How can I get my child to practice music? One of the easiest ways to help your child have fun with music is to use games to help them have fun and increase motivation throughout a practice session.
Using three genres of games will give you a well-rounded repertoire of fun activities to help tackle any musical task. The proper use of accumulation games, competition games, and attention games will have your child coming back for more every day.
This post contains games that generally fall under three different “genres” of practice games. Each genre is more useful in some stages of the learning process than others. Understanding these genres will allow you to use them effectively and improvise games on your own.
For parents of older children, while these games may sound too simple to keep your child engaged, try them anyway! When I bring them out after a long absence, my older students (and even adult students) respond positively.
You can use attention games to help your child develop their ability to focus. You can use them to focus on something as simple as sitting still or as complicated as self-assessment. These are the first games used with a new student, as the ability to focus is the key to success!
You can use competition games to help your child observe and perfect musical areas that they have not yet mastered. They are often the first game I use with a student when working on a new piece.
The competition element will help your child hone in on the problem area and dedicate their attention to it. These games are incredibly useful for children who struggle with criticism and parents who have difficulty delivering helpful criticism. Using the game as the mechanism for critique allows children to depersonalize errors.
The gameplay is almost always the same; if your child plays correctly, your child will move their piece or take whatever action is appropriate in the game. If your child has an inaccuracy in their playing, the parent gets to advance their own (the parents) piece.
Note that there is no real "competition" in competition games. Your child should be winning each round, preferably by a comfortable margin. I like to ham it up and complain when I lose, and kids love it. But the truth is that it’s a win-win game; for me to lose, your child has to perform well, which is what I’m after anyway.
If your child is losing when using Competition games, work on a smaller, more manageable section. If you’re unsure how to do that, talk with your music teacher.
Accumulation games are the key to helping your child get the repetitions they need to build the muscles and memory for consistent, accurate, and beautiful musical performance. They are repetition games, often centered around accumulating an object. Because their primary goal is precise repetition, I use these after your child has developed the skill reasonably well.
Despite their relative simplicity, these games assist students of all ages. They help students focus on performing well and prevent one of the most common practice errors: over-practicing. By setting a limit on how many repetitions your child will do, they will be sure to move onto the next stage of the practice session quickly.
This game is a great game to help kids learn self-assessment skills. You can use this to increase your child’s awareness of the multiple musical elements needed to perform at a high level.
One of the elements of this game is that your child has a lot of control over the game's multiple aspects. This control is helpful when younger children get frustrated by a lack of control or when parents want to give some gentle feedback on a specific issue.
This game can help adjust children’s self-assessment abilities to be both more forgiving or more strident, depending on your child's needs.
Get a piece of paper. Write out the musical elements that need attention. For example, you could concentrate on basics elements such as correct notes, fingers, and rhythms. Additionally, you could look at more advanced concepts meter, pulse, dynamics, timbre.
Ask your child how many points each element should be worth and write this down next to the element. Usually, I encourage kids to pick numbers around 100. Then, tell your child that they will be playing three (or five, or roll a dice) times and trying to get the highest score possible. Create a different column for each play-through.
Have your child play through 1 time, then ask them to assess their performance. It’s not a big deal if they’re overly confident; your child will usually figure out that they can’t “beat” their high score if they give themselves perfect marks the first time through!
Making a small adjustment to your child’s score (say, from 90 to 88) is usually taken pretty well. It helps your child develop a more accurate sense of their abilities. Pick your battles, though, and avoid adjusting every single score. Your child must maintain the feeling that they know what they are doing. Whenever you change a score, do your best to explain why.
Add up all the scores, and then ask your child, “Do you think you can do better on the next play-through?”
For your child who gives themselves perfect scores (or is overly lenient)
Pick one "focus" element. Do not share this with your child.
While your child is assessing their performance, minimize any parental adjustments to scores, except for the “focus” element.
When your child gets to the focus element, feel free to make a “major” adjustment of the score, as long as it is warranted, and you can explain it (say, a 90 to a 55 or 60).
While you are making a "major" adjustment, avoid extremes (i.e., 90 to 18)
For your child who is too strict
Adjust scores upwards. Explain why. You may also pick only a single or a few elements if you think your child may take your adjustments as insincere.
This game is useful for getting your young child to sit still. It is an excellent game for teaching posture; sitting still, your child has plenty of time to integrate the feeling of proper posture. This integration makes it easier to recall later.
You can also use this game to make review a little more interesting; see variations below.
Gather several small figurines or toys. Have your child sit or stand with their best posture. Place the animals and figurines on your child. Count to 20, or set a timer for 20 seconds or a minute. The challenge is to ensure that no figurines fall off.
Have your child play through songs with the items balanced on their person.
Have your child play through their review. Each time you review another song, add 1-3 items.
Extend the challenge; have your child sit still until you have pulled all the pieces off, one-by-one. Optionally, have them name them (horse, cow, etc.) This variation teaches them to pay attention to your actions and words, rather than just instantly shaking all the pieces off once the timer runs down.
This game is used only after your child has mastered a particular piece. At face value, it’s just silly and fun. However, its real purpose is to develop your child’s ability to play through any distractions that might occur during a performance. And, believe me, when you get 20-30 families together for a recital, there will be some distractions during the performance! This game will prep your child for the inevitable babies crying and adults coughing during a recital performance.
This one is pretty simple. Your child starts playing a finished piece. You (and anyone else you can find) try to distract your child. The one rule? You can’t touch your child while they play.
The gameplay here is pretty wide-open; any way you can find to distract your child is fair game, except for touch. Play other music on the radio, get the whole family involved, make silly faces, tell corny jokes, etc.
This game is excellent for passages that have only recently been introduced (or review work that needs serious remediation).
I don’t use this one in my studio, but I know many parents and teachers use this with great success.
I list it here because I think it’s likely that you already have a board game that you can use in your home. Simple dice-roll games where the objective is to get to the end first are the best fit here; I would avoid games where turns can take a long time or require more than a minimal amount of mental effort. Shoots-and-Ladders and Candy-Land would both be excellent for this.
Follow the rules of the game, with only one modification. If your child plays correctly, they get to take a turn (as indicated by the rules of the game). If your child plays an inaccuracy, the parent gets to take a turn.
Tic Tac Toe
This game is a mid-length competition; if your child knows how to play the segment well, they can win with only three correct play-throughs.
Remember that this can be a concise game (especially for older kids); you can utilize this game for material that needs a refresher. Rusty Review material or new material that was recently drilled but has had inaccuracies creeping back in are perfect places to use this game. This game can be followed up with an accumulation game to solidify the problem spot further.
For this game, I use a wooden tic-tac-toe board with colored marbles that I bought on eBay. This version allows young kids (who can’t yet write) to play the game and develops fine motor skills. I think it's a bit more fun than just using a piece of paper (but that will work, too!).
Your child plays through the problem passage.
If your child plays correctly, they get to mark a square on a tic-tac-toe board.
If your child plays incorrectly, the parent gets to mark a square on a tic-tac-toe board.
Whoever gets tic-tac-toe, three-in-a-row first wins.
If your child wins but still needs more repetitions, you can ask them if they want to fill the entire board.
This game is my #1 go-to game by a wide margin when I need a kid to whip a passage into shape. New material, review, you name it. I’ll pull this one out.
I can adjust the length to make it shorter or longer. I can add extra challenges. I can make corny jokes (“My car didn’t even move! I need to send it to the mechanic”). Kids love it.
Setup: Create a “race track” by marking out the “track.” You’ll want about ten spaces in two rows.
I use poker chips. I create two rows next to one another, about ten chips long (20 chips total). You could use toothpicks to mark out the segments of “track” if you wanted. Or you could draw it on paper.
Get two toy cars (or any kid's toy, really). Place your car at the beginning of one row and your child’s car at the beginning of the other row.
If your child plays satisfactorily, move their car ahead one space.
If your child places unsatisfactorily, move your car ahead one space.
Whoever reaches the end of the track first wins.
Create a “Road Block” square. If your child plays unsatisfactorily when on the “roadblock” square, they have to go back to the beginning of the track.
Suppose your child is intentionally making mistakes to a problematic degree. In that case, you can roll a die when they make a mistake. Your car moves forward the number of spaces on the die.
Pennies and Dimes
Even using this tiny amount of money gets kids very motivated to succeed. While this is primarily an accumulation game, it requires your child to play two correct repetitions in a row to accumulate the item (a penny), so it is slightly competitive. Because of its dual-function, this game is most useful for review songs that need correcting or a new passage that your child recently learned but is performing inconsistently.
Line up 10 pennies on one side of a barrier (along the long side of an envelope would work just fine). One side will be “Parents Side,” and another side will be “Kids Side.”
Have your child play the problem passage.
If they play incorrectly, move to the next penny. Go back to step 2 using this penny.
If they play correctly, move to step 3.
Place the penny so that it straddles the border of the “Parent’s Side” and the ”Kid’s Side.” Using our envelope example, half of the penny would sit on the envelope, while the other half sits on the table.
Have your child play the passage again.
If they play correctly, move the penny to the “Kid’s Side” of the envelope.
If they play incorrectly, move the penny to the “Parent’s Side” of the envelope.
Moving onto the next penny, return to step 2 and repeat the process until you reach the last penny.
Make the last coin a dime or quarter. Your child only gets one chance to perform it accurately and win the quarter.
You can use this game in just about any situation. You can easily adjust the number of repetitions. This adjustability makes the game useful for minor review corrections or new material requiring more attention.
In the course of this game, your child's hands will come away from the guitar to pick up an object. They will then need to return their hands to the guitar to play again. This hand movement makes this game an excellent choice when your child needs to reinforce proper posture and hand position needs.
Setup: Get many animal figurines (Shepard), cars (Valet), or other small objects. Create a “pasture” that the animals are in (a piece of paper would work), and a second, Barn” area (a sandwich container could do).
Each time your child plays through with accuracy, they move an animal from the “pasture” to the “barn.”
Roll the Dice
Perhaps the easiest and quickest accumulation game, even though you don’t accumulate anything! I use a large, 1.5-inch foam die (or, rarely, two dice). This game is simple, fast, and kids love it.
This game can end up with a relatively low number of repetitions. You can best use it for material that needs a little bit of solidification or when you’re under time pressure to fit in the entirety of your practice routine.
Interestingly, many students in my studio hope for a six when they roll; it’s about equal to the number of students who wish to roll a one.
Roll a die. Play the passage the number of times indicated by the die
To get more repetitions, have your child roll again to play with a new element, such as
A figurine on their legs/shoulders/head that they need to balance
A new musical feature (or one that they forgot on their first play-through) such as dynamics, tempo manipulations (crescendo and decrescendo), timbre (tasto and ponticello), etc.
Distractions, such as mom and dad making faces, noises, or telling jokes, etc.
Use a pair of dice to get more repetitions.
There's More To It
While these games will help your child practice more, there is more to it than that! You'll also want to make sure you're communicating with your child in a way that helps you both have fun. You can read more about communication here, and be sure to leave a comment if you have any questions.