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We've all heard of musical prodigies who claim to practice their instruments eight hours a day and say they love every minute. Most kids aren't like that even in Utah, where taking piano lessons and playing in school bands and orchestras are rites of passage for many families.
Parents generally recognize the benefits of learning an instrument, and many kids want to do it, but busy lives, video games and competing activities present challenges. It's hard for kids to maintain practice enthusiasm, and often the musical doldrums strike just when schedules have relaxed enough to allow plenty of time for practice summertime.
To help music students and their parents survive the season without losing the musical gains made during the school year, The Salt Lake Tribune asked two music teachers who are also parents of successful music students to provide some tips.
Piano teacher Lezlee Bishop is a former president of the Utah Music Teachers Association and current membership chair for Music Teachers National Association. She's also the mother of five children who play the piano and at least one other instrument.
Here are some of Bishop's strategies to help budding pianists stay motivated:
• Students who take a break during the summer will see their skills decline. To combat this, they need specific goals, such as passing off a lesson book level, memorizing a certain number of pieces or passing off specific scales and chord sequences.
• Summer is a time when students can move ahead because they don't have homework demands and schedules are looser. Families should commit to a certain number of music lessons during the summer and work them around vacation schedules.
• Cultural field trips make great summer activities. The Gina Bachauer Foundation's piano events are especially good for young pianists, as are musical theater performances or free concerts on Temple Square, Gallivan Plaza and various parks. "Watching world-class performers is inspiring," Bishop said.
• In the Bishop household, the beginning of summer vacation is a time for each child to make a list of fun summer activities. Practice hours become the currency that buys the admission tickets to amusement parks, movies or other activities. Kids are also rewarded for passing off pieces and theory assignments at their music lessons chicken nuggets and fries after the lesson is the coveted prize.
• On lesson days, help kids retain what they learned by encouraging them to practice new material before the day is over. "What you did at the lesson should be rehearsed and consolidated before going to bed," Bishop said.
• Find performance opportunities during the summer, such as family reunion talent shows and performance parties. Encourage students to learn hymns for participation in worship activities. And start working toward fall recitals.
• Stick to the old "work before play" routine. Morning practice is effective because young minds are at their freshest in the early hours of the day.
Chad King runs a successful band program at Millcreek Junior High School in Bountiful and teaches private lessons. He has a reputation among music educators for motivating students in positive ways.
King's five children are accomplished musicians, each playing a different band instrument. Here are his ideas for keeping band students motivated to practice during the summer months:
"I tell my [school] students they are lucky they don't live at my house," King said. "I'm the Practice Czar, and if my kids want to hang out with friends, practicing is their 'Get Out of Jail Free' card. Excellence is not an accident."
• Capitalize on kids' love of computers through programs such as http://www.smartmusic.com, which provides full band accompaniment for practicing, and records and rates student practice. As with playing video games, students are motivated to increase their scores by improving performance. Student musicians also can find YouTube videos of pieces they are learning or create their own.
• Private lessons on band instruments during the summer prevent students from losing skills. Kids also benefit from participating in summer band or marching band programs if they are available.
• Summer music camps at Utah colleges and universities provide excellent music instruction, great performance opportunities and social interaction that kids love.
• Buying a book of pop tunes, film scores or jazz tunes arranged for your child's instrument is a good summer practice motivator. King suggests finding duet books for your child and a neighborhood band buddy, so they can practice together.
• King stresses that most of his students will not become career musicians. The value of music study lies elsewhere, he said.
"I tell them there's not room for all of them to be professional musicians, but they are going to become professionals at something," King said. "What we are doing with music teaches kids to work hard, function well in a group, learn to set goals and analyze progress. Before long, they do those things on their own in other areas."
Even in the summertime.