Musical instruments, children, parents, practice, and enjoyment

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Every year millions of parents decide to encourage the musical talents of their children with an enormous investment in lessons and instruments but apparently with little thought for the time and type of encouragement required to translate that investment into skill and enjoyment.

The question for parents becomes: How do I feed my child's initial interest in music, keep parental pressure during practice time at a minimum, and encourage self-motivation?

My seven-year-old began music study at an early age, so it was necessary for me to be directly involved with her practicing and her lessons. We went to violin lessons together and used some of our ''togetherness'' time for practicing. Since I do not play the violin, I had the pleasure of learning about something new with my child, and she enjoyed developing a skill that I did not have.

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Like half the women in this country, I am a working mother. My time at home is limited and the time I spend with my daughter must be quality time, that is, time when she receives my love, care, and undivided attention. We use ''our'' practice time as part of that quality time.

Today she is very proud of her accomplishments as a violinist and has already learned that practice and persistence yield results.''

It seems to me that children who have little expected of them learn to expect little of themselves. They will learn to be proficient at arithmetic, reading, spelling, and music only when we encourage and praise these accomplishments. We show our respect for children when we expect something of them.

We also demonstrate our values to our children in the way we invest our time. When we are willing to help with homework or music practice, we are showing the importance we attach to these things.

If you decide that music lessons are important and your child shows equal inclination and talent, you need to find positive ways of encouraging persistence rather than negative responses such as: ''These lessons are costing me $15 an hour so you had better practice.''

Few children, if any, rush home every day, whip out their instrument, and start practicing. Most have a normal reluctance to choose a task that requires concentration if they could choose something like TV, which requires little of them.

One method for getting around that is routine. As a friend explains:

''My daughter practices at about the same time each day, and we incorporate a number of pleasurable qualities in the practice time. We play games during practice like, 'I'll bet that you don't know the name of this note.' My daughter loves to prove me wrong.

''We have made innumerable little music books which contain musical questions , some easy and a few difficult, which she loves to answer. We also decorate these books with pictures and smiley faces.

''If we have a cheerful practice time, I often let her choose special desserts, within reason, which she may have after dinner, or fun snacks, if it is not too close to dinner, such as 10 raisins or 5 chocolate chips.''

The point is that one should be creative about practice time and how it is spent. Aim for 30 minutes of practice together but allow it to extend itself to suit each of your moods and goals for that day.

Every practice session will not always be wonderful, and you should try not to bring your concerns and frustrations to ''togetherness time.''

Music lessons mean a commitment that goes beyond the cost of lessons and instruments, a commitment of time, patience, and encouragement to develop self-esteem, talent, and self-discipline.

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