This is part of the four-part series, Creating Enthusiastic and Independent Practicers. Here are links to Part 1: Market Like Disney, Part 2: Taking Ownership, Part 3: Making Practice Fun for Students, Part 5, The Importance of Community and Part 6, Toward Independence
I know that as hard as my kids work in the practice room, their parents are working harder. And that's why this post is dedicated just to the parents - because practice should be fun for them, too! Here are my suggestions for lowering your stress levels and adding fun:
1. Record your student's lessons. This can solve a lot of problems about "What the teacher said." There won't be any argument, because you can simply watch the lesson back and find out exactly what the teacher said! This also will help you catch details that you didn't in the lesson, and it may help your child evaluate themselves more objectively by watching their lessons from the outside.
2. Take notes during lessons. As a teacher, I've observed that my young students who remember the most are the ones whose parents supplement my practice charts with their own notes. After all - parents know their children far better than I do. They know the little detail which I will take for granted but that they know their kids will forget, they can clue into a new way of explaining things that is particularly effective, or a subtle change in their child's mood that I might miss. This will also help you have a record of the lesson at home.
3. Read the book Helping Parents Practice, by Ed Sprunger. This book is amazing and my parents who have read it and used the techniques have found it to be invaluable in helping them understand the nuances of practice as well as how to help their child navigate the violin.
4. When you're setting up your child's practice area, make sure to include a comfortable chair for yourself - somewhere you will enjoy sitting. Add your favorite pillow, a comfy throw, and anything else you want to make this a warm and inviting environment for you.
5. Stock your favorite blend of coffee, tea, or beverage of choice and sip on it slowly while you practice with your child. Pick a music themed mug or just a mug that you like. I confess to using this one on occasion when I teach...(Disclaimer: I stole this idea from the Ed Sprunger book. It's seriously THAT good!)
6. Schedule practice as part of your day. I would estimate that 80% of practice stress for parents comes from struggling to fit violin practice into a day full of work, wrangling kids, and errands. If you know that practice will come as soon as you get the kids home from school and before you make dinner, you'll be much less stressed.
I know some of this seems like more work for parents, not more fun, but I promise that incorporating these ideas and strategies into your violin routine will make for less stress overall. If you know you have reliable records of the lesson content, a scheduled practice session, a great place to sit with your favorite beverages - and these great suggestions (Creating Enthusiastic and Independent Practicers Parts One, Two, and Three) for helping your kids enjoy practice more, then practice will be much more fun and much less stressful for parents!
This is part of the four-part series, Creating Enthusiastic and Independent Practicers. Here are links to Part 1: Market Like Disney, Part 2: Taking Ownership, Part 4: Making Practice Less Stressful for Parents, Part 5, The Importance of Community and Part 6, Toward Independence
What you do in the practice room matters. As a teacher, I see an endless array of scenarios and levels of practice. I have one student who routinely practices 5 days a week and is always prepared. She's very consistent. I have other students whose charts say that they practice every day but retain bad habits and sloppy playing despite countless lessons correcting them. Practice is where it all happens, and I have some tips and resources to suggest both to make your practice more effective and more fun.
1. Ask your teacher how specifically to practice a trouble spot or a certain technique. Maybe you can take a short video during your lesson so you can see just how your teacher wants you to do it. Watch the video at the start of your practice session to refresh your memory. It can be frustrating if the only instruction in your head is "Just practice it!"
2. Use a chart to organize your practice. It helps to see all your goals and assignments in one place - and it also helps you track your accomplishments. It feels good to check off an item on your to-do list, and for the busy student, the chart can also help you rotate your practice assignments if you don't have time to practice every item on the list every day. You can also get super creative with your chart. Use stickers, special pens, or create your own to personalize it and have fun!
3. Pick out a fun timer to guide your practice. Decide how long you're going to practice an item on your practice chart and then have the student set the timer. This is another small way that the student can feel they have a choice and control over their practice! The parent is dictating the practice, but the student can pick the item, pick the amount of time, and set the timer on their own.
4. Use something tangible to guide your repetitions. One tried-and-true method of doing this is to line up three pennies or three small candies on one side of your music stand. For every good repetition, you move one item to the other side of the music stand. For every not-so-good repetition, nothing moves. Once all three items are on the other side of the stand, the practicer gets to keep them! You can also use counting beads for this!
5. Introduce an element of chance. Use regular dice to determine how many repetitions the student will do - again, that element of control. If your child has an uncanny ability to roll 1's, use two dice and also make it an addition game! There are also special music dice you can get which have the names of Suzuki pieces on them, key signatures, notes, and more to help you study and learn in a fun way!
6. Activity books and interactive games. There may be days when the violin just isn't coming out of the case. We all have them. If you can't get your child to open their case, see if you can get them to do a page in an activity book such as Freddie Fiddle or play an online game related to music.
7. Bribery. I am not against bribing my students to practice, and I certainly don't judge parents who use rewards as motivation. I do have two guidelines for bribery, though. The first thing is that the student absolutely has to earn it. Have them set the goal with you, create a chart to track it, and then follow through. If their goal is to practice for seven days in a row and they only practice five, you can point to those empty spots on the chart and say "We didn't make it this week, but we can try again next week." Don't give them the reward unless they complete the goal to the letter!
The second thing is that rewards should be music related. Maybe they'll get a special cake of Magic Rosin, or a new recording to listen to of music by a famous composer. Maybe they'll get a new book such as Peter and the Wolf. Maybe you'll buy tickets to a concert that they want to attend. Our goal is for our students to love music and to be skilled violinists - so bribing them with more tv or iPad time most likely isn't going to be motivating, since that's something they'll end up getting anyway. This should be something that they'll only get from practicing.
See the original post on my website (with links to a Pinterest board with fun practice tools!)
This is part of the four-part series, Creating Enthusiastic and Independent Practicers. Here are links to Part 1: Market Like Disney, Part 3: Making Practice Fun for Students, Part 4: Making Practice Less Stressful for Parents, Part 5, The Importance of Community and Part 6, Toward Independence
Wow. I can't believe how many views I had on the first post in this series. That's what putting "Disney" in the title of a post will do for you, I guess. I hope we get just as many on this one, because just buying things with music and violins on them is only part of the practice puzzle.
The second piece is having your children take ownership of their violin playing. If your child is old enough to play violin, they're old enough to be taught ownership. Sometimes, when you're a kid, you feel like your life is completely controlled by the adults around you (and let's be honest - it usually is). That can result in a feeling of powerlessness. If violin is something that a kid feels they have no control over, it will almost certainly be one of the things that they use when they start testing their limits. I have quite a few students in my studio who are creative, intelligent kids who love violin but refuse to practice because it is something their parents want them to do, and they're at the stage where they don't want to do what their parent tells them, regardless of whether it's cleaning their room or practicing violin.
An important public service announcement: Violin should always, always be more the child's thing than the parent's thing. Being a violinist is the child's identity. We want our kids to play violin because they love it, want to make music, and want to play well. They should never feel obligated to play to live out their parents' dream or to fit into some pre-determined notion of what the perfect child does. Music is not a box to check on the list of well-rounded extracurricular activities. It is a passion, and creating art is one of the highest privileges of being human.
It's true that there will be stages where the parent needs to motivate the student and keep them practicing when they rather wouldn't, but playing the violin should at its core be something that the student wants for their life. There is a big difference between not wanting to play music and not wanting to practice.
Violin lessons (like pretty much everything) start with the parent doing everything for the child and end with the child doing everything. This process takes years, especially if the student starts young. Remember that your eventual goal is to have your child driving themselves to lessons, practicing independently, organizing their own schedule - and one day, even paying for their own lessons (if they continue to play through college and into adulthood).
So, how do you teach your kids to take ownership of their violin playing? You start from the very first day.
1. Have them carry their own instrument. Violins come in fractional sizes for a reason. If they're old enough to play the violin, they're old enough to carry the case responsibly. No matter how much they whine, no matter how much they drag their feet, make them carry their own violin. It's an important part of the bonding process between violinist and violin, and essential for ownership.
2. Students should prepare their own violin and bow for playing. They should open the case, attach any shoulder rest or sponge, and tighten/rosin the bow. Very young children will need to be guided by their parents in this, but learning proper care and setup of the instrument is critical. They need to learn it as soon as possible!
3. Students should fill out their own practice charts. If your teacher gives you a practice chart, let the student take responsibility for checking off each item on the chart as you complete it. If your teacher doesn't give you a practice chart, check The Practice Shoppe and have the student fill in their assignments! If your child isn't comfortably writing yet, the parent can fill in the chart, but the child should check everything off. Let them choose a special pen or a colored pencil or crayon to mark off the chart.
4. Let students choose the order of practice. Let your child choose what to do first. The rule should be that they have to do everything on the chart, but they can pick the order.
5. Give your child a choice about when to practice. Whether or not the student practices should not be a choice. Except in extreme circumstances, practice is every day. However, you can give the child a choice about when they are going to practice. One of my parents told me that she gives her son a choice: Either he can practice before his tv time OR he can practice right after dinner. If he chooses not to practice before tv time, then he must practice after dinner.
6. Involve the student in the communication process with the teacher. As soon as they're old enough, the student should be the one emailing the teacher with questions or with scheduling issues. It can be from the parents' email account if they don't have their own, but the student should take responsibility for communicating with the teacher. If the student isn't old enough, they should sit with the parent while the parent contacts the teacher and give input. Again - ownership. It's their violin lesson.
The point of all of this is to help your student feel like violin is theirs. Once a student really takes ownership of their violin playing, they will feel a sense of ownership and pride. Knowing that they can set a goal for themselves, create a plan to accomplish that goal, and execute their will build true self-esteem and confidence. They will be healthier, happier, and more responsible human beings and dedicated, creative, passionate musicians.
This is part of the four-part series, Creating Enthusiastic and Independent Practicers. Here are links to Part 2: Taking Ownership, Part 3: Making Practice Fun for Students, Part 4: Making Practice Less Stressful for Parents, Part 5, The Importance of Community and Part 6, Toward Independence.
Practicing violin takes a lot of focus, patience, and discipline. And, if the practicer is a young child, it takes quite a bit of cooperation and collaboration between parent and child.
Learning music takes creativity and imagination, but a lot of violin lessons involves technical work - making sure that your shoulders are level, the violin is tall, the bow hold is just so, etc. And in the face of so much technical work, it can be easy to lose the sight of one's ultimate musical goals.
My first suggestion for creating enthusiastic practicers involves marketing like Disney. Think about the Disney experience. There's the movies, and the soundtracks. There are the dolls, the action figures, the backpacks, the clothing. There are coloring books and stickers.
Unless I miss my guess, several of you know all of the words to the Frozen soundtrack. My second guess is that you didn't actively sit down and try to learn those songs. Think about how you learned it. Constant repetition, whether you wanted it or not. The full immersion experience.
Violin can work the same way. Think of creating an immersion experience for violin. If your child's only associations with violin involve going to lessons and having to practice at home - especially if fights between parent and child take place about practicing - they may have more associations of work, fights, and frustration than joy and fun.
So, help your child feel like a violinist. Buy a special tote bag just to hold their violin music. Listen to violin music a lot. Buy dvds of violinists playing concerts and have those on in the car when you're driving around. Watch movies that have kids playing music in them. I LOVE Music of the Heart, which stars Meryl Streep and is available on Netflix streaming. Look up audio recordings that are designed especially for kids and have narration or even a story featuring violin music. Buy the mini violin for the American Girl dolls and have your child monitor a practice session for the doll! And of course, take your kids to lots of live concerts so that they can see other violinists in action. Consider the concert hall the Disney World of music. Help your kids use their imaginations to put themselves in the amazing world of violin music and to really see themselves as violinists. In short, let violin be as integral a part of their lives as Disney movies, music, and products.
We as human beings are incredibly sensitive to our environments and to the messages that are being broadcast. Yes, playing violin is fun, but practicing can be a chore, even for the most dedicated students. Let's make sure that our students are barraged with positive, fun, and creative messages about music to help inspire them and realize how worth it all that practicing can be.
I've made a couple Pinterest boards to help you get started on your search. They have everything from Beethoven action figures to movies to violin-themed jewelry. Check them out from the original post on my website:
For this summer, I'm starting a new blog series! The most frequent email I get from parents of my students is asking for suggestions on how to motivate their kids to practice. I hear stories of bargaining, begging, pleading, and threats on the part of the parents and stubbornness, tantrums, and tears from the students. And the thing is, these are great kids. They love music and they love violin. They just hate practicing - and if they've hit the stage where they are determined to be independent from their parents, they also hate doing anything their parents want them to do.
I've given some thought to this matter and I think I have some ideas to help create enthusiastic and independent practicers. Check back on the blog on Monday for the first suggestion!
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