Facing Resistance to Practice

I’m often asked by parents, “What should I say when my child doesn’t want to practice?”

It’s common for players at all levels – even professionals – to experience some days when practice feels mostly like a chore, and other days that seem filled with inspiration and energy. The trick is to commit yourself to something useful to result from each of these kinds of practice days.

One response that I heard from a parent when her child was reluctant to get his violin out of the case was, “Learning to play the violin is something we’ve decided to do together. In order to learn we need to listen to our teacher and practice every day.”

I like this because it is an honest explanation of both the decision to do something, and the commitment behind that decision. It is the truth, and it respects the child’s ability to understand this truth. This particular child’s resistance to the lessons has disappeared, although home practice continues to be a challenge at times.

What to do on “the really bad days” when you don’t think you’ll get anything done:

  • Think of a way for your child to practice the attitude or mindset of violin, rather than the actual steps of playing the violin. Attitudes include willingness to try (not using the word “can’t”), thinking before doing, getting ready before starting something, and paying attention to what you’re doing.
  • Focus on doing just a few things (maybe just one!) with a better attitude rather than saying, “I guess we’re just going to try to get through the list today.” If you start with a more observant approach, and try to really become your own teacher at home, it may lead to greater enthusiasm in your child.
  • It’s important to use the first year to really commit to a schedule that enables a routine to develop for your child. Consider what emotions you bring to each practice session. What rewards is your child perceiving through the act of resistance?Are you secretly relieved when you don’t have to practice with your child? Do you dread going to the lesson each week, because you feel criticized? Or are you eager to discover what has been learned, what is ahead on the path of learning, and how to solidify the foundation that is being built each day with your practice?
  • Even with best efforts, we need to accept that some days will not include practice. These instances should be rare, and practice should be resumed without much fanfare the next day or as soon as possible.
  • Finally, it might be reassuring for parents to recall that most adults who quit a musical instrument as a child express more regrets for having been allowed to give up than those whose parents “forced” them to practice and are now grateful to have their skills!
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