Practicing the Violin: Encouraging Young Students

January 19, 2019, 10:04 AM · Let’s face it, most children, given the choice, will play with their toys or their friends before thinking, "Ah yes, I must practice my violin."

little bow hand

I have come across parents of young children who say to me, "I never remind them to practice, they have to want to do it themselves." I usually point out that at a young age, children need guidance and help in structuring their time. They welcome parental input in finding that balance between being a child and learning something new. As they practice and improve, they will later find the stimulus within themselves to put in the practice time. The sense of satisfaction from a good lesson or a well-received performance will generate the desire to practice and keep improving. However, to start with, they need a gentle nudge in the right direction.

I remember that my brother, who is an exceptionally gifted cellist, would always pretend to have practiced on a Saturday morning when my mum went out for the shopping. She would be gone a few hours and my brother would put his cello out, strew music all over the floor as if he had practiced and discarded it, and then settle down on a comfy bean bag to watch Johnny Weissmuller being Tarzan on the telly. The thing is, once he got into it, he practiced more than anyone I knew and became very accomplished. Music is his life and he has performed all over the world and never once regretted his life choice of being a cellist. He is the perfect example of someone who benefitted from being reminded and encouraged to practice.

I have seen that often the biggest obstacle to regular practice is a child’s inability to organize their time. Students will frequently say, "I was really busy and I didn’t have time." In these cases, I try to help them understand how to find that time. For example, "Do you find you have 10 minutes before you have your dinner, when you are waiting for the food to be ready on the table?" The answer invariably is yes, in which case I suggest setting aside those 10 minutes to do a little practice. Ten minutes is still better than nothing, and maybe you can find a few of those moments throughout the day.

I have also found that giving them a structured practice schedule that they can refer to can help the child that wants to practice but struggles to understand how best to go about it.

If a child is kicking and screaming and unwilling to do the practice necessary to make lessons worthwhile, then it is probably time to step back and accept that they do not want to learn the instrument they are currently learning. Indeed maybe they have no interest in music whatsoever, which is absolutely fine; their interests and talents probably lie elsewhere. However, in most cases it is just a question of gentle reminders and regular goals that help propel the interest forward, giving the child something he or she will remember fondly and be grateful for, wherever life leads them in the future.

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January 19, 2019 at 11:45 PM · Nicely written, thanks.

I might just pass this on to the parents of some of my students.

January 20, 2019 at 01:21 AM · My violin teacher is a professional in our symphony and her mom made her practice everyday...not always to her liking. But today she is grateful to her mom and has never regretted the practicing.

January 20, 2019 at 04:25 PM · One of my teachers was a violin 1 in the Boston Symphony. He once told my parents that he knew from an early age that he was destined to be a professional violinist but always hated to practice.

January 20, 2019 at 09:42 PM · When does play become practice, or practice become play? I agree with the need to teach young (and many older) people how to manage time. I've also noted that parents who a good time managers tend to have children who are good time managers - the reverse is more common and also true.

I put more emphasis on the play aspect. After all, music is about having fun. Teachers and parents who make it all serious, actually making the case that "you won't get into Harvard if you don't (Fill in the blank)"

Of course, I'm rather picky about who I bring into my studio. I talk to the prospective young musician to determine if the desire to play comes from them or their parents. Generally the ones that have the inner desire to play are more likely to play between lessons because they don't put the violin in the same brain-closet as "School."

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