In my last few blogs I have looked at a number of aspects of music practice with the hope of getting the the very core of the issue – namely, that if it is productive and fulfilling, a child is much more likely to enjoy it. Once that stage is reached, we’re in business. In reality, however, parents know that it’s not necessarily as easy as that! At this point I must put my hand up and acknowledge that I have four sons, three of whom are excellent musicians – so I do have experience on both sides of the equation.
In terms of encouraging our children to practise, there is one thing which I believe can have a significant impact which is, quite simply, to take an interest. My parents spent many hours just sitting in the same room when I practised as a child – sometimes reading the paper, sometimes just listening, and sometimes helping when asked – and I was always hugely encouraged by the fact that they took such an interest in what I was doing. I have known many ‘non-musicial’ parents of pupils who have done the same, and who have in fact learned a great deal as a result of entering into the learning process with their child. The “I’m not a musician so I can’t help them, I just leave them to get on with it” approach will rarely encourage a child to succeed, and will actually tend to make practice feel even more isolating.
All children are different of course, and they also change, sometimes very rapidly! There may be times when the last thing our child needs is their parent interfering, or wanting to hear them play – or even worse, sing! We need to be sensitive to this, but at the same time we also need to keep that avenue open for when they are ready to share with us again.
If a child doesn’t want to practise, they will come up with the excuses, we know that! Some may be genuine, of course, but many stem from the fact that they just don’t enjoy it; which brings us back to the initial point – can they see that their practising makes a difference? Do they feel empowered? And the answer to this question, in mind my at least, lies principally with just one person: their teacher.
I’ve just looked up the difference between an instructor and a teacher, and found the following:
An instructor shows you how to do something. A teacher leads you down a path of understanding, opening doors along the way and pointing you down new paths which you never knew existed.
My instinct is that it is my responsibility, as the teacher, both to show them how to practise effectively, and also to inspire them to want to do this. I suspect that I fail quite a lot of the time – it’s not an easy thing to do, and it requires huge patience and commitment. But this is my always my principal aim. Along the way we will learn all of the other things – technique, musicianship, hopefully a few pieces too – but all of these come alongside a deep desire simply to be a musician and to enjoy all that this entails, and including the process of getting there … which we call practice!