Thursday, October 02, 2008

Music Practice

Sometimes I just have to spout off when someone hits one of my hot buttons. Today is one of those times. I read in "Dear Abby" some advice for parents who have a six year old who didn't want to practice her piano. Imagine that!

Mom thought the girl should be denied her bedtime snack if she did not practice. Dad thought the girl should be responsible and suffer the consequences if she doesn't do it. And, Abby thought you should "talk" to the girl and maybe see if she would enjoy a different instrument.

I disagree with all three. Let me explain and then I'll give my own suggestions. First of all, denying a snack is a punishment that does not seem to fit the crime. If a child is hungry, he/she should be able to eat. Secondly, the benefits of music practice are usually so far down the road that no 6 year old is going to see the value.

Lastly, reasoning with a young child over this is like negotiating with our Congress to get bipartisan agreement. What about a different instrument? Skill on any instrument takes time. The grass is always greener on the other side. If we allow our children to flip from one instrument to another, we deny them the experience of persevering and accomplishing a difficult task.

So, does that mean we have to fight through this for who knows how many years? Absolutely not. Music can be an enjoyable thing for the child as well as the parent.

To begin with, it helps if the parent is interested in music also. It is never too late to take up an instrument. Young children naturally value the same activities their parents do. When children see a parent practicing and learning, they realize that it is an important skill.

Reading biographies of great composers is also a way to interest and encourage children in music. There are also great picture books, such as Mole Music, about music practice. Your library and children's section of a bookstore will have many of these.

Along with reading, listening to music inspires children. They love to move to the music and sing along. Turn off the TV, videos and computers and turn on the music. All kinds. Have fun with them. Go to recitals and meet the performers. Visit a university music department, attend a university concert and meet their faculty. Most music professors enjoy sharing their passion with children.

Find the right teacher. Teaching methods and personalities differ. It helps to find a good match.

Making music a family affair brings the most joy. Attend your child's lesson and help him remember the details. Clap rhythms, count out loud and play duets. Practice together and make this a special time. Real fun happens when the family can form an ensemble and have a jam session.

Making music useful and social will be what helps our children carry it through life. Play in nursing homes, at church, for grandparents or talent shows. Find friends to play with or have occasional group lessons.

Lots of praise tells the child this is a valuable activity. Practice sometimes requires long, tedious, lonely hours so encourage those little ones.

This practice can serve as therapy for the child also. Music changes and heals us. It provides stress relief when approached in a positive way.

In addition to all of the other reasons for persevering, music aids in brain development. Recent studies have "found significant correlations between the number of years of instrumental music instruction and academic achievement in math, science and language arts."

Music is so important that when all else fails, a parent could resort to rewarding the child for practicing rather than punishing for not practicing. Whether the reward is monetary or time with a video game, music learned will be the reward in years to come.



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