I end up offering TV time as a reward but he complains so much while practicing, tracks time by calling out every 2 minutes, and practices without respecting the piano or the music (bangs it out). He then gets the TV time but I am so angry and exhausted from dealing with his attitude that even though he gets the reward, he knows I am still mad. So, basically, how do we motivate our kids to learn and develop their talents for their own sake, instead of ours?

  • 3
    I've never met a kid that enjoys piano lessons (myself included). I think that's just part of growing up. Maybe you can ask your child what they'd like to do to make it more fun. Different music? Different instrument?
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 17:41
  • 8
    There's a whole host of issues going on here that have already been addressed in some of the answers, but I'm curious, why in the WORLD would you give him the reward if he behaved like that?
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 21:28
  • 4
    What is important to you in the situation? Learning the piano? Learning music and to read music? Exposure to a certain style of music? Music Theory? Is there a way to problem solve with him and find a win-win that works for you both? Perhaps the piano just ain't his bag if he hates it that much. The behavior however, definitely needs to stop. That is horrible!! I would say if he isn't giving it an earnest effort for the 30 minutes, he doesn't get the reward. Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 5:15

7 Answers 7


First of all, why are you making him take piano? Do you feel he'll gain something from it? Is he naturally good at it, so you want to foster that in him? Are you trying to make him learn it, because that's what you feel society expects? Are you doing it because it's something you enjoy and want to pass that on to him? Additionally, why are you being his teacher?

It seems to me that he doesn't like playing piano, or at the very least, he doesn't like you giving him lessons.

If he genuinely likes playing piano.

If he likes playing piano, but doesn't like you teaching him (ie - he'll play it on his own, or showed an interest in it previously), then hire a teacher. The student-teacher dynamic is different from a parent-child or spousal relationship, and is and can be often more demanding than the latter two (for example, my basketball coach could yell at me and it wouldn't bother me, but if my parents were to do that, I'd react very differently). If you play piano, and especially if you're good at it, he may also be intimidated by you, and see your skill as big shoes he's expected to fill. If so, then his behavior is his way of channelling and communicating that fear.

He may be more motivated simply because it's not his mom teaching him.

Additionally, he's starting to get to that age where mom and dad aren't the center of his world, and getting into the age where he wants to assert his independence. He may be feeling like you're smothering him by being his piano teacher. Having someone else take on that role may give him the sense of freedom he's looking for.

Another way you can help motivate him is to find shows or competitions that he could participate in. Let him pick the music and instill in him the importance of practicing so that he does a good job. This will give him a sense of purpose to the learning, and a goal to work for, instead of just aimlessly learning a skill.

You can foster his talents in other ways, without being his teacher. Buy him a keyboard, both for the portability, and for the variety. Get him music books with music from his favorite movies, shows, or artists (if you can't afford to hire a teacher, this is probably the next best thing, because it gives him something he can relate to and be proud of; very few 8 year olds can really understand/appreciate the classical greats, and even if your son can, his friends probably won't). Maybe see if you can arrange a meeting with his favorite local musician (or a local musician in general).

If he doesn't like playing piano.

If he doesn't like playing piano, then it would be a good idea to consider your motivations for trying to force him to learn it. Forcing a child to learn piano when they have no interest is, in my opinion, no different than forcing a child to play sports when they have no interest - it's often done because it's what's expected ("boys don't dance/play piano/cheerlead, they play {insert sport here}"), and not because that's what the child wants to do. Forcing your child to do something like that solely because it's what you believe they "ought" to be doing will do little more than foster a disdain, or even downright loathing, of both you and the activity in question.

What does he actually like to do? What does he want to try? If you want to foster his talents, then foster his talents, and what he's interested in, not what you think he "should" be doing. If he's interested in something, it will be significantly easier to motivate him (and if you still have trouble motivating him for the "daily grind" aspect of his chosen activity, most of the above "if he likes it" tips can be modified to suit).

Learning piano teaches discipline, patience, and a respect for art, yes, but so can learning a different instrument, or pottery, or painting, or theater. Things like sports and martial arts can't teach respect for "the arts," but they can teach discipline, respect for others, and respect for their fields, among other valuable lessons.

Edit based on comment - Since he does say he likes piano, I would work on rewarding him for actual practice. No more rewarding him for going through the motions and being a bear.

Additionally, I'd say go with some of the ideas in the "if he likes it" section (keeping the rest for others' sake) for what you can do to foster him (recitals, competitions, supplemental instruments, etc). I would also still take a look at what songs he's playing, and work with him and his teacher to find songs that he'd like to learn. To an 8 year old, being able to play the latest Kelly Clarkson song, or whatever 8 year olds listen to these days (egads, I feel old saying that!), is going to be far more interesting than being able to play Fur Elise. This may be a little more pricey, due to copyright matters, but your teacher might know ways of getting discounts.

Perhaps it's just a time of day that doesn't work well, and he'd be more apt to practice at a different time of day (studies have shown that people's productivity levels go up and down throughout the day in sync with various biological rhythms; and it's been my experience that artists tend to be more finicky about such things, so if he's naturally artistic, then this might be an issue). Try changing the time of his practice.

Can you change the practice location? It may also be simply because he's at home, or in the living room, that makes him not want to practice. Having a place set aside specifically for the activity (out of the house, if possible) can help get into the mental state for practicing, increasing focus.

Also, get him involved in the above changes. Work with him to find a time and place to practice, have him pick out the music to work on, etc. Simply being involved in the decision making process can be a huge motivator, and only following top down orders tends to be a big demotivator (the same goes for adults!).

  • 1
    I wish I had added, I am not his teacher. he does like the piano, he repeatedly asserts, so I know he will not want to stop lessons. I feel that it is essential that he practice, because I am paying for his lessons, and practice is part of the discipline of learning anything!
    – makmom
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 18:04
  • @makmom - Edited my answer.
    – Shauna
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 18:40
  • 3
    Forcing a child to do something they don't want to do is a tough decision. Sometimes it makes sense (they don't like Hockey, so why force them to play?) but sometimes it's important they stick with it (they don't like math, but they have to graduate). Where piano lessons falls in that spectrum is likely going to vary from family to family. Personally, I think music should be like math...a required part of everyone's education. But, that said, music doesn't HAVE to be just piano.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 20:22
  • 1
    @makmom I was told by my parents that if I didn't practice, they would not pay for lessons. Well, it made me quit piano, which may not be what you want - but it made me understand the financial implications in a broader sense. It was the right choice for me (also, I had 2 instruments at the time, continues with the other).
    – Ida
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 18:46

Being a parent, who happens to be a piano teacher, who happens to also teach my 2 daughters piano.....

I would find out why he doesn't want to practice. Is there something he'd rather be doing at that time? Have him help you come up with a time that works for him. One of my students practices before breakfast-seems early to me-but, it's what works out best for her and her family. Other of my students practice right after school-and some are homeschooled and practice during their normal school activities. If he enjoys playing piano and his lessons-finding out why practicing is so tedious would be a good start. Does he have siblings that are watching tv at that time? Maybe say noone gets to watch tv until x time... in the meantime, everyone take care of homework/practice/chores, etc.

How long has he been taking lessons? My youngest, who just began this year, isn't all that interested in practicing-so, I let her practice when the mood strikes her, for the most part. Some of my students take lessons every other week, because they aren't able to practice enough in 1 week. Would he feel less pressure if you did something like that?

If you aren't happy with how he is practicing, then send him back and tell him no tv (or whatever) until he practices the way his teacher wants him to-and with the right attitude. If he's not willing to comply, I've also had students (a little older than 8) who were told they would pay for the lessons if they didn't practice right. Sure, both of these cause a fight-I've been there.. but, in the end, they know what is expected of them and that Mom/Dad isn't going to accept less than their best-because that's really all we want. Have you asked him to rate his practice on a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 on whether he put his best into it? Maybe if his and yours averages to (7+ or 4+) X then he gets tv-if not, then no tv? Give him some control of the situation and help him to see that he is IN control of the situation. It isn't you-but him who controls whether or not he gets his reward. Personally, in my house, if it's not with the right attitude, then it doesn't count-and my kids know that.. doesn't make them happy all of the time, but they do know where the bar is.

Hope this helps!

  • 1
    thank you all. I think the comments that made me step back and think was 'why reward bad behavior during practice?' well, I guess i give in to pressure and the fuss he makes if I dont give him the TV time. Going forward that will have to change. Bad attitude, no TV. the suggestions about giving him a measure of control over the situation are also great. will certainly try to incorporate that. its just, when he does not get the TV he yells and cries till i cannot stand it. of course, this is a different issue, i realize.
    – makmom
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 14:21

The following things motivate my 8-year old boy to practice the piano (Not in any particular order):

  • The love of a song.
  • The possibility to impress on his peers (I guess girls, but he would never admit it).
  • The posibility of me learning a piece, or part of a piece faster or better than him. What I'll do when he gets stuck and demotivated is try to learn the piece myself (not being a piano player...). When he notices that I make progress, he forces me off the piano chair in order to practice and prove to me that he learns faster and better (which he does :-).
  • 1
    i agree. once my son's teacher got him off Bach and Beethoven, and onto songs, he's much more motivated. Also, he tends to hop on the chair the moment i try to squeeze him out :)
    – makmom
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 12:50

I motivated my daughter to practice clarinet by playing with her. We got some duets and played together. Even now (20 years later) when she comes home we'll go in the cellar and do those duets again, loving every minute. I suppose this is a bit tricky with a piano, but... there are tunes for four hands, right? And maybe he could accompany you (or his mates) singing some popular song?

  • And when my kids were learning their letters, doing long rows of 'A's and 'B's I was learning japanese, so sometimes I sat down and did my homework at the same time. Then I said which A was prettiest and the child said which tsu was prettiest, which was good for all of us. So maybe you can practice at the same time, or learn the same tunes, and have him tell you how you're doing.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 11:25

I am thinking about the same way I motivate myself : have him play songs he likes.

Disney ballads (like "A Whole New World" or "Prince Ali") are really easy to play, and lots of fun.

  • would you suggest a particular collection/book/score? thank very much for chipping in.
    – makmom
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 19:17
  • 2
    I would recommend getting whatever score he is already interested in. Disney is a great place to start, though.
    – bobobobo
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 17:04

As a music teacher, I give the following hints:

  1. Make sure that your ideas about what and how he/she should practice are in line with your teacher's.

  2. if the child is younger than 8, he/she may just not be old enough to be deeply engaged. Ease up, until about 8 years old.

  3. If you push too hard (how much that is is decided by the child, sorry) the child will resist, even if he/she likes practice.

  4. The real key is the habit of practice. Your job is just to get the child to sit at the piano and start. Not to monitor how long (or short). If the instrument and the lessons are engaging, the child will practice enough. The child's job is to practice the material that is being assigned in the lessons to the teacher's satisfaction. You can not really decide that for the teacher.

  5. A great way to engage with the child and encourage practice is to assign the child to teach you how to play. Even if you know how, let them tell you. even if you think the child is wrong, be their student. Nothing teaches better than teaching.

  6. Have fun with your child every once and a while (bang on the keys with him and have fun).

  7. If you practice what he/she teaches you, he/she will become jealous of your time on the piano and want to/ ask to play.

  8. Sometimes a child will not take to it. It is not the end of the world. I wanted to play guitar and piano lessons seemed too rigid. Maybe a new teacher with a different style, or a different instrument, is called for instead.


Perhaps your son would be more productive in his practice if you were actively involved, as parents are in the Suzuki method. There is a nice book about how to be a parent practice coach -- http://www.carriereuning.com/soundcarriespress.html. The author has published some of the material in the book on her website: http://www.carriereuning.com/practice.html

The most important thing when you are a practice coach is to provide positive feedback. As often as you can, find SOMETHING you can say something positive about. Try things like this: "You are playing so many notes correctly, it's hard for me to come up with a suggestion for how to improve this piece. Hmm... do you want to add some dynamics?" This can be done no matter how simple the piece, and it can be done even if the editor didn't put any dynamics in. Note, it can be fun to ask the child to write in their own dynamics -- you don't have to slavishly follow what the editor suggested. The important thing is that the piece not be boring!

You might want to set up some groundrules for television, such as (these are just suggestions):

  • do your work first (including piano, housework and homework).

  • some days there may not be time for TV.

  • set a maximum amount of time. If time runs out in the middle of a program, perhaps he could pick up where he left off the next time -- this might be easier if you were using a computer.

  • whine or pester, or even MENTION TV, and you get a strike; three strikes and you're out -- no TV today.

  • scream and you go in time-out

  • three time-outs and you're out of luck for today

  • find other fun things he looks forward to doing

It might be helpful to break the direct connection between piano and TV that got established inadvertently.

If you can play simple tunes, then it might be fun to play some easy duets together.

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