How to motivate young students to practice

January 29, 2007 at 07:34 PM · From time to time I get a 6 or 7 year old beginning student who loves to come for violin lessons but isn't motivated to practice at home. I've tried several things to motivate these kids, and I'd like to learn more.

If a parent can help the kid practice, that generally helps, but it's not always possible.

Keeping a practice log to keep the student on track can be helpful. I set it up so that the student records the number of minutes he practices each day, with a goal of a specified total number of minutes per week. If the student meets the goal, I give him a sticker. A certain number of stickers translates to a music-related reward from the parents.

Giving stickers at lessons for a job well done is helpful, too.

It's good to have a goal to work towards. This could be playing something with a school orchestra (but there generally aren't school orchestras for kids this young), playing with a friend, preparing some music to play for Grandma (or some supportive adult). Suzuki advocated "home concerts" in which the kid showed a parent what he accomplished.

It might be helpful to tape the kid's playing at different time intervals so that he can hear the improvement he gets with practice.

Scheduling a time to practice every day and working it into the daily routine is good.

Any other suggestions? Thanks in advance.

Replies (72)

January 29, 2007 at 08:46 PM · I give this lecture to parents, and it worked very well when given to me by a piano teacher in regards to practicing with my son, then 5: It takes 21 days to form a habit, so you must form a habit with your child. They must be 21 days in a row; if you miss a day, you have to start over. Once you have formed the "practice habit", your child will stop fighting with you about it, because it will be a habit. It is easier to practice with your child every day than it is to skip days. If you form the habit and practice every day, there will be no arguments, and the wonderful progress you make will make you want to keep the habit!

It worked very well. I have one student who has practiced 400 + days in a row.

You could give them some kind of reward for the 21 days, then maybe for 100 days, 200, etc. I still need to give my student a big award for a straight year of practice! But I think it has been its own reward for him, he's so proud of himself.

January 30, 2007 at 04:38 AM · agree with laurie's post in that motivating is one thing, but a more important step is to develop a routine. it does not have to be unpleasant, or pleasant. just a habit forming under supervision.

it has to be as regular as meal time, teeth brushing, getting ready for the school bus...

once a routine is established, then we talk about quality of practice but that is down the line.

with ours, the added incentives go to her heart and stomach. she takes great pride when others acknowledge that she does a good job (who does not?) and she loves her ice cream treats (like the rest of you with coffee that help make starbucks a success:)

January 30, 2007 at 09:28 AM · That's a good idea, Laurie.

January 30, 2007 at 01:42 PM · Laurie, I want to borrow/steal your idea. Do you want commission?

Does anybody have any idea how to deal with spoiled children? Their parents?

I just erased a long bitter rant. Not a good day for this...

The only thing I can come up with is to appeal to parent's wallet. For example:

Lesson price: $25.00 1/2 hour (give or take)

If that were a 6 hour school day: $300.00

If that were a 5 day school week: $1,500.00

If that were a 4 week month: $6,000.00

You get the idea. Most parents would make the kid do the homework, if they were paying 6K a month for private school tuition.

January 30, 2007 at 02:48 PM · I read a very insightful comment in a book called

"The Harmonious Child" by Beth Luey (which I recommend very highly): many children do not completely understand what a teacher means when they say to practice. Between that and the implication from parents that practice means work, that can be enough to really dull the enthusiasm! Luey suggests a very simple practice log that allows the student to write down what they played, what the problem was, and how they attempted to work on the problem, so that the teacher can also review that and help them with strategies to make practice more productive and therefore more satisfying. She also suggests that parents avoid telling or asking children to practice, instead phrasing it as, "Have you played your violin today" or "why don't you play your violin while I'm making dinner."

By the way, this book also has an excellent chapter discussing how to handle children who demonstrate exceptional aptitude for music--how to assist them in continuing to develop without feeling forced, and how to foster an enjoyment for music even if they do not choose it as their career. I'd highly recommend it to any teacher.

January 30, 2007 at 09:34 PM · even some very accomplished players admit that practice is no fun. why? time and energy consuming? no thrills of the show time? so we decide to ask 6 yos to develop a routine for it, something we sell to them as fun, as good for them, something that is necessary or even recommended, something they will figure out and thank us later. a few do, indeed, and most just fade away.

no matter how we put it, pratice is about repetition and problem solving. problem solving for 6 yos can be fun, to a degree, but repetition is hardly fun.

fact is we are trying to develop in them a strong sense of work ethics early, beyond music appreciation and techniques, way beyond what an average 6 yo is required to, and certainly not about music being fun. work ethics means fun or not, do your best. fun is about doing what we like and stop doing it when it is not. fun is about sit down when tired. work ethics is about continue to stand more.

the worst thing to do is to sugar coat the violin learning experience as fun without an elaborate discussion on the accompanying good stuff: unpleasant moments, boredom, frustration,etc. otherwise, to 6 yos, the moment when it is not fun, which can happen in one day, one week, one month, one year, the house of notes simply collapses because the foundation is faulty-- not built to stand strong for long from the start. the car salesperson only talked about the new tires but failed to mention the busted engine.

as adults, our job is to tell the whole truth and tell them the down side first so they can make a stand, yes, even as 6 yos. if you subject them to make a commitment on routine and sacrifices, give them a chance to make an informed commitment. or not. once started, what are you going to do when violin playing is not fun and fun is not violin playing?

two paths await.

January 31, 2007 at 05:13 AM · I just started doing practice "bucks." I forget who I got the idea from, but it has worked great! I used to do practice challenges that students could win (a certain number of days in a row, etc.) That has never worked because if they miss one day, they get discouraged and the practicing stops. With practicing bucks (violin dollars) students receive a pretend dollar for every week that they practice 6 days and 2 pretend dollars every week that they practice 7 days. Many families like to take Sunday or Shabat (Jewish Sabbath, I may have misspelled it) off from practice, and I don't think they should be penalized. So far it's worked great and some of my students who have not been good about regular practice have been earning dollars. At the end of the semester they'll be able to buy stuff from me.

Also, with little kids, practicing shouldn't be all just about work. There needs to be some fun too. This is where parents need to get creative to come up with some games or fun activities to balance out the hard work. It could be as simple as, we have to play this spot 6 times so let's play it one time in each room of the house, or lets practice in the dark, or with eyes closed, or win a penny for each good repetition. Sometimes kids like to "teach" the parents what they learned in the lesson. That can work too. If practice is completely boring though, few 6-7 year olds will willingly do it each day.

Also, I think if students are going to study violin at that age, their parents have to figure out a way to be involved in practice. It's unfair and unproductive to expect a child to have good independent practice sessions. If parents are unable or unwilling to practice regularly with their children, then they need to wait till the child is older to resume lessons.


January 31, 2007 at 02:14 PM · As a parent, I do what I can. Used to dance to my child's playing in practice. No easy feat if the piece is a Wohlfahrt.

With my daughter, it also depends a lot on what she has to practice. That's when we need teachers' help. Mine is older than 6 or 7. She now does not mind practicing two and a half hours on her own. She used to have a tough time practicing 30 minutes less than two years ago. She was dragging her feet so much that the actual playing time was more like 15 minutes a day. I think a lot of it is thanks to the approach the new teacher adopts.


January 31, 2007 at 02:58 PM · Mr. Ku, in the Feb/07 issue of Harper's, Barbara Ehrenreich' essay "Pathologies of Hope" said the same thing you did, but you said it much better!

January 31, 2007 at 03:40 PM · i think the challenge facing a 6 yo is very different from the challenge facing a teenager who can develop more concrete ideas about life in general and how violin playing fits into her present and future. for a 6 yo, with the exception of couple in a billion that i have heard about but never met, probably never will, she is a follower. if you ask a 6 yo why she wants to play violin, the answer can be couple sentences if you are lucky, or mostly a shrug of the shoulders. if you ask a teenager, it can be a book if the kid has already been inspired.

it is up to the teacher and the adults to lead the 6 yo and lead properly. case in point: kids often practice at home with no one to emulate in real time. she plays something, you think it is incorrect and say, no good. she may know it is no good but no one is there to show her what good is,,,,until one week later in class where the teacher will tell her she has now 10 no-goods, 5 more than last week. the viscious cycle continues and no-goods pile up, simply because for the majority of the week, the month, the year, the decade, no workable attempts to correct the no-goods have been instituted and carried out. it is in fact quite amazing how some kids can play decent without any real practice. when the kid hears too many no-goods she gets frustrated and wants to quit, and the parent goes.. SO YOU THINK THIS IS ALL ABOUT FUN??? now she is hearing it. imagine a lion mom teaches hunting skills once a week for an hour and the rest of the week the cubs are on their own, fun, fun, fun!

since practice is no fun in the worst case scenario which happens more often than not, more often than we would like to acknowledge publicly because we want to be viewed as competent and caring teachers and parents, treat it as a game.

the game is to find the fun in something that is not fun. have problem understanding that, kido?

think of the brave firemen running into burning buildings when they themselves have kids at home who may lose a father..

think of mommy driving through the slippery snow to get to the hospital so sick patients get care..

give that responsibility to a 6 yo you may be surprised how she enjoys acting 2 yrs older, how she tries to beat you to it by opening the violin case before you get to ask for it.

addn: ann, just saw your note,,i must say it is a refreshing comment from you since mostly what i get here is bashing from buri:)

February 1, 2007 at 04:13 AM · Laurie and the others have given you the good advice.

My experience with six-year-olds is, 99% of them won't practice on their own.

It's the parents' job to make practicing happen. .

At six, Auer went to lessons three or four times a week. So, if a student doesn't practice, I suggest to the parents that I give their child lessons four or five times a week in order to help them out. Since most parents can't afford that, they opt to do it on their own.

I don't look at practicing as optional. They practice, or they're wasting my time. I'm not asking for five hours a day. I just want fifteen minutes.

As a parent, to get my own kids to practice, these are the things I do:



bribes of all kinds





And I try them all and then I do them again. There is no magic bullet. Everything works for a little while, then you have to do something else.

Consistent effort--that's the key.

January 31, 2007 at 10:15 PM · Kimberlee - We did all of that and more. What worked best for my daughter was having an interesting piece of music. Maybe you already use only interesting music and this may not apply to you.

When my daughter was seven, she was working on Wohlfahrt and a shifting exercise book. I was told that the shifting exercise is harder musically. But it had pictures and each piece was shorter, prints were spread out more. I had no difficulty getting my daughter practice shifting. With Wohlfahrt, it was a struggle every time. Finally, I enlarged the music, spread it out more, put fun stickers here and there. She was more agreeable after that. I had to wonder why there aren't more kid friendly etudes.


February 1, 2007 at 12:28 AM · Great! Insouk, you guys are very good parents. Your daughter will be so grateful to you some day. I fought my parents like crazy at first, but now, I can't think of what they did for me without shedding some tears.

I completely agree with you. The teacher bears a great portion of the burden--I was just responding to Pauline's original question in which she stated the child "loved coming to lessons" so I assumed this was not the problem.

February 1, 2007 at 12:26 AM · My private students each have a practice book, and in that I write down their practice assignment, ie, what they should do each day. I often have the students help me decide what to write down. Sometimes they even write it themselves, like "measure 10, six times a day, LOW 2!" Or "Chorus, with vibrato". But it's very, very specific at age 6, so everyone involved knows what the expectation is. Even for adults, I want to write it in a language they will understand.

I don't give out a lot of rewards to students, just a lot of positive feedback for practice. I'm not against rewards, though, not at all.

If there's not enough practice, I don't really scold, but I talk with student and parent about how they can rearrange their schedule, when would be the best time to practice, etc. Sometimes I jump up and down if a student has a new benchmark, like they practiced every day in a week, or 2 weeks in a row, or geez, a year in a row! One girl really enjoyed seeing me jump up and down :)

February 1, 2007 at 04:14 AM · You sound like a very good teacher, Laurie.

February 1, 2007 at 12:58 AM · My daughter has had 3 teachers, we have always done what we could to get her to practice, but whether we have succeeded or not has largely depended on the attitude of the teacher.

The present teacher, who is excellent, bases the practice she asks for explicitly on issues that arise when our daughter plays to her: for example, if our daughter has difficulty with playing a particular section at speed, she discusses with her what kind of practice might solve the problem. A few days of her suggested practice results in improvement.

That way the whole process makes sense, and our daughter is keen to practice. I agree, habit is important, but nothing beats the experience of how practice can solve difficulties and help one play beautifully.

February 1, 2007 at 04:14 AM · "The present teacher, who is excellent, bases the practice she asks for explicitly on issues that arise when our daughter plays to her: for example, if our daughter has difficulty with playing a particular section at speed, she discusses with her what kind of practice might solve the problem. A few days of her suggested practice results in improvement"

that is good to know, but somehow i fail to see how other teachers would approach the example you have cited differently.

February 1, 2007 at 04:25 AM · I just edited a couple of lines out of my first post. I feel so embarassed. Sometimes you don't realize how ridiculous you sound until you reread your post and see how it might be interpreted. (Hiding behind big rock now . . . )

For anyone who read and remembers those lines--for the record, I don't believe in "quitting" on students who are genuinely making an effort. I've had many experiences in the past with parents who really expected that their six-year-old would get out his/her own instrument without complaint and happily practice by him/herself every day. Normally, I try to work with these parents to help them learn ways to work with their child. Some people are, for whatever reason, totally unwilling to practice at home. I've simply decided that when this is the case, and I see no desire to change over a prolonged period of time, it is best to help them discover that their decision not to be successful is not part of my plan. This is the situation I was assuming Pauline was speaking about, which is why my post took the slant it did.

I didn't mean to hurt any parents who are obviously exerting a lot of effort to inspire their children to practice.

I apologize if that's what I did.

February 1, 2007 at 04:39 AM · i think it is the teacher's job to lead and the parents' job to get on the same page. it is the teacher's job to timely communicate her feeling about the student's progress to the parents who as teammates need to know their specfic duties and be updated with reasonable expectations.

problems arise when students are not making the expected progress which is 99% of the time, teacher does not make it clear to the parents in time, and the parents may start complaining about poor teaching when in fact it is poor practicing at home or lack of drive by the student or lack of involvement by the parents.

as parents, we LOVE to point fingers at others:)

February 1, 2007 at 05:08 AM · I remember when I was a child, one of the things motivated me to practice hard was the fear that my mother would stop my violin lessons if I didn't work hard. I earned every precious violin lesson by hours of practicing every day.

February 1, 2007 at 01:38 PM · I agree with Noel. Kids need to see improvements to keep motivated. We used to do a lot of exercises that didn't get us anywhere. It was very discouraging.

Kimberlee - Your original posts weren't so bad. I just thought teachers should hear parents' side of story as well. Being a violin parent is harder than being a soccer mom in my opinion.


February 1, 2007 at 02:38 PM · yixi, they don't make children like that anymore:)

respect for elders, respect for teachers, respect for hard work?

where is confucius and communism when you need it...

February 1, 2007 at 03:29 PM · Mr. Ku, you need to write a book: "How to be an Awesome Violin Parent", and you too could hit the NYT best seller list!

As for pointing fingers, I read in a Zig Ziglar book once that when you point a finger, you get three pointing back at you (not that violin teachers ever point fingers...).

Ihnsouk, that Tiny Notes In Wohlfahrt is, unfortunately, a common problem.

And for what it is worth, I have discovered that Mom and Dad respond to positive reinforcement as much as the kids do. I will say things like "I really appreciate how you are making sure Tot is practicing every day. The reason Tot is making such great progress is the consistency of their practicing" or something like that.

February 1, 2007 at 04:03 PM · Having an 11yo daughter, I have been through this myself. Her suzuki teachers would bribe with candy, but now that she is older and in private lessons. Her teacher has been really helpful in motivating her. She gives her magazines to read; teen strings, a strad mag and is always giving her videos to watch of Sarah Chang and other greats. She also loans her CD's to listen to. Right now she is burning CD's of her teacher's solo performances.

It sounds like you are doing a great job. If the parents aren't helpful, perhaps loaning them a book which there are several in Shar catalogue on parenting string students... I can't think of any now.

As far as the dragging the feet comment... my daughter does that too. If it gets really bad I make her responsible for her 3 hours and don't "gently nag" her to keep going.

Best of luck, but it sounds like you are doing a great job!


February 1, 2007 at 03:45 PM · I hate to admit this, but I probably should as the first step to improving, but feel like I have been a pretty bad music parent so far for my 7-yo daughter.

Unfortunately, despite being a chronological and physical adult, I have the innate time sense, attention span, and organizational skills of a 6-yo myself, and so those "only practice on days you eat" and "practice practice every day" kinds of formulations were hell on both my daughter and on me last year when we attempted Suzuki violin. Then we got rejected by a new, non-Suzuki, teacher after my daughter admitted she didn't "practice every day."

You might want to consider that's the parents' problem in your cases too: not that the parents don't *want* to supply organizational skills and time sense for their kids' practicing, or that they don't care, but that they may not be any better at it than their kids are.

Anyway, I really like Laurie's way of framing this as "establishing a habit", and I especially love the fact that it's defined, by the teacher (rather than leaving it up to the parent, who might very well be clueless), as 21 days. To me that's an essential missing piece.

Kids work on calendars in school, if they celebrate Christmas they can have advent calendars (which are 24 days), and a lot of schools nowadays celebrate the "first 100 days" of school (the 100th day often falls around now, in February, which is why I'm thinking of it). So kids are used to it and that amount of time--or really, almost any amount of time that's not too open-ended--is something that even kids that age might be able to get their minds around.

They (and their parents) can probably handle thinking 21 days ahead, even if the prospect of "practicing every day" for the rest of their lives looms like the crushing burden it always has for me.

February 1, 2007 at 04:04 PM · "Tiny Notes In Wohlfahrt is, unfortunately, a common problem."

Anne, that's what my daughter's violin teacher said at that time, too. If it is a common problem, should more people try to solve it? Compare that with anything kids read at school at that age; big prints, lots of empty space, fun illustrations, goofy titles instead of etude #1, etude #2. Even with a fun book it will be work practicing in isolation. Add oppressive notes coming at you, is it a wonder that imaginative kids shy away from it?


February 1, 2007 at 04:38 PM · ann, you are too much, almost like me:) but i do have a title in mind:


agree that the shortest cut to the kid is through the parents. unfortunately because of other commitments, it is very difficult for some parents to give the kid's violin experience 100%. some are interested to help but don't know how, some simply have no time, well, i mean no time in terms of priority...

in my biased opinion, violin practice for 6-7 yo without very close adult supervision is for show. it probably has the similar outcome as doing homework while watching the favorite cartoon on tv. yes, we tried the latter:) how can you resist when the kid say she loves you for that?!:) it is fun!

we have some friends where both parents work and come home at dinner time. it is a lot to ask for one of them to accompany the kid to practice violin. a nice opportunity to take a relaxing nap is now replaced by yet to be beautiful music...:)

years ago i was doing a paper for school on the japanese school system which has exams after exams until college and when you make into the college, ahh, life is set. prior to that, it is pressure cooker all the way through. so after school, kids will go to "juku"s (did i spell it right buri?)-- tutor schools to boost performance. what struck me was that there were also MAMAjukus where the moms will go to those schools to learn how to teach the kids.

what do you about starting some MDVJ as in MAMADADAvioliningjukus?:)

February 1, 2007 at 09:10 PM · Oh man, you guys are too kind! When I was 6/7 (This wasn't very long ago, so I remember =D), I really disliked practicing. And I didn't exactly look forward to lessons either--I was almost afraid of them. My violin teacher wasn't specialized in teaching children and he didn't pretend that he was. He was very strict and assumed that I knew how to count rhythms, read key signatures, and understand Italian. We never spent any time doing joyful clapping exercises or make up humorous names to remember the names of the strings. There wasn't any, "C natural is close to B because they are best buddies." It was more of a, "Hey, your Do is halfway to a Re so fix it." He was strict, but he had a kind heart. There was a time where my ear just wasn't able to fix pitches. So my teacher dedicated five minutes each lesson to him playing a note, and me singing it. (or trying to) The first couple of times, I failed to sing on pitch, and oh, boy I couldn't bear how disappointed my teacher was. The rest of the training is a blur to me now. All I remember is the last day when my teacher played a D, and I matched it. He played a F#, I sang it. He played a Eb, I hummed it. And then my teacher, a man who was over 70 at that point, jumped up from his chair and with a crazy grin on his face, gave a whooping YIPPEE! before throwing back his head and laughing a hearty laugh. I will never forget the day. (Similar to Laurie's jumps.) So his method?: Be nice to some and strict to others.

I only practiced back then because I was afraid of being thrown out of his class. There was a point in time where I had one bad lesson after another and I felt that the end was near. So I practiced my butt off (figuratively). Without my parents help. Not like they would've sat with me anyway. ;D Life's not always sugary and perfect. It makes life easier if people discover this early on in life.

I never really understand the posts that claim practicing should be 'fun' for kids. Not fair! No one ever made practicing fun for me. It was hardly ever fun for me when I was seven. And it still isn't. Fun is going to the movies or the mall or acting dumb with your friends. I mean, I like practicing, I enjoy it, but it's just not what I would call fun. I practice and go through all the frustration because I want to play and sound good. Heck, if I could just get up one day and play the Elgar Violin Concerto well without practicing, I wouldn't. Why go through all that tormenting?

I like beautiful sounds, and exciting music. When I first heard the Beethoven and Brahms Violin Concerti a couple of years ago, I was like, "What the heck? What's so great about them? o_O" (Someone should have smacked me back then.) As I explored more of the violin repertoire through playing, concerts, and recordings, I decided to give the Beethoven another listen. I couldn't believe that it was the same piece I had found so dull only two years ago! I was so excited by it in fact, that I went up to my mom and blasted it through the speakers to get my mom to share the same view. To my dismay, she held a similar reaction to when I first heard it. xD The next half hour consisted of me getting frustrated over why she didn't hear the 'pretty sounds.' Tamper tantrum anyone? Hey, I was like 10. Most pieces go through this stage with me. I listen once, I don't like. I listen again, I like. Hear it live, I really like. Play it, I love. Somehow learning a piece gives you an insight you never felt before. You listen to a recording or attend a concert, and understand the hard work someone put it before it was ready. You hear things within the music you never heard before. I'm glad my teacher was so strict. And that my parents gave me the freedom to work things out on my own. It made it so that the violin wasn't forced onto me. I feel children (even 6/7 yr olds) should have some self-discipline. It seems to me that less and less it expected out of them nowadays.

Now my parents are the ones begging me to stop practicing.

Just some endless bitter blabber. xD

I still think you all are too nice. *evil cackle*

February 1, 2007 at 08:53 PM · I thank everyone for your comments.

Al, I like your suggestion for MAMADADAWHATWASTHAT? I also like your discussion on parental involvement.

I've noticed that parents who supervise and assist their kids during violin practice help tremendously. I tell them so, but they don't always believe me.

The father of the student I wrote about is a very good example of the value of parental involvement. He attends his son's lessons, takes notes, asks questions, and makes suggestions appropriately. He sings and plays the guitar and loves to help his son practice at home. He enjoys strumming along with his son when possible (I coach the two of them) and recording his son on a 4-track tape recorder, so his son can play both melody and harmony with himself (I coach them.) The home environment is music-rich. The mother sings; everyone listens to recordings (sometimes supplied by me); and sometimes the whole family goes to singalongs. Both parents are very nurturing and aware of their son's music-making. It's almost an ideal home environment for a young violin student. There is only one way in which the environment could be improved: the father's work schedule. He works during the afternoon and evening, so he can only supervise his son's practice on weekends and during vactions. As a violin teacher, I feel blessed having this kid as a student and having his parents as "co-students." The youngster is really talented and enthusiastic (the latter, maybe, only during lessons), and I would really hate to lose him.

February 1, 2007 at 09:36 PM · Pauline, it comes to mind when you get an ideal student like that to plot a roadmap to competency for them. What are the layers? (detache, detached notes, spiccato, sautille)... And what are the next layers? (phrasing,....)...

I see these levels either through ASTA or VMC, and they sound nice, but expressing the skills--that truly, not on paper--get one to this or that level would help all concerned I believe. What level of detache, and what does it look like in action? That kind of thing.

Someone should do like a graphic--which I may do for my own benefit, of the elements that can be either approached individually or in paralell. Or I will as soon as I get further along.

I've often read that practicing when one does not know why they are doing what they are doing can be meaningless--I have to agree.

February 2, 2007 at 04:09 AM · Al, I agree that students should know why or how they have to practice something. Playing for a certain number of minutes mindlessly isn't very productive. I have yet to figure out how to make my students THINK about what they're doing. However, to keep things in perspective, you need to remember that the student I'm discussing here is only 7 years old and has been playing for only 9 months.

February 2, 2007 at 05:08 AM · I hear ya Pauline--I was generalizing though.... It sounds to me though that you are doing everything you can conscientously be expected to do, without an ideal world that Suzuki notions leave me feeing should exist 'somewhere'.

With that said, and within the reality that it isn't an ideal world, some of the best teachers I know of really use their creativity to get at the child that is outside the box in average terms. But again, you didn't say the kid is not average.

Still, the rote methods of the past seem basically just that for the most part, which again, returns to your creativity. The question then seems to return to, how to get on the child's rewards level that many others commented on?

Since everyone I've encountered in the past couple years either do not use Suzuki, modify it, or try and use it religously, it would be a lasting contribution to focus on your question in today's world I think.

One thing that comes to mind, it that children, even in their earliest years, learn how to push buttons to receive the rewards they wish to receive. So, in getting on the child's level, 'somehow' if you can feel your way through to those rewards that would take the question a long ways not only for that child, but in general it seems.

And since kids are so over-stimulated today, your creativity may have to be pretty intense. I've cited new modes of information delivery in my undergrad days, and one of the things that is happening is that college profs, are really stepping outside the box sometimes, to reach their audience--simply because of the overstimulated, immediate gratification factor. So, that's something to consider too. An image: a history prof., coming to class in period costume....

Getting down on the child's level, may require some Mozart wigs and cartoons? As odd as it sounds, that is one of the keys to finding how to reach people today, both in and out of the classroom--consider Superpbowl commercials.

February 1, 2007 at 08:53 PM · I thank everyone for your comments.

Al, I like your suggestion for MAMADADAWHATWASTHAT? I also like your discussion on parental involvement.

I've noticed that parents who supervise and assist their kids during violin practice help tremendously. I tell them so, but they don't always believe me.

The father of the student I wrote about is a very good example of the value of parental involvement. He attends his son's lessons, takes notes, asks questions, and makes suggestions appropriately. He sings and plays the guitar and loves to help his son practice at home. He enjoys strumming along with his son when possible (I coach the two of them) and recording his son on a 4-track tape recorder, so his son can play both melody and harmony with himself (I coach them.) The home environment is music-rich. The mother sings; everyone listens to recordings (sometimes supplied by me); and sometimes the whole family goes to singalongs. Both parents are very nurturing and aware of their son's music-making. It's almost an ideal home environment for a young violin student. There is only one way in which the environment could be improved: the father's work schedule. He works during the afternoon and evening, so he can only supervise his son's practice on weekends and during vactions. As a violin teacher, I feel blessed having this kid as a student and having his parents as "co-students." The youngster is really talented and enthusiastic (the latter, maybe, only during lessons), and I would really hate to lose him.

February 2, 2007 at 09:51 PM · I find so many things wrong with the thinking behind so many of the comments posted, I don't know where to begin responding. Clearly, few or none have any training in educating children. Suggestions that kids be put to a regimen of habitual learning and performance are truly Draconian. Pauline in her first post "hits the spot" when she states she is looking for ways to motivate. A teacher is a leader foremost, and a musician secondmost.

For leadership, your paradigm should be the quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

"If you want to build a worthy ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."

If you cannot lead and teach your students (no matter how old or young) to yearn for music, .... well?

February 2, 2007 at 10:16 PM · Bingo!!!

February 2, 2007 at 11:35 PM · Ron, I like that quote for older students, at least in context. But as the parent of a 7-yo, I honestly don't think that most kids that age would really understand what you're talking about. Some exceptional ones would, but they probably aren't the ones who need external motivation in the first place.

But in any case, I think there are two other problems with that formulation: 1. Can "yearning" really be taught? and 2. Even if it can, teaching "yearning" without accompanying attention to teaching the skills necessary to achieve the yearned-for goal can be kind of cruel, like unrequited love.

I wouldn't want to send out sailors on a ship built by people whose only qualification for boat-building was "yearning."

February 2, 2007 at 11:57 PM · Good thoughts, Karen.

Can yearning be taught?

As a 7 year old, I did not yearn to eat vegetables. But I was fed them every day, and now I eat them every day, appreciate their value, and even enjoy them (Well, not beets).

February 3, 2007 at 07:14 AM · So spoon feeding young children the violin on the assumption that 'it is good for you and you'll learn to appreciate it when you grow up' is the way to encourage young children to become thinking creative musicians?

February 3, 2007 at 07:17 AM · Linda, I really appreciate your contribution because you are young enough to remember the issue of practicing when you were 7 years old. Your belief that kids should start taking some responsibility for their own actions and that parents should take some responsibility for their kids' actions are out of touch with the feel-good culture. I agree with you. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

February 3, 2007 at 01:20 PM · I hated vegetables as a kid too, and I like them as an adult. That happens to most people, I think. But I don't actually think my liking them as an adult has much at all to do with whether and how I was fed them as a child. I think my tastes changed as I matured, and I discovered fresh vegetables rather than canned and frozen. My parents didn't actively turn me off vegetables by pushing them down my throat, and I think that's about the best you can do.

February 3, 2007 at 01:12 PM · I am sure there are times we gotta do what we gotta not knowing anything better. However, with the better understanding of children's development, education in other areas has moved away from that approach. I believe more efforts are being made to find ways that are commiserate with kids at a given age. Is music any different from math or reading? Is making music harder than writing stories? 7 year olds do reading, writing, math with passion. So why music learning has to be so draconistic as Ron put it? Have we grownups put enough thoughts in finding malleable ways to tesch instruments to kids?

Watching my daughter struggle through learning violin for the last five years made me think there gotta be a better way. Why don't we have 5-10 different pieces teaching the same technique so kids don't have to repeat playing a piece so many times to learn a technique? Why don't we break up pieces to address kids' short attention span? Kidfriendly doesn't mean dumbing it down. Kids can learn difficult pieces if presented properly. Kids can be responsible if they see where they are going. We can't insist that they be responsible without giving them a clear goal or choices in my opinion.


February 3, 2007 at 04:10 PM · Ihnsouk,

Right on! For that reason, even though I'm a Suzuki teacher and the kids learn pieces from the Suzuki books, I like to teach fiddle songs. It's funny, when I play the pieces for kids, their first reaction is "can I really play that? It looks too hard!" THey think it's cool but that it's way beyond them. When they find that they can actually learn it it's pretty exciting for them and they feel good. Different styles of music I think is definately a great motivator.

Also, in looking back on my own experience, I have to say I liked violin because it was fun. We played silly games in group class to work on bowholds, posture and all that. The thing is that the silly games worked and we learned stuff. I looked forward to group class all week and I think initially, that's why I played. Later, I became motivated more by the music itself as I wanted to learn this piece or that piece. As kids learn more and more skills, the fun becomes being able to play songs, but initially, adding some fun and games is useful, espeically if a student is remedial and needs some pretty grueling work, or if they're just starting out and haven't built a lot of skills yet. No kid wants to spend their time tapping their first finger repetitively to develop the correct mechanism and finger placement. For children, that is boring and I don't think they understand why they are asked to do so. But turn it into a game and they're happy to do it, or use it to show off their counting skills (can you count to 50? 1 tap, 2 tap, 3 tap, etc.) and they're eager to show you what they know. I'm sure I wouldn't play today if I'd had a teacher at the beginning who didn't realize the importance of fun to a child. Fun, if applied properly and with creativity, is how self-discipline is developed. Otherwise you just get a battle of wills between child and adult. The child wants to play through all the pieces as fast as possible, regardless of quality, and the parent or teacher wants to slow it down and work on getting good technique.


February 3, 2007 at 06:05 PM · For the record, my daughter is 7 yrs old, and we have no difficulty with her motivation or yearning. Yearning can be taught. If you do not see how yearning leads to excellence (be it a ship or whatever), and if you do not see how yearning can be taught, well perhaps you should do the proverbial navel excercise, and learn a few things, before you cause collateral damage. good luck!

February 3, 2007 at 07:22 PM · I think the yearning you mention, is having succesfully gotten down on the child's level, made practice fun on their terms, and in the best case respected their little-person stature.

February 3, 2007 at 07:25 PM · Karen I think we owe it to the future generation of young violinists to do much better than that.When a child comes to a violin lesson it should be a magical experience.Each new piece should be a journey and each note should be a Lindtd'or chocolate.If youv'e never tasted one do so as soon as possible as it will change your perception of how to play a note.

February 3, 2007 at 07:55 PM · So, can someone explain how yearning can be taught? I like the way Albert and Laura put it, and I basically agree with their points and approach. But I think that's a bit different.

And at the risk of saying something too obvious, what works for one person's daughter isn't going to work for everyone else's daughters.

Reading back over Pauline's original question and the further description of the student's home environment, I've become curious as to why people think that anything more needs to be done for this student right now. He sounds as if he has a musically rich home environment, and Pauline said he still enjoyed coming to lessons.

So does he enjoy playing generally? Is *he* happy with his rate of progress, or is he frustrated? And why are you thinking that you might be losing him? It may be taking him a little longer to really catch fire than some other students, but he's only 7, so for whom is this a problem? If it's a problem for the student, that's one thing, if it's a problem for the parent, that's another, and if it's a problem for the teacher, that's yet something else.

Maybe in the answers to those questions you can find the key to motivating him. Or maybe he just needs a little more time.

February 4, 2007 at 02:27 AM · A couple of other concrete thoughts I had tonight after a good musical day with my 7-yo daughter: 1. She really likes the "Adventures in Violinland" series by Shirley Givens. It motivates her to practice a heck of a lot more than, say, Suzuki "I can read music." While the Givens books are aimed at very young children, I think they are still appropriate for 6-7 year-olds. And 2. You can never go wrong listening to great music. For Christmas I bought my daughter a book called _The Story of the Orchestra_, by Robert Levine. Here's an Amazon link:

It has a CD with it also. It traces the history of orchestral music, goes over some fun facts about composers and the CD has an excerpt from many of their great pieces. It also has a section on each instrument in the orchestra (including the violin, of course). My daughter really loves this book. Today she showed it to her piano teacher and told him she wanted to learn something by Mozart as her next piece, practiced violin for a half hour of her own accord, and announced that she wants to be a composer when she grows up.

February 4, 2007 at 09:40 AM · God forbid we make our children do anything they don't want to do. We'll squelch their yearning to eat their boogers and draw on the walls with their poo.

February 4, 2007 at 02:17 PM · Emily - A funny thing is that kids themselves say yuk themselves after a little while. Around the age when kids get toilet trained, kids develop liking for sorting things out, putting things in their proper place. Going to bathroom when they go is a natural extension of what's happening in their mind. The same goes for teaching reading and math. By six, kids have developed their sense of ego to yearn for abstracts much the same way we seek meaning for life, etc.

I am sure you have seen first graders working on their subjects. They are so much into them and make great efforts. They constantly lick their lips in an effort to get it out. Half of them walk around with chapped lips for the entire year. The eagerness is there. We need to learn how to tap into. You wouldn't give an arcane article from the Economist to first graders and tell them to go and learn to read using it. Just work hard and that they'll get it. That others have done it and that you yourself had to use court proceedings to learn to read. Would you?

Laura - What fiddle book did you use? I'd like to try that on my daughter. Thanks.


February 4, 2007 at 02:53 PM · I definetely like the sticker idea. I use it with my students. There are also chemistry issues to be considered with the teacher/student/parent releationship. In my experience, I have realized that some relationships just don't work. The parents sometimes don't understand that violin is something that requires daily practice. Some parents just feel that their child can learn "on the side". In other words, a lesson per week is fun but not necessarily something to take home.

Then, it becomes a fine line when you demand more of your student and little Johnny can do no wrong in the mother's eyes. I think the ideal solution in this case is to talk to the parents and make your desires understood, while assuring them that you care about their son or daughter and want the best for them. Most important, however, is that the whole experience is a fun one for the child.


February 4, 2007 at 06:24 PM · But Daniel, depending on the goals, a kid can absolutely do music on the side. It can be a hobby to varying degrees of seriousness.

I would agree that they can't aspire to a professional level without extensive and daily practice. But so what? They can still grow up to be competent amateurs with an appreciation for music and for the sacrifices that professionals have made, and enjoy playing, without it.

I think it can be a problem (not necessarily in this case, but generally in society) when most teachers make it a policy to kick out the dilletantes and claim that anything less than total commitment is a "waste of time". Dilletantes can grow up to buy concert tickets and CD's, to be the audience for all these professionals being turned out by music schools. They can make music part of their lives without making it their whole life. A balanced life, attention to priorities, and broad interests of varying degrees of depth, is not a waste of time.

I think it depends on who you want to be teaching and what your goals are. My only student is my daughter, but my main concern is that I help her find a way to keep music as part of her whole life and have it be in the balance a rewarding, as opposed to alienating, experience. I really couldn't care less if she becomes a professional musician or not.

February 4, 2007 at 11:11 PM · Greetings,

boogers can be a very useful tool. I used to teach at a women`s university and the studnets were often distressed by very unpleasant sexual harassment onthe trains coming to work. I suggestd they simpply picked their nose and did the old thumb roll while being mentall y undressed. Ir reportedly worked rather well.



February 5, 2007 at 08:37 AM · Cute anectdote from a top-notch violinist: her teacher was instructing her older sister when he noticed the younger one in question had an ear for music. He approached her one day saying, "let's learn how to do this, but whatever you do, DON'T TELL YOUR PARENTS!" her parents played along with the teacher's plan, as the mischievous kid thought she was getting away with murder... according to her, this "game" really got her going at a young age.

February 5, 2007 at 12:51 PM · Hi Karen,

I agree with you in the fact that students don't have to be professional in the long run. However, it is not at all unreasonable to expect that they do what their teacher says. If we were teaching them math or science, we wouldn't expect anything different than the expectation that they do their homework!



February 5, 2007 at 01:32 PM · I have to say that I don't really know what teachers face on a daily basis. It may be that there are many parents who spread themselves out so thin that kids don't get a chance to practice if they want to. In our case, we tailor our evening schedule to accomodate our daughter's daily practice. And yet, it was hard to get her practice. Not anymore, but used to.

Grade school teachers have an enormous institutional support in their teaching. They have hundres of literatures addressing any single aspect of reading or math teaching. Instrumental teachers are probably on their own in figuring out solutions. Maybe we should pressure NEA to fund reasearch. I would think this is not a small industry if added altogether.


February 5, 2007 at 03:11 PM · As a psychologist who has co-authored two books on academic underachievement, I'd like to add one observation that I and my colleagues have observed time and time again.

Generally, we motivate young children through INTEREST. If we can get them interested, THEN (we figure) they will be motivated. We consider interest as a primary motivator for achievement.

However, in adults we do not expect people to be motivated primarily through interest. Can you imagine being on a job and saying the following to your boss?: "I know I should be here til 5:00, but I've lost interest in the job for the day; I think I'm going home." You're going home, allright.

The challenge with young children is, how do we motivated them with something other than "interest"?

Can we find a way to get them "interested" in the challenge of gaining mastery over something. Not necessarily to make it "fun," but to make it satisfying to learn to do something new and difficult. The goal is to be motivated by the satisfaction of achieving mastery rather than simply being interested.

Hope that helps.


February 5, 2007 at 05:33 PM · instead of debating which approach is wrong or right, it is probably helpful to look at the issue from a more fundemental level.

as teachers and adults we are all very different...different backgrounds, different believes, different aspirations for the young. we hesitate discussing religion or politics with others because we know better. the way to handle a 6-7 yo may deserve a similar level of sensitivity and empathy.

in additiion, there are just way too much inter-family and even intra-family variations on the kids...our older one is drastically different from the younger one. now we have to learn 2 books instead of one! darn it! one keeps a comfortble distance from you like a cat, the other one is like a puppy all over you. i yearn that they will be somehow inspired to neutralize a bit between the 2. one single drphilian approach won't work here.

earlier, for illustration, i have made the distinction of fun vs work ethics when applying to 6-7 yos with violin, aka the devil's instrument. it will be silly to think that most parents are in the 2 extreme camps. in fact, most parents are in the middle, on a sliding scale, holding onto a straw bobbing in an ocean of "helpful" experiences from others.

for instance, i am more of a work ethics approach; my wife, a more fun type, err, only with the kids:). in our house, it is one mixture which will be understandably different from the balance in another household.

with that in mind, a discussion of this nature can be particularly helpful in that readers can pick and choose what is suitable to apply in their own situations. our family thinks, at least at this juncture, that music for our kids is not for prof development, but for mind training, character building and music appreciation, a bit like learning history with no firm aspiration to be a history professor. we try to provide a fun environment but we emphasize that, above all, to shy away when the going gets tough is not acceptable, a seemingly parodoxically non-fun approach. oh i see why! we are holding carrot in one hand and stick on another!:)

we believe a loving environment is not just hugs and kisses and 20 luv-yas per day, but teaching, learning and appreciating responsibility and accountabability early, among others. some people can identify with this, many cannot. that is ok because we need the diversity and balance of the many voices.

still, in the end, through the different roads to rome if as parents we can somehow help the kids find their true calling, via music or not, then we can look into the mirror and say: Bravo (hey, what is for the ladies, again?)

February 5, 2007 at 04:45 PM · Daniel,

Yes, I absolutely agree that it's not unreasonable to expect that students should do what their teacher asks of them. So my point was really adressed more at teacher expectations than at student behavior.

For example, there is a difference between "required daily practice," and all of the following: regular practice 3-4X/week; practice that varies seasonally over the year with more practice during the cold winter months when there's less time or opportunity for outdoor play; practice that takes a day off each week for the Sabbath; practice that dips during e.g. soccer season but picks up again when it's over.

Certainly not every teacher needs to accomodate any of these types of students: teachers who feel it's their mission to train the very best professionals will probably not feel well-served by those students and those students will not feel well-served by those teachers.

Still, I'm reminded of something that happened to a friend of mine in high school our senior year. She was in the back of the 1st violin section of our school orchestra, and she wasn't in the city Youth Orchestra--that is, she wasn't as serious as some of us (and her seating position reflected that), but she was okay with that. She enjoyed playing the violin, got good grades, and had a lot of outside interests. She was also a field hockey player, and during field hockey season her time for practicing went down. She had to show up for her violin lesson more than once, rushed, in her field hockey uniform. Her teacher suggested at one of these lessons that she should quit violin.

She may have quit that teacher, but she didn't quit violin. When field hockey season was over, she practiced more again because she had more time, she graduated from high school and played in her university orchestra in college, became a professional engineer and had kids. She kept at it and kept the violin as part of her life even though her private teacher in high school told her to just quit. I think that's admirable.

The following admission doesn't make me look particularly good, but I looked down on my friend in high school with respect to violin. I felt superior to her: I practiced harder, played better, and sat ahead of her in the section. But now, years later, I'm in a very similar situation: I'm an adult science professional who plays a stringed instrument as a hobby. As far as I can tell, the only substantive difference between us with respect to the violin as adults is that she had less perfectionist psychological baggage to work through in her 20's than I did.

So anyway, I think that teachers certainly have the right to accept or reject whatever students they want to. It's the teacher's time, the teacher's studio, the teacher's choice. And I've never taught anyone violin except my own daughter so it's admittedly hard for me to really put myself in a teacher's shoes.

But from the perspective of someone who has almost never engaged in "required daily practice" myself and still managed to learn and achieve enough to enjoy myself and play at an advanced amateur level, I feel like there should be room for many levels of student commitment and that it would benefit at least some teachers to recognize that reality. "Required daily practice" shouldn't be some kind of hazing ritual forced on kids and parents for admission into the fraternity.

February 5, 2007 at 09:12 PM · Insouk,

I use a lot of different fiddle books. I have one that's got about 500 tunes in it that I simplify for kids. I also have a small book of Sweadish fiddle tunes by a Suzuki teacher who moved to America from Sweaden. It's got some fun stuff in it with left hand pizzicato and all. There's many styles of fiddle. My personal favorite is Irish, and kids seem to like that and Bluegrass quite a bit. There's a lot of good materials that you can buy at


I think I can see your point, but from a teacher's perspective, it can be very hard after a while when a child comes in each week having practiced MAYBE one day that week. I can understand it and I know that regular practice is hard for parent as well as student, but it doesn't change the fact that I feel very tired after those lessons but feel energized after a lesson where a student has practice 6 or 7 days that week. Considering that I teach about 30 hours of week on top of preparation for students, adminstrating the music school (which I own with my husband), my own practicing, group classes, and helping with my husband's side business if none of my students practiced, I think I'd burn out in a year if none of my students practiced regularly. Maybe it's just self-preservation for teachers to keep their enthusiasm. I guess that's a selfish reason, but teachers do need job satisfaction to remain good teachers. I see nothing wrong with finding external ways to motivate students to practice daily. They feel proud when they have and especially when they see how fast they learn in the process. I've found such motivators are a wonderful way to help build the practice habit. Eventually they are no longer needed. It's especially satisfying when students who have not been regular practicers start practicing regularly.

Students are certainly not worse off for doing daily practice.

I do think that teachers should avoid making parents feel guilty or young students feel bad for not practicing. It's our job to motivate them and help them find a way, so in such cases, I feel it is my failing and not the parent's.

February 5, 2007 at 09:13 PM · Insouk,

Sorry it's SOrry about that!


February 5, 2007 at 09:55 PM · Karen (and others), here is the reason for my concern: My students' parents reported to me that he doesn't practice at home and, if he doesn't practice, there is no point in continuing his lessons. A very valid concern.

February 5, 2007 at 10:03 PM · I agree if a student doesn't practice at all, week after week, there's a problem for everyone. And one would legitimately ask at that point, what is the point of continuing with lessons. And I also see nothing wrong with gentle, "fun" motivations of the type that Pauline, Laura, Laurie, and others suggest. I'm reading this thread in part to learn something to help my own daughter in this regard. And I have: I always find comments from the experienced teachers in this forum to be extremely helpful.

But I think it's still worth pointing out, and keeping in mind, that there's a difference between required daily practice, intermediate levels of practice, and not practicing at all.

Too often I see violin people, especially here on this website but also in the real world, opining that it has to be either perfection (i.e. daily, including every week day, weekends and vacations, and complaints about interference from other equally legitimate activities--"only practice on the days you eat") or nothing, the student should just quit. And I think that kind of polarization is wrong, hurtful, and counterproductive.

I also think it's worth pointing out that there's legitimate debate going on now in educational and parenting circles about the value of homework in academic subjects (i.e. reading and math) for kids this young. Many educators argue that enforced, required daily homework is not only not helpful at this age, but actually detrimental in the long run.

Kids catch fire and develope internal motivation at different ages and different levels. I think sometimes you just have to keep them in the game until they do.

February 5, 2007 at 10:53 PM · Greetings,

Karen, I`m a great beliver in one day off a week even for kids and regualr longer time outs. In the long run I think this is helathier than strict daily pracitce even if its `only a few minutes`



February 5, 2007 at 10:59 PM · i find it hard to believe that no one in the house other than the busy, musical, involved father can learn to manage the situation when the father is not available during day time hours. father does 2 times and mom does 5 times per week not possible? also, simply does not practice at all no matter what is one thing,,practice with little or poor supervision with poor outcome is another. i do not see it as a kid problem but family member job retraining issue.

the kid truely enjoys coming to the lesson which says a lot of the teacher and the teaching environment. i would not have the heart to stop the kid simply because of questionable practice at this stage. may want to threaten the family with increased tuition because of the stress associated with baby sitting:)

February 6, 2007 at 12:52 AM · Karen,

I understand exactly what you're saying. Kids certainly have to be kids. Furthermore, I was not a child who practiced the way my teacher wanted me to. In a way, because of this, I was also able to make the decision to go professional without being "pushed" into it.

All that being said, so much of this depends on the teacher/parent expectations. I can tell you from my own personal experience, I don't push my students to practice hours daily unless they have an interest in taking violin very seriously. I do, however, demand 6 days of practice to the best of their ability. The amount of time depends on the age. More important than time is quality, however, and I stress this ad nauseum! Ten minutes of learning a piece well is infinitely better than 30 minutes of time wasting by not thinking about what went on in the lesson.



February 6, 2007 at 02:06 AM · Laura - Thank you.


February 6, 2007 at 02:43 AM · Public school teachers have the edge on getting something done. There is peer pressure, a school environment, and A REASON TO PRACTICE: We have a concert on March 18th, when we're going to the high school auditorium to play the following selections. Also on the program will be the senior high orchestra, and they'll be having Zick Zackowitz from the Schubkuegle Philharmonic as soloist....There'll be a reception afterward and you may get his autograph. Your parents and grandparents are welcome. This type of inducement includes the thrill of performance, and if well presented can be addictive. It also provides the occasion for the teacher/conductor to speak to the parents in a concert atmosphere, show a bit of personality, and state the general demands of the program regarding practice time. Revealing a secure worthy personality goes a long way toward getting parental support and encouragement for home practice. A couple jokes and comments revealing your love of kids all ease the grind of persuasion.

February 6, 2007 at 04:00 PM · Karen A said, "I think it depends on who you want to be teaching and what your goals are. My only student is my daughter, but my main concern is that I help her find a way to keep music as part of her whole life and have it be in the balance a rewarding, as opposed to alienating, experience. I really couldn't care less if she becomes a professional musician or not." Yay! I agree completely. However, the kid still has to practice.

February 6, 2007 at 04:34 PM · My daughter's piano teacher sometimes will do a music listening game when she starts to lose focus. He played a Tchaikovsky symphony for her on the piano for several bars and asked her whether it sounded major or minor. The piece modulated from very minor into calm, peaceful, happy. She came up with those descriptions on her own. He also does guessing games with her using intervals and chords. I try to do some of these myself, but I'm not as good as he is.

When I was driving him to his next lesson last weekend (since he's still driver's license-less) he used the opportunity to wax more poetic about using listening to great music as a tool to motivate kids, he was quite passionate about it and I was intrigued. My daughter always responds very well to her teacher and bonds with him when he plays for her. And her positive reaction to learning about individual composers and music history from that book was really quite striking to me as well.

My very first postings on last year were motivated by my frustration that my daughter was having to learn to play German folk songs (that she already knew from the German side of her family) out of context with different made-up Suzuki names and in some cases bogus lyrics like "practice practice practice every day we get to do it."

I got almost no music theory or history out of any of my childhood violin teachers, not at age 6, not at age 16. But what I've picked up on my own in that regard has probably motivated me to practice more than anything specifically targeted at practicing ever has.

February 6, 2007 at 08:19 PM · Hi Karen,

I think you are right. From my experience, when the real passion sets in it's because of hearing great music, great violinists (particularly those of the 20th century who were more individual in style than today's top performers) and knowing more history and music theory. Even 6 year olds can understand such concepts as tonic, dominant, and leading tone if presented properly. Unfortunately, I feel that the Suzuki recordings are just not enough. David Cerone and David Nadien are good recordings, but it's not the same as listening to Oistrahk, Milstein, Kreisler, etc. play the great pieces in the repertoire. The problem is that some teachers do not have the back ground to teach such things. Teachers need to be very knowlegable on various performers and music history of the violin, violin repertoire, etc. In addition ot this knowlege, they need to have a passion for all things violin, including the history. Otherwise, how can they be expected to pass this along to students?


February 6, 2007 at 10:18 PM · One of my kid students brought me a practice log that he got from his school orchestra teacher. (I'm the private teacher, and this kid is 10 years old.) It was an Excel chart with one cell for each day. The student is supposed to write the number of minutres he practices each day, and he has a goal for the week. If he skips practice one day, he can make up for it by practicing extra minutes on another day. I really like the flexibility built into this system. There are days when a student just can't practice, but I still want them to be accountable. I discussed this system with my errant 7 y.o. student and his father, and we agreed that I will give the kid a sticker if he practices for the required number of minutes during the week. At this kid's most recent lesson, he said that he wants to learn a new piece. I can't give him one now because he has regressed badly due to lack of practice. I told him that he must spend this week playing certain pieces I've already taught him (I always make a list) and that, if he plays them well next week, I'll give him a new piece. I also use a related technique with practice logs. I make a list of pieces for the student to work on in the coming week, and I have the student put a check mark next to each piece each time he practices it. If he can't play them all each day, he needs to be sure that he practices each one roughly equally often. It helps me to guide my students, and I hope it helps them guide themselves.

I have some students who simply ignore their practice logs, but I've found a trick that works for them. I tell them that if they practice something that's not on their list, they should write it down. They do! They also put check marks next to the assigned pieces they've practiced. I think this approach gives them enough positive feelings about their practice log to deal with it.

February 6, 2007 at 10:45 PM · great ideas, practice may not be fun, but making logs, etc, can be, and when mixed together, there is the fun!

you guys are great teachers. lucky kids you have there.

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Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine