The Sweet Smell of Summer!

summer time 2Finally!  Summer break is here (or almost, for some)!  No more teachers!  No more homework!  No more tests!  Just sunshine and fun with zero responsibility!

Except for our young musicians!  That’s right.  Our young musicians don’t, or at least shouldn’t, take the summer completely off!  It is incredibly important for musicians to stay in tip-top playing shape.  Taking 2 or 3 months off at a time without playing at all can do so much damage, and really set a player back from where they were before they took the time off.

Imagine that you lift weights.  Every day you lift weights and get a good, solid workout in.  Now imagine that you take 3 months off from physical activity.  No lifting weights.  No workouts.  Then the 3 months is up and you decide to start lifting again.  What do you think will happen if you try to start exactly where you left off?  I’m guessing that it wouldn’t go very well, and that some of the progress you had made before was lost, not to mention the damage that you could do to your muscles by trying to jump right back in to where you were! 

I have seen several students take the summer off completely from playing.  They come back at the beginning of the school year and all you hear is: Ugh my lips hurt!  Wait, what is that fingering again?  Why can’t I play this rhythm anymore?  When comparing students who don’t take lessons or do any kind of playing to students who either take lessons or find playing opportunities over the summer, the differences between the two are astounding!  It is important to keep your embouchure strong, keep using those finger muscles for all of those fast, technical passages, and keep your posture in tune so you don’t get tired just from holding the instrument! 

By this point, you might be thinking to yourself: OK, sounds great, but how am I supposed to get my kid to practice over the summer?! 

Make it fun.

If they really put up a fight about practicing over the summer, then give them some kind of incentive.  After reading several articles, both from teachers and parents of young musicians, I have compiled a list of ways to keep your musicians motivated to practice over those summer months, and ways to even make it fun for them!

  1. Don’t give them a certain amount of time to practice each day.  Break it down into “tasks.”  Say there’s a section of a piece they are working on that isn’t quite up to speed yet.  Just have them practice that part.  Once the section is cleaned up, they’ve finished the task.  Maybe offer up a reward for finishing the task.  Some parents let their kid not have to do a particular chore that day, or ban a hated vegetable from the dinner table.
  2. They don’t have to necessarily play along, they just need to play!  Let them have a jam session with their friends, or other family members if multiple members play something!
  3. Let them choose the music to work on.  Throughout the school year, their band, orchestra, or choir directors dictate what they get to play.  So over the summer, let them choose the music to work on!  That may mean listening to them pound out movie music (like “Let It Go”!), or some pop tunes, but again, the key is to keep them playing!
  4. Find a private teacher with flexible summer hours.  I, myself, offer a sort of “flex schedule” for families over the summer.  I know that vacations and other plans happen all the time during the summer.  You don’t want music to become the thing that keeps them from all of those fun, great activities.  If you can find a teacher who will work with your schedule over the summer, then use that as something to keep them motivated to practice.

Like I said, it’s not necessarily how much time they spend playing, or even what they’re playing for that matter!  The most important part is that they keep playing and that it is fun for them!  The last thing anyone wants, especially young kids, is to have their fun taken away.  So this summer, let’s make their practicing fun!