Expert tips: How to keep kids’ music skills sharp over the summer

With a little help from parents, young musicians can get in the habit of successful practice over the summer and go back to school better than ever.

It is something every band director dreads: each fall, students return to the band room after a long summer having not played their instruments.

Summer vacation may be in full swing, but for burgeoning young musicians that is no excuse to slack off on practice, said Denise Gainey, D.M.A., associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Music.

“It’s so easy to get to the holiday and think, ‘I’m free, I’m done,’ but to really make progress on an instrument, you have to keep working every day; it’s a daily thing,” Gainey said.

She has taught middle school band, private lessons and college students. One thing they all have in common, she said, is that their skills go backward, sometimes by a great deal, if they do not practice. Gainey has some words of wisdom for parents and young musicians. She said:

  • Get in the habit. Playing an instrument should be part of a daily routine, not just at band class.
  • Find a great private teacher that motivates them with weekly goals. Since they don’t have that daily band class, now they have a goal of a weekly band class to prepare for, and hopefully that teacher will make lessons challenging but fun.
  • Enroll in a music camp. A music camp will offer studies in theory, history, chamber ensembles and more. Many students like to hop from camp to camp.
  • Parents should take an interest. Ask questions; ask them what they are practicing and listen to what they are practicing.
  • Do not use practice as punishment. A problem I see that happens the most is when parents are nagging a student to practice or punishing them with practice.
  • Stay positive and encouraging. Playing an instrument is hard work. Students who can see the long term and realize they have to work to learn it – that they are not going to get it perfect right away, but they stay focused and keep chipping away at it – fare better.
  • Make sure the equipment plays well. Summer is great chance to have instruments checked out; make sure that after a season of playing, everything is working well.
  • Consider an upgrade. If a student is staying involved and practicing consistently, look at getting a better instrument.

“By keeping them involved in a quality private lesson program, and going into summer music camp to keep them actively engaged, they will come back to school playing better – rather than going backward,” Gainey said.

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