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Susan Pascale

Can’t get your kid to practice? Join the club!

October 24, 2012 at 9:14 PM

“Mom, can I practice Puh-LEEEEZE!”

How often do you hear that from your child? I never heard it from my older daughter, now a sophomore at Juilliard; nor from my adult son, a jazz musician. But recently, I’ve been hearing it from my 10-year-old daughter Jenna, a cellist – ever since we launched our practice club.

The idea came about because of Jenna. She was born into and grew up in my music school. She’s naturally musical, but it took an unnatural amount of effort to get her to sit down and practice. My usual tactics – prizes, bribes, and badgering - weren’t working.

What had worked in the past was rewarding her with something that meant a lot to her. When she was younger, it was all about stuffed animals. Now, it’s all about her friends. Her closest friends all play in my orchestra with her.

So I thought having a practice club on Sunday, my one day off, might be worth it.

Of course, parents immediately jumped on the idea – they were happy to drop their children off with me for the afternoon, especially when they heard it was to practice!

The first two Sundays were utterly exhausting . As soon as the six young musicians were dropped off at 12:30 p.m., they scattered like mice, running wild on the property. It was a challenge to keep them engaged for three hours

But by the third attempt I had an improved plan. I visited the 99 cent store and bought fuzzy slippers, small candies and assorted prizes. On Sunday, the kids arrived and I immediately pulled out a basket of slippers, informing them that, to be a club member, they had to wear them. That engaged them right away (with just a little bickering over who got which color).

Next, they were handed a clipboard, a mini-pencil, and a blank practice log. They were instructed to write down everything they intended to practice for the next two hours. The log I designed has columns that show how much time they planned to spend on each piece or exercise, and then the actual time that they spent.

They were each led into their own practice room; I strategically placed the closest friends furthest apart!

For the third hour, the kids played in groups, which of course, they love. Some played duets, others worked on their orchestra music together.

I’m still practicing practice club, and it keeps getting better. Here are some of my most successful strategies.

1. Fifty is fabulous – Fifty minute intervals, followed by a 10 minute break, seems to work best.

2. Pop-ins are popular - Frequent interruptions in the beginning of their practice session sets them up for the afternoon – they know I’m listening.

3. Reward them often - While making the rounds, bring an arsenal of stickers and throw one on their practice log to reward their efforts. They also perk up with an M&M or two. (Cheerios work too.)

4. Have snacks, will practice – For some reason, practicing makes kids hungry. Each ten minute or longer break should come with a healthy snack or beverage.

5. Leave the door open - For your most challenging practicers, pass by often , calling out “Do it again! “ or “That was out of tune!” or “You’re doing great!” The surprise coaching keeps them on their toes.

6. Extend the fun - After club time, ask a parent to take the kids out for frozen yogurt, miniature golf, or a movie.

7. Try a weekday club - On Thursday nights, parents in my program have picked up the ball and begun offering a mini-practice club. The kids do their homework, practice, and eat dinner. By the time Jenna gets home, all that’s left for me to bark is, “Brush your teeth and go to bed!”

8. Encourage teachers to join the club - One of our cello teachers, Tao Ni, the associate principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has occasionally joined the club. So has our viola teacher, Zach Dellinger, who is preparing for an important competition. Hearing them practice makes a huge impression on our budding musicians. It teaches them that practice really does make perfect!

9. Acknowledge accomplishments - We have a binder in which kids put their completed practice logs . At the end of each month, we add up everyone’s hours, and post them on the school bulletin board. Kids feel proud and it inspires other children to join a practice club!

Some people think I’m crazy to do this on my Sunday afternoon. But it’s worth it, to to hear my daughter and her friends begging to practice, and to hear the improvement in their playing. My household is a lot more peaceful these days, with less nagging and more cello!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 25, 2012 at 1:32 AM
Hi, lovely!

I imagine that kids who are learning in your wonderful school (really it seems very nice) must like music.

I'm all for providing kids with serious hobbies as long as the love of that hobby stays no 1 on the list. It's possible to have a great social circle and rewards in many hobies (music and sports are just one of the examples)

Good luck and bravo for your devotion!

From Matthew Grogan
Posted on October 27, 2012 at 5:09 PM
What a great idea! A brilliant way to build a violin community and for the kids to understand the playing music is a communal thing and not just about practicing on your own!

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