Many parents struggle with getting their child to do guitar practice mostly because they make it complicated. There is in fact a very simple way to motivate your child to practice but it may not be what you were hoping for. You see there is this common held misconception that children should have a passion for music and want to practice and if they don’t we should not force them. As nice and rosy as that sounds its a flawed notion for the most part. Sure, there are those special kids who just have some innate drive to want to practice but its quite rare. I know because I have worked directly and indirectly with thousands of music students from around the world. Think of it like having a child who loves cleaning their teeth, keeping their room clean or doing their homework. If you are the parent of such a child my guess is you are not even reading this right now because your child is happily doing their 30 to 60 minutes of guitar practice in the other room. Thats a good thing because this advice is intended for the parent with the child who doesn’t want to practice. The majority.
Is ‘Force’ really a dirty word?
Its almost politically incorrect today to say you force your child to do anything but its a ridiculous statement. Of course we force our children to do lots of things. Go to school, wash their hands before meals, turn off the TV/Internet etc. In fact I would bet that every single parent forces their child to do things every single day. So lets stop dancing around the idea of forcing our children to practice music and accept it as a reality. YOU MUST FORCE YOUR CHILD TO PRACTICE. Yes I said it and I accept that it may offend some people but they will almost certainly be those rare lucky parents (mentioned above) or, the parents who give up on their child learning music altogether because they don’t see them passionately practicing 30+ minutes a day without ever being told.
Force doesn’t mean physically forcing a child to practice guitar
Lets not confuse discipline with abuse. Parents should certainly be creative and use all the positive tactics in their arsenal (see the G4 Guitar Parent Guide) but if that fails they shouldn’t just give up. The idea of giving up on your child should never even be considered. You wouldn’t give up on your child learning to read so why give up on their music education.
Not every child will respond to positive persuasion
In my experience few parents have the energy for positive style persuasion on a daily basis. Lets just be honest here. It requires a lot of energy and creativity because children are extremely good and persistent at avoiding anything they don’t like doing. My daughter knows there are certain things she must do each day whether she likes it or not yet she still tries to worm her way out whenever possible. Her favourite word is ‘but’. “But I just have to finish this…” or “But I am hungry and I need to eat first”. Parents know what I’m talking about. Occasionally when she is resistant I’ll say to her “If you don’t do guitar practice now there will be no TV later” and she’ll respond with “That’s fine.” I follow up with “I don’t think you understand. You will still be doing guitar practice either way but you either do it now and get TV later or you do it in 10 minutes with no TV.” She reluctantly goes to the practice room and 5 minutes later she is enjoying her practice (most days) and she always feels good by the end.
My message to parents is this.
Don’t fall for the idea that children either have a love for music or they don’t. Music is like reading. For a child to grow a love for reading they must first learn how to read. Its only once they do the work and gain the skill of reading are they then able to discover the magic of books. The same applies to playing a musical instrument. A child must first do the work and usually needs to be pushed to the point where they have the skill and then the love affair begins.