Dear Dr. Rene,
My seven-year-old son has been taking piano for six months. The first several months came easy to him, and he was happy to practice. Now that the learning is requiring a bit of effort, he grumbles about the practice. How can I encourage him to practice without being all ‘tiger mom’? I’d like to instill a small sense of obligation and self motivation.
Nancy G., mom of 2
It’s great that he enjoyed the first several months, and there are lots of things you might try to encourage ownership and add enjoyment moving forward.
- Set reasonable expectations and times – At seven years old you might expect 20 minutes a day, five days a week. You could offer to break this into two 10-minute stretches if that fits. It may be helpful to have a chart by the piano where he can check off his practice times.
- Give choices – It may be helpful to give him choices. Give choices about when to practice, either before or after snack, right after school or right after bath. Give choices about the order of things within, either scales first or review last weeks song.
- Add fun – As he is practicing, sometimes sit for a recital, sing along with songs, record songs to play back or send songs to others over the phone. Every fourth lesson, our piano teacher would play musical notes UNO with the girls. I think she made the cards herself but the girls loved it.
- Avoid rewards but occasionally build in things that are related – I’d avoid things like stickers and start charts, but it’s fine to occasionally give related things. As he is practicing, this might be a new piano book or downloading new music. It’s better to give as a surprise, rather than something to work towards.
- Go on related outings – Take him to see an orchestra. If you are in Northern Virginia, take him to The Fish Market on the early side of piano night. My girls loved going there for an appetizer dinner and listening to everyone sing along with the piano player.
- Highlight practicing – When the girls were little it took them each about 3 summers of swim lessons to be able to swim across the big pool. We reference that often when it comes to practicing new skills. When Alicen bumped up against multiplication tables in third grade, we compared this to swim lessons. It takes a lot of effort over a period of time to master a new task, but eventually it becomes easy.
- Swap for practice – Once in a while, you might let him stay up 20 minutes late if he is practicing, or you might let him out of a daily chore for practicing.
- Give descriptive praise – When you give praise, be sure you are praising his effort, “you learned every note,” process, “you can play those scales so fast,” progress, “you know it better this week than last,” or effort, “you practiced everyday this week.” Avoid praising outcomes, “what a pretty song. I like that!”
Hopefully something in here helps!