How to Get Your Child to Practice Without Asking or Reminding Them

by Cassie Winterhalter on April 11, 2013

piano practice

Photo credit: Bill Owen

As a kid taking piano lessons, I was a bit of a freak of nature. I LOVED practicing! I remember distinctly the week after my first piano lesson. One of my favorite cousins was visiting from out of town. I had the option to play with her or practice piano. I chose to practice. If my parents really wanted to punish me growing up, they took away my piano music so I couldn’t practice. When I was in high school, I had a curfew. It wasn’t the typical curfew mandating the time I needed to be home at night. It was a practicing curfew. I had to stop practicing by 9pm, so my family could have some solitude in the evening.

Now, I know that is not typical of most students. When I call to check in with our newer families, one of the comments I get the most is: “I wish my child would practice more.” While some students are naturally inclined to practice themselves, others are not. I’d like to share my thoughts on the best ways to get your kids to practice on their own.

First, it’s most important that your kids enjoy playing their instrument and love making music. If they do not, they will never want to practice. Music lessons must be a positive experience. At Winterhalter Music we strive to make every lesson and musical experience fun, enjoyable, and positive.

If for any reason your son or daughter is not enjoying their lessons, you should talk to them to find out why.

  • Is it not a good fit with their teacher?
  • Do they not feel comfortable and at ease in their lessons?
  • Are they not learning the pieces they’d like to?

Talk to their teacher and let them know what’s happening. Sometimes our students seem happy to us in their lessons, but express things differently with their parents. As soon as we know something is going on, we can make a change to improve things.

Not only does the student need to enjoy music and lessons in general, they need to enjoy the pieces they are learning. We are open to our students learning any style of music or piece that they want to. All they need to do is ask, and we will find the music.

After you are sure that your child enjoys music in general, their lessons, and is learning music they enjoy, if you do the following, he will practice without you asking.

1. Make it a routine

I highly recommend making practicing a routine- something that your kids just do, like brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, or going to school. They don’t have to think about it or decide if they should do it or not. They just do it because it’s what’s expected of them. I talk more about how to make practicing a routine in this blog post. I suggest in the post to schedule the practice time in advance. That helps tremendously! If not, we all are busy, and it’s so easy to use the time to do something else.

2. Track it

It’s important for students to track their practicing. I recommend using a practice chart. Your child’s teacher can create one for your son and daughter each week. In my experience, just being asked to mark down when you practice improves the amount of practicing substantially. No student wants to come to their lesson the next week with an empty practice chart.

While the amount of time spent practicing depends on each student’s age and ability level, I would recommend that a complete beginner student practice 5-10 minutes a day at least 5 days/ week. Your child’s teacher can discuss exactly how much time is appropriate for your child to practice.

3. Have a reward system

Finally, if you’re willing to reward your kids as they reach certain milestones, it works wonders! For instance, each time they finish a new level of their lesson book, you could take them out for a special activity that they love. Or each time they practice at least 5 days a week without being asked (and mark it in their practice chart) for a month straight, they’ll get something special.

After a while, your kids will no longer need to receive something in return for their practicing. They’ll see that if they just do it themselves, they won’t be nagged by you to practice. They’ll have much more fun in their lessons, will learn more challenging pieces faster, and will progress rapidly. They’ll have more self confidence and will feel great.

Now I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below and tell me what you’ve done to motivate your kids to practice on their own. What has and hasn’t worked?

Subscribe to the newsletter and share this with your friends. Try some of these ideas and let me know how they go. With our Spring Recital coming up in exactly one month, lots of effective practice is vital. Have a great day, and I’ll catch you next week!



{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Mullen April 14, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Great article Cassie, I think this is one of -the- most important issues facing all music educators today. With so many distractions, it’s important to use everything we can to get students to develop skills steadily and enjoy themselves while they’re doing it.


Cassie Winterhalter April 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Thanks Jim! Consistent, effective practice is definitely a challenge for many students. I’m glad you enjoyed this article!


Melanie Zimmer April 29, 2013 at 4:39 am

This is an excellent article. I do have one question regarding the…”get them whatever music they want to play” issue. I understand getting them a piece here and there that they like. I like my students to have a “fun” book. Do you use method books? What if they don’t like the music in them? I have tried many different methods and have a couple of favorites. Do you feel there is something better than using method books?

I appreciate your input on this!


Cassie Winterhalter January 17, 2014 at 4:32 am

Hi Melanie,
I do use method books with my students. They are so important for introducing new concepts in a logical manner. For the most part, my students don’t mind playing out of their lesson book. I make every piece they learn fun. Occasionally we’ll skip a piece if they really don’t like it. Sometimes a student doesn’t want to play out of the method book for awhile. I’m fine with this, as long as we return to it at some point. The students love finishing one level and getting into the next level! Once the students get advanced enough we move away from the method book and focus on just longer pieces plus scales, sight-reading, theory, etc. Thanks for your comment Melanie. I apologize that I didn’t see it until now!


Edward Motter-Vlahakos April 30, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life.


Cassie Winterhalter January 17, 2014 at 4:34 am

Hi Edward,
I was laughing out loud when I read about the student who made money from practicing. I would have capitalized for sure if I had that arrangement when I grew up. I completely agree with you that all students are different and find what makes them tick is key to their success!


Cindy Dugan June 13, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Excellent article and advice. Your recommendations really work. Thanks for sharing.


Cassie Winterhalter January 17, 2014 at 4:32 am

Thanks Cindy! I’m glad they are helpful to you! 🙂


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