8 Creative Ideas for Holiday Music Practice Sessions

Are you looking for creative ways to keep a young musician inspired during the winter break? Since the holidays give kids extra time to spend at home, normal routines are often traded for holiday relaxation. Instead of throwing practice routines out the door, why not embrace some new ideas for young musicians to keep their skills sharp? As the break from school begins, have fun exploring these 8 creative ideas for holiday music practice. You’ll be surprised with how these ideas positively impact student motivation!

Experience The Magic of Recording

Earlier this year, I began bribing my daughter with marshmallows to get through tough days when she hated practicing. You know the days I speak of. When your child cries and tells you they want to quit music lessons and they refuse to practice.

On such a day, I set my phone next to the keyboard, opened it to voice memos, and told my daughter  “Play 4 measures and record them. Then listen to the recording (with pencil in hand) and circle or check mark the spots you missed in the recording. Practice those places, then record again.” Once she completed the section with no errors, I would give her a few marshmallows or m&ms. She was to repeat the process on another section until she had practiced all the tough spots in her music. It worked! We got through that tough day. It required me being present for the entirety of her practice, but it was worth it. Sometimes our presence is the best gift we can give our children as we support them as they learn something difficult.

Elf on the Shelf Music Requests

Elf on the Shelf has become a staple of the holidays in most homes. If you have an Elf that visits every December and reports back to Santa, it’s time to enlist the Elf to help you with music practice! Have your Elf write a note that she will be placing a holiday sticker, or a picture of another elf on pages of music that she would like to hear throughout the month. Each week (or day if you’re feeling ambitious), the student has to find and play the page(s) that the Elf has “requested”.

Design Holiday Scene Soundtracks

If your children are getting sucked into too much screen time during the break, shut it down and suggest they come up with a skit, play, or reenactment of a favorite holiday memory. Then, based on your child’s interests and skills, have them create a script, scenes, or flyers for the reenactment. After that’s done, have them create a soundtrack for the reenactment. If they are intimidated by thinking up new music, have them use pieces they already know, or search for and learn new pieces in their books that would go well with the scenes!

Encourage Creativity & Discovery

Mastering an instrument means more than simply completing routine assignments. Exploration, curiosity, and discovery are all part of mastering an instrument. There is no better time than during the holiday break to encourage your children to explore their instruments and enjoy extra freeplay. This can be very unsettling for students who are excellent at following instructions. Without instructions, they aren’t sure where to begin. If this sounds like your child, encourage them to find sounds they enjoy on their instrument. Encourage them to expand on favorite parts of pieces they already know and to learn familiar Christmas tunes, like Carol of the Bells, by ear.

Entertain with Music Mini-Recitals

Ask your children to dress up and record a mini “Holiday Recital” to send to relatives. Or play a recital over FaceTime and Zoom. If you’ve got a case of the Zoom fatigue, upload a recording to your YouTube account and share the link with others. You can even go old school and just hold the phone up to the piano, “Hey Cousin, listen to this!” Students love to play for others way more than they love to play for their parents– at least that’s the way it is in our house.

Play Role Reversal Games

Ask your child to teach YOU something they’ve learned. Ask them to teach you their favorite thing they’ve learned this year. One of the best ways a parent can get involved in their child’s music education is to ask them to play or sing something specific for them. For example, not just, “Did you practice your piano today?” Instead, “Can you play the end of this song for me, how does that riff go again?” Then, take it a step further and say, “Can you show me HOW to do THAT?!”

Explore Online Music Apps

A few years ago, a piano student came back after the holiday break and much to my surprise, he had taught himself a few new songs, in new keys, and could play them from memory! When I asked how he did it, his response took me completely off guard. He used Playground Sessions. This online resource allows students to learn their favorite popular songs. SheetMusic Direct is another great site where students can download their favorite songs and play along with accompaniment tracks.

The holidays are a great time for students to learn the popular songs they’ve been itching to play, so take advantage of these digital resources! Although these resources aren’t free, they may provide helpful inspiration to keep musicians engaged over the winter break. (And remember, while these resources provide helpful hints, they don’t teach everything you need to know. It’s not meant to replace in-person teachers, but to supplement what you’re learning in weekly lessons!)

Set Goals & Reward Achievement

Teachers often have incentives over the holidays for their students. Do you know what incentive your child’s music teacher has given them for the holiday break? You still have time to find out! We always wish that our children would be mature enough to remember or read their teacher’s instructions, but the truth is, most of the time, they still need us to remind them… over and over again.

But don’t just leave it up to the teacher…create your own incentive! I once had a parent tell me she rewarded her daughter with a trip to Starbucks once she completed her goal of memorizing a piano festival piece. It worked!  The piece was memorized in record time and the trip to Starbucks was fun for mom and daughter. Maybe your child isn’t dying to have a frappuccino, but maybe they are dying to go ice skating. Use that!  “When you complete xyz, we will go ice skating!”

Best wishes as you begin the holiday musical adventures! As you replace routine practice sessions with some of the above ideas, you (and a young musician) will find new ways to explore the gift of music. And what better way to enjoy the holidays than with beautiful music? Remember, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing (or playing) loud for all to hear!

Contributor Marissa Mayfield is a pianist, educator, and writer. She loves exploring fresh ideas for music practice with her Dawson Music Academy piano students and her 10 year old daughter as well as discussing evolving methods and technology with other music educators.