Written by Doctor G

Piano Practice Arguments

Our 9 year old son has been taking piano for the last 2 ½ years (summers off) and his teacher wants him to practice 40 minutes a day. He loves lessons but it’s an argument to get him to start practicing and to stick with it. What do you suggest?

A workshop-attending Dad in Pittsburgh, PA

A: What is the purpose of piano lessons? Or tennis or language lessons or any other weekly enrichment type of program? The point is to explore a new area, develop interests and learn to acquire a skill. For the vast majority of children, these lessons are not going to create a child protégé. Hopefully the lessons will help a child to broaden their horizons a little, learn from a new adult, learn more about themselves.

After you have chosen an activity for (and hopefully with) your child, it is time to consider how much that activity should impact his week. This is the “practice” part.

Practice is hard. It is often less rewarding and a lot more boring than the weekly lesson. It involves repetition and mistakes and very little stimulation or feedback. The gratification is delayed.

All these truths are what make learning to practice such a good life lesson for kids. Read that paragraph again and think about a job you had (or have). Think about parenting. Practice is good… practice for real life.

Practice is valuable in and of itself. It makes us better at the skill. Dedication to practice makes the payoff (recital, game, performance) more polished and more rewarding. Practice is often necessary even if there will be no reward – think of fire drills, dinner cooking, laundry folding.

Kids should learn to practice. It will help them study, help them delay gratification, help them excel at other things later in life.

All that’s great, but parents need realistic expectations. Forty minutes of practice a day is too much for most nine year olds. His teachers at school would never expect him to sit and attend to the repetition of one task for forty minutes every day without a break. He doesn’t want to sit down to start because he is pretty sure he’ll fail to meet the expectations. I understand that his piano teacher wants forty minutes a day. The piano teacher is thinking about piano – you are thinking about your son.

Sit with your son and talk about piano. You are ahead of the game since he enjoys his lessons. Use that as motivation, ask him how long he thinks he can sit down and practice at a time without difficulty. Come up with a plan you can both live with (I suggest aiming for two 15 minute practice sessions a day as a goal) and try it for a week. Agree to meet at the end of the week to reevaluate the solution.

This way you are fostering great problem-solving skills. You are supporting your son by understanding his developmental level and also maintaining your dedication to teaching him the important skill of practicing!

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