The Practicing Myth

Posted on 10:51 am

What I call “the practicing myth” comes in various forms, but it always goes something like this:


“My kids hate to practice,

and I don’t want them to hate music, so taking music lessons must not be for them.”

If parents took that perspective with other things it might sound something like this:

“My kids hate eating vegetables,

and I don’t want them to dislike food, so healthy food must not be for them.”

“My kids hate doing their homework,

and I don’t want them to dislike learning, so school must not be for them.”

“My kids hate taking a bath,

and I don’t want them to dislike cleanliness, so washing must not be for them.”

“My kids hate cleaning their rooms,

and I don’t want them to dislike organization, so chores must not be for them.”

I think you get the picture.

Lets turn these scenarios around:


“My kids hate eating vegetables,

but I know it’s in their best interest to get the nutrition they need, so I will make sure they do it anyway.”


“My kids hate doing their homework,

but I know it’s in their best interest to get an education, so I will make sure they do it anyway.”


“My kids hate taking a bath,

but it’s in their best interest to be clean, so I will make sure they do it anyway.”


“My kids hate cleaning their rooms,

but it’s in their best interest to learn how to take care of their things and clean up after themselves, so I will make them do it anyway.”


Many parents enroll their children in music lessons because they realize there is value in music, not just as something to listen to, but as something to participate in. Many parents did not have the benefit of music lessons growing up and want their children to have an opportunity they missed out on. Some parents (like my own) took music lessons as a child, but did not stick with it and regretted quitting. Other parents see the value music lessons played in their own life and want their children to enjoy the same experience. I’ve also had parents enroll their child in lessons solely because the child had an interest in learning and the parent saw a benefit in giving the child the opportunity. Whatever the reason, parents enroll their child in lessons because they see a benefit to the child. But, somehow the focus changes when their child encounters an aspect to learning an instrument that they dislike. Usually this is the required daily practice. What if instead the parent had this perspective:

“My kids hates practicing, but it’s in their best interest to learn an instrument, so I will make them do it anyway!”


I’m up-front with parents who come to me discouraged because their child dislikes to practice. I tell them that I don’t expect their child to like to practice and that they shouldn’t expect them to either. There are rare cases where children are self-motivated to practice, and put in more than the required time and effort each day. Teachers and parents love these students! But, the reality experienced by most parents and children is that daily practice is a chore. Even if a child seems self-motivated at the start, the hard daily work it takes to learn an instrument can diminish their enthusiasm over the weeks, months or years. Parents see this and are afraid of pushing their child too hard, but, this is not a reason to give up on lessons. If we as teachers and parents truly believe that taking lessons on an instrument is beneficial to our students and children we should expect some dislike along the way, because hopefully we have learned for ourselves that most things that are worthwhile in life require effort and work, and are sometimes not fun.

When raised to eat healthy, do their HW, take baths and clean their rooms, children grow up to enjoy healthy foods, value education, practice good hygiene and are relatively organized adults. Music lessons and daily practicing can yield the same results. So, I encourage parents to approach practicing as they do anything that they know is good for their child, but that their child doesn’t like.  Here are some good standards to follow to make practicing less of a battleground:

  • Be Clear about Practicing Expectations: Set a practice duration, set clear goals of what’s suppose to happen during that time, and let it be known that arguing, whining or other attempts at thwarting practice time will have consequences.
  • Set Consequences: Set consequences and follow through with them. Don’t make bigger threats than a behavior warrants or than you can follow through with. I have seen parents say, “I told you…..”, but they don’t ever enforce what they said. These children don’t last long in lessons.
  • Give Rewards: Reward your child when they follow through with your expectations. A sticker chart, extra story time, a small piece of candy (like one Starburst), playing a short game, etc. are good motivators. Pick something that is particularly meaningful to your child!
  • Set a Practice Time: When practicing is built into the schedule children will be more likely to do it without complaining. It will become part of their routine rather than an interruption to what they want to do.
  • Make it Personal: Make an effort to give your child a special space for their studies. Personalizing their instrument, case, notebook, etc. can be a good motivator for practicing. This can be especially helpful if you have two children taking lesson. Getting them their own materials (not having to share) can go a long way to encouraging children to take ownership of their practicing and instrument.
  • Eliminate Distractions: Make sure you and your child have a quiet place to practice. No TV, no interrupting siblings, no phone calls, no animals, no radio…whatever the source of distraction might be, eliminate it. This may require some cooperation from the rest of the family. Good! When the whole family supports a child in their music lessons the child will be more likely to succeed and see value in putting in the hard work.

While you want to avoid falling into the trap of “the practicing myth”, I am not suggesting  that music lessons should be all drudgery either. I think it’s important that if your child does not like practicing that you find an outlet in music that they do enjoy. For me this was my weekly lesson and my school orchestra. For other students it may be time spent alone with their instrument apart from organized study, a chamber group, playing in church, or a music group of peers that get together to jam. Find out what makes your student or child enjoy their instrument and make sure that they are engaging in this activity on a regular basis in addition to their daily practicng. It will keep them motivated, and as they improve they will see the benefits that daily practice has for them!

Emily Williams is the creator of Strategic Strings: An Online Course for Violin and Viola Teachers

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6 responses to “The Practicing Myth”

  1. Gary Lee says:

    This is excellent. I also teach students how to practice and that seems to help for many of them. They find that practicing is a process and they learn how to work through that process, seeing faster results.

  2. Emily says:

    Yes, teaching students how to practice is key! While not mentioned in this post that is a topic I am passionate about. It’s really essential for students to learn this skill of they are to succeed and enjoy their instrument. I like how you defined practicing as a process. It definitely is. It’s a skill that needs to be learned. Thanks for commenting!

  3. gipsika says:

    Excellent post, once again! Thanks, Emily! You are an inspiration.

    I have in my studio rules, “students are expected to practice. Failure to practice sufficiently and correctly may result in termination of lessons. Examples for successful practising routines are: …”

    Students have a very bad conscience if they ever come to class without having practised.

  4. Sharon Theroux says:

    I am searching for duet pieces that would be appropriate for students to perform at a wedding. They range from Suzuki late Book 2 to early Book 4. What are some of your favorites? Thanks for your blogging too. You are such a gift to the teaching violin community.

    Sharon Theroux

  5. Emily says:

    Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for commenting! Mazas and Pleyel are good duet books for intermediate students. For easier duets I use the Duets for Strings books by Samuel Applebaum. Hope that helps!


  6. Bartok duos are progressive both technically and harmonically.
    Thomas Morley Fantasias are for intermediates and they’re wonderful.
    To help kids get their practice reps while developing technique, try See Saw Swings, by me, Michael Strauss, and available at createspace4097472
    They are progressive and can be played in canon or with piano improv.

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