By: Andrea Harrell
Parents of beginning band students often ask me how they can help their kids with practicing their new instrument. While many parents don't hesitate to step in and help their kids with subjects like math or English, I have spoken to many parents who feel uncomfortable stepping in to help their kids practice because they feel as if they aren't qualified to do so. Regardless of a parent's experience with a musical instrument, there are 5 things that every parent can do to help their kids have better practice sessions.
1) Help your child establish (and maintain) a regular practice schedule.
Young musicians need to practice daily in order to establish solid muscle memory on their instruments. I suggest that beginning band students practice at home for a total of 180-210 minutes per week (which averages about 25-30 minutes a day). Practicing at home is ideal due to the similar distractions that students are exposed to when they practice in the classroom at school.
Create a weekly school and activity calendar with your child, and help them to carve out practice time each week.
2) "Supervise" and hold your child accountable.
Stay within earshot of your child when they practice. Young musicians often become distracted during practice sessions and can end up doing other things while the practice timer keeps ticking. When you hear prolonged silence, step in and see what is going on.
It is very tempting for young musicians to spend their entire practice session playing through their favorite tunes that they already know well. Students should spend most of their practice time focusing on material that they aren't as familiar or comfortable with.
You should hear between 3-5 unique songs and/or exercises for a 30 minute practice session.
3) Encourage your child to focus on fixing mistakes.
If you hear your child making repeated mistakes in their music, encourage them to isolate the problem spot and practice slowly. You could even suggest that they practice naming the notes"or counting the rhythm of the trouble spot.
4) Make sure your child uses a metronome.
The metronome is a device musicians use to help us keep a steady pace when we practice music. Make sure that you hear the metronome playing when your child practices. This will ensure that they are spacing the notes in a song evenly, which is essential in playing cleanly and confidently. If you don't hear the music "syncing" properly with the metronome (trust me, you'll know!), encourage your child to decrease the speed on the metronome until they find a speed that is easy to "sync" with.
5) Stay in touch with your child's band director.
Check in with your child's band director on a semi-regular basis about your child's progress in band. They will be able to tell you what your child's strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can be focusing their practice sessions to target areas that could use improvement and extra attention.