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Laurie Niles

July 29, 2003 at 7:03 PM

Practicing actually works!

This was what my six-year-old daughter realized for the first time in her life yesterday, and it was a pretty amazing moment for me as well. Up until now, she has held the suspicion that playing the violin is impossible. It’s a suspicion supported by a lot of real-life evidence, as we all know!

I can imagine her thoughts: "Holding the violin is hard. It kind of hurts. Holding the bow is hard, and Mom is never happy with where my fingers go. When I play my 'motorcycle stop-stop' rhythm on the E string, it doesn’t much sound like when Mom plays. In fact, those 'Twinkle Variations' seem awfully easy for Mom, and I’ve never seen *her* practicing 'motorcycle stop-stop' on the E string. I bet she made a deal with the Devil…"

I vowed that I would not let either of my children play the violin unless they begged me, on hands and knees. Then when my daughter was four and a half, she said to me in a somewhat half-interested way, "Maybe I’d like to play, too…." I immediately ran out and got the little fiddle, the books, the tapes, etc. I did my Suzuki training while pregnant with her, so I had certainly thought about it. I could be her teacher, my husband could practice with her…

It didn’t really work for us, Mom as teacher, Dad as practice parent. When I was being the teacher, I often wanted to talk to the mother of this child. And as her parent, I wanted to talk to the teacher! I just couldn’t do it all, especially at the proper pace and with the proper patience required for a four-year-old. So we quit – burned out before age five!

Actually, I knew we just needed to wait until she was a little older. Then recently, an opportunity came up for me to "trade" lessons with a colleague. She’d teach my daughter, I’d teach her grandson.

At first, my daughter was skeptical. I was skeptical! Maybe she just didn’t like the violin. Why force it? We came very close to quitting before even starting.

But she loved her first lesson with gentle June. She came out beaming and said, "Is it morning or night? I forgot because I liked my lesson so much!" I was stunned.

So I have been practicing with her just about every day, though so far she has enjoyed her lessons more than our practice.

But yesterday seemed like a small turning point. She had been trying for days to play "motorcycle stop-stop" on the A string, but every time she did it, she would hit other strings and then stop trying in frustration. I said to her, "Do you know, we learn a lot from our mistakes. If you didn’t know what it felt like to play it wrong, you couldn’t play it right." She paused for a minute, looked at me with her luminous gray eyes, trying to decide if I was serious or not. "Okay, I’ll try." She looked at the fingerboard very intently, and played her rhythm without touching the E or D at all.

"You did it!" I said.

"I did it!" she said, hopping up and down and smiling like she’d just climbed Mt. Everest. I explained that when we get it right, we do it a bunch of times. She dutifully did it again, six times.

After our practice was over and she’d packed away her little eighth-sized violin in its case, she smiled.

"Can we get up really early in the morning and practice again tomorrow?"

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