Tuesday, 8 January 2013


The thorny issue of practice - really it's like training for a sport!

How do you assess a situation you know nothing about? If you have never had a music lesson, how do you know what to expect?

Maybe your child thought that they could have a few lessons and be able to play like their favourite musician straight away.

Certainly Television gives this idea that things are easy - of course that's due to editing - if they showed the real effort which goes into mastering a skill it would make for incredibly boring viewing! We only get shown the 10 minute auditions on X-factor or Britain's Got Talent, but we are not shown the history of hard work, which the contestants, well some of them, have put in.

Likewise, the popularity of games like Guitar Hero, is certainly due to the fact that they do away with a lot of the hard work of learning an instrument while giving you a taster of what it might feel like to be able to play – of course just an illusion of real skill, but what a genius idea and fantastic understanding of psychology!

In real life things are not quite as convenient as on Guitar Hero. You should talk to your child before starting lessons, and try to make them aware that learning an instrument is fun, but that it also requires a bit of work - or as musicians call it: 'practice'.

Your child might not understand that learning an instrument is really a relatively long-term endeavor.  It has to be said that some instruments are easier to get started on with than others - more on difficulties and learning curves in the next post. If you have a very impatient child this might influence the choice of instrument. 

If your children are very young and have not come across the concept of homework beyond reading a book at night, they might find practice  difficult to relate to and they will have to rely on you to organise their time for them. In order to make any progress your child will have to  practice between lessons - this is something I think even adults do not always understand.

You should tell your children that they will need to find time every day (or at least five days out of seven) to practice their pieces - little and often is the key! Luckily 10 to 15 minutes are more than enough for beginners.

You can compare learning an instrument to learning a sport –  nobody would expect a footballer or tennis player to have the skills they do without any training. In fact, sport and music have a lot in common with regards to the physical side of learning the instrument:

Muscles need to be developed, tendons and ligaments get gently stretched and there is a serious amount of hand to eye coordination going on. Practice is just like training.

The trick is to gently guide your child through the initial stages, until they become more proficient at the chosen instrument - because let's face it - we all like doing things we are good at!

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