When I was a child, I used to practice the piano standing up. Why? That way I could run to the kitchen (where there was a clock) to check how many minutes had flown by. Once I hit the illustrious thirty minute mark, I would proudly pronounce to both my parents that ‘I just practiced for half an hour!’ Of course, both my parents, being non-musicians would chide me by saying that if I was truly, very devoted, I wouldn’t have to make such an announcement, in fact I would (apparently) practice for many hours. In later years, when my love for music grew (which, by the way, happened in my teen years), I practically begged my parents for music lessons. By then, my father told me that I lacked talent, he reminded me that from an early age he had to nag and tell me to practice, that I didn’t do it willingly. A while back, I remember a parent telling me something similar. She expressed that music lessons (in her eyes) were pointless. She always had to scream and nag, telling her (seven year old) son to practice because he didn’t do it willingly. She said that she thought that music was different to schoolwork, unlike maths and English, music was supposed to be ‘fun.’ So why would she have to nag, motivation to practice should come easily shouldn’t it?
The simple truth is that music practice is like school work, except, in some ways, it is more difficult than school work. And the agony of getting your kid to practice? It’s actually somewhat normal for a kid not to enjoy practice. The rest of this post explains why practice is hard.
The process of practice on any skill is not a linear one. Take swimming for example, I remember learning how to do breast stroke for the first time and the learning process in itself was not smooth. My swimming instructor didn’t just show me how to do breast stroke then expect me to be able to fluidly breast stroke through the pool. She did it repeatedly. She showed me (with her hands) how the kick should look like, she guided my feet to make the right ‘kicking’ mechanism and she was patient, never raising her voice and never showing frustration for the times I couldn’t ‘get’ it. When I tried doing it on my own, my feet tended to end up on the pool of the floor! With the help of a watchful eye (and practice), I was able to learn how to do breast stroke fluently. I remember feeling satisfied with my ability to breast stroke without the assistance of others, but the next time I hopped into the pool, I forgot how to do the perfect breast stroke! My legs would clumsily go back to their clueless ways, and I had to work hard to rectify my bad swimming technique.
Similarly, playing the piano is a physical skill that demands repetition. Learning up a passage or section of music and being able to play it with some degree of fluidity takes time. The process of accumulating the necessary skills to play a piece of music is a messy one that requires a lot of hard work and concentration. It is a repetitive process and sometimes it can be frustrating. The problem with music practice is it’s not like homework – you cannot see how far into the book you have read and you cannot see how much of the worksheet you have completed.
The big issue with music instruction is that there is a high degree of autonomy required. Unlike other extra-curricular activities (such as sports or art class) there is a lesser demand for students to practice on a daily basis. Kids don’t need to train on their own, it is embedded in their weekly (or twice weekly) soccer training sessions. It’s easier to motivate yourself to rock up to sessions when your friends are there, when there is a coach there to guide you; the process is social but music practice is (often) not social.
I have been spotting problems a lot in my more recent blog entries – I will write more about fixing them in my next posts! Stay tuned!