“I cannot get her to practice at ALL. Help!”

bigstockphoto_Special_Keyboard_-_Help_39076I received this email from a parent regarding practice. “HI,      My five year old began guitar (acoustic) lessons approx 4 months ago. She begged for months and was very excited when she got her guitar. She does well in her lesson and seems to enjoy her hour w her teacher. I cannot get her to practice at ALL, however. EVER. I’ve thought about taking lessons with her, as I enjoy music and have always wanted to learn guitar, yet I don’t want to insert myself in HER activity?  I recently saw an article/blog you wrote that seemed to recommend that? What do you think? I will take any advice you have for me.  I think she has great potential and really don’t want to “let” her quit just bc she won’t practice.  Help!”    My reply Thank you for your email. You are obviously a great parent because have decided to find a way. Many parents simply give up at this point believing that if their child doesn’t like practice there is no point pushing them. The reality is very few young children will want to practice. I have been working with children for 28 years and it did initially take a few years to learn and understand the best approach. BTW I am currently teaching my own 3 year old daughter who can you see in action here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aQz-RZ6YQo Learn guitar yourself    Learning guitar yourself is definitely a good option for a few reasons. Firstly you are a role model for your daughter so she is more likely to see playing guitar as part of growing up. Secondly you will better understand the learning process and how your daughter feels. Daily practice is a discipline and is not always easy. Fun and rewards So when it comes to practice we need to combine fun with discipline. Learning anything requires focused effort and children much prefer play. If they sense guitar is work they won’t want to do it so our first strategy is to turn practice into a game and this requires a bit of creativity. You will of course need to sit with your daughter on every practice session for now. Over time once the routine is established you will be able to back away. To turn practice into a game you use small rewards based on what your daughter likes. With my daughter I give her sultanas and stickers. I also let her watch some Tinkerbell for 10 mins at the end if she does well. The trick is to put have small incentives and rewards that turn every challenge in to a game. Generally when I teach I work out a plan with each parent. Discipline The fact is making guitar a game is rarely if ever enough. Discipline is required. Now when it comes to discipline many parents find this challenging because they worry that if they force their child they will make a negative association to learning guitar and will end up hating it. The way I explain it is like most things children ‘have to’ learn. E.g. reading, writing, cleaning teeth, eating healthy foods. As parents we rarely compromise in these areas. I recently saw a show where the mother allowed her child to eat whatever he wanted. When he reached 18 years he was declared one of the fattest people in America. Children learn self discipline from parents. Guitar time With my daughter (Mia) we do guitar time at 5pm each day. She usually doesn’t want to do it at first (as she would rather play with her dolls) but she knows it is part of her routine. About 10 mins before I remind her that its guitar time. I never ask “do you want to do guitar?” anymore than I ask whether she wants to clean her teeth which she dislikes doing. I simply state that we are about to do guitar so be ready. I then give her choices like “Today would you like sultanas or stickers?” Routine Once the practice is underway Mia will sometimes resist or mess around or even cry. When this happens I don’t reward this behaviour with attention as it reinforces it. I simply ask her to keep focusing her attention back on the task at hand and use positive reinforcement like “You are really good at this one.” I also go through a similar routine of practice so she knows what is coming. I always begin with the familiar to build confidence. If she gets frustrated with an exercise I will go back to an easy one to rebuild confidence. Each child is a little different so I would need to see your daughter to understand the actual dynamics. Can I ask does your daughter have a teacher or has she had a teacher in the past? David J Hart

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