t’s the age-old struggle. “I’m paying for lessons, and you’re going to practice!”
As parents, we’ve all been there. If it’s not music lessons, it’s soccer practice. Or doing math homework. Somehow, it often turns into a great gnashing of teeth and eye-rolling and long, drawn-out sighs.
Here’s the thing. If you as a parent want a decent ROI (Return On Investment) for what you’re spending on lessons — time, money, attention — your young student has to practice. Without practice, it’s futile. That’s pretty blunt, but we all know it’s true.
If you take golf or tennis lessons and you don’t practice, you’re wasting your money and your time. If you want to learn woodworking, and you spend a bundle on great gear, but you don’t get out there and make some sawdust and some truly awful cabinets (on your way to making truly great cabinets), you’ll probably end up knowing a lot about woodworking without ever actually being a woodworker.
There’s an old word for that: a dilettante. Don’t be one. Don’t let your child be one.
I wrote a post about how to make sure music (or any other) practicing happens. The advice there is sound. I encourage you to check it out.
The general idea in that article was to actually schedule music practice time the same way soccer practice is scheduled. It’s on the family calendar. Everyone knows that “400-430 is piano time.” By everyone, I mean everyone. Friends, neighbors, teachers, grandparents — anyone who has the potential to be a distraction (even a loving distraction) during that crucial window. The time doesn’t have to be the same every day. It doesn’t even need to be every day.
You and your student need to set up the schedule together, and agree to abide by it. Sign something if you have to. Set up rewards for practice goals met — this isn’t a bribe, it’s positive feedback. A reward for accomplishment. Nothing wrong with that.
And that’s how you get your kids to practice without a fight. You as the parent cede the authority to the calendar. “Don’t get mad at me, get mad at the calendar. This is what you agreed to. The calendar says it’s practice time.” You see? You, the parent, stay cool. Don’t argue. Just point to the calendar.
At your discretion, you can establish consequences for failing to meet practice goals too... but that can backfire. You really don’t want negative associations attached to music practice. In the long run, it doesn’t pay off. Make the rewards good enough, and you won’t need the consequences.
But there’s another facet to the issue. It’s the idea of the “value proposition.”
You must establish the value of music practice in your family relative to other things. Kids are always watching. They’re watching mom. They’re watching dad. They’re calculating where everything in their life stands in relationship to everything else, and they’re looking to their parents for guidance with that calculus.
It’s up to you to set the scale of values in your home. If you want music practice to be seen as valuable, you have to treat it that way. You can think of it in these terms: value is established by “what gets bumped.”
Take soccer practice. That never gets bumped. Except for the dentist. Why? Because if you miss too many practices (and all that fresh air) you eventually get kicked off the team. There’s inherent value in showing up, and real-world consequences if you don’t. So, other things get bumped in favor of soccer practice.
Have you ever left a family event because you had to make a practice? Or a rehearsal for a show? That’s how you demonstrate your value proposition to your child. By what gets bumped.
If you allow other things to bump music practice, you incrementally shove practicing further and further down the family scale of values until it becomes disposable. And your child knows! They’re watching mom. They’re watching dad. They know they can get practice bumped, because it “always gets bumped.”
So it’s up to you. Don’t allow music practice to get bumped by other things. Establish its value by bumping other things in favor of music practice. Seriously. You can even deliberately set up events for the specific purpose of bumping them, to build value for music practice.
You must establish the value of music practice in your family relative to other things.
When I was a kid, I could get my homework done early enough that I could go out and play before dinner. (Remember those days? Do our kids ever have that much unstructured time?) I’d cross the street and ring my friends’ doorbells. Or my friends would ring mine to invite me out to play.
But... my mom made sure they knew not to ring between 400 and 430 every day. That was practice time. Sure, I didn’t always practice during that half-hour. But my friends stayed away anyway. My mom valued piano practice time. She knew her own value proposition. I knew it. The whole neighborhood knew it.
This is the way you have to think to establish a scale of values in your child’s heart and mind. They’re watching what you favor over other things. If you want them to know you value music practice, don’t bump it.
Except for the dentist. Those appointments are nearly impossible to reschedule.