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How to help your child practise

Hi Guys, this article is a guide to help your child get the best out of their practise time along side their guitar lessons and help them get the most out of the long and rewarding journey of learning and instrument. We will look at the high’s of having just bought your first instrument and the enthusiasm that comes with having learnt your favourite tune and the need to show it to everyone who will listen, as well as the pitfalls of the inevitable ‘rut’ that every musicians falls into when they feel they’ve plateaued and can no longer progress in their instrument which you will eventually get through and become a musician with every ‘rut’ that you overcome.


From your first guitar lessons…

These principles apply to everyone no matter what age. From your first guitar lesson at the age of 7, you need to practise to keep progressing just as much as you do when you’re 25 and playing music full time for a living.


My Approach to practise has always been inspired by a very vivid memory I constantly revisit of when I first started learning guitar. I was 8 year old, the novelty of having getting half an hour out of school a week to have a guitar lesson had started to wear off and my Mum’s patience had started to wear thin at the thought of paying for me to ‘skive off’ and I think she felt it was time she got some return on her investment in my future. It was Sunday night, my guitar lesson was the next day, I hadn’t picked up the guitar all week, an argument broke out. This memory gains its character from the way I remember my mum saying, “You have to practise.” And my typical child like response of “I don’t know what to practise” with my Mum repeating herself “You have to practise!!!” followed by my brain cycling through any excuse I could find such as “It’s boring” before admitting defeat and shutting myself away in my room and tunelessly strumming away on an out of tuned guitar.

This anecdote highlights every issue that I try to address in my own practise regimen and my students:

  • Especially for beginners, practise HAS to be fun

  • Practise is too much of an umbrella term

  • It helps to know how and what to practise

  • It’s good to know why you’re practicing



Making practise fun

A lot of the time Practise can be associated boredom and negative association can become a big obstacle in picking up the guitar and getting on track to achieving our goals on the long rewarding road of learning an instrument. A good habit to do early on is to breakdown that obstacle and make positive associations of triumphs when practicing.


One time consuming yet logical habit that a lot of musicians make when starting out it to always go back to the start of a piece when practicing. When learning a long complicated sequence of notes which form the melody of your child’s favourite song, you’ll notice a lot of the time when over hearing them practise, when they make a mistake they’ll re start the piece from the first note, and probably stop when they get to same point having made the same mistake. This can be a frustrating and time consuming method as it increases the time in which it takes for the child to make it from A to B without making a mistake. This is a common approach as children prefer to hear the parts they can play. However often they will find it more frustrating in the long run.


My favourite way to approach this problem is to make a game to cut out this process. I’ve included a link to a sheet to help with this exercise. The game is called ‘1 minute changes’. Take the part of the song your child is struggling with, set a timer for 60 seconds, and get them to play it slowly until the timer ends. Record the number of times they managed to play through the small section on the handout, then set the timer again and challenge them to beat that number (not too fast though otherwise it will compromise the progress made in this exercise). Focusing on the challenging section for small amounts of time enables them to become more competent with the previously troubling part, whilst preventing them being too overwhelmed. Recording progress enables your child to see their hard work pay off and increase their sense of accomplishment. Three rounds of 60 seconds are usually enough to see some progress and not get too frustrated. Repeat this process for any other parts that are causing problems and before you know it another song will be mastered!!


By making practise session engaging and fun using games like this, your child will begin to associate practicing guitar with positive and rewarding memories and not those of boredom and frustration that might come with other less organised methods.



Practise is too much of an umbrella term


Ask what the child is learning at the moment and what the teacher has suggested they practise. Then instead of saying practise you can say run through a certain song, technique or game.



It’s good to know why you’re practising


It can be hard for children if they are struggling a lot with new material. Ask them to play songs for you occasionally that you know they have mastered, giving them a sense of accomplishment and enabling them to see why they are working hard – to be able to have that same sense of pride after a new song is learnt.



How often should I practise?


A lot of parents ask me “How much should my child practise?” There is no certain answer for this as there are so many variables as children excel at different areas. For example, some children will pick things up quicker (I was never one of these children) and some children have a good ability to focus longer than others (again.. I was never one of these children) So the answer I give to parents is that It’s better to practise little and often. Practicing 5 minutes a day is better than practicing 1 hour on a Sunday before your next lesson so you can say that at least you did practise. With younger children, Instead for setting an amount of time to practise I say something like “You should try to play through this piece between 5-10 times” The hope here as that they hear me say 5 times and think, “ahh that’s nothing I’ll do that easy.” Then they pick up the guitar to play it 5 times and then they’re in the swing of practise and feel that the extra 5 times will help them nail the piece.

Another thing to point out is that if you miss a practise session. It doesn’t matter; there’s always tomorrow to practise. It is too easy to be your hardest critic when learning something you’re passionate about such as guitar. This will be counter productive the more this becomes a habit as it will make the thought of picking up your guitar a less desirable one. So don’t let missing a practise session be a reason to get annoyed at yourself.



In Conclusion



So to conclude, to help your child make the most of their practise time:

  • Help them make fun games out their practise material

  • Help organise them to fit in a few short practise sessions in a couple of times a week

  • Remind them of the progress they’ve made already

  • Show appreciation for the songs they are proud of knowing

  • Keep tabs on what it Is your child is learning in lessons

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