How Do I Get My Child to Practice Piano?

Nowadays with every form of entertainment so visually attention-grabbing, it’s no wonder that kids struggle with practicing piano. It’s an art form relying on sound, and, if any visuals are involved, it’s for the sake of decoding still, colorless images - music notation. So how do you get your child to practice piano? You already signed him up for piano lessons the school year, and so far it’s been a struggle to get him to even approach the piano. Rest assured that your child is not the first to display this sort of behavior. It’s not abnormal. I’m sure my own mother could tell you stories about her own experience with trying to get me to practice piano when I was a child as well. If your child is struggling to meet his or her piano practice goals, here’s a few tips to consider trying.

Create a Safe Space

Create a safe space physically and emotionally. Physically situate the piano where the child enjoys sitting. If your child is social or not a fan of being alone, try placing the instrument in a room in or near where the family regularly hangs out. If your child enjoys alone time, situate the piano where there is peace and quiet. Think about decorating the room with artwork or colored walls your child enjoys. Your child should always feel secure sharing music, whether old or new. Avoid strong, negative opinions or criticism, but rather choose positive words of encouragement and praise.

Create a Schedule

Because piano practice requires attention daily, find a time of day that’s easy to insert this new habit of creativity (and self-discipline!) no matter what day of the week it is. Consider attaching it to a habit they already have. I.E.: before or after playtime, house chores, homework (or in between homework assignments), eating a meal, or brushing teeth.

Create Incentives

There’s no shame in rewarding successful behavior with extrinsic value - though, of course, intrinsic value is the end goal! For example, if your child meets his practice assignments and time goals at the end of the week, he gets “x”, and, if he completes his goals for a whole month, he gets “y”. One of my students explained to me her reward system that her mother had created for her:

My student really enjoyed colorful stickers and getting her nails done at the salon. So her mother printed a calendar for each month, and for each day her daughter practiced, she got to place a smiley-face sticker on the calendar. When she attained 6 smiley-face stickers, she got to place a shiny star sticker for the final day of piano practice. That reward system worked well week to week, but the big prize was when she earned 5 shiny star stickers. That’s when she earned a manicure at the nail salon.

Now, you know your child and what he or she enjoys. Get creative! Track their work to keep them motivated for the carrot at the end of the stick. You may be surprised at how quickly they see the intrinsic value in learning piano playing skills.

Create a New Perspective

If your child enjoys school and being independent with their homework, treat music as another subject. Your child may then manage their time accordingly and desire to meet weekly goals to move to the “next level.” On the flip side, if your child enjoys thinking outside the box or likes to push boundaries, give him freedom to explore new sounds. If he has access to a keyboard, let him practice his assignments with a different MIDI instrument sound.

Get Involved on a Personal Level

Whether or not he or she admits it, your child wants to know you’re interested in what they’re learning. Instead of reminding them to “practice piano,” say “what pieces are you working on this week? I’d love to hear what you’re playing.” Please don’t shy away from positive exclamations on your child’s piano playing. Telling your child “I really love hearing you play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’” gives them strong motivation. I’ve had students proudly announce to me in their lessons how “Mommy really likes ‘Spanish Guitar.’ She says it’s her favorite.” Everybody is involved in a positive and encouraging manner, and it gives the student a sense of pride in their work.

Create Musical Opportunities

Make music an integral part of your child’s everyday life. Find albums they enjoy hearing and play them regularly. For movie night, introduce classic musicals, then when the show comes to town, take your child to see the live performance. Of course there’s value in being an audience member, but go the next step and enroll your child in music camps. Piano can be a lonely instrument, so finding collaborative settings like music camp, music theater camp, and summer festivals is a great way for your child to meet other people his or her age also pursuing music.

Create Challenges

Find high-stake situations that will put a fire under your child. One of the prime examples is competitions. They’re perfect for creating a necessity to practice. This works particularly well for students who have a competitive spirit and are not intimidated by audiences, constructive criticism, or rankings.

Be Open with Your Instructor

Regular communication with your piano instructor is key. They care just as much as you do for the educational well being of your child. If your child is struggling to find enjoyment in playing the piano, talk about it with your piano instructor. There’s not a one-solution-holds-true for everyone, but together you, child, and piano instructor will find the best solution to get your child to practice piano.

Erika Gingery