Remember when your elementary school teacher made you write “I will not throw spitballs at my classmates” three-hundred times as punishment for lobbing slime balls at your arch-nemesis? Okay, I’m sure you didn’t actually do that. But I’m sure you’re familiar with this punishment tactic. Writing “I will not…” was not actually the punishment, though. The punishment was the boring, monotonous repetition of the task.
This is a good analogy for how kids feel anytime they have to do a (less-than-amazingly-fun) task over and over… such as practicing a section of a piece of music several times until it improves. It’s just not fun!
Children and teens are still developing intrinsic motivation, and they need coaching to learn that their goals sometimes require work. As much fun as playing his or her instrument might be, repeating those few notes two, five, ten, twenty times may seem like pure torture. Playing start to finish, ignoring any mistakes along the way, is soooo much more fun and rewarding!
Let’s say there is a short passage in a piece that your child’s teacher has asked him or her to play ten times in a row each day. Here’s what is probably going through your child’s mind: “This is going to take forever and be impossible! I’ll be up all night so I’m just not going to bother!”
So how can you help your young musician get over this hurdle?
- Gather ten things: ten Matchbox cars, ten crackers, ten pennies, ten stickers, etc. Set them on one side of the piano or music stand.
- Every time your child plays through the passage, have him or her move one object to the other side (or eat it, if it’s food)
- Repeat until all ten objects are gone!
- Through this process, praise your child for how each repetition is getting better and better!
Why does this “game” help? Visually seeing the objects move makes the process very concrete, rather than abstract. Your child is literally seeing and feeling the repetitions pass by – and that is rewarding!
For students who are concerned about how long practicing takes:
When your child begins his or her first repetition of the section, secretly start a timer on your phone. After the last repetition, stop the timer and show your child just how little time the process actually took. He/she will likely be surprised! Remind your child that each time this “game” is played, it will get quicker and quicker!
For the student who likes to move & groove:
If you have a child who is high energy and benefits from physical movement, replace the objects with ten cards, each with a movement written on them: jump three times, spin in a circle, do a push up, etc. After each repetition, he or she completes the movement on one card, then sets it aside. This added movement enhances the fun of the “game,” and may help him or her learn the passage better because of the increased physical activity.