Rewarding children for music practice

In this week’s blog I want to discuss the idea of rewarding a child for practising their instrument. It is something that has pre-occupied my mind recently; the question arose after a diligent student of mine asked me about the tassels hanging from the end of a guitar he had seen at school. A peer of his was partaking in the ribandsyllabus where each completed stage is rewarded with a new and different coloured ribbon. He asked why doesn’t he have these ribandshanging from his tuning pegs. I was challenged by this question. I proceeded to answer along the lines of ‘the love of music is more important’. He did respond positively to my answer but nevertheless I felt that I needed to delve deeper and consider my response.

My initial train of thought was, I don’t want your music practise to be tailored upon reward – Once the ribandsyllabus was over, would you still want to practise?

It can be difficult to find the time to practise in the modern world. Busy schedules involving, clubs, socials, technology and schoolwork can get in the way – So would a reward basis work to encourage practise and if so, how would you reward him/her? On one hand yes, some children are very receptive to tangible recognition and react in a positive manner, whether this be a sticker, a gift, more TV/Tablet time etc. Although from my teaching experience I would argue that most children do not react positively to this approach in the long run, as it could confirm my initial fear – would you still want to practise once you obtain what you wanted?

A small reward from time to time is welcome but needs to be done under a word of caution. If rewarding children is not necessarily the way forward, how do we encourage practise? The solution does not lie in the number of after school activities or socials. What affects these free and kindred spirits is their consumption of computer/tablet/phone/TV screens and various other pulsating light sources of entertainment during their downtime. Children use music as a source of constructive fun and relaxation whether it is actively playing their instrument, listening, tapping, humming or dancing along to their favourite tunes. Total immersion in music during their downtime will encourage practise.

I have digressed; I believe children should be rewarded for music practise. Verbal affirmation and encouragement is the greatest reward a child can receive and this will work over a short-term period, and a more tangible gift to honour a long-term commitment. An example of a tangible gift would be an upgraded instrument or something special. The life lesson of earning that new gift through hard work will mean that he/she will treasure it and continue to grow in a positive manner.

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