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Parents and Music Lessons Violin Lessons for Kids

How to Take the Migraine Out of Music Practice

The kids just hopped in the car on the way back from school and already the complaining begins. “I don’t want to practice music, it’s boring.” Once home, the the arguments pick up steam as notebooks and music are nowhere to be found. Finally the practice begins, through your kids gnashing teeth and still grumbling.

At this point even you are thinking: “I’m growing to hate this, and yes, it is boring. Truly, I’m tired of all the fighting. Maybe music isn’t for us. It’s weird, some families are doing just fine with their lessons”

Music’s Cancerous Warning Sign

When a student complains (or even fails to complain) of real boredom, it catches my ear and raises a red flag. Boredom is real, and it makes no sense to pretend it doesn’t matter. Kids won’t improve when they’re bored. Eventually they’ll quit music altogether, whether we like it or not.

Sometimes boredom is the result of “shutting down” when we feel completing a task is beyond our reach. In this case students tend to practice in a zombie-like endless repetition, without interest or engagement. Obviously, progress in this mode is painfully slow. More often, boredom during practice results from lack of variety or lack of challenge. Young or old, spending your day bored can poison any part of life, music practice included.

Talent Is Not Genetic

Plenty of kids no different than yours love and adore everything about their music experience. They’re zooming through their assignments and performing on stage with ease. They get their practicing done with a minimum of fuss, and wean their parents from the practice process at an early age.

What some parents call “talent” is simply identifying problems clearly and then quickly finding a solution that brings about a small improvement, on the spot.

Flip This Switch and Practice Changes Overnight

It’s simple. Practice only to improve, and to make progress right now! Set up your kids for easy success. Start with small problems, and short sessions, and let them enjoy their accomplishments in the moment. Do this every day and soon the practice habit becomes a pleasure.

Here’s what doesn’t work: shut your kid in a room for 30 minutes with a vague instruction about “learning your song.”

Start at Your Very Next Practice Session

  • Before beginning a practice session make sure you and your kids know the “big picture” goal(s). Normally these goals will be provided by your music teacher, making it important to take good notes during the lesson. Never begin a practice session without a clear picture of the specific results you’re working for.
  • I’ve found that during practice, a constant and clarifying “self-talk” can make all the difference. Ask your young student “are you practicing that spot for tone, rhythm or pitch?” a few dozen times, and he/she will begin to internalize that strategy.
  • Build a “library” of problem solving routines or drills. These drills help you break down large problems into smaller pieces. Every teacher uses these drills, so pay attention during the lesson, and you’ll pick up some great ideas. Eventually, you’ll become adept at inventing your own drills, perfect for the musical problem at hand.
  • Get kids inspired by exposing them to great music and musicians. Enjoy live concerts and videos. Give kids a role model, and a sense that music is more than just practice and lessons.
  • Fill out a practice journal. Celebrate accomplishments in the moment and in writing. Make note where you need help from your teacher.
  • Most of all, make music a daily priority. The rewards come when you decide that practice is on your “short list” of important projects. Go deep with this one project, and reduce the clutter of an over-busy life driving from one activity to another. Ironically, life can become richer by doing less.

A key thing to remember is that as much as the subject matter in my studio is centered around songs and the instrument, what I really want to teach is the ability to improve through practice. It’s a skill that is transferrable to any subject matter or goal in life.


What do you think? Have ideas like this worked for you?

By Bill Alpert

Bill Alpert is a performer, teacher and author with a unique focus on personal development and mindfulness viewed through the lens of violin study. Mr. Alpert's resume includes recordings, performances and film scores with artists such as The Moody Blues, Pepe Romero, Tina Turner and Johnny Mathis. The co-founder of the award winning Alpert Studio of Voice and Violin in California, he is professionally active in the American String Teachers Association and the Suzuki Association of America.

4 replies on “How to Take the Migraine Out of Music Practice”

These are very good tips. I think focusing on making practice fun is very important to success with children and their instruments! Finding the right music practice games has proved to be a great help for my students.

I agree wholeheartedly! Please share some of you favorite practice games with us, Sue!

Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life. This is the way we do it at my studio, [link removed.]

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