soft toys and souvenirs next to the music stand. Attractive smells can also encourage practising. Make sure that the practice area in your home is sufficiently warm and comfortable to stay in for long periods at a time.
6 Encourage independent creativity and extra curricular music making
Do all you can to make your children take 'ownership' of music via improvisation, composition, curiosity, independent research, playing by ear and musical games. 'Mucking about' on the piano, playing apparently random clusters and notes, is very helpful and will naturally lead to self expression and even written-out compositions given time. Anyone can start on this by playing clusters on the black notes of the keyboard only with the sustaining (right) pedal held down. playing by ear used to frequently be frowned on in the last century from many teachers, but it provides an excellent means for aural development. It is also a lot of fun. Encourage your children to play at least fragments of their set pieces from lessons in different keys, with different dynamics, touches, moods. Get them literally "playing" as they play their instruments!
7 Embrace carrots and rewards with emotional intelligence
Offering your child a new bicycle if he passes grade 1 trumpet is obviously a dangerous tactic in that it takes the motivation away from music and into a materialistic dimension. The whole issue of rewards is a thorny one: Motivation for music must surely come from music making itself if it is to be truly strong and ultimately self sufficient. Having said that, the judicious offer of treats and 'carrots' after significant landmarks have passed can be used with emotional intelligence by parents as a means to 'reward'.
It should go without saying that all physical punishment is out of bounds when raising children. We should also discourage shouting, threats, emotional blackmail and domestic politics in all manifestations. These are not appropriate as motivational methods for musical progress in the 21st century. I am certain that there are many 'tiger mothers and fathers' out there who will disagree with this. Perhaps their aggressive tactics will work in the short term- in the sense that their children will conform and work to demand. But educational brutality will eventually lead to rebellion and resentment. A real love of music has to be nurtured from within the heart and soul of your child.