Today’s blog topic is inspired by a photo of a “music room” that belongs to one of my piano families. In this bright, open “I used to be a living room” room, there are several child-sized pieces of furniture, musical equipment that is always set up and ready to go, easily accessible containers to corral music materials (there are three children taking lessons for two instruments each – that’s a lot of books!), and colorful decorations (check out that piano!). It may not surprise you to learn that these kids love to practice, and it occurred to me that it might have something to do with how happy their practice environment is, and how seamlessly practice is incorporated into their everyday lives. For the young musicians in this family, practicing is not something you trudge off into a dark corner to do on your own. It’s a delightful detour as you skip your way downstairs and into the kitchen for a snack.
I know not every family is able to dedicate an entire room in their home to music, and that’s OK. I’m also not suggesting that you go out and buy a truckload of new, petite furniture in order to lure your children into this mystical world of practicing. However, I do believe that a few simple adjustments can go a long way to making music practice an everyday occurrence in your household, instead of a rarely seen (or heard) mythical creature.
The “Practice Nest”
In a blog post on teachpianotoday.com, Andrea Dow talks about what she calls the “Practice Nest.” This is the idea of making your child’s practice environment a warm, supportive, and inclusive place to be. And don’t we all want to be warm, supported, and included? She offers several tips for creating a “Practice Nest” in your home.
1. Select a location for your piano that is lived-in, welcoming, and well-lit. Keep it close to “the action” but not in the action. Your children will gravitate to the piano more often if it is in a central place in your home. Avoid bedrooms, basements and other “put away” places. Feeling shut-off from the family while practicing will inevitably lead to a reluctance to spend time on the piano (as well as a possible side-issue of performance anxiety in public!).
When choosing an appropriate space, also consider the noise factor; not only from the piano, but also from your family’s day-to-day activities. Your children want to be close by, but not competing with household noise.
2. Make the space warm and welcoming. Is this a happy place to spend 30 minutes or more of nearly every day of the week? Small adjustments to lighting and heating can make a world of difference. Seek out places with natural light and ensure it is a cheerful and welcoming space that will encourage your child to visit the piano often for their own enjoyment. Involve your children in finding a few small objects that will make the space welcoming to them.
3. Ensure all required materials are at hand. Help your children put together a small basket or bin of everything they may need for home practice. Pencils and post-it notes will give your children a sense of organization that will then spill over into their practice habits. Your children will also need adequate lighting to see their music, and a comfortable bench at the correct height.
4. Make the “Practice Nest” a communal space. Children of any age appreciate company while they practice (although the older ones will deny it!). Having seating nearby where family members will be inclined to pause, listen and enjoy the music immediately sets the tone for happy time on the piano. A set-up that is inclusive will encourage the entire family to enjoy piano practice time.
5. Set the stage for organization. Ensure your children’s practice space is uncluttered and organized. Clear out old books and papers from the piano bag and general piano area. Use an organizer to hold current and favorite materials. Minimize irrelevant knickknacks from the top of the piano. Try to avoid having the piano room filled with laundry, toys, and other distractions. Having the books your children need at their fingertips reliably ensures that no time is spent searching for lost or crumpled music. Being organized also ensures your children know where all of their materials are when it comes time to go to lessons! After each lesson, get into the habit of placing piano books back into their appropriate space as soon as you return home.
6. Add small surprises to your “Practice Nest.” Fresh flowers, a hand-written note of encouragement, a small treat, or a new sticker pad can help show your children that you value the time they are spending on the piano and that you appreciate their efforts and dedication. Preserving the “specialness” of their practice space encourages positive feelings towards their home music time.
It is so important to have the right environment, tools, and attitude when it comes to practicing music. Practice is not something that kids inherently love to do or want to do – when you think about it, practicing embodies almost everything kids don’t like to do: it’s hard, it takes a long time, they have to sit in one place to do it, and they have to do the same thing over and over and over. As parents, we need to gently cultivate a love for learning through practice. The ability to work at something until success is achieved is a skill that will benefit our children their entire lives.
So if you’re starting to think that piano practice in your home is approaching extinction (or maybe never really existed in the first place), consider some of the ways in which you can create a “Practice Nest” in your home. See what small changes you can make this weekend that will have a big impact on practice habits. If you try some of these ideas or come up with ideas of your own, drop me a comment and share them with me!