I have three amazing daughters. Each has their own distinct personality and talents and consequently their own set of interests and pursuits. As their father, I see my role as nurturing and expanding these interests to help them become well rounded, competent human beings. One of the best places for kids to develop mastery is through music.
I will confess that I love music. Not everyone embraces the screeching wail of a seven year old’s bow across an untuned violin but it brings me infinite joy. I grew up in a house where records were spun constantly and piano or guitars were available for the playing. In my own home, it’s rare to have silence. To create sounds and express oneself through music is one of life’s great pleasures and when it was time for my own children to begin music lessons; I was as giddy as a 15 year old at a Taylor Swift concert.
As any busy parent knows, creating and maintaining a practice schedule can be a significant challenge. There are those exceptionally rare kids who self motivate and love their instrument so much that they practice endlessly and become musical prodigies, but the rest of us toil with nagging and cajoling our children into giving a minimal amount of attention to their instrument.
My greatest challenges and also some of my greatest successes have been with my violin player. She is a very talented player and capable learner but has lapses in confidence and self esteem when she has developmental leaps. One day she is fiddling masterfully, the next she is on the floor sobbing in frustration. This becomes compounded when she needs to offload other emotions. For whatever reason, she often chooses music practice as the time to do this and it leads to frustrations for both of us.
Every parent is going to have a different way to motivate their child, but this is what worked for us. After talking to my daughter’s violin teacher about the struggles we were having around practice, she suggested a 100 day challenge. Just as it sounds, it means practicing for 100 days straight with a trophy as the reward at the end. If you miss a day, you go back to zero. I was a little dubious, feeling like sticker charts were flawed carrots in front of a wizened donkey, but I was willing to try anything. I printed out the chart and we dug in our heels.
The initial momentum got us off to a good start. Practices were peaceful and productive and proficiency on the violin increased. There were a few difficult days when motivation was still shaky but I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth things went. What was even more surprising was how much my daughter internalized her success. I saw the desire for the extrinsic reward become replaced with the intrinsic desire to continue what she started. Practicing everyday after school became a near automatic routine. By the time we were half way in, it turned into protecting the investment. If she missed a day it would negate 50 days of hard work.
Our closest brush with failure was a busy day when both of us just plain forgot. I remember being in the kitchen washing dishes after putting everyone to bed when a sickening wave of panic rush through me at the realization of our oversight. I went into my daughter’s bedroom, woke her up and sat with her while she groggily powered through the week’s lesson. Disaster averted.
When my daughter finally reached the 100th day, no one was more proud than she was. It was her first real success with long term goal setting and she had made the extended effort to persevere. She collected her trophy and for weeks proudly shared her story with anyone who would listen. My greatest joy was watching her at her recital that fall, knowing how much work was behind the performance and how much her playing improved in those 100 days.