The recipe for success is simple:
- Make an effort and keep at it over time.
- Students improve only if they practice.
As a cello teacher, I subscribe absolutely to the dictum – you can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink. During lessons, I work with students as effectively as I can, but the student’s progress will depend on what they do the rest of the week.
- The ultimate goal of learning an instrument is to be able to participate in making music in a personally fulfilling way. Making this happen requires commitment and discipline from teachers, students and their families. It is very important to foster a generally stable and consistent pattern of practicing as well as regular lessons.
- Students who practice regularly and well, even small amounts, will make progress and have far more positive feelings about themselves and what they are learning than students who practice more sporadically.
- The discipline of younger students is often the parents’ discipline. (This is a hard fact which I had to come to grips with in dealing with my own children.) For students under the age of 13, the regularity of practicing is usually in direct proportion to parental involvement – whether a parent actually sits there while they practice or just makes sure they spend time daily at their instruments one way or another. In a real sense, it is the parent who makes it possible for the child to succeed, in this, as in so many other things.
- Students who practice very irregularly will fare worse, suffer more from frustration, and will probably quit, whether sooner or later. They will also have a less enjoyable relationship with their teacher, who also feels frustrated and may wonder, rightly or wrongly, what inadequacies in themselves make it impossible for them to motivate the student better.
- Practicing is important, but there are times when, for one reason or another, students (think teenagers here) will do very little of it. Parents and teachers may well get annoyed about this, but patience may prove to be the best course as students frequently find a way out of their lethargy and regain enthusiasm and drive. Most musicians have experienced these dull periods themselves.
- If it is clear that a child does not take any pleasure in music or in the process of learning the instrument, that is plenty of reason, in my mind, to give up on lessons. But if a child doesn’t think it’s fun to practice and run to it willingly every day, that just means he’s normal. Practicing is work and it is human nature to resist work in the vain hope that improvement might come by magic.
- Practicing may be work, but it should not be torture. Parents should stress that it is not the quantity of practicing that counts, but the quality and regularity.
- The first year of learning an instrument is the most difficult. Families should be prepared to give children extra encouragement and support to keep them going until the child can see some of the fruits of his/her labors and come to the conclusion that all their practicing has been worth it!