My Kid Won’t Practice

In this blog, I break down a bunch of ways you can help your child play music without pulling out your hair. Progressions to set expectations, lower your stress level and get way more out of playing music in the long run. Key tip: shoot for empowering your child to love music, not practice music. Make it FUN Yo!

Hello, everybody. I’m James Mays. Welcome to another episode of the Raising Musicians blog for parents who want their kids to rock. I just made that up—I kind of like it. Today we’re going to talk about the frustrations of practice. 

Today, I wanted to write about the topic, “my kid won’t practice,” because that’s a thing that happens. It’s frustrating for parents. You know, especially if you’re paying for lessons, and you’re investing in the time. Maybe you’re getting your student to the lessons, helping them practice, helping them be prepared. You’ve got other obligations, you’ve got work, or other kids, or other responsibilities. You don’t want to be managing your kid. It’s hard and it’s frustrating for parents, but it comes down to your expectations. 

I want to talk about how our peace of mind and our expectations are inversely proportional. So my expectations are for my son, who’s 15 now, to practice in a certain way. He has a different way of practicing, I may not understand completely. That’s going to cause some feelings of pain inside of me, some frustration, maybe anger, maybe sadness. As an educator, I wanted to tell you one of the things that we do all the time that we’re experts at is building progressions, right. So we think about where we want to go. What’s the long game, what’s the big victory, what’s the big win that we’re looking for with, you know, our child playing music. For example, we can break down the progressions to build these small little blocks of knowledge where you can get a win. On top of that, you can get another win; on top of that, you can get another win and so on until you’re eventually at the goal, the long goal. And you know if you’ve got expectations for your child to do X, Y and Z. We want to break that down into progression so we can help them get there right because, it’s rarely the child that has the issue, it’s the adult. Sorry to break it to you, parents. We are the ones who need to change. 

As parents, we’re the ones with most of the worldly information, and we’re the ones who have to adjust and learn and create an experience where our children can thrive. And somewhere we can still cooperatively get our own needs met. Right. So, I wanted to break it down into the first progression, I think, is understanding how I learned and how my son learns. How I view successes and how my son views successes. My goals and his goals for him. And if we can get clarity on those things, then we’re far closer to finding a cooperative solution around both of our expectations. What’s required and not required to practice, what practice sounds like. What practice is to him is practice to me. 

My long-term goal is for my son to want to play music for the rest of his life. I’ve heard so many stories of musicians who were like, “yeah, you know, my teacher was really just rough and very demanding, and this or that or we didn’t really jive and I quit playing music and I really wish I hadn’t, I really wish I would have stuck with it.” I’ve also heard the opposite story of, you know, “I didn’t really want to play piano, it was kind of my parents’ thing, and they pushed it on me and made me go, and I’m really really grateful that they did, because now I play piano, and I’m not a pro. I don’t want to be. I just love playing piano. And I can do that as an adult now. I can read music. And it wasn’t always fun but, but I love it now.” You know, it’s finding that balance right, finding a way to support our kids so that they’re getting what they need out of music.

Well, as a musician, of course, I think music is amazing. Still, to me, it’s my deepest prayer. It’s the fabric of our lives. We listen to music while we’re in the car, we listen to music while we’re working, we listen to music while we’re having family outings, we listen to music all the time. It’s part of our everyday life. It’s one of those art forms that you don’t have to stop, like watching a movie or looking at a work of art. You have to actually stop and go there and do that thing or pull it up on the TV. You have to stop your life and watch for a couple of hours, 30 minutes show or something like that. You can do that.  

I sit in front of my turntable. Yeah, the old-school turntable and I play it. And I sit, and I listen. Often, when we’re listening to music, we’re interacting with music in ways where we’re engaged in other activities, and it’s just part of our lives. And yet, when we hear that song, we can recall parts of our lives in such a clear way that weren’t there, just a minute ago, just because of that song. So for me, music is so important. 

There’s a great TED Talk video by Nita Collins that I really encourage everybody to go check out. It’s about music in the brain. It’s a short– like four and a half minutes. It’s animated and beautiful and explains how because of MRI and CAT scans, we can now look inside the human brain, and we can understand what happens when we listen and play music. When we listen to music, the brain lights up. It’s like a firework display. It describes it like the brain is really active in a lot of ways. But when we play music, almost the entire brain works out. They describe it as a full-body workout for the brain. Playing music engages every part of the brain. It allows us to strengthen the connection between the right and the left hemispheres.

They’re communicating a lot more. That allows musicians to solve problems more effectively, whether it’s socially or otherwise. Executive function is more enhanced in people who play music, allowing us to be more organized, categorizing our thoughts and enhancing our memory functions because of playing music. 

There are all these benefits of playing music right, and so it’s important for me as a parent, to think about, “okay, what are my expectations because of course, I want all those things for my son.” I want him to be the most successful person he can be. And I want to provide every opportunity that I can for him. I didn’t get all the opportunities. Some of them that I did, you know, I just want to show up. And so, of course, I want all these amazing things for him in his mind. I have to check my attachment to that right because, ultimately, it’s about him enjoying the experience to have his own musical experience for the rest of his life. 

You know I think about those of us who play sports or do other activities and that kind of thing and, like, basketball, you know people who love to play basketball, they’re going to play basketball, as they’re older. Maybe they’ll do pickup games, maybe they’ll play on the weekends, whatever they enjoy, and they love it and get a lot out of it. Then, there’s a certain point where, physically, they aren’t able to do it anymore. But with music. That’s not most people’s experience. They are able to continue to play to experience music their entire life. It’s pretty beautiful.

 So I want that kind of experience for my son, so I have to check my expectations. And then I have to understand the next progression: how does he learn, how do I learn, and how am I expecting him to learn like me? How am I expecting him to do it as I would do it, or like someone else I know would do it. And how I am judging him really, and which is not super healthy of me to do. How am I judging him based on that criteria? Because that’s the stuff that gets in the way of our relationship, it gets in the way of my ability to support him to practice how he needs to practice the next progression is my self-examination around. You know my trying to force him to do something in a way that doesn’t work for him just because it works for me. Is never, never a recipe for success, right. So that’s kind of a progression to checking myself. And then we get to the: how do I, in a very loving way, create opportunities for him to practice? 

For example, we have some rules around our house like, no screens before noon on the weekend. Now he’s 15, he sleeps till noon anyway, but, you know, all those early years, he’d wake up, and there’s no screens, so he would find an instrument to play or run outside and play, and he’d jump on the piano or plays drums or guitar. So we created these opportunities for creative time. And that is becoming the norm. And so that, without going “hey, go practice,” we just created an opportunity to sit down with his instrument, have a little commune, get to know it, learn it, feel it, love it. I let it be an expression of whatever was going on with him at the time. And so that’s become a normal part of his routine. It’s pretty natural for him to walk out of his social distance classroom in his bedroom on his computer during COVID-19. And when he’s taking a break, he’s going to the piano to play because he likes it, and the other key is finding the right people. Right. 

You know, here at Bandaid School of Music, we are music educators. Finding the right teacher is important, you know, making sure that the teacher and the student click, that the student is inspired in some way by the teacher and the music that’s being presented is inspiring. Right, that’s crucial. If the music’s boring, nobody wants to play. If the music’s fun at six, it’s exciting. There’s a reason to learn the theory, there’s a reason to learn the technique, there’s a reason to struggle when it’s difficult. Push through because they’re playing something that they love they enjoy. 

Having the ability to create opportunities to enjoy music together that are not around the instrument is another important building block. That’s another part of the progression. So listening to music together, listening to music going “oh, you know, I think they’ll like this,” presenting music, when they’re younger, most kids are just listening to music, their parents listen to anyway so if there are songs that you both enjoy. There it is. Bring that to the lesson. Hey, why don’t you try to play that? A good teacher will be able to break down a song even if it’s complicated or challenging to break it down in a more simplistic fashion. So the student could play it at the beginner level. You can break down a song to just play the melody on guitar, piano, something simple. That they can enjoy playing that song, and then over time, you can build on it, make it, you know, bring in the real chords, or, you know, other elements of the song that make it more complicated. You can play more advanced versions of those songs. 

Music Choice is very important. There are plenty more tips I could give you all, but I feel like that’s a good place to stop for now.

I’d love to hear your comments on it. I’d love to hear about some frustrating experiences that you’re having. I’m going to go into future episodes.

I’m looking forward to talking about a model of energy types that we use at Bandaid School of Music. Understanding what energy type you are as a parent and what energy type your child has will help you communicate everything within music in a way that works for both of you. 

We’re also going to have some episodes on the five love languages in which we use a Bandaid School of Music to understand who we’re teaching and what motivates them. The five love languages are gifts, quality time, physical touch, acts of service or words of affirmation. So using those things, obviously physical touch in a musical school is high fives or pat on the back or something like that but the others. There are ways to reward people, fill up people’s love tank so that they have a great experience with you, and then use them to communicate and cooperate around practice. 

I’m looking forward to some of those blogs and the things that I have in store for you in the blog. Please give me your comments, questions and thoughts. This is for you, parents of musicians. 

You can go to If you’d like to get the book 10 Tips For Raising Musicians in a Pandemic. That’s totally free to you. Just go to You can find out more about me, James Mays, at, or you can email us [email protected] with your questions and comments. Thanks for reading. I will see you next time.