1. Keep it fun – nothings shuts down one’s inherent musical expression like a drill sergeant for a “teacher.”
Goof around, laugh, and know when enough is enough. Sometimes effective practice is done before the egg timer goes off.
2. Play music in the home – make sure you make time to play your favorite music, your child’s favorite music, and new music.
Take the time to explain to them why you love a particular piece of music. They may get it, they may not. But at least they begin to understand that music has unimaginable depth.
3. Sing with and to your child – normalize this mode of expression to combat the “American Idol” message that only polished, perfect singers should sing.
4. Explore rhythm – Our first experience is of our mother’s rhythmic heartbeat while in the womb. We ARE rhythm – our own heartbeat, our breathing, our walking, speaking, circulation, etc. Drum, dance, use pots and pans, etc.
5. Praise their playing, rather than criticizing their “wrong notes.” Blessed is the child who sings what she feels with abandon rather than the child with perfect pitch who is too afraid of criticism to utter a note.
6. Find a music teacher who really connects with your child. Like psychotherapy, the relationship is 90% of the battle. If your child likes the teacher (for reasons other than his or her musical prowess), the practice comes a lot easier.
7. Dance. With reckless joy, dance. With and for your child. Give them the experience that expression, no matter how “ridiculous” it may be labeled in other circles, is fun, free, and healthy.
8. Improvise, improvise, improvise: instead of spending all the time learning songs by rote, stretch. Put up pictures instead of music on the stand, and play a “thunderstorm” on the piano, or “a newborn child.” Take chances and risks, stretching the psyche’s ability to express.
So often we hear, “I can’t sing,” or “I can’t play.” Don’t believe it! It’s just that our cultural standards of what it means to sing and play have been hijacked by popular media. Everyone can play, everyone can sing. Embrace it, and pass it along to your child. In other words, what is life other than a daily improvisation?!
9. Attend live performances. In addition to supporting the arts, we should put our money where our mouths are. Don’t expect them to love their first showing of “The Nutcracker” during the holidays. Take them to local performances, open mics, anything that will help them understand that this mode of expression (playing an instrument, singing) is shared by many, and touches all.
10. Let go of expectation. If you are the one in a million parent who has a musical prodigy for a child, so be it. Nothing will stop him or her from following that path. For the rest of us, the goals and expectations around our child and his or her musical endeavors are best organized around expression, fun, creativity, and joy. When I use musical expression as a way to connect with (instead of to critique) my child, we are rarely more connected.