“Smile—It’s Your Turn to Practice,” Ensign, Aug. 1981, 53
My children are taking music lessons. And would you believe they like to practice? (One even loves to practice!) They aren’t prodigies, but their study of music has become a delight for the whole family. Here are some reasons:
1. I’m ready when they are.
Often I see toddlers approach a piano and begin to pound on the keys wildly. Is that an expression of genuine interest? I’m not sure, but I do know it’s not hard to show them how to touch the keys gently. Soon they’ll be ready to learn where “middle C” is on the keyboard; then simple tunes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” are just around the corner.
2. The Teacher can be friend or foe.
When the children are mature enough to handle formal music lessons, I look for someone who will be able to make the music lesson a high point of the week. Qualities I seek in a teacher are musicianship, friendliness, a kind and nurturing personality, creativity, and a sense of humor. It’s good to notice if the teacher’s students are progressing well for their age and experience. Getting others’ opinions is useful, but deep inside I can usually tell which personality my children will respond to. And I let those impressions count!
3. Practice time and me.
I sit down to practice with my children. I really do! Every day before school or play, each child in turn gets my undivided attention at the piano. In this way I can be certain that good habits of learning are being formed. Such habits can be applied, of course, to any aspect of their education.
When they make mistakes, I say, “Oops, try again!” or “Think once more” or “Can you fix that?” My approval comes with big smiles, gentle pats on the back, and sincere compliments: “Good for you!” “You did it!” “You’re doing great!” and “Aren’t you glad!” If a measure needs work, we drill; then when we’re finished I draw a small figure like a flower or animal in the corner of the music. The children think it is worth repeating five times to see what I’ll draw next.
4. Rewards make it fun!
A great fringe benefit to this practice scheme is that I get to “dream up” creative rewards for the children. Most are made from construction paper—an Indian who gets a feather in his headdress each time the child practices; a mountain climber who reaches a higher peak each day of practice; an ice cream cone that gets another scoop with each completed practice session. Sometimes I reward the children with a handful of popcorn to pop, a few seeds to plant, a swing around the room, or a quick game of basketball outside. Such rewards add a fun boost to our practice efforts.
5. Harvest the applause.
On Sunday, as part of our family time together, the children perform the pieces they have just mastered as well as those they are working hardest to learn. The sincere approval of dad and siblings is welcome and wonderful!
As I have followed these suggestions, I have seen my older children beginning to sense a genuine love of accomplishment. Their musical pieces are more interesting, and they are learning to practice them effectively. Soon I’ll be able to gradually withdraw from their practice sessions, though I’ll stay close enough to remain a constant source of encouragement and approval.
Learning to master a musical instrument doesn’t have to be drudgery, and with some imagination it can be a real joy. The children are choosing to spend some of their spare time at the piano these days. When I hear them, I smile! Marilou Dyreng Myers, Provo, Utah