Keeping Your Kids Engaged in Music Lessons
Here at Prodigies, we encourage parents and teachers to start teaching their kids music from a really early age. This helps with ear development, building a lifelong love of music and has all kinds of cognitive and social benefits of for your kids.
But one of the inherent problems with starting early is keeping music (with or without Prodigies) novel, fun and different enough to continue to engage your kids over many many years.
Recently, I've hear from parents with questions like... "my 3 year old has been playing the bells for a year now, and these days, she's less excited and less willing to practice than she was a year ago"... or some variation on questions like that
My own daughter, who's 8.5 months old right now, is surrounded by bells and xylos all day long and sometimes I worry if she might lose interest by the time she’s 3 and really ready to take on music lessons and curriculum more deliberately, so this has been on my mind a lot lately.
And no matter your age, I think most musician can attest to having ebbs and flows within their practicing routines, and there are definitely ways to inspire and engage your practice to keep growing.
That's why today, we've got 8 ways to keep your child's interest and engagement with music lessons! Some of the ideas are free, some of them require a bit more investment, some of them are intrinsic motivators, and some of them are extrinsic motivators, so as always, take what works for you and get back to #HappyMusicing ASAP.
1. Performances & Recitals
As musicians, it’s hard to see what our practice ebbs or flows toward without some kind of recital, concert or performance looming on the horizon.
Whether you love the competition or hate the pre-show jitters, public performances get the musical blood pumping in ways before the performance, during the performance and even in the days that follow.
Whether it's a bonfire with the families on your block, a local coffee shop that let's your kid play their bells on a Friday afternoon for 5 minutes, or a larger concert (school, church, etc.), bringing some social pressure into the equation is one of the most exciting ways to re-energize your practicing. There's some social recognition that feels good, and there's sort of a tension-release relationship around the gig day that gives us something to live for, enjoy and celebrate.
Then, after the fact, you'll start to hear and play songs with the recurring thought of "would this be good at the next show?" or maybe "would my neighbors like this around our next bonfire?"
It allows for periods of general practice and musical growth, then periods of performance prep in the weeks leading up to the show, and then after the show, a period of more carefree practice.
Obviously this placing a heavy emphasis on extrinsic motivation, but in the events your kids have spent a year or more practicing in the living room by themselves, it's time for them to at least get a taste of a public performance!
2. Class Setting
Continuing the theme of social pressure, there is always something to be said for practicing music, fitness, sports....anything really... in a public setting. It's no mystery that most of us will run longer, bike harder and perform better when we we're in a social setting.
You can use this to level up your practicing and to keep your kids engaged in their lessons. If they have a best friend or even a rival in class, that along will drive them to want to go to class, practice more in-between sessions and keep up the routine with a healthy dose of camaraderie and competition.
For a lot of you families doing Prodigies at home, you might find that having a different adult that specifically serves the role of music teacher helps to re-energize and focus your kids attention on music.
Even if you have to set up and run your own "class" with 3-6 friends, a little bit of social accountability goes a long way.
3. Video Yourself (and share it!)
Like performing and being in a class, recording a video of yourself performing and sharing it on social media is a great way to get some social accountability and some of the positive effects of performing.
Hopefully you get some good feedback from friends and family and if it's your kids posting videos, you can be almost guaranteed a lot of love just for cute factor along. And if your kids actually perform their music well, you'll be swimming in a sea of Instagram hearts.
It doesn't have a to be a perfect video so don't overthink. Make a YouTube channel, an Instagram or whatever you want for sharing it, but this will help your kids to feel socially rewarded for their talents and help to re-spark their interest.
4. Practical Weekly Goals & Rewards
When it comes to practicing at home, a calendar with a weekly goal is usually really helpful for kids and using a sticker or a big red check is an easy to mark each day you practiced!
I tell people to aim for 5 out of 7 days each week, even if it’s 10-15 minutes a day. If one of those days is some kind of music class, that also can count toward as 1 of the 7.
How you reward your kids for getting 5 out of 7 each week is obviously up to you. In my experience, everything from dollar store coloring books, to stickers, to trips to the library/ice cream shop/movies etc all work well. Whatever makes the most sense for your family of course.
5. New Instrument(s)
If you've been rocking just the C Major Bells for a year or so now, it might be time to get into some other instruments.
For a slightly more challenging instrument, try some kind of xylophone. This will challenge your kids to use a mallet or stick and instantly freshen up their practice a bit.
You can also jump to a piano using Prodigies or check out some piano-specific apps like PianoMaestro and Simply Piano.
A piano too, though at less than 3 years old, you’ll probably get 5-15 minutes of activity there in a given session before the fine motor control becomes a bit frustrating.
6. Deskbell Expansions
If you've been using the C Major Deskbells for awhile now it might be time to get some of the Chromatic expansions. I've heard of Prodigies students using the C Major Deskbells from ages 2-3 and by age 3-4, they've moved on to mastering the Chromatics (even without a ton of Chromatic content inside Prodigies as of writing this).
By adding the accidentals, you'll be able to play almost any song you want using the Deskbells, and with the High/Low Expansion, you'll get some higher and lower notes as well to help expand your range.
The expansions will also make the bells for a bit more like a piano in that you'll have the black keys and be able to play wayyy more songs.
We'll hopefully be caring these again in our shop soon, but these days we're focused on shipping as many C Major Bells as we can!
7. New Programs, Apps & Materials
As much as I would love to believe that we're making enough music lesson content inside Prodigies that your kids will stay entertained for years to come, there are going to be kids who want more or need to mix it up every now and then.
We all go through phases, we all burn out on certain programs/routines/etc, and if you're worried this might be happening to your kids while using Prodigies, don't be afraid to mix and match with some other programs to keep their musical journey fresh!
I would look to getting a piano and some of Faber Piano Adventure books or apps like Piano Maestro and Simply Piano.
Toca Band is a fun, no-brainer musical apps for toddlers and Figure is a more complicated synth that's really fun for school age kids and adults alike.
Little Musician from Brillkids is another great resource, as is Hoffman Academy and Quaver's Marvelous World of Music.
8. Rearrange, Stand Up, or Improve Your Musical Space
A little re-arrange or cleanup session of your musical space will help freshen up things to the eye and also to the mind.
Rather often, before I embark on a big week or practicing or a big month of video production, I'll make a small improvement, get a little gear upgrade or do a good Spring cleaning to freshen things up in my studio, which will help springboard me into action.
Been playing your instrument sitting down a lot? Try standing up!
If you've playing the deskbells on the floor, try playing them standing up instead of sitting down.
When I made myself a wooden board for my bells to live on (and zip tied them all down), it became much easier for me to play the bells and to play them faster (because being tied down, I could play with a bit more speed I didn't have to worry about sending the bells flying).
Attend Live Concerts!
As a final suggestion, attending live concerts (especially of your child's favorite artists is always a surefire to boost musical excitement! You can learn some songs you heard at the show and build a deeper connection to music this way. If possible, get a recording of the live show and you'll be able to relive the most powerful moments from the concert whenever you want (and even jam along).