How to Get Your Child to Practice Without Resorting to Violence!! by Cynthia Richards is a thorough, practical, and enlightening book on the subject. Mrs. Richards draws on her experience as mother of eight children and twenty years as a violin teacher, as well as a survey of successful musicians. The following are excerpts from her book, available on and highly recommended.

“Practicing is not a childlike activity. Although human musical interest may be innate, the discipline, vision and willingness to endure are not. Children love to play their instruments, not to practice them. The process of practicing over and over to perfect a certain technique is biologically and psychologically opposed to a child’s nature…practicing requires a daily time commitment which most children find cumbersome. If something else comes up that they would rather do, children without commitment will not stay to practice…The drilling over and over for the perfection of a certain technique does not appeal to them because they do not have the maturity to appreciate the long range implications of their work.”

“I would not give my own children a choice as to whether or not they were going to brush their teeth. In terms of basic education, why should the study of music be any different than that of math or language or science? Children are not the best judges of what is good for them. However, you can lead children into wanting music by giving them many musical experiences in early childhood.”

“By not allowing your child to give up, you are teaching him or her a valuable lesson in life. It is called perseverance. How many adults do you know who, when looking back at their childhood, wish their parents had not allowed them to quit their music? They quit because it got difficult, and their parents allowed it.”

“It is unfair to expect children to shoulder the entire burden themselves without the continual help and encouragement from an adult in the family…Children who do like to practice are neither abnormal nor especially gifted. They have probably been helped to achieve a routine that is acceptable to them and from which they have been able to develop a level of competence which is rewarding to them…For most children there are times when they like to practice and times when they don’t.”

“How can you get your child to practice without resorting to violence?”

Start early and practice with him/her until habits and routines are established.
Set up the family rules for practicing and use natural consequences if the rules are not complied with.
Use incentives when needed.
Don’t allow yourself to get emotionally involved or upset when conflicts arise. Be friendly. Be matter-of-fact. But don’t give in.
Enjoy the music they make and praise them for their successes.
Look for stumbling blocks and do your best to remove them.

“The basic goal of all practicing, whether it be music or some other activity, is improvement of skill.”

Practice should be goal oriented.
Practice should be organized.
Accuracy before speed.
Work from smaller to larger portions of music.

“For children, leaving any rewards of practice to be realized only when they finally begin making music sound beautiful may be one of the things that causes such a high drop-out rate among children studying music. Each step of progress should be congratulated and enthusiasm for work on the next step encouraged.”

“An attitude of learning and of try-until-you-succeed is a frame of mind that children absorb most readily when they see the example of their parents. If they see that Dad is skilled at something and that he didn’t get that way without working at it, they are more likely to be willing to make their own commitment.”

“While an adult might be able to wait for results, a child must realize some kind of return for efforts now. That is why it is important for parents and teachers to set specific goals in music study which can be realized by the child, preferably within the practice period itself, or no later than the next lesson.”