I had a somewhat conflicted relationship with music growing up: I loved to play, but didn’t have the discipline to practice consistently–and I always felt guilty for not practicing enough. I hope my children will learn to delight in music, but I don’t want them to feel compelled. At the same time, I know most children will need encouragement and reminders to do the hard work it takes to develop musical skills.
At this point, I am focusing primarily on two points: making music inspiring, and making it accessible. A couple of months ago I decided I had to do something about my out-of-tune piano (the move was pretty hard on it), so I finally tuned it. Afterwards I sat down to play some hymns. Honeybee was listening, and soon came up to me and asked me to teach her a hymn. I picked the easiest hymn in our hymnal–Sweet Hour of Prayer. Honeybee has learned a little piano in the past, but we hadn’t done anything with it recently–and she had never played anything as complex as a hymn. But she was personally motivated, and that makes all the difference. I taught her the first couple of measures for the right hand only, and left her to practice them. Over then next few weeks, she would play as much as she knew of the hymn every time she walked past the piano. When she was confident in playing that part, she would come to me and ask me to teach her more. She eventually learned the entire right hand, a few notes at a time, and proceeded to learning the left hand as well. It’s been so much fun to watch her progress–with no compulsion or even reminders to practice. She was inspired to learn, and the instrument is easily accessible.
After watching Honeybee with the piano, I decided I really needed to put our string instruments out where they would be within easy reach at all times. The piano sits open in the living room, so it is easy for the children to walk up to it and play. The violins and cellos have in the past been kept safely in their cases–out of sight and mostly out of mind unless mother says it’s time to practice.
I bought a product called a string swing, an instrument holder that attaches to the wall. Actually, I bought several–enough for the children’s instruments and my own. Now the string instruments are displayed on our living room walls, ready to pick up and play at any time.
Of course, Jumping Spider and Ladybug still need my help to practice. But we have a visual reminder in front of us. Honeybee has started taking her violin down several times a day and practicing it, just as she does on the piano. And best of all, my own violin is out where I am reminded to get in down and play–and I imagine that will go farther towards inspiring my children to do the work of learning to play than any number of reminders to practice.