How do you address practice w/private students?

October 23, 2008 at 03:21 AM · Also, my little bunch are now mostly junior-high, where life is busy, and "orders" can meet with resistance, particularly orders to girls from Mom. I write assignments in spiral-bounds and talk about what & how to practice, but am thinking I need to do something more to encourage practice, and to help them develop effective & satisfying habits. I'm thinking of asking for the "lesson time times five" weekly plan, but feel I should do something more than those two strategies. What's your plan? When it doesn't happen, what do you do? Have you let students go for not practicing enough? (Surely a tough question when this is grocery money.) Sue

Replies (32)

October 23, 2008 at 05:54 AM · Always tricky at this age.With the elementary school children I held a practice competition last year with an enormous chart with their practice times filled in.This becoms rather juvenile at junior high age however.At this age they need to see others in the same situation as themselves.Do your students play in an orchestra? If not you could form them into a group and devise some interesting concert venues preferably involving a trip out of town.This also ensures that the violin is in their hands at least twice a week but usually they spur themselves on to achieve good results.Peer group pressure can be a very useful tool.

October 23, 2008 at 11:47 AM · Often, I tell my students how much minimal time each "topic" should get in their daily practice that week. I have my students write down how much they practice every day in their spiral bounds. I tell them I won't judge them or be angry if they don't practice, I just want to see what they've gotten to so I know what we're working with in the lesson that day.

It has done wonders. It shows me who cares and who doesn't. Lots of my students hate showing me a low, or blank practice log and that encourages them to practice daily.

I find it terribly frustrating to teach those who come every week without practicing enough or practicing effectively and we make little or no progress. I can't afford to let students go, so I'm just stuck. I'm interested to see other responses in reference to that question.

October 23, 2008 at 12:02 PM · The practice log works very well for my son. He gets a daily sticker for each practice "task",. Everyday he gets to see his progress towards filling up the whole page with stickers.

October 23, 2008 at 12:42 PM · I tried something new this fall, with interesting results. I started a "21 Days of Practice Challenge" (which I totally stole from Laurie! Thank you, Laurie!) with my entire studio. The theory behind 21 is that it takes 21 days to build a habit. The gist of the challenge is that the student has to practice everything assigned in the lesson for 21 days in a row, and when completed, they get a prize.

The challenge became interesting because several of my students in my "Slacker Hall Of Fame" had immediate turn-around, and got business done with a great deal of pride in their achievement. It has been so great to see some of my laziest students turn into regular practicers, and do the best playing they ever have.

The flip side of that are the students, or parents, that decided the practice challenge was too much to deal with, and have given up. I had one parent say "There is no way my child can possibly do this".

Something like that might be worth trying. I'm glad I did.

As for keeping students that don't practice, Tasha is right: It is terribly frustrating to teach students that don't practice. I don't let slackers go. But I will have conversations with parents and the kids, making sure everybody understands that lessons are pointless unless the practicing happens.

October 23, 2008 at 07:24 PM · Thanks your replies are helpful & thoughtful. Reading them prompts the thought that a correlary to what I am struggling with is how much to expect parents to take charge. These students are not "Suzuki babies", but neither can/will most of them practice well w/o some parent involvement. In at least one case, my sense is Mom thinks I should be in charge of this, and truly I can't...Typically I see her kid for three half-hours a month, and I definitely don't live in their house or choose their (many) activities. Sue

October 23, 2008 at 10:32 PM · Sue: moms/dads need to support what you assign and make sure it gets done most of the time. I am a suzuki-mom of 8 years, and my kids can handle tuning, playing, and practicing what has been asked of them...however, it often takes me to initiate the "request" that's it's time to get it done...parents have to help support your assignments... As we all know, even short daily practice beats a couple times a week of cramming... Since our teacher began writing dates on the top of assignments (scales, sight-reading, etc.) I have noticed the kids have become more accountable, since they know she will also be looking to see when and what was assigned...Erica

October 23, 2008 at 10:48 PM · I agree. Parents have to be involved in encouraging the student to practice or it will probably not happen. I believe it is the rare student who runs home from school eager to practice. My kids like to play, they enjoy music but...they rarely practice without me telling them it's time to practice.

I also have had success getting them to use a kitchen timer. They get their instrument out, music books set up, etc. Set the timer for 30 minutes. For some reason, they respond to this in a positive way. I imagine because they can look at the timer and see how many minutes they have left. However...I don't ask any question's or interrupt until their timer goes off. This way I am sneaky and get them to keep playing with the ole...let me hear that scale again or let me watch your technique on that pass.

You have to milk it for all you can get when you're working with kids.

October 24, 2008 at 12:05 PM · Tess, it is not rare for a student to run home from school all eager to practice, but it is rare for that student to run home eager every single day for a dozen or so years...

How many adults would actually pay every bill on time, every month, year in, year out, without little reminders in the mail...

October 24, 2008 at 01:23 PM · with my older kid in junior high, time management is already an issue where she needs to think ahead each day to fit all the blocks of interests. don't know what is happening, but i never even worked that hard in college:)

i think for violin teachers this may be a great time to propose to them the concept of multitasking and taking challenges, knowing full well it is not easy. so, allow them to be confronted with the issues and learn to take initiatives on how to tackle them.

rarely do people "don't have time". it is about how badly they want to sqeeze something out of time. this violin thingy is a great practice run for college, post graduate and later career and family. the training or the game with violin is that you learn to treat it as if it is something you must do well, as if you are going pro. if you have touched the violin, you have put your signature on it and it is a reflection of your effort. i think sandy somewhere mentioned that he put in at least 3 mins of practice everyday, regardless. i think that is a great role model in terms of being responsible to the building of a habit.

for reward of those high school kids who do weekly practice well, can you give them a bear hug, or a piece of candy of their choice? :) they will dig that big time because everyone deep inside is a kid and craves to be appreciated.:)

October 25, 2008 at 12:05 PM · From the parents' side, I have the following observations. I still have trouble being involved in my daughter's lessons in a productive way. She takes group lessons in school and I've become de facto her private teacher, although I'd like to retire from that job.

For her school lessons I can't be there for them because they happen while she's at school and I'm at work. But it wasn't much better when she took private lessons: I still didn't have time to come and sit through the lesson. This to me seems like the biggest stumbling block to parental involvement in practice. I communicate with her school teacher via email sometimes and that has been helpful. I would think that could also be good with a private teacher. Or, failing that, detailed written instructions coming home from the teacher could be useful too. Parents can be really clueless about what they are supposed to be doing to support their kids' practice.

My other observation is a little more nebulous. When parents are involved they tend to be insecure and, in addition to worrying about whether their child is doing a good job, are also worried if *they* are doing a good job. While I know this makes more work for the teacher, I'd say it would still be helpful for the teacher to provide feedback to the parent as well on how s/he is doing. Including some strokes and positive feedback. Because I've seen that teachers are sometimes unwilling to criticize the student or say anything negative to the student but save all that for the parent.

October 25, 2008 at 10:01 PM · What I have found really useful, is taperecording the lesson. I used to, and still sometimes do, take notes during the lesson time. This worked well until I found that during her time with her solo was spent on fingerings and fine tuning this passage (something that I really couldn't write down). We found that recording the lesson(with the teacher's permission) to be quite helpful. My daughter would, at times play along with the tape or if there were any questions reguarding style tempo or what to do... it was on the tape.

This only works, however if you listen to the tape :) Kind of like email is great... as long as the person you are writing to reads their email :)

October 26, 2008 at 01:26 AM · Al, I like your post a lot. Unlike many, I just hate being busy. Nothing is worse than sitting around listening to how busy kids or their parents are. Reasons become excuses and practice. There is a preoccupation with understanding at the expense of demonstrating skill. Understanding violin is a not enough. You need to do it and need to be pretty disciplined about the whole thing. I personally think they don't think enough and busy themselves right out of thinking about important things that can make life much happier. I am joking, but I know many students who are just insanely busy starting in middle school. They seem to run on the anxiety of it. There is a podcast on NPR Talk of the Nation about multi tasking and how it is exhilerating but not very productive in the end. In fact people don't multi task but switch tasks and reshuffle priorities. I just listened to it and it was an excellent show.

It seems People get a productive feeling from these switches in attention, but in the end they waste a lot of time and don't achieve much by spreading their attention to many things. It gets to be a habit of mind and they can't settle down and do one thing very easily once the pattern is established. Everytime your brain switches back and forth you are stimulated which feels like productivity. This pattern often peaks out in college and then tends to decrease as we age although it is not a limitation of getting older, but a choice. The typical example is someone studying, listening to music and watching TV with the sound off. Although many students are really busy, they don't accomplish as much as they think they are. So the conclusion of the show is that you do a better job if you are not interupted and most importantly, are not anticipating being interupted. So if you practice for an hour but the whole time you are preoccupied with the next thing you need to do, or if you received a text message, you are less efficient and learn less.

Although it feels like a background process or "multi-task_" in truth your brain is really only doing one thing at a time just faster and faster the more things you try to do.

I once heard a comedy radio show about "Blow it off Day". I tried it and it is really amazing how little you really need to do. You just blow of things until tommorrow and things seem to work out well most days. So I let my kids blow off things to get practice done and do this quite often. I recommend it. They have made a lot of progress and since they probably won't be in the Olympics, they can swim or do gymnastics some other day when they feel like it.

October 26, 2008 at 02:50 AM · I've only been playing for a few months and I want to practice. I sit at work looking forward to when I can go home and practice. Admittedly, knowing only a few songs, a few scales, and needing to work on my posture/bowing/finger positions, I'm limited to just how much I can practice. Yet I still do a hour a night with a full time job, a child, and a household.

I don't know why anyone would want to play the violin if they are not interested in actually playing the violin. To me, it sounds like the students you're talking about don't really consider playing the violin a priority in their life.

I've told plenty of graduate students that they are wasting my time and to come back after they've completed the assignment or finished their work. I know if I was a violin teacher, I'd feel like my time was being wasted by a student who didn't practice. Sure, everyone learns at their own pace... but you still have to take the steps! I'd certainly remind them that the only way to learn the violin is to actually play it a whole lot.

October 26, 2008 at 03:05 AM · I tend to take a very victorian attitude when it comes to teaching. Either they want to really be there or they don't. If the latter is the case, I dismiss the student with little ceremony and concentrate on the students that want to learn. Most do not even pass the initial application required by me. It consists of 3 simple questions, but the "test" is really an indication of how badly they want to learn. I will speak to the dissenting student and usually give them a grace period to think about what they want. The parents are to encourage, but not push the student. If I encounter that the student is only there because it is expected of them, then they are dismissed as well. Evidence of this is not always apparant at first, but comes out of their outward lack of interest or lesson preparation. That situation is something that I have never been comfortable with, anywhere, anytime. It is both a waste of time and good money for the teacher and student, as well as illogical to attempt to teach those who have no interest. Some simply have no musical talent.

Dedicated students are a rare thing as they prove themselves through their own actions. I also make it a point to never overly praise a student, and most certainly never compare them to another student. This technique may seem a little tough to some, but the ultimate success of the student will be forged in the process, both with the education they gain without the frills and empty praise, but a little lesson in the realities of real life. I find it a very unfortunate thing that this attitude is not more widely found today in all aspects of education, and we can see the disappointing results of the laxity in educational disipline unfolding even today.

October 26, 2008 at 04:54 AM · One technique that has worked for "my teenagers" is the "5 minute practice plan". I mark several small spots in their music that need work and show them how much can be accomplished in just a couple minutes. The hardest part about practicing is getting the violin out of the case. Some days they literally practice for 5 minutes and other days more. They have never been more prepared for lessons because they have learned to be focused, accomplish specific goals, and have experienced first hand success and progress!

As far as letting a student "go" for lack of practice...yes, I have done it and never regretted it. Mostly they were close to quitting anyway. I just have a very honest conversation with them about goals, time management, etc. Sometimes we can work it out, or they try out a different teacher, or they really don't want to play. All my students know they are not special....they will learn to play violin like the rest of practicing. Sometimes it is a simple matter of choices and other times they need to be educated about effective practice techniques and once they see progress, they are back on board.

October 26, 2008 at 06:04 AM · Hi, Sue. I tell them to practice 21 days in a row. That's how long it takes to form a habit. You can't skip a day; if you do, you have to start again from one. If they achieve 21 days, they'll be over the hump with it. But it's every day or nothing. I mean can't you usually reduce it to that? Students either practice every day and accomplish loads, or sporadically and get nothing done.

October 26, 2008 at 08:18 AM · I'm often surprised at how little students know about the music they are playing. Kids don't seem to be taught anything about, say, the composer and his musical ideas, or anything about the historical context of the music.

This occurred to me recently when I googled Mendelssohn's 5th (Reformation) symphony. I've been practicing this symphony and rehearsing it in preparation for a concert I'm playing on November 9. I was looking for a good recording to listen to, so I googled, and I found a wikipedia entry that was fascinating. There is a theme in the first movement called the "Dresden Amen" and a chorale theme in the fourth movement based on a famous Lutheran hymn. Why did no one ever tell me this? Okay, I'm an adult now and should be able to find it out for myself, but why didn't anyone ever tell me anything about the Mozart violin concertos, or Bach, or Handel or Kreisler when I was a student?

Knowing some historical context to the piece, I hear more now while I'm practicing, and am more interested in practicing. I feel as if my practice is linked back and forward to other musicians through time and history. Practicing is not just this boring little ego-driven thing that's all about me "achieving my goals" or whatever.

This is a serious question, and I don't mean to be obnoxious about it, I'm sincerely curious.

Why don't violin teachers have in reserve some alternate lesson plan for when a student shows up without having practiced? (I'm not talking about the slacker student who probably doesn't want to be there in the first place. I'm talking about the student who has a bad week or two here and there.)

Some listening or ear-training exercises, for example, or music history or theory? Or simple duets in a crossover style?

Why wouldn't that be better (and actually easier in the long run) than getting all bent out of shape and frustrated and judgemental about students who don't practice?

October 26, 2008 at 01:46 PM · Karen,

I follow that plan now. I've lost students because I had a chat with them about their practicing routine, and decided that wasn't how I wanted to be. Instead of giving them a lecture, I just tell them that this _________ doesn't seem ready for a lesson today, and we'll work on ___________.

_________ 2 could be theory, ear training, rhythmical development, music history, or any sorts of things that would fill in the gaps in their musical education. I really like incorporating other things besides technical mastery into the lessons this way. If the students don't prefer that sort of lesson to the actual playing sort, then they are motivated to manage their time appropriately during the week. If they do like that lesson, then there's no harm if they come back next week only slightly improved. =D

October 27, 2008 at 09:10 AM · This is a great thread Sue, and some great ideas. I know I had one student who came often and did not practice. I didn't want to be mean or too hard on her, and would tell her I could (a) tell she didn't practice enough, and (b) she practiced everything too quickly (sometimes I'd make her laugh because I'd guess exactly how the week went or when she gave up on tough spots and what was going through her head).

I tried to do it with a smile to not be too harsh but still get the point across...I figured showing her that it's obvious whether she practices would be motivation to do something (I would comment on days she improved too, so I wasn't all negative). I even recorded her and sent her home with a CD or MP3 of how it was sounding so she would (hopefully, hypothetically) listen to herself...and then to her improvement over some time.

Sometimes her mother told me that I needed to be harder on her, but I really didn't feel like that was necessary at her age (9th grade).

I guess it was really hard to be a young female and to be taken seriously without being a bit of a witch (and I just can't do that to kids!).

I really want to be able to get the most out of my students in the future, so I'll be looking forward to other pearls of wisdom from y'all.

October 27, 2008 at 12:53 PM · "This is a serious question, and I don't mean to be obnoxious about it, I'm sincerely curious.

Why don't violin teachers have in reserve some alternate lesson plan for when a student shows up without having practiced?"

i share the same sentiment as karen. it just happens that, judging from my own kid's view and the experiences of many others i know of, violin learning/practice is not really on the top of the to-do or must-do list of their own. teachers only catch them in one snapshot of their week. while it is certainly good prof attitude to extract the most of the lesson for the well being of the students, we may need to keep in mind or even accept that many kids will come to lessons not fully prepared, no matter how simple the assignments are. things to do, places to go, excuses to make,,,just another slice of life.

however, knowing that is to be expected, as karen suggested, the challenge for a teacher may be if i cannot really teach you the way i have envisioned (darn), am i tolerant enough, understanding enough, empathetic enough, creative enough to englighten you in some other ways...that may be with time and true patience, i can turn you around...

i believe if you truly care for someone's well being and all you do is simply being there for them, in time they will see your true color and repay your time and patience with conscientious effort and once in a while, quantum jumps in aptitude. in this highly competitive society, why not try to be that solid foundation that your students can lean on, one that is possibly missing at home or school...

October 27, 2008 at 01:44 PM · Thanks, Jessie, et al, I am enjoying the thoughtful input here, too. When folks write posts hoping for help, they never know if one will be so fruitful. // Al, My students have several kinds of materials working all the time: scales & arpeggios, a theory workbook, a by-key study book with chorale, etude & orchestra excerpt, two solos/movements. So they have a variety of things in hand that would be worked on in a lesson, some where the lack of practice is less noticeable, of course, than others. I also routinely have a briefcase full of other materials. A problem I envision with doing "something else" when a student hasn't practiced, is that they then go home and are two weeks removed from the instruction intended to help them understand new stuff and work through what showed up as a difficulty. Also,it might be that working on something besides the hardest things in some ways lets the kid "off the hook", where persisting for at least part of the time reinforces that there WAS something to practice that would make a difference. Sue

October 27, 2008 at 02:25 PM · sue, you are a very experienced teacher and you are being there for them. i am sure you know exactly what works for some kids and what do not.

i was talking on a broader sentiment that the lack of practice for some kids may not necessarily be pushed down a negative road (it takes so much more work to drag someone back). every kid has a different level of "readiness" for violin and it takes time to build or remodel.

since i am NOT a violin teacher it is easy for me to say this and that. but for those kids prone to insufficient practice, i would simply open up the lesson with a line like this:

so, have much time to work on it this week?

um, yeah, well,,,not really,,,could have worked on it more...

ok, great. show me where you are at....

the above exchange to a student is rather non-judgemental and non-threatening. simply knowing that you may ask like that in each lesson somehow may register in the kid's mind that there is that little accountability he needs to answer to. with time, the kid may learn to be more proactive and avoid potential embarassing moments. your friend is his self esteem.

from "um, well" to "um, actually i really put in a good amt of work" may take a while:) but it is possible and therefore worth waiting for and working for.

October 27, 2008 at 04:21 PM · Trying to motivate students to practice is indeed a tricky subject.

I've got 20+ students. I was curious to see how I could get them motivated to practice more. Some had it down really well, and others were struggling.

Those who do practice regularly have very encouraging parents, and the students themselves are proud of what they've accomplished so far. I asked the 'motivated' students what helps them to practice, and these are some of the things they told me:-

- Making it a routine, and having their own practice space.

- Having a parent to play to, and not criticise them. One tells me she loves to play when her Mum is cooking dinner - and she'll call her mother over and say "Hey, I just learned this piece, what do you think?" Her mother is very encouraging of her.

Bribes :) I have a lolly box, and if students do at least 3 practices a week, they get something from the box. Daily practice would be nice, but realistically, these kids have an awful lot to do and are playing purely for enjoyment anyway.

- Practice chart with everyone's names on it. I have a great bit chart up on my wall with everyone's name on it, and I write next to their names how many practices they do. Some students thrive on bribes, others on friendly competition. Every now and then I'll throw out a prize to the student who practiced the most that week. Keeps them on their toes.

- Side Show Alley. I have an annual event that all my students are welcome to attend at Christmas Time. It's my gift to them, but they do need to work for it. I find the last term of the school year is the hardest to keep my students motivated, so I use the practice chart, but this time they get 'music money' which will go towards purchasing their show bags, lucky dips and participation in games at the Side Show Alley. It's a lot of work, but well worth it. I think the max number of practices from one student this term in one week has been 46, so I'm going to have to make the show bags pretty expensive :)

- Practice books. I have given each of my students an exercise book so I can write down what they have to do that week. Those that are dedicated bring theirs each week. Those that are slackers lost it "somewhere at home" the first week. I came to realise that there's not much I can do to motivate the slackers, and it's going to be their loss in the end.

- If we can't get a piece right in 4 weeks, we move on. This happens rarely, but every now and then, a student will get a piece in front of them that they really dislike, or just can't get. I put stickers on the pieces they get correct, and move on. However, if on occasion (and this is rare) they get a piece in their books that they just don't click with, so if we can't get it right within 4 weeks, we move on, but they don't get a sticker next to it.

- Praise them in front of their parents. Even my late teen students love this. I have been known on occasion to randomly call up a parent and tell them how well their child is doing, then ask to speak to the student and tell them what I just told their parent. Makes them want to get their instrument out right there and then :)

Some ideas anyway.

I have had to tell parents in the past that their child was not progressing. I had one who's child didn't even practice with the music in front of them for 6 months. I did advise the parents of this, and nothing changed. I think ultimately it depends on the parents as well. They need to be able to want their child to succeed in it as well. After all, I'm only with their child for 1/2 - 1 hr each week, the rest is up to them. FYI the non-music practicing student is no longer a student of mine.

One last thing. Most of my students get to see me perform, so I play them the really rusty version before I start practicing, then they hear the polished performance. A bit of extra motivation for them to know that their teacher has to practice too :)



October 27, 2008 at 05:43 PM · I especially like your point about taking the student to see their teacher perform.

I also feel it's important to take your kids to concerts so they can see accomplished musicians at work, and enjoy the music from a listening viewpoint.

One issue I have with school music programs is, why aren't the kids ever encouraged/taken to a local performance as a school trip? My kids go and see plays, museums, nature centers...never are they taken as a group to see a musical performance. It's an opportunity that is wasted in my area.

October 29, 2008 at 01:29 AM · I have just a couple of thoughts to add to this thread.

First, your aim as a teacher is to produce students who can teach themselves. So the problem isn't how to get them to practice, but rather to teach them skills of independent violin work. These are things like passage work tools, how to go about working on tone, how to learn an entire piece block by block, how to bring something up to tempo, how to go about developing the various strokes, how to bring out the various voices in a polyphonic piece, how to explore different musical ideas, etc.... This type of teaching puts the child in the "driver's seat" and greatly increases their personal investment in the practice process. Students age 9 and up respond very well to this more serious approach.

When a teacher "spoon feeds" every line in a piece there is little room for the student to apply his/her own knowledge to the problem of playing the instrument. This greatly decreases the energy the student will ultimately put into the project.

The other main issue with practice is that the task can seem too big. Kids will say they don't even know where to begin. This isn't about the amount of time they practice or the number of repetitions required or the frequency of practices per week. It is about organizing the time into logical, predictable chunks. There are certain skills which should come before others (warm-up exercises and tonalizations before shifting exercises and shifting exercises before scales and arpeggi etc...) To counter the stress of practice, you need to be clear where they should begin and in which order they should work. The practice routine should have the same basic framework from week to week, for example basics, tonalizations, shifting exercises, scales and arpeggi, etudes, solo pieces, chamber music and/or orchestra music. You could say, for instance, that the practice is to be in three chunks of about X minutes with a 10 minute break in between the chunks.

The last thought follows from my first two and that is that the motivation for practicing needs to be internal. Rewards and charts with stars might be fun for some, but really the reward is in the joy of perfecting some skill or exploring new ways of doing something or of feeling like you are in charge of your own project.

Work with the parents:

Parents of middle school aged children can help by typing up the lesson notes with their kids input, turning the notes into a practice plan, providing a practice space with a mirror and stand and shelf for music, listening when their child wants to show something they have learned. Parents need to be careful not to criticize, evaluate or nag kids of this age, but rather to be the secretary, transportation and logistics person. It would be wise to spend some time with the parents helping them identify appropriate ways to support the growing independence of their pre-teen or teen. Kids vary in their ability to concentrate for long periods of time, but if this is their own project, they take breaks when they need to, and can be trusted to get through the practice one way or another. Parents can sometimes become anxious when it looks like unproductive work, but they need to allow their child to figure out a method that works for them. If the parent shows anxiety about their child's practice habits, the child is likely to become insecure in their ability to do it alone and this will certainly be a source of stress.

Lastly, there is the rule of "natural consequences". The student is held accountable for their work every week at their lesson. If they have been irresponsible in budgeting their practice time, you need to let them know that it is evident to you they haven't been putting in enough time or haven't been working efficiently. They will learn from their mistakes as long as you hold them to high standards and provide feedback. It is also important to reinforce their good work with praise.

October 29, 2008 at 04:18 AM · Greetings.

Thanks for your usual thoughtful post.

Just like to add something :

>There are certain skills which should come before others (warm-up exercises and tonalizations before shifting exercises and shifting exercises before scales and arpeggi etc...)

This is not necessarily the case. Galamian himself said that it actually doesnt matter what order you do the things in a slong as you get them done. Indeed, rigorous adherence to this routine can actually be a roor cause of lack of practice. More musicla studnets are put off by having to do the drudge work in lapart because hey haven`t had their emotional, spiritual side activiated. In such case sstarting with music can solve the problem. Variey and flexinility helps to prevent staleness and routine practicing which quickly breeds disenchantment.



November 1, 2008 at 12:10 PM · missed j's earlier post and appreciate her thoughts on multitasking if handled inappropriately. agree that one needs to learn to do one thing well before bombarding the brain with numerous things, ending up busy doing nothing well. a kid practicing is actually a situation of multitasking where there is attention to be paid to left side, right side, what have you, so many things,,,. i wonder, when a kid has multiple issues, is it wise to focus on one thing only until it is taken care of, or should the kid be aware of all the problems and learn to deal with them at the same time. in reality in the adult world, we usually don't have the luxury to pick and choose and have to confront multiple issues at the same time by certain time:). i wonder, with music with kids, what is a good start?

also appreciate jennifer's post a lot with so many practical pointers. helpful advices from real, personal experiences make a difference. she made one point that the motivation of practicing needs to be internal. how to indoctrinate that line of thoughts if the kids are not anywhere close to that?

ps. jennifer, you should considering penning a book titled: brilliant violin parenting for dummies. i will buy one, hehe.

November 1, 2008 at 01:57 PM · This response is for Karen, and is slightly off topic. I notice that you mentioned that you have become your daughter's de facto private teacher, a job which you'd like to retire from. I have a daughter who is almost 18 now, and she's been playing since she was 5. Those years of violin being 'the thing' that we both do and do together has translated into a wonderfully close and natural relationship that I wouldn't trade for anything. (She does have a private teacher who was also MY teacher, but since we have no school orch. program, I've always taken her to youth orchestra and lessons, and sat in on all....been available for help during her practice times, etc.) So just an encouragement and reminder that you are building in other things with your daughter besides just reinforcing her music lessons. Your involvement is laying down a foundation for something that will feel to her like a team, and will keep her enthusiasm for playing up. It will likely feel like something special to her that the two of you share.

And eventually, it can even be productive. My daughter is now the first violinist in our string quartet, so she's had the opportunity to be trained in chamber music, earn money and spend time with her mom, all in one. It can be pretty great.

November 3, 2008 at 02:50 AM ·

I have found that almost none of the parents of my kid students will encourage them to practice.  I don't mean sit with them while they practice and give feedback: I just mean encourage them to practice for a certain amount of time.  The parents tell me that their  kids have a lot of homework, other activities, etc.  All this is true, but priorities are an issue.  Things were different when I was a kid.  Parents were in charge. 

If a relative lives nearby or comes for a visit, I work with the student to prepare some tunes to play for them.  They are guaranteed a positive audience response.

Here is the toughest thing I've ever done to a kid who didn't practice even once since his last lesson.  I told him that he was going to practice right here and now.  For the first half of the lesson, he would practice, and we'd both pretend I wasn't there.  For the second half of the lesson, I gave him a lesson on what he had practiced.  Later, he told his father that he thought I was mad at him for not practicing. 

I like the idea of giving out treats for practicing five days a week (positivie reinforcement) and keeping a public scoreboard of how many times each kid has practiced (negative reinforcement).  What do you give out as treats?







November 4, 2008 at 08:36 PM ·

 Sue wrote: A problem I envision with doing "something else" when a student hasn't practiced, is that they then go home and are two weeks removed from the instruction intended to help them understand new stuff and work through what showed up as a difficulty.

Yes, that's true, but isn't that still the case when they haven't practiced, no matter what you do?I'm taking it as a given that having practiced is always better than not having practiced, but that the second is still going to happen from time to time.  

My impression is that sometimes teachers have a rather short fuse in this regard--not you, Sue, or Tasha, or (thankfully) my current teacher . . . but I do remember being a kid and getting a scary lecture from a 5th-grade teacher about not practicing, coupled with his curt refusal to even give me a lesson and sending me away from the music room and back to class ("I'm not going to give you something for nothing!" were his exact words, still in my memory 35 years later), after *one* bad week.  

The relationship recovered, and I stuck with the violin--and heck, my practice habits may have even improved as a result--but I was still scared of him, and of the music room, for quite a while after that.  And for me, fear/stress/guilt/anxiety have been inextricably linked with playing the violin for basically ever.  I can't trace it all back to that one experience, but I guess I do wish both that it could have been different for me and that it can be different for my own kids.

Also,it might be that working on something besides the hardest things in some ways lets the kid "off the hook", where persisting for at least part of the time reinforces that there WAS something to practice that would make a difference.  

I don't think having an alternate plan (like Tasha's for example) is necessarily incompatible with persisting for at least part of the time.  A reminder, something written in the take-home materials that deals with the fact that was something to practice that would make a difference could help deal with that.  My comments were mostly addressed at the frustration factor and at ways for keeping the student/teacher relationship intact.  Of course a teacher would prefer it if students practiced every day, every week.  But just as students have a choice, teachers also have a choice in how they respond to these day-to-day frustrations.  

Being a parent is frustrating like this in a lot of ways too.  But I'm happier in general and even make more progress towards my parenting goals in the long run if I'm not so quick to give in to and act on these feelings of frustration.  

Dottie, thanks for the encouragement about my daughter.  I think she too has come to value this time we spend together playing the violin.  My recently retired choir director, and my violin teacher, both have told me stories about how rewarding playing music with their (now grown) daughters has been for them.  It really is rewarding, it's just time-intensive, and sometimes I worry that she's doing it more for me than for the violin itself.  

November 5, 2008 at 07:35 AM ·

Often its not knowing how to practice at home that is the stumbling block for children.They need to see that practice is easy and  can be fun. If a pupil arrives who hasn't practed I practice with them during the lesson so they know how to do it at home.I break a difficult pssage into doable chuks.It could be only one bar.First we look at the rhythm, then we look at the notes.To learn the notes I usually have them play without the ryhthm using tifi-ti(2 sixteenths and an eigth), then titi (two eitghs) for each note.Then move on to slurring in pairs ,in fours etc then add dotted rhythms.The magic is that these notes change charater with each different bowing.Children can give a title to each 'new piece'.When they eventuaaly play whats written its so easy.These of course are not new ideas,Galamian himself advocated their use, but they can be used from the first lesson even with a very young child if packaged in a child friendly way.

November 5, 2008 at 12:18 PM ·

Janet, that is a great idea.  My teacher does that with me sometimes now in lessons, even when I have practiced.  I've come in asking "how should I practice this passage" and she'll tell me what she would do, or make suggestions and have me try that right there while she is listening.  Then she will hear if I'm on the right track, that is, is it sounding a little better during the 5 minutes we spent in the lesson?  And if it is I have a better chance of accomplishing something during the week and not wasting my time. 

What's really nice is that this process is non-judgemental and encouraging and I go away from the lesson feeling hopeful and enthusiastic.

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