Monday Mailbag – Music Practice Tips for Young Children

This week, I received an e-mail from a mother looking for practice advice for her almost-5-year old son, who has been in Suzuki cello classes for about a year. She writes, I know he likes to play, once he gets going and concentrates and is playing. However the practices are becoming a power struggle; he just resists all of my attempts to make it more enjoyable, like accompanying him with piano or having him march/dance with the music. I started this because he just resisted the practice. Part of the problem is his temperament, he is a strong willed child.’

One thing to keep in mind is that most children this age still think concretely, not abstractly. They need specific guidelines so that they know what is expected of them, and those guidelines need to be simple and clear. I would suggest making a chart (like a chore chart) for your son with a list of assignments in the furthest left column; things like:

Listen to CD
Practice bow hold and count to 10
Play new assignment three times
Choose 1 piece to review and play with Mom accompanying
And so on…

In the columns to the right, let him place a sticker or a checkmark, or something, to indicate when he has done that particular assignment. You could do one of these charts per week or month, depending on what you think is best. Once he has accumulated a specified number of stickers/checkmarks, let him invite some friends or family members over to watch him give a mini-concert, or let him download music from a famous cellist (perhaps recommended by his teacher), or…whatever else you think might motivate him!

The important principles at work here are that he understands clearly what he is supposed to do, he is able to take responsibility for his assignments, and he is able to see tangible results as he completes his assignments. Also, I am a firm believer in positive praise. Whether he takes the initiative to go practice on his own, is obedient when you do ask him to practice, or demonstrates that he listened attentively when his teacher instructed him to do something a particular way, be quick to praise his positive behaviors and use those as a reinforcement for areas that need improvement. Praise is much more motivating than correction!

I’m sure there is plenty of other good advice on this area of practicing for young children. I’m hoping some other teachers and/or parents will chime in on this one! What practice tips/advice can you all offer this mom?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail me sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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