Take the last word in that title and replace it with any number of musical instruments: guitar, trombone, bass, violin, piano, etc. The list goes on.
We get that question quite frequently from parents whose children begin taking adaptive lessons from one of our therapists. Seems like it really starts to pick up this time of year as the holidays draw near; a shiny new instrument can be the perfect present to leave under the tree!
But...does he really need it?
What if he decides he doesn't like it anymore? What if he never uses it?
What if it suffers the same fate of the many pieces of expensive exercise equipment advertised on daytime television?
What if it just becomes an expensive dust collector?
You (and your child) have got to be committed!
The exercise equipment analogy isn't too far off. Instruments can be expensive, large, and frequently their very existence is entirely forgotten.
But just like those workout DVD's or that treadmill, rarely is it the instruments fault!
Buying an instrument, just like buying workout equipment, is merely the first step of the process. Now comes the hard part: committing to practicing.
Just like working out, you're not likely to get results from practicing an instrument once a week during a lesson. To build and expand skill sets, you must practice that skill on a consistent schedule. This is hard to do without the proper equipment at home.
Wait for the right time
All that being said, it probably isn't the greatest idea to go out and buy the most expensive keyboard you can find the day after your child's first lesson.
Wait a few weeks, or even months, to make sure they buy in! We do our part to get our clients excited about music, but sometimes they're not ready for the self-direction required to practice at home. That's okay! We'll tell you if that's the case.
But just because a child or teenager can practice at home doesn't mean they will. In fact, it's more likely they won't do it on their own. Practicing is a new routine and habit to learn, and none of us are very good at that without a little help.
What can I do to get my child to practice?
- Make practice a part of their responsibilities: If your child has chores to attend to, homework to do, or practices to attend, make practicing their instrument part of those responsibilities! Many parents fear that this will result in their child learning to dread practice time, but without some firm direction most children and teens will be struggle with building new habits/routines
- Be informed: Know what your child should be working on, and ask them specifically about it. All of us, kids included, are more productive when we have specific goals in mind. Don't tell yourself "I need to run today," tell yourself "I need to run 2 miles today," and you're more likely to get it done.
- Set reasonable expectations: Some kids just aren't ready to practice 30+ minutes a day everyday, so expecting them to do just that is unfair. For some, just practicing once for 10 minutes during the week is a big accomplishment! Or maybe they need to break up their practice time into smaller segments (two 10 minute sessions rather than one 20 minute session). That said:
- Treat completing practice assignments like the accomplishment that it is! When you first start any new activity, you need lots of reinforcement and encouragement, so give your child the same when they're first learning to practice! High-fives, rewards, praise, whatever works. Don't worry about turning them into a "praise addict," you can (and should) fade some of that constant praise once they start to habituate practice skills.
Don't rush into it, but don't put it off either
If your child is interested in continuing to play an instrument, eventually you'll need to secure a way that they can practice on their own. And while I'm never one to discourage anyone from filling their home with instruments, it's important not to rush into the decision. Make sure you, not just your child, are ready to commit to the investment, and it will pay off!
Interested in learning more about adaptive lessons? Sign up for a free consult with one of our music therapists!