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Creating Enthusiastic and Independent Practicers: Part 4, Making Practice Less Stressful for Parents

Claire Allen

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Published: July 31, 2014 at 1:47 AM [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 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!

From Paul Deck
Posted on July 31, 2014 at 4:17 PM
Great post, Claire. Care to comment on how to make the transition from parent-coached practice to independent practice? Age, level, other factors? What the parent, student, and teacher need to do to make sure the transition is effective? I'm at that point now with my daughter and could use some insight.

Note -- I also play the violin and when I was a kid I pretty much practiced by myself from as early as I can remember. I did not have Suzuki lessons and my parents did not consider themselves practice coaches. I read your "taking ownership" post and I thought that was very good but did not really answer the question for me. The issue of making the violin be "more the child's" than mine is made more difficult by the problem that I love the violin tremendously and I wish I could practice four hours a day but my daughter does not feel that way and likely never will, and she is aware of this difference in our feelings toward the instrument. So I worry about stuff.

From Claire Allen
Posted on August 2, 2014 at 9:21 PM
Hi Paul, that's a great point! I have several thoughts on this...there's one more blog post to come in the series and then I'll write one on that!

You may want to start by splitting your daughter's practice time in two - she practices the first half by herself and then you monitor the second half. This can gradually increase to her practicing one day by herself, then one day with you.

Another idea would be to video your daughter playing, have her watch it back with you, and then come up with a few goals to accomplish in her next practice session.

I actually started violin "late" at the age of 9, and while I learned the Suzuki books, I never practiced with my parents. In my teaching studio, I'm observing that around 7 or 8 is where the student really starts *wanting* to practice on their own but that 9 - 10 is where they actually have the focus and self-evaluation skills to do it. Of course, every child and every parent is different so it's going to depend largely on personality and motivation.

Posted on August 5, 2014 at 4:07 AM
Claire, thanks for responding, based on my daughter's age I think I'm behind the curve. :)

Looking forward to your blog post on this subject for sure.

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