One of the most fascinating parts of my job as a music teacher is witnessing the different ways that the parents encourage and promote the musical development of their students. I’ve had parents who approach music lessons as a sort of “educational play-date” for their kids - not trying to overemphasize the work it takes to play music, and not seeing a need for any serious study or practice outside of the lesson itself. I’ve also had parents who have enforced strict practicing regimens on their students of an allotted number of minutes at the same time everyday. I’ve had parents request that I only teach their students music written by Classical composers. And I’ve had parents request that their students only learn contemporary pop music.
Some of these strategies have worked for the parents, and others have not. It is interesting to note that the success of these tactics have been based heavily on the tendencies of the students. There is no “one-size fits all” solution to helping a student engage in music. Over time, however, I’ve noted some common approaches that most parents of accomplished music students have used. So based on those observations, I’ve put together a list of 7 ways to promote a self-motivating love for playing music within your student.
1. Stay up to date with what your student is learning in lessons.
Your involvement in the learning process is essential. Make sure you know the goals that have been set for your student, and create a plan on how those goals will be reached. As an adult, you have more experience with tracking progress and reaching goals in the time allotted. So, for example, if your student has to learn two pieces for the next recital, make sure they are using their practice time wisely to make sure both pieces will be ready in time.
2. Know your student’s musical interests, and make sure they are getting a balanced education.
Learning "the classics" is important for a growing musician, but it is more important for a student to connect with the music they play. Focus first on helping your student relate music to their lives. Encourage them to write original compositions as well as listen to and play music that interests them, but also help them see the value in playing repertoire that will challenge them technically and broaden their musical horizons. All this aids in the process of finding their musical identity, helping them to view themselves not just as students, but as musicians. The balance is everything, and your role in facilitating that balance is crucial.
3. Think creatively on how to help your student want to practice.
As a parent, you’re fighting an uphill battle when your student constantly drags their feet over to the piano bench to practice. It is important that your student is seeing the benefit of practicing music. The three components to think about when fostering healthy practicing habits in your student are: 1) Motivation (“why am I practicing?”), 2) Gratification (“do I like what I’m practicing?”), and 3) Achievability (“can I accomplish what I’m practicing?”). So, think creatively on how you might help your student in each of those three areas.
4. Find a teacher that helps your student understand and connect with music.
Albert Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” That could not be more true in music. When a good teacher teaches music, they are not just showing the student how to play the notes on the page; they are helping them understand why the music sounds the way it does, what the composer did to make it the way it is, and how they can do the same thing in their music writing. Professional musicians have a well-rounded connection with music, so it’s great to help students start down that path early.
5. Get your student playing music with their peers.
This one gets overlooked a lot, especially when a student is solely involved in private lessons and not a school music program. But think about it: What great musician never played in an ensemble? The growth that happens within a student while playing in a band is priceless to their development as a musician. When students participate in ensembles, they learn what it takes to set a goal and achieve it as a group, they develop communication skills both verbally and musically, they discover how to fulfill the different roles of a soloist and an accompanist, and most of all they gain invaluable experience contributing to something bigger than themselves. Have your student join an ensemble with like-minded peers, and they will motivate each other to grow musically.
6. Celebrate the little accomplishments.
Growth in music is a never-ending climb up a mountain with no peak. And that can either be a rewarding journey where the view gets better and better as they go, or it can be a daunting realization that paralyzes students before they start climbing. That’s why it’s so important as a parent to remind your student to look around once in awhile to see how far they’ve come.
7. Take them to see great music performances.
Continuing with the “mountain climb” analogy, one of the best motivators that will keep a student climbing is seeing the accomplishments of other musicians who are further up the mountain than they are. Take your student to see professional musicians of all different types. Take them to a violin concerto at a concert hall, a jazz concert in a park, a rock show, a parade with a marching band, and anything else you can think of. Music is meant to be experienced, so find out which experiences motivate your student most.
As I said, there is no singular, streamlined approach to making your student love playing music, but there are several ways to help promote that love to develop within your student. So, figure out what helps your student the most, and be consistent and diligent in your efforts to become the best musician that they can be. Remember that the expert in anything was once a beginner, so who knows what your student might accomplish!
- John Gotsis, Owner and Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy