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Parents: You may be asking your child the wrong question

In my last post to parents, I discussed the role of the parent and your importance in your child’s music education. Here, I will go a little deeper and offer to you, as a parent, some suggestions on how you can take direct steps to support and help your child. It doesn’t matter if you have a music background or not and it doesn’t take much effort or time on your part. Also, it helps you stay actively involved with your child’s development and allows you to experience your child’s growth.

Change what you're asking

The most common question that I hear music parents ask their child is: Did you practice? Unfortunately, that question is generally not enough. One may get a ‘Yes’ and then everyone moves on - but really, there’s no effective support there. Instead, here are four questions to consider asking:

  1. Are you working on what the teacher asked?
  2. Are you engaged in practice, utilizing modern practice aids?
  3. Are you taking time to play what you like to play?
  4. Are you practicing enough and spending time in the right areas?

I'll explain the importance of each question and how you can get answers to them.

1. Are you working on what the teacher asked?

Every week, your music teacher will have likely provided a list of assignments to work on. However, it is actually common for students to only complete a subset of those assignments. The current assignments are important though. They are what the child is learning and the next steps in your child’s development - essentially, what you’re paying for each week.

There may be various reasons for not practicing the current assignments and some are legitimate: one assignment is difficult and takes up a lot of time leaving no time for others; we inevitably like to work on things that are easier or more fun first; there may be outstanding questions that need to be answered before continuing, etc. But over the course of a week, your child is expected to get to all of the current assignments - at least once. So, on any given day, one of these reasons may exist, but when this happens repeatedly, unbeknownst, the student actually ends up not practicing some current assignments the whole week. Worse, this skipping behavior becomes a habit.

Skipping may some times be inevitable, but the student can use some help to know what was skipped, so they can come back to it.

We developed the weekly current assignment report to counter this behavior. It quickly goes through the last few days to see which assignments the student has or has not practiced. If the student is prone to skipping then this tool is vital for modifying the behavior. Your child can check this at the beginning of each practice and you can as well if you need to provide a nudge.

2. Are you engaged in practice, utilizing modern practice aids?

Practice is hard work and often very repetitive. However, there is now a wealth of new practice aids available that make practicing more fun and effective. Stuff we never had, unfortunately, when we were younger. Here are some examples:

Video Tutorials - as discussed in our article on Generation Z, children now are very comfortable watching a video and learning. Video tutorials are a great complement to lessons and offer a way for students to learn at their own pace, watching and rewatching as needed.

Playalong - part of the joy of playing music is playing along with others. With audio and video backing tracks, your child can enjoy playing along with a recording. This makes practice not only fun, but it helps with keeping time and developing skills very quickly.

Recording - musicians will need to develop the ability to listen and think critically about how they are playing. Using recordings, students can listen to their own playing. This will give them a different perspective on how they are playing and get a better understanding of where they need improvement.

These are just a few of the practice aids available in the Better Practice app. When the student is utilizing these tools, the practice experience becomes richer, more interactive and insightful. Using our weekly practice view, students, parents, and teachers alike can see which aids are being used as a measure of how interactive their practice is.

3. Are you taking time to play what you like to play?

This question is not so obvious but in some ways, may be the most important one. As parents, we’re spending all this time and money on our child to learn to play an instrument, but are they given the opportunity to actually play? Imagine if your child did soccer drills everyday for years but never got the chance to actually play a game, let alone scrimmage. Sadly, some students spend all of their time working on developing the next technique, the next assignment, etc. that they become very skilled, but never learn to play for enjoyment. Encourage your child to take time and just play. Play their favorite songs from a past lesson or performance. Try to learn their favorite song on the radio. If the student is not enjoying the experience, eventually they will want to quit.

We provide a view into how much time is being spent on ‘work’ and how much time is being spent in other areas. Also, to ensure your child is playing for fun, periodically, sit down and have your child play the music that he likes for you. This will create many memorable moments around music for you and your child.

4. Are you practicing enough and spending time in the right areas?

This is essentially the original ‘Did you practice?’ question but in another form. However, it’s no longer the only and most important question; it is now just a secondary one. If the student is doing well on the first three questions, then inevitably, they will do well here. This is important to note. The practice emphasis is on the what and the how well. How long and how much will come for free. Nevertheless, good balance is important. Playing for fun is important but shouldn’t squeeze out current assignments and vice versa.

Better Practice offers a different view that shows you the distribution of what has been practiced and how much. This allows you and your child to calibrate how the time is spent to ensure that it is spent wisely.

Unlike the traditional, ‘Did you practice?’ question, these four will help you gain a better understanding of where your child is at and how you may be able to provide added support. Also work with your teacher on what she expects and what she would like to see. Your involvement will lead to a more satisfying and successful music education experience for everyone.

Do your kids just shrug their shoulders when you ask them questions? Is hunting for answers harder than hunting for Pokémon? If so, then Better Practice is for you. With our insights, you'll be able to get your answers and more. It makes it simple to be involved in your child's musical development. We have a variety of easy-to-use tools to help you track and understand your child's practice!