Not Motivated to Practice

Practicing Piano

I admit it.  When it came to piano practice, I thought my own kid would be different than all the other kids I had taught.  See, my daughter would love practicing piano.  I just knew that Anna and I would instill in her a deep love of music from childhood; that hearing great music and being around music from birth would ensure fun piano practice.  And I knew that my soon-to-be child prodigy would some day make me rich.  That’s a joke--I promise you that I’m not like Mozart’s father.  Really, I’m not. 

My first-born is Ashlyn.  She progressed in music beyond our expectations at an early age.  No, she wasn’t a prodigy, but she melted the hearts of all who heard her play, impressing many with her YouTube videos and composing endlessly at the piano. She exhibited all the classic first-born signs too, especially the innate desire to please.  Whatever piano practice routine we asked Ashy to do, she accomplished with absolute gusto.  That is, until one confusing day...

Ashlyn, six years old at the time, was like any other child.  She had a will, a ton of opinions about everything--including what clothes I should wear--and a batch of new emotions that she had to grow into.  So, when told to practice the piano this day, Ashlyn didn’t respond with her usual cheery grin.  Instead, she sulked as she walked to the piano.  Soon after, she dissolved into tears.  I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do recall that she didn’t want to practice.  Why?  Apparently she had other things she wanted to do. Important things--like playing outside.  And this became our reality for weeks to come.  

Nearly every day there was crying, complaining, wailing, and outright anger (on both sides!) We tried to reason with Ash.  We tried to make practicing fun, but she always had a variety of things that kept her from wanting to practice.  As we dealt with each excuse, the outcome was always the same: reluctant practice.  “Why,” I thought, “can’t my daughter just love practicing the way she used to?”

I can’t say that we came up with an easy way to deal with the problem. At various times we felt guilt, got angry, got scared, got sad, or prayed.  However, through it all I learned that even though Ashy hated to practice, she loved music.  We could see it as she showed off to her friends or spontaneously played songs throughout the day. This gave us hope.

We began explaining to Ashlyn that her songs she loved playing were only possible due to her hard work at the piano; that with no practice, there would be no music. Every day we made her practice. Daily we had new challenges. Sometimes talking helped.  Sometimes exercising an unusual amount of patience helped.  Sometimes, ruling with an iron fist helped. At times she understood. Other times she responded with indifference.  But after we planted the seeds of consistent practice, Ashlyn slowly began to embrace our message.    

I suppose the practicing difficulties were and are due to her age.  New emotions, strong feelings, and a history of no self-discipline all mixed together to create this storm.    Things are much easier now; we have a regular practice schedule, and we’ve learned how to relate to Ash in a way that she can handle.  Most importantly, we have a history of working through hard times that set a precedent of daily practice, no matter what.

Are you struggling to motivate your child to practice?  Maybe he / she loves music but just doesn’t like the discipline of working hard.  Learn how to teach self-discipline.  Teach the value of long-term goals.  If your child doesn’t understand, show ultimate care by being persistent about practice.  You’ll be thanked someday.

Do you have any tips for practicing? Please share!

~Adam Bendorf

Adam Bendorf and his wife, Anna, are private piano teachers.  They also are the founders of Alberti Publishing, a digital sheet music company for piano teachers.