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Creating Enthusiastic and Independent Practicers: Part 3, Making Practice Fun for Students

Claire Allen

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Published: July 30, 2014 at 12:41 PM [UTC]

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!)

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