Developing Practice Independence

What can they do on their own?

Parents want to help. But we don't always know how to cultivate independence in practicing. 

Students can easily get stuck if left to their own devices. This results in missed practice sessions, and lack of progress between lessons.

But when I talk about this in lessons, it often results in parents telling their children, “See, you need to practice more.” The problem with this quick-fix approach is that they are expecting their child to be independent, without first giving them the tools.

We wouldn't expect a child instantly to know how to walk or ride a bike when first learning that. And yet we can stick an instrument in their hands and say "Practice!" as though they know what to do.

I want to empathize here with all the parents who are trying  to figure this out. I am a parent and I have children who are trying to incorporate practicing into their busy schedules. This is hard!

We try mightily to balance and multi-task, reminding our children to practice while attending a myriad of other responsibilities, including working from home, taking care of other siblings, making meals, managing households, figuring out transportation, and on and on.

It would be great if we had a clear, linear path to helping our children practice on their own. The good news is that this is possible.

In the next series of posts I will share seven practical steps that will assist you in guiding your child to greater independence:

  1. Set a start and end time and stick to it every day
  2. Have a strategy for tuning
  3. Use a timer for each element of practice
  4. Make a listening station in the practice area
  5. Use a practice chart
  6. Have a system for figuring out notes (click here to see finger charts for example)
  7. Know what to do when they run out of things to do

I'll take each of these in turn. Let's start with the first one:

Set a start and end time and stick to it every day

I believe that this is the first and most important habit in the journey toward practice independence. If a child knows when she is supposed to practice and for exactly how long, she will be more likely to do it, and do it consistently.

The three times that I have found are most effective are:

  • Right before school (have breakfast first)
  • Right after school (have a snack first)
  • Right before bed (as a cooling down routine)

Pick one of these that is the most realistic, and see you and your child can stay with it for one full week. If you find that you chose an unrealistic plan, that’s ok, just choose another time and try that for another week.

For example, I have a father and son who practice together at the end of the day, and really like this time. If done as a way to bring centeredness and calm to the child, it can be very effective. But if it feels like cramming one more thing in to a child's tired brain at the end of a long day, it would be counterproductive and stressful. You know your child best.

Managing willpower

Not knowing when the practicing is going to happen leaves too much to chance. Or better said, it leaves too much to a child’s willpower. We only have so much willpower in one day. A child often has to spend his willpower during the day at school, sitting through math class, or simply behaving quietly. It takes willpower to decide to practice, instead of watching TV. When you decide together to set a time beforehand, no energy has to be expended in the moment. The decision making is already done.

Taking care of your mental health

For your own sake, you need to set a specific start and end time for your child’s practice. This will give you peace of mind for two reasons: 1) You will know when the practicing will happen, so that you aren’t worrying about it at other times, and 2) You won’t have the feeling like practicing is in conflict with other things like homework, family time, down time, chore time, or bed time.

Use Rewards

You will go farther toward reinforcing good choices about practicing by using rewards. Every time your child honors the set practice time, be sure they know they have earned a tally mark or some other tangible item of reward. For more on this see Practice Tip #5 - Use Rewards

Remember, The time of day matters!

Empower your child to find an independence by helping them choose - and honor - a set time for practicing.

What has worked for you in the area of developing practice independence? Please share your feedback by leaving a comment.