Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Music practice - where do you start?

The Littleboys have started piano lessons.

I have to say, week 1 did not go well, at least from Littleboy 1's point of view. It was probably my fault; we were in the middle of the Move, so I picked him up from school, rushed him down to the New House (which we were in the process of moving into) then off to the lesson. So he was both tired and overexcited - a devilish combination with him - and spent most of the first lesson banging on the piano and not listening to the teacher whatsoever. I was mortified, even though the nice East European teacher insisted she was 'used to it'.

The next week, I bribed him with a cookie from the bakery afterwards if he behaved - and he was much better. It's gradually improved; in fact last week he made huge progress, and is now able to bash out a little tune and even draw a treble clef. (Little digression: did you know that in America, they don't talk about crotchets, quavers, minims and the rest? It's all half notes, quarter notes etc. I had assumed this musical terminology was universal, but apparently it's just British).

Littleboy 2 was the keener of the two to play, and his first lesson went well - he listened, did what he was asked and by the end of the half hour was able to identify Middle C. Since then, he's also made some progress - but has also decided that practicing is really not for him. He tends to announce "I'm tired," and put his thumb in his mouth when they idea is mooted (despite having been running around two seconds earlier).

Herein lies the problem - when to find time for piano practice, and how to get them in the right mood? Now I am no Tiger Mother, and distinctly have memories myself of trying to get out of piano practice (and particularly 'cello practice - I played until the age of 16, not particularly well). In fact I even recall taping myself playing for 10 minutes, then sitting reading a comic while the tape played for another 10 minutes, craftily adding up to my 20 minutes allotted practice time. But even I appreciate that they are not going to get very far with playing an instrument if they don't practice - and The Doctor, who is a good musician, says we just have to make time somehow.

It's hard. Littleboy 1 has homework and reading every day now, and if we do another activity after school, it's supper time and homework time before you know it. When we have a free afternoon, it's either a playdate or I just tend to let them play for a bit before homework/suppertime starts- you can't force two lively small boys to come straight in from the schoolbus and start practising the piano. I also know that if you force children to do something they're not in the mood for, they are really going to hate it - and who wants that? We want them to enjoy music, not resent it. When we do have enough time, (for example, yesterday when they had no school due to Columbus Day), the practice went much better - but fitting it in around the normal week is more difficult.

So, I'd appreciate any tips on piano/instrument practice for smaller kids. What time of day works best? Do you have to bribe them (and if so with what?). Do you make them do it every day, or less often - maybe just at the weekend? And how do you strike the balance between being disciplined and making it fun?

22 comments:

PantsWithNames said...

No idea. Adam keeps hinting he'd like piano lessons and I'm in denial - for precisely this reason - I have no idea how we'd fit the practice in around everything else. intrigued to know what you come up with!

Conuly said...

It depends on the kid. Some families find that slotting in 15 minutes of practice works best in the morning when everybody is bright eyed and bushy tailed (and you can maneuver the day slightly by, say, putting him to bed in his school clothes instead of his PJs to save time in the morning, or having him eat a breakfast on the go some days).

Others find it's best before playtime.

Me, I find the nieces do everything better if they take a break in between school and work. Which sometimes means homework gets done after dinner.

Sadly, we can't give advice for everybody because every kid is different.

Try playing around with different times until you find the one that's best for each kid.

Tanya (Bump2Basics) said...

I played violin until 16 and not particularly well either! I really didn't practice enough, and when I took private lessons they were a bit wasted on me because of this.

I have no idea of the solution but maybe it has something to do with them actually enjoying it enough to want to practice, even for 10 mins a day? Then they might consider it more of a treat than a chore...

Iota said...

Little and often. Or even just little! Five minutes or ten minutes at their ages is fine. They can build up in time. If you insist on 20 minutes, then it won't happen.

How about just before the whole bathtime-bedtime routine starts? Or are they very wound up at that time? How about bath, then piano, then stories, then bed?

I must admit I don't have a fixed time. I just fit it in where I can, and I very much go with the "it won't be fun if it becomes a chore" mentality. Better to make slow progress than to start hating it and give up.

I think the key is to find a really fun teacher.

Laughing at you taping your practice and sitting reading a comic instead!

MsCaroline said...

I'm not a fan of doing homework right after school, either (and I'm a teacher); I think kids need some 'down' time after they get home from school.
My boys always did their practicing as part of general homework time (first with piano and later with violin, cello, and trumpet...violin was sooooo painful!)When they were smaller, I sat with them at the piano and we worked together - they seemed to enjoy the one-on-one time with me. You could also consider doing a sticker chart or a reward system. When they get more proficient, practice time can also be an impromptu concert...my kids always loved performing for an audience...oh, and I've never heard of crotchets, quavers or minims, either! New vocabulary for the day!

Expat mum said...

Like Iota, we don't really have a set time, and it it's not every day I don't wig out either. ONe thing I do know from having the teens do violin - if they don't want to practice, it may be because they're not that into it. The 8 year old is taking piano and LOVES it. He practices even when I don't remind him, and rarely complains. Contrast that with the other two who had to be cajoled, bribed and threatened - threatened with me stopping the lessons, and they were the ones who didn't want to stop. (I think it was guilt though.)
My 16 year old has been playing guitar for three years now. First thing he does when he comes in from school is go straight up to his room and play guitar. That's when you know they're really into it.
I suppose what I'm saying is if it's a big battle, why bother? They might come round in a few years.

Muddling Along said...

Depending on how nuts your morning routine is first thing worked well for us when I was small - gets it out of the way before the day starts and avoids post school fights

Jenny said...

10-15 minutes a day either after breakfast or after bath time. That's what works best for us!

Anonymous said...

We used to do 10 minutes or so in the morning before school but then that was working on English school times.

Interesting comment about the names of notes, I too assumed they were universal terms.

Jx

Bush Mummy said...

Where is your piano/keyboard? Ours is in the kitchen so they see it pretty much all the time and do tend to gravitate towards it for a few minutes each day. I tend not to force it as like you say don't want to make it a chore.

Or find another friend to do practise with?

But as someone else has said, maybe don't push it if they aren't showing great interest? My eldest is just ready at seven and a half but there is no way the five year old would play!

Good luck!

BM x

Kit said...

I was also surprised to discover the new identity of crotchets and quavers over here in SA too.
My daughter only started the piano at 10 and she tends to practise with just the occasional reminder for about 10 minutes most days. But she has chosen to play and enjoys it, so it's easy enough. Perhaps just have the piano open and in a space where you are anyway so they will gravitate towards it for five minutes or so while you are cooking or something, as Bush Mummy suggested?

Anonymous said...

One of my 8 year old twin boys is learning piano.He has an amazing teacher(we're in the UK).She uses the Tunes for Ten Fingers books(very easy tunes,pictures) and he's addicted.He has a keyboard in his bedroom(complete with whizzy buttons) and he plays 2 or 3 times a day without me ever telling him too.He loves the books and the keyboard.Have promised to buy him the easy Beatles piano book(and a piano) if he keeps it up. Making it fun and accessible is the key imvho. .Lot's of praise re the 'music' they're creating too

Circles in the Sand said...

Oh I'm laughing at you taping your cello practice! That's hilarious! I remember being 'sacked' by a flute teacher who told my mum I wasn't interested enough and she didn't want to teach me anymore! My mum was so cross with me! But it was on Saturday mornings when all I wanted to do was hang out at the tennis club with my mates looking at all the hot coaches! Love your blog makeover, looks fab!

Home Office Mum said...

no idea. I would love, love, love for my boys to learn music - and they do violin at school (badly) but just getting them to read Biff and Chip books is a nightmare so I can't imagine getting them to practice an instrument.

nappy valley girl said...

Wow, lots of fabulous tips here - and different ideas of when to practice. I think we are going to go with before bath time for the moment and see how it goes. Having said that, Littleboy 1 surprised me by coming home from school the other day and announcing he wanted to practice! (He was still too manic in the lesson, though. Can't have everything).

Knackered Mother said...

Oh man, this makes me feel guilty. We're hopeless at practicing at home...think little and often is the answer. Will start new regime on Monday!

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Half notes, etc, don't sound nearly as poetic, though I suspect they'll be harder to learn. We're doing piano lessons too, and while older boy is loving the lessons (teacher gives stickers...) practice is harder. Our piano is on the first floor so I try and build in a practice, however short, on the way to bath each evening. I get the other children to clap, and he sometimes enjoys making a performance out of it. At other times he really doesn't. Good luck.

Potty Mummy said...

We have the same problem with Boy #1 and guitar. He enjoys the lessons, but getting him to practice is a battle. If we manage 3 x a week (only 10 minutes a time), then I think we're winning... Good luck with working out your own compromise!

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

Wish I had the magic advice. My daughter played cello for about 6 years and enjoyed it, but found practice difficult because it was so much effort just to get the instrument ready. Now she plays piano and will just wander into the room with the piano and start playing at any sort of time in the evening or on weekends and will play for up to an hour. I think that is partly because it's just there waiting to be played, partly because she is older and has caught on quicker (using fun and recognisable tunes helps too), and partly because there's several musicians in the family that enjoy playing or singing (I'm not one of them).

Jo Beaufoix said...

We have it a little easier as Miss E (11) is in Cantamus Training Choir so her instrument is her voice - therefore she can take it anywhere. It's still hard to find 'time' though. I love all the advice here. A little is definitely better than nothing. I was forced into piano lessons and grew to hate them. But then my piano teacher was a witch with a snoring dog. Honest.

Anonymous said...

My son's wonderful piano teacher told me that she paid her kids to practice in the early years. Her point was that in the beginning, your child is learning music because you want her/him to learn. She didn't pay a lot, but enough to make practice rewarding when it wasn't really fun or musical yet. We never paid for report cards in our family, but I did pay for music practice. I'm sure it's not everyone's answer, but it seemed like a reasonable one for us.

Millie said...

Hi! I know I'm commenting on a post that's several months old, so forgive me if this comment is unnecessary, but I've really enjoyed looking through your blog, and this is the first one I can really comment on, so here goes!

I've played the piano since I was 8 years old, and while I'm an adult now and practice everyday (sometimes even for several hours), when I was younger my parents were lucky to see me practice more than once a week, let alone every day. But, they practically had to drag me away from the piano when it was a piece I enjoyed playing! Thankfully, I'm more disciplined now, but maybe it would help if your kids practiced songs they know and like, at least at first. Like if they enjoy singing Christmas carols (easy ones, like Jingle Bells or something), even though Christmas has passed, then maybe you could ask their teacher to show them how to play them on the piano.