Michael Scott holds to key to music perfection. Read on…

I’ve written about practice a bunch of times.  If you haven’t, I totally recommend going back and reading those articles… or you can just get the bullet points…

  • If you practice right, you don’t have to practice a lot.
  • Even if you practice wrong, you don’t have to practice a lot.
  • You just have to actually pick up your instrument and play.

In other words: Not playing the guitar (or any instrument for that matter) guarantees that you won’t get any better.  Or in the immortal words of Wayne Gretzky/Michael Scott:  “You miss one-hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”    I love this quote.  It’s most frequently attributed to Wayne Gretzky, but immortalized by Michael Scott.  But joking aside – it’s totally true:

Not playing the instrument, basically guarantees that you won’t get any better.

Read that again.  Let it sink it.


Now.  If you want to play the guitar… you need to actually…

Play.  The. Guitar.

Not practice.  I don’t care about that right now. I just mean, pick up your instrument and play.  Whether it’s the easiest thing you know, or the hardest.  You need to actually play.  If you don’t do (at least) that, you are not a guitar player.  You just want to be a guitar player.  Which is totally cool (but, let’s be honest, not as cool as actually being able to play).

 So why am I harping on this, when you’re here to learn how to get your child to actually practice?  Here’s why:

Practice is work.  If your child is taking up guitar (or any instrument) it’s very very likely that they’re doing something else as well:  School, sports, video games, homework, sleeping, eating (way more than you imagined possible), taking after school spanish classes, taking 20 IP classes (or whatever they’re called now), performing the lead in the school play, and winning the national spelling bee.

Your child is doing way more than you are.  Definitely way more than me.   That’s for sure.  For reference, this is what I’m probably doing right now:

Don't lie... you wish you were doing this too.

Don’t lie… you wish you were doing this too.

The point of all of this… Stop treating practice like practice.   I don’t even like the word practice, and I try to avoid it when talking with students.  Telling kids to practice is like telling adults to go to the gym and work out.  Except working out is supposed to suck, playing guitar is supposed to be fun.  But even so, in order to get better at the guitar, you still have to practice.  So what do we do?

Here are some sneaky ways to get kids (and some adults) to practice:


Treat Practice as Play:

Instead of telling kids to practice XYZ before our next lesson, I suggest that they play XYZ before our next lesson.  I give them two (maybe three) things to play before the next time we meet.  Saying “practice” implies work.  Which sucks.  

Treat Practice as Family Time:

I think this is so cool, and am so happy that I stumbled upon it by accident.  Here’s what happened:

A young student of mine wasn’t really practicing.  They pretty much only picked up the guitar when I was giving them a lesson.  This was a bummer for everyone:  The student was clearly frustrated and losing interest.  The parent was frustrated and losing money.  I was frustrated because of both of those things.  So here’s what happened.  We (myself and the parent) had the student play the guitar a few times a week while the rest of the family hung out and listened and/or sang along.

This is awesome.  The student got in some “practice time” even though it didn’t feel like practice.  And the family got some time that wasn’t spent watching tv, doing homework, etc.  It was an awesome inclusive activity.

So cool.

And also reaffirms that point that practice doesn’t always have to feel like practice.

Treat Practice as a Teaching Experience:

I love this idea more than the last.  Plus it’s easier to execute.  Instead of asking/telling your child to practice. Ask them to teach YOU something.  Obviously, that “something” is going to be whatever their instructor asked them to practice.  The point is that they are engaging with the instrument.  They’re also building confidence and self-esteem and probably having a kick-ass time teaching their parent something (instead of the other way around).


The bottom line here: stop treating practice as practice.

If you’re child is struggling with practice, telling/forcing them to practice is a losing battle.   The’ll lose interest.  You’ll lose money.  And nobody is going to be happy.  The worst part… we risk turning the child off to the instrument (or playing music in general) which is just a bummer. 

My job as a teacher/coach/instructor is twofold:

  1. Help your child progress (i.e. teach them the hard/stuff)
  2. Cultivate an interest in music and the instrument (i.e. have fun)

Your child’s instructor should be doing the same.  If your son or daughter is not getting that… find another teacher.   Your job, is just to help your kids have fun and enjoy the instrument.  Have them teach you.  Have them play while you sing.  Anything from Happy Birthday to Jingle Bells to Taylor Swift.   Let the teacher push them to learn the hard stuff and progress with the instrument.

That’s it.  Let me know in the comments below if you agree/disagree.  If you’re interested in learning more, drop me your e-mail below and let me know what you need help with.  


(image credit: renotime)