I have a friend with two kids who play piano - the older a few more years than the younger - and the younger sibling has just zipped past the older sibling. Both kids are very bright and have to practice the same amount, but the mom told me the younger one sits down at the piano several times to play around on his current song, while the older only practices the required amount. You've heard of the 10,000 rule, that states that mastery requires time (I'm paraphrasing)? All those extra few minutes the younger sibling spends really add up, and it shows. This got me thinking... the Dude made more progress in his last piano book because he knew the tunes and they were easy. Now that they are more challenging, he's slowed down and hasn't stopped by the piano in between practice times in a while. So I wondered - how do I encourage him back to the keys?
Enter one of those bursts of inspiration while I'm in the shower. (I was so excited I almost slipped while I was running out to write it down).
You know how sometimes you want to go out to eat, sit down and be waited on, and sometimes you don't even want to get out of the car and just zip through the drive-thru and be on your way? What if we approached that philosophy in music practice? When my kids really dig a song they are learning, they play it every time they pass by the piano and they end up mastering it much faster than the songs they only visit during practice time.
I put blank charts on the wall next to the piano for each child and told them for every time they randomly sit down and play one of the songs they're working on, they get to mark one box off. They get to choose a reward/goal earn when the page is full (within reason). The Dude requests to go through an actual drive-thru for french fries when he finishes a chart). This is an extra thing they are in control of, and I have to force myself to not request drive-thrus. It's all on their own time and own motivation. Sure I can praise them when I hear one, but it has to be their thing, or it becomes another chore to do. And those who know me can attest that keeping my yapper shut is quite the challenge - but I'm doing it(mostly)!!
A few handy tips:
Start with a small chart, just 10 or 20 spaces, whatever seems reasonable - it's much less overwhelming that way. They were able to fill up their first one quickly and that got them excited for the next one - where I gave them larger and larger charts.
Some days when they need a jumpstart, I tell that that for that day only, I'm offering a special deal - for every 5 drive-thrus, they get one free. Today only! Get your deal before it's gone! You get the idea.
Violin takes more effort in our house. The piano is right there, but for violins they have to get it out of the case, get the shoulder rest on, tighten the bow, blllaaahhh, and then put it all back. So I've gotten in the habit of leaving their violins out on the table in the afternoons, and for every violin drive-thru, they earn TWO spaces. It's kind of a big deal.
Word to the wise - if you have more than one child doing this, print them different looking charts. They're less likely to compare who has more. I learned that the hard way! I use bigger ones for WonderGirl since she's older - just google blank charts. This page has some cute ones.
I made this ditty up for the Dude to color in with each drive-thru:
And holy moley - WonderGirl had been making sluggish progress this year but in the weeks that we started this, she has started blazing through her book. I didn't even do it for her, but the change has been so massive! And the Dude has started picking up speed, too. I didn't realize how important the in-between practice times were, but holy smokes, I do now!
No begging or pleading - just some quiet motivation. Try it and let me know if it works in your house!