A Guide to Band for Parents Episode VI: The Return of The Secrets To Get Your Kid To Practice

This is a general guide I’ve put together for parents of band students. In this edition we get away from the musical details and focus on the dirty 8 letter word, “practice”.

In my teaching experience, I’ve seen it all. Students who can’t get through an eight measure lesson in a half hour because they’re too distracted, to complete breakdown. Obviously these things can’t always be avoided, but as both the teacher and the parent, we can try to make things easier for all concerned.

I cannot stress enough that if your child is in band, you should try to be active in what’s going on. Talk to the director about their progress, and/or their private teacher. It’s been my experience, that the more the parent gets involved, the better. Even if they know nothing about music. 

Setting Musical Goals

The biggest thing is setting achievable goals. Sometimes it can be as simple as graduating to another book. Other times it can be to learn a song the pupil wants to learn. But also it’s important to remember, we’re talking about children here. Nagging them to chase after those goals will just make them want to distance themselves more from the activity.

From my own perspective practicing should be gradually implemented. For example, a beginner playing whole notes on concert Bb, would not need to practice for more than mere minutes. But, as the student progresses, practice time should be increased to 15 to 30 minutes a day. Remember, you can always break it up, too. In fact, it may be more helpful to the student to get a fresh perspective.

Once the student achieves a goal, reward is always in order. It can range from a  simple compliment around other family members, to, well, bribery. A few of my students were on what I can only describe as a practice reward system where after X amount of days/months practicing, Y is rewarded. Some may poo-poo this method, but I have to say, it gets results.

Depending on the student, they may learn one of two basic ways; repetition or discovery. Of course, there are many different types of classified learning styles, but I can easily generalize what I’ve seen with students as “repetition” or “Discovery”.

Repetition is simple enough. In music, it’s what gets you better at playing a piece when practicing. A great thing to do with repetition is, instead of practicing an entire song, practice on pieces of it, and gradually work to the entire piece or exercise. If a song is easy enough for a student to simply play it, have them work on more specific things other than notes and rhythm, such as dynamics and phrasing.

Other students learn through deciphering melodies on their own. This was my main method of learning, even as a semi professional. I found it easier than reading music to figure out the chords and make my own arrangements. Even when I was a beginner I’d figure out melodies to amuse myself.

I hope this little blog post will help you with your practice dilemmas!

Stay tuned next time for,
A Guide To Band For Parents, Episode VII: Taking Care of an Instrument

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