Ep 129: Struggling Teen? Learning Music Might Be the Answer…

Episode Summary

Dr. Anita Collins, music educator and author of The Music Advantage, explains the surprising and long-lasting positive effects of music on the teen brain. Your teen doesn’t have to be a prodigy to benefit from picking up an instrument!

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

If you feel like your child isn’t living up to their full potential because they get distracted too easily or lose focus of their own goals, just imagine how hard it will be for them to complete important tasks as adults when their responsibilities lie outside of their personal interests. Today, teens have so much going on in their lives that it can be difficult to commit to tasks that they’re not particularly passionate about: maintaining good grades for college admissions, managing chores, and consistently showing up for work. Fortunately, there are ways to help your teen develop discipline in their life. 

It’s great if your teen has a personal hobby that helps them develop a routine. Activities like sports, scouting, and working on art are all great ways to inspire your teen to regularly follow up with their interests. However, as they begin to take on more time-consuming responsibilities, some of their hobbies might fall to the wayside, and they can start to falter in keeping up with more mundane, yet necessary tasks. Teens that haven’t practiced discipline might start to take detrimental shortcuts on homework when the assignment is too difficult or delay submitting applications when they can’t rely on pure interest. If this behavior continues to develop into a pattern, teens may find themselves without the stamina to sustain themselves through higher education or when they enter the workforce. 

That’s exactly what I talk about in this week’s podcast episode with Dr. Anita Collins, author of her new book, The Music Advantage: How Music Helps Your Child Develop, Learn, and Thrive. Dr. Collins serves as an award-winning educator, researcher, and writer in the field of brain development and music learning at both the University of Canberra and the University of Melbourne. She’s also written one of the most watched Ted education films ever made, “How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain,” and conducted research about how practicing an instrument can help young adults implement lasting changes in their brain, making her exactly the right person to talk to about developing discipline for teens.

Self-Discipline That Lasts

In our interview, we talk about Dr. Collins’ neurological approach to helping teens develop discipline through music. While you’ll have to tune in to the full podcast to hear the extent of her research, one aspect of playing an instrument that helps teens develop discipline on a neurological level is practice. 

Perhaps the most apparent link between developing decision-making skills and playing an instrument is the dedication required to master one. But before we get into how practicing a musical instrument can help change your teenager’s brain structure, it’s important for you to know that it is in fact possible to get your teen to stick to their goals, pick up their trombone, and, well … practice! 

Throughout the years that Dr. Collin’s has worked with teens and young adults, she’s gathered a few tactics that parents can use to help motivate their children to consistently pick up their instruments: 

  • Designating a specific time period for your teen to practice. Whether it’s for 20 minutes before school every day or for an hour after soccer practice on Fridays, having a designated time period every week dedicated to practicing music can help your teen internalize their mental preparation. If their body adjusts to a regular schedule to play music, then they’re more likely to revisit the task because they both mentally and physically expect to be playing music. Dr. Collins says you can help clue your kids to practice by letting them know that there are “20 minutes till dinner,” automatically setting a clock for them to make some time. 
  • Using a literal timer to help limit your teen’s practice anxiety. Sometimes teens face anxiety about completing their tasks because they think they might take a long time. When kids do homework for hours on end, it can be daunting to constantly revisit another task that you feel like you need to get better at. However, this can be frustrating for beginners who feel like they haven’t progressed and might get discouraged or stuck trying to improve until they notice a difference. Setting a timer for playing an instrument can cut through some of the anxiety around mastery, and you can reassure them that over time, they’ll start to notice a difference. 
  • Using the idea of a social environment as a stick/carrot incentive. One aspect about playing an instrument that teens can relate to doing well in homework, getting into a good college, or succeeding at work is the social quality. When playing an instrument, there are many social settings that your teen might be either required or tempted to participate in. For example, you might consider enrolling your child in community lessons at the local music center or having them take band class as an elective. In this case, they might be motivated because they know that other people are depending on them to do well. On the other hand, your teen might want to practice at home so that they’re good enough to perform at a talent show or at parties. If they have to play in front of an audience at a recital or in front of friends, they might start to realize that practicing consistently will produce some kind of payoff.  In any case, you can get your teen to consistently practice by asking the question, “How well do you want to do when you play in front of others?”
  • Give your teen the power to choose when they practice. Dr. Collins says that sometimes all teens want is to make their own decisions. This is particularly wise because it helps teens feel independent while reinforcing the impact of their decision-making skills. One way you can do this, according to Anita, is by striking a compromise with your teen. “You have to play for 5 hours every week, but you get to decide when those hours are. At the end of the week, we’ll check in and see how you did.” This approach can help teens realize that playing their instrument for five hours on Friday night might not be the best approach. They’ll get tired halfway through practice and realize that it’s easier to break into more manageable pieces like any other responsibility likely to come their way. 

This is how your teen establishes habits that allow them to maintain a routine even after they stop playing their instrument. Because they’ve had experience with negative consequences from failing to practice, increasingly positive payoff from adhering to long-term development, and managing time commitment among their other responsibilities, teens will be able to convert responsibility into habit through practice. 

The Neurology of Learning an Instrument

But wait, how is it that playing an instrument is going to help your teenager stay focused on other tasks? Just because they’ve practiced playing an instrument, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to stay focused when doing their homework, right? One is loud and noisy and takes your full concentration, whereas the other is an internal process. Well, during the podcast, we discuss how developing discipline through practicing a musical instrument works on a neurological level. 

One great example of this is how playing an instrument changes the way we read. According to Dr. Collins, both tasks of processing music and processing language rely on something called an “overlapping neural network.” Essentially, your brain revisits the same spot over and over again when you need to do both of these functions. So, when your teen is practicing reading music and converting those symbols into instruction for when they play music, they’re also developing a familiarity with that part of their brain. When it comes time to read, that muscle will be exercised, and it will be less of a burden for them to activate when completing other tasks as well. 

In fact, Dr. Collins says that the type of exercise that your brain engages in when playing music strengthens your mind in the area of impulse control. She says that the focus and mental concentration that you build up while playing an instrument subconsciously trains your mind to process data in a way that helps you assess risk. So, if your teen decides to take up an instrument, not only will they acquire time management skills through practice but playing music can also help them develop and sustain long-term decision-making on a neurological level. With the constant decision-making processes and risk-management cerebral work that playing an instrument entails, your teen can better assess big decisions and stay on track when it comes to coping with responsibilities. 

In the Episode…

There are so many more practices that Dr. Collins shares with me about developing discipline in teens and helping all of us stick to our goals. We expand on Dr. Collins’ robust approach to talk about things like:  

  • How to get your teenager started on an instrument
  • What to do if your teenager wants to quit playing an instrument 
  • Which instruments are best for each teen
  • What to do if you have a teenager who’s really, really bad at music

I’m thankful that Dr. Collins shared her insight with me this week about the psychology behind playing instruments. She has so much wisdom for parents to learn from, and easy-to-use tactics to help parents get their teen started playing music. I found Anita’s advice to be comprehensible, relatable, and enlightening, and I know you will, too! 

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. Try a bit of reverse psychology to get your teen to practice:

“Now you are allowed to practice every day, but you must not do more than 20 minutes.”

-Dr. Anita Collins

2. When your teen is “over” practicing, but their recital is coming right up…:

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3. Give you teen the option of which instrument to try:

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4. When your teen complains all their friends are gone from their music group:

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5. Instead of “how was your day” as about a specific:

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6. When you you can’t tell one practice play from another, ask: (1 of 2)

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7. When you you can’t tell one practice play from another, ask: (2 of 2)

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8. Get specific with your feedback on your teen’s playing:

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Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: The book is called The Music Advantage. How music helps your child develop, learn, and thrive. And this is not something you just decided to write on a whim. You have been studying this topic for a while. So how’d you get into this field. And what made you think that you needed to write a book about it?

Dr. Collins: It’s a good question. I’m a music teacher by trade basically, and I’m still a practicing music teacher and I use that word deliberately. I’m practicing what I believe is a craft, an art. But I was also teaching at university and I was doing teacher training. So getting all the teachers ready to go out to teach primary school and high school, middle school teachers. As part of that, I needed to do my PhD to complete that qualification. And I was given two pieces of advice. The first piece of advice, when I was picking my topic was choose something that everybody has researched, like everybody’s looked at. So did it, there’s so much stuff you can just pick and choose from what they’ve done and then you can get your PhD.

Dr. Collins: And the second piece of advice was, choose something you will love at the end, as much as you love at the beginning. And I thought about it and I went, you know what? The thing that’s going to make this the most exciting journey for me is choosing the harder one, which is choosing a topic that I’m going to love at the end. And I still do I’ve kept studying it every single day since. But I looked around for the next new thing, and I kept reading and reading and reading and writing, and I was waiting for that spark moment to go. This is what you should do, I see you gain, your hell yes moment. It came in a really strange way.

Dr. Collins: I read an article that was written by someone who was a music teacher, but also in neuroscientists, and he interviewed four other neuroscientists and his question was, if you got to talk to some music teachers and you wanted to tell them something about your research, then what do you think they should know?

Dr. Collins: Anyway, I read through and I read through, and I read through and I got to the end and I was furious. I was just like, I didn’t need to know all that, but they’ve got the questions.

Dr. Collins: And I took a moment and I said, maybe that’s my hell yes moment. I think this is my thing to study. So, I now look back and go wow, it was a very brave thing to do because I hadn’t studied neuroscience. I had anorther science in university, but I was fascinated about what was happening inside the brain of my students. And all it really was is I wanted to know how to be a better teacher for them.

Dr. Collins: And I figured, if I understood their brain a bit more, then I could teach better. But I think I’ve learned much more through the process about my own reading problems as a child, what I’ve observed with all of my students. So I still absolutely love it. And even before I get out of bed in the morning, I still read all my research alerts. And I see what the newest thing out is. And it’s so exciting.

Andy: You mentioned that this helped you sort of understand your own reading problems better. Was that one of the biggest insights that you gained from doing this research?

Dr. Collins: Yeah, I think so. I was a struggling writer when I was younger and I was one of those children who was very good at hiding that I couldn’t read very well. And I know all these tricks and I’m sure there’s a lot of parents out there that have seen their own children go through these own tricks. I think mine was a bit worse because my mum was a specialist reading teacher. She helped kids who couldn’t read very well learn how to read. And here I am as her firstborn child, not being able to read very well.

Dr. Collins: So it helped me understand how I got over that problem because my life seems to change when I learned how to play the clarinet. But even more than that, when I learned how to read music, and something changed in my reading, and that changed the whole trajectory of my life. If I had stayed a poor reader, I would be doing very different things now. So I really wanted to answer that question, but I didn’t figure that question out until I was about two and a half years into my PhD, when I’m like Oh, maybe I’m trying to answer this question.

Andy: Right. So then for parents of teenagers, are teenagers with reading problems, is that too late for music to help? Where for them to improve their reading through music, because you mentioned in the book there’s a sensitive period for that earlier in life. So by the time your kids get to 12, 13, 14, is it too late for music to help out with that?

Dr. Collins: The fantastic answer is no, it’s not too late at all. It’s actually never too late ever, we can do it all the way through our lives. And this is how quickly the research is moving in, it’s even since writing the book and even starting more research. We’re moving so quickly to understand how music helps with all sorts of issues all the way through life. And one of the best research stuff that I’ve seen for teenagers, because I’m a high school teacher. So I’m fascinated particularly by them and really, really interesting is that kids who haven’t played music at all and start when they’re 14 and they had reading issues, improve their reading right up to so they were exactly the same as their peers, after about three years of learning. And again, that’s changing a life.

Andy: Wow.

Dr. Collins: That’s changing a trajectory of a life to say, you’re going to finish school and maybe go into college or go into work, but you’re going to be a confidence reader. And I think reading is a skill for sure. And it’s important for life, but actually there’s a lot more related to it. And I learned it as a child that, you identify yourself as a type of learner by how well you can read. And I didn’t feel great as a learner, I didn’t feel confident, I didn’t feel like I was smart. All those things that come into it and the longer it goes on, teenagers will really, really experience it too and there’s a lot more going on for them.

Dr. Collins: The wonderful thing about music learning is we now know it can change kids lives into teenage-hood, but also into adulthood as well. And it has such an amazing impact all the way through. So, one of the other parts of that research I might mention is, they found that while their reading levels improved, one of the biggest changes in their brains was their decision-making skills. So they started making really much better decisions for themselves and for their peers and understanding, risk taking and all this sort of other stuff through learning music and help them develop that part of their brain. Now, I don’t know about you but, the teenagers I teach, I am super happy if they’ve got the best decision making they can possibly get in order to do all the things we want them to do.

Andy: And we can all get on board with.

Dr. Collins: Yeah. So music had these amazing impacts. We’re only really starting to truly understand now.

Andy: So how is that, or how does that work? Why is it that learning to play an instrument which seems totally different from reading and literacy and decision-making, how is it that it’s related to all these other positive traits?

Dr. Collins: Well. The first one related to literacy and writing is, we now understand that music processing and language processing are what’s called an overlapping neural network in our brain. Meaning we use the same part of our brain to do those, what seem like quite different tasks on the outside. So if you had struggling with your language processing, if you go over to a different pile around and improve music processing, the brain gets Oh, hang on a second, this is the same pathway, I can get better at doing the language processing. So that’s a really simple answer in that, it’s the same part of the brain doing almost the same task when it comes to learning music. The decision-making was fascinating because decision-making relates to something called, I don’t know which word you’d use, but I’d say the impulse control or inhibitory control.

Dr. Collins: It’s basically not getting distracted by something, not making a decision on a whim or on an impulse and just go “Oh, I just feel like doing it now!” Which is very much what teenagers do, they just have strong emotions. So its having control of that, you might feel like doing something that might be a bit risky, or it might not be good for finishing your homework or something like that. But you still for a moment and you go oh, maybe that’s not a good idea, which is what we learn into adulthood, but it’s truly a very tricky thing to actually be able to do during teenage-hood. So, that’s part of it. And then being able to understand a consequence, if I go and do this now and I don’t finish my homework but I have to go and turn up to my class tomorrow, what’s the consequence of what I choose to do now with what happens tomorrow.

Dr. Collins: And again, teenagers tend to be only be able to see over the next 10 minutes and being able to say, if I do something this afternoon, it has an impact tomorrow. That is the decision-making skills. So it has a lot of different components in it. And the thing about music is, to play a musical instrument in particular, it’s a discipline. You have to do a little bit every day and you have to try really hard every single day and you get it wrong more than you get it right. But you sort of set a long-term goal and that’s the crossover area where teenagers go, if I practice today, when I go to rehearsal tomorrow, I’m going to be able to play this part.

Dr. Collins: If I do my homework today and I turn up to my class and it’s done, then I can feel good about myself, but also I can move on to the next bit of learning that we’re going to do. So, they seem disconnected and my hope is with the book that parents can start to see, two things that look so incredibly different are actually related when it comes to the processes in the brain.

Andy: Yeah. And studies show that they support each other, that’s really cool. So, that sounds really good. These are all traits that we want our teenagers to have. We want them to have a literacy skills, the inhibitory control, the decision-making abilities, yes. So then, are there certain types of music that are better than others? Or what’s as Mozart is the best? Is there a certain like genres, are there certain instruments that are better than others or certain musical environments that are better than others? Or how do we sort of choose the best musical activities for our kids that will support those skills we want them to learn?

Dr. Collins: Yeah. That’s a really tricky one because it kind of crosses over with the neuroscience, but also with education and then with parenting as well. It’s such a tricky thing. The research itself shows that it needs, like I said before, it needs to be music that requires discipline to learn. So, it can be music that we can do easily and quickly. So, a lot of the time teenagers are great at it. They’ll pick up a ukulele and they’ll learn how to play the three chords that you need to play a song. Then they’ll be able to make a song. That’s great and very entertaining, but doesn’t really push the brain to grow and change because it’s something you accomplish really, really quickly.

Dr. Collins: Whereas, let’s take Mozart is a good example, but music that you need a lot of technical skill to actually play. That Could be genre of jazz, it could be in the genre of punk, it could be in the genre of motor, the classical music, it could be in the genre of particular folk music. As long as you have to work really hard, you have to do a little bit every day and he has to do it for a number of years. So it’s not a quick six month fix. You will have great mood changes after six months, but cognitively the brain needs a little bit more time to learn and grow. So there’s great things that will happen along the way, but it’s what we now understand this is at least two years if not probably three years, of ongoing music learning a little bit of practice every day, playing in an ensemble or a group. Singing does come into this as well, but learning and instruments seem to change different parts of the brain, more effective sort of learning parts.

Dr. Collins: For me as a music teacher, my best instrumentalists are the ones who can sing really well and in tune and in a choir. And my band chorus does the ones who also, I’ll say, in the morning at rehearsal in band. Really good musicians can sing and play an instrument as well. It’s not an either role.

Dr. Collins: So they need to just be able to treat it like a discipline. It’s like learning karate, it’s like learning how to knit, it’s like learning how to play chess. It’s something that takes a lot of practice, a lot of time, a lot of thinking. The great thing about music is mostly along the way it’s a lot of fun. It just feels like a fun thing to do. So you don’t realize it but you’re growing your brain while you’re doing a fun and social activity that is again really important for teenagers that they get those positive social signals from their other peers about the things that they do together and the music that they make together. So it’s very, very important.

Andy: So kind of a key is not letting them just get comfortable and just keep playing the things that they’re already good at, or figure out a few things that they can do can really quickly achieve mastery in and then sort of stop there. You want them to be constantly moving on to the next thing or trying to master a new skill or figure out some new core progression that they haven’t quite mastered yet.

Dr. Collins: The term I use in the book is being comfortable with discomfort. So sitting always on the edge of what they can do or doing something new they’ve never done before, but being comfortable in that place of going, I don’t quite know what I’m doing, but I’m going to give it a try anyway. And we know teenagers a lot of the time we’ll run away from that question and not many adults like it either, but we learn to do it, to be grownups. But teenagers really aren’t comfortable in that space. So part of what music learning and music teachers can provide is a language around that discomfort. How does it feel? Where does it live in your body? What does your brain think or what’s going on in your head when you’re being uncomfortable? What do you physically want to do, Do you want to run away? Do you want to hide?

Dr. Collins: And as soon as I’ve worked with my teenagers to work with them, to go let’s get some words around this. They can now up and say, I’m learning to do this and I know it’s not the right thing to do, but I’m really struggling with my body because I can feel that all my skin is tingling. One of them, she has tingly skin, but she can identify it all. So she knows when it’s happening. And so when she knows what’s happening, she gets more control over what’s taking over her body, but also how she reacts to it.

Dr. Collins: Again getting control over that is really important as a teenager. Because that travels through life with you that skill. It’s not like we complete school or we go out of our teenage years into our adult years and everything’s fine. We made a huge number of challenges, and the better we can understand our brain and our body and how it’s dealing with discomfort, the better we can deal with all the other things that go along with it.

Dr. Collins: I think you asked me a question before about how do you choose the right musical, the right instrument. I think the right music that’s something that’s hard, the right instruments is tricky one. Because, they have done research and they’ve found different brain development due to different instruments, which makes total sense. But it’s no better or worse necessarily and a lot of it as a music teacher has to do with, what instrument does that teenager just want to get their hands on and play? And for some kids it’s a piano and other kids, it’s an electric guitar and other kids it’s accordion. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as they love either the sound of it or the feel of it or the look of it or all of those things. I think that’s the most important thing.

Dr. Collins: So they need to be able to give them the opportunity to get onto these instruments and play them and see which one they go oh, this is great and I love seing it on a 14 year old face, when they go, this is the one for me. I love trombone. That’s what we want to see. And that will carry them through all the other stuff that’s coming later, which is the discomfort and the frustration and, I don’t want to practice today and all that stuff. It will Pull them through that part to going, you know what I really do love this instrument.

Andy: Yeah. There needs to be that excitement there to get them through the three years of struggle. So then what do you do if they are giving into the temptation to not practice and to be in the place of like, ah this is hard, this sucks right now, how do we encourage them or push them to keep going and not give up?

Dr. Collins: Yeah. And I think you used the two right words, which is encourage and pushing you need as a parent I think, and music teachers do it too. But a lot of parents, we deal with that at home. We deal with the meltdowns and the, I don’t want to practice in that, things like that. And I think again, I’m only just working with this research to figure out the many ways that teenagers sort of tick, but a lot of the time it’s going, so they don’t want to practice, so they don’t get any better, so then they go, well I’m no good I want to give up. So they created a cycle. And more so the thing is, that’s a cycle that can continue through life. And it’s funny when I talk to parents and they, they I say oh, my daughter wants to give up, or my son wants to give up their instrument. They’re not having fun anymore. And part of me goes, is everything we do in life fun?

Andy: Life isn’t fun, kiddo! Learn to deal with it now!

Dr. Collins: And then some other parents also say no, let them give up and that’s fine. But what sort of messages are you sending, when stuff gets hard? The kid is like I want to give up. And suddenly it turns from about them learning music into a teachable and a parenting moment, where you find this really not feeling like fun right now, but let’s look at the longer term goal. Even if the long-term goal is three weeks away when there’s a concert.

Dr. Collins: Let’s look a little bit further than just this moment when I don’t want to do it, and let’s travel a little bit further and see if we can go, okay well it’s actually worth learning this skill and sitting in the discomfort just that little bit longer and so that we can actually get to the bigger goal. And again, that’s something we have to do in life.

Dr. Collins: We can sit in jobs and relationships and things and we’re not comfortable, but it’s not the right decision to leave at that point in time because we need to work on it. We need to get to that next bit. And I think it’s an opportunity to have that conversation, to start having language about it. And I always find with the teenagers I work with that you have that conversation it’s very uncomfortable and you walk away and there’s a cranky teenager, might slam their door or get upset, but it sinks in. They think about it a little bit more, and they’ll come round, even if it’s just a little bit, and then you keep working at that. But I really think it’s a vehicle for really important life lesson that teenagers will thank us for later on in life. They may never say it to us, but I think it’s something that they take into their later life.

Andy: And so it strikes me that then it’s important to have whatever that thing is like that you mentioned, hit the concert in three weeks or the show, the recital, whatever the talent show that you’re getting ready for some sort of things so that it’s not just playing the instrument. There’s a bit more of they’ve signed on to do it for a certain period of time, that there’s going to be a thing that happens at the end of that time. So that they have something to look forward to that will get them through those lulls of just the excitement where they want to maybe give up or not practice today. But having that vision in the future of this, Hey, I’m going to have to get up in front of however many people, even if it’s just an open mic night or something. This strikes me, yeah. It’s important to-

Dr. Collins: Yeah. From a brain perspective, what I’m counting on is that when they get to that thing, whatever it is, a performance or a show or open mic whatever. When they get up there and they accomplished that, what triggers in the brain is a huge surge in their reward network. And I wouldn’t, because the one that goes, that was great. Let’s do that again. And that’s what I’m banking on that they will have that experience. And they’ll kind of forget about all the hard days and the days they didn’t want to practice because that reward network activation is so overwhelming and we love it. These are the moments we remember in life. And I know they’re going to have that and all my job is as a parent or a teacher is to get them from the low point now to that point where I know that they’re rewarded, or it’s going to just do all my work for me.

Andy: Yeah, right. And so kind of making that arrangement with them ahead of time even, or that yeah, okay. I’ll pay for some lessons or we’ll get you an instrument, but we got to sign you up for something. You’re not just going to be playing around in the basement when you feel like it. We got to agree that in six months, you’re going to do whatever, and then just that, there’s a little bit more of, one of those big events on the calendar.

Dr. Collins: Yeah. Some sort of accountability, something that holds them to account about what they’re doing-

Andy: Especially if there’s other kids involved that are counting on them. I mean, that’s one of the strongest things. As we know their peers, are going to pressure them for you, So if you get them into a group where other kids are counting on them, then it’s like, you don’t have to be pestering them about Hey, are you need to practice today hey, remember you didn’t practice today. They’re begin to feel pressured too because their friends are counting on them too.

Dr. Collins: Absolutely.

Andy: So then how do you handle the practicing? Like on the days off, Do you have a schedule and check it off and make sure that your kid is practicing every day? Or do you sort of just leave it up to them to practice if they feel like practicing or is there some sort of a hybrid way that parents should be involved in the practicing of the kids?

Dr. Collins: Yeah. Practice is an interesting one. And I think there’s not a single answer. There’s a combination of what’s your child like? What do they get motivated by? And then timing within the day sort of thing. I think with a lot of kids that have been struggling with their practice, the very first thing is, it’s the same time every day, or it’s related to something every day. So practice should be done before dinner. So however dinner is organized or served. It’s some like, dinner will be ready in 20 minutes becomes this trigger to go Oh, I’ve got to do my practice before dinners is on, that’s a thing. So it can be related to something in the day.

Dr. Collins: Some kids say to get it out of the way early, before they even really are thinking too much. So getting it done before school. Some kids and teenagers need a timer. And almost the timer is a funny one. Sometimes it’s like, you need to do 20 minutes of practice, let’s say. And then sometimes, and I’ve tried this with a couple of kids and just to see what they did. And I said, now you are allowed to practice every day, but you must not do more than 20 minutes. And there’s something funny that you can’t do more than this-

Andy: That reverse psychology.

Dr. Collins: Reverse psychology. And they suddenly start Bargaining they go, can I do 22 minutes today? Its like oh, okay. Fine. And then Oh, can be 25 minutes today? And so there’s a funny, reverse psychology you can do, I think with some kids it works really well. It sort of pushes them to do, it’s like when you put a timer on anything, suddenly we do things faster. Some kids work with a fear of failure and it can actually be a really productive teaching mechanism to sort of say, do you want to perform well at the recital? How would you feel if you didn’t perform up to your own standards?

Dr. Collins: That’s a tricky one because some kids respond really well to it and it pushes them to practice. And then some kids have a fear reaction. So that’s one parents can pick their own kids and how they react to things. I think it’s also really important to say, instead of doing a practice every day, say you need to do five practices this week, of this length. You can decide when they happen. And what’s really funny is the kids will do what they do with assignments, which is leave them to the last minute. And then try to do hours’ worth in one day.

Dr. Collins: Some kids will go, I find it’s very similar to how they approach the schoolwork. Some kids will go, I want it out of the way really soon, so they do it all at the start of the week. It’s not the most, It should be sort of like exercise we should try and stomach, because I always think about it, that we are not just teaching about practicing. We’re teaching about routine keeping and habit making.

Dr. Collins: Habit making is a really adult skill. And we often do it for our own children. We make them make habits, but then we don’t necessarily teach them how to form that habit themselves. So giving them different opportunities to make little choices themselves, but still having enough practice in the way so that they are going to continue to get better is, is a really interesting way to, play with their minds and see if you can teach them a new skill that they can take into life and you won’t probably get it the first time either. I think it’s really about let’s try this one, see if that works. And then as kids change and their priorities change and their thinking changes, sometimes we have to change how we help them create habits. But again, just using the word habits, practice is a habit, something we do every day. What else do you do every day? I have breakfast, okay. So you have breakfast every day. You practice every day.

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About Dr. Anita Collins

Dr. Anita Collins is an award-winning educator, researcher and writer in the field of brain development and music learning. She is the author of The Music Advantage for which she travelled around the world to interview over 100 neuroscientists and psychologists about music learning and brain development, known as neuromusical research. She is internationally recognized for her unique work in translating the scientific research of neuroscientists and psychologists to the everyday language of parents, teachers, and students.

Anita’s work first came to prominence when she wrote the script for the highly successful TEDEd video, How playing an instrument benefits your brain, followed by her TEDx Talk, What if every child had music education from birth? Anita is best known to Australian’s for her role as on-screen expert and campaign lead for the Don’t Stop the Music documentary that aired on the ABC in late 2018.

Anita was awarded the Barbara Matthews Churchill fellowship in 2016 which allowed her to travel to the US and Canada to learn from researcher leaders, such as Professor Isabelle Peretz from the BRAMS Lab in Montreal and Professor Nina Kraus from the Brainvolts lab in Chicago. In 2017, Anita was awarded a sabbatical to continue her studies, again in the US, Canada and Germany with leaders such as Professors Glenn Schellenberg and Sandra Trehub at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Dr Assal Habibi and Dr Mathew Sachs at the Brain and Creativity Institute in LA. In recognition of her work, Anita was awarded the inaugural Australian Women in Music award for Music Education in 2019.

Dr. Collins lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two kids.

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