Helping Young Learners To Practise

It’s no secret – learning an instrument is a costly endeavour. Firstly, there is the cost of an instrument, then there is the cost of learning materials, the potential cost of fuel to transport learners to their lessons, the cost of time into travelling and practise, the cost of maintaining the instrument, then the cost of lessons on top of that. However, if the experiences we have along the journey of learning are enjoyable and engaging, learning an instrument can be one of the best investments a person can make in their life.

The same can be said about learners of all ages, from the age of 5 (the youngest I have ever taught) right through to people in their 60s (the oldest I currently teach). Where the difference becomes apparent is when we invest in lessons for the pleasure of someone else, specifically a young person.

When we invest in lessons for ourselves, there is usually a reason for it. It’s those reasons that energise and motivate us to strive towards our individual goals. The important point here is that we can identify our goals and we are able to understand the effort required to reach those goals.

When a parent or carer invests in lessons for their child, the case is usually that the parent has little to no instrumental or musical knowledge, and if they do they were put off learning – or simply gave up learning – an instrument many years ago. The parent or carer may feel too inexperienced or even incapable of supporting their child with their practise. This is not the case.

Music is a form of communication. To me, music it is a language. To learn a new word, it’s meaning, it’s spelling, then to apply that new word to our language vocabulary takes time, and crucially repetition. Learning an instrument – if facilitated correctly – should take a similar route to that of language learning. However, the time children spend learning their instrument with their teachers is minute compared to the spare time the learner has at home. To put this into perspective, there are 10,080 minutes in a week, and a child may only spend 20 to 30 of those minutes with a teacher!! That is just under 0.2/0.3% of the overall week.

‘So, how as a parent or career is it that I can help my child practise?’ I hear you cry. Well, I have a solution…

Young children (and a lot of teenagers!) struggle with organising time effectively. They struggle to understand the importance of routine. With young learners, I like to try to encourage their parents to create an opportunity for their children to play their instrument for a minimum of 15 minutes, four times a week. Ideally, this will be at the same time of day on each of the four days. This approach works really well. In fact, one of the parents I teach for has helped their children develop an amazing routine, which basically makes way for guitar practise most days of the week, after breakfast, just before heading out to school. Those learners are absolutely flying with their guitar playing. Not only that, but because they are experiencing the mastery, musical vocabulary and sound they are developing, it is really helping with their self confidence, too. This would not be possible without the parent’s intervention.

In terms of what the child should be practising, it is up to the teacher to provide goals and any necessary materials to help the child progress in their playing, not the parent or carer. If the goals are challenging but attainable, with consistent support and encouragement that learner will prosper. Not only that, they will be able to form a definite passion and identity with their instrument. This will then lead, with time, to more autonomy and motivation from that learner to practise, more intrigue, more self esteem and crucially more resilience.

If the reason you are reading this is because your child is not progressing with their instrument, then it is perhaps time to review their practise routine. Don’t be fearful of involving your child’s teacher with this, too, as they may be able to adjust their lesson delivery or resources to help that learner continue their journey of enjoyment and development.

To conclude, the point that I’m aiming to get to is that without routine, it is impossible to gain a value for money return on investment with lessons on any instrument. All that will happen is that our children will develop a learned helplessness, causing them to visualise something that should be fun and rewarding as boring and unobtainable.

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