Quality of parental support for instrumental music practice of children

A longitudinal study by McPherson, Davidson, and Faulkner (2012) has revealed that parents have a significant influence over their child’s music practice. These influences can be overt or covert messages made surrounding practice time. These messages are often born from a lack of understanding by the parent of the nature of musical development and learning a musical instrument. The quality of parental support for instrumental music practice is shown to have positive effects on student’s musical engagement and persistence.


Instrumental music practice


A common misunderstanding of musical development is that it stems from an innate ability, that is, you are either born with it or you are not. The misunderstanding of musical development stems from the notion of the child prodigy and the musically gifted. At present, there has been no conclusive evidence that musical ability is an innate trait which some individuals are born with and others are not (Hallam, 2006). 


Gifted children are those which can develop and acquire skills at a rate faster than those of their peers (Gagné, 2009). They do have an aptitude for learning quickly but this does not suggest the requirement of high intelligence or the possession of any other ‘super trait’. When considering the musical development of a child in this framework, one has to consider that there are other personal and environmental factors which will contribute to musical development, whether it be at the accelerated rate of the ‘gifted’ child or not.


The research of McPherson, Davidson, and Faulkner (2012) has found a consistent thread in the quality of interactions between parents and children surrounding their instrumental practice and musical development. Poor interactions such as making the practice time an emotional hot bed are demotivating factors for children in their persistence during instrumental lessons. For example interactions requiring  practice based on contingency (reward), negative contingency (removal of a privilege), not listening to the practice and enjoying the sound, shutting the child away so they practice in isolation, making comments about how the piece does not sound right, comments such as making so much effort but resulting in very little or slow improvement (ie: no musical ability), comments to others or the teacher that the child does not have any real musical ability or no one else in the family is musical, steadily reinforce a demotivating message about the value of music in the home and life in general.


There is a difference between ‘for the love of it’ and ‘for the good of it’. Children were found to choose learning an instrument for the love of it and the fun and enjoyment it can bring, whereas parents often declared that learning an instrument will be good for some other reason not related to musical enjoyment.


The continued devaluing of musical ability and development through making daily practice an emotionally negative experience, was found to be a significant predictor of instrumental lesson drop out within the first year for these children involved in the study. It is the quality of support from parents that is most beneficial for children in instrumental practice.

1 Comment

  1. Donna Schwartz on July 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Great article! All your points were spot on! As a music teacher, I see this all the time between students who become successful musicians and students who quit. There are many stories from my beginner students about how their parents won’t let them practice because it sounds bad. In turn, these kids quit after only a few months. This is truly a shame because everyone sounds bad in the beginning, and the lesson in this is to work through the concepts and challenges to continually improve and sound better. All parents of beginner musicians should read this – thank you for writing!

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