Advice about repetition for a kid

August 5, 2019, 5:23 AM · Hi everyone,
I need some advice about how to practice with our daughter. She is 7 years old, loves to play her violin very much (for almost 2 years now) and therefor progressing fast. The problem is: she loves to play, not to practice. We never had instructions about how to practice, I was already very happy that she played every day and I never thought about repetitions. She always played everything once, and when she liked a song she played it a couple of times. But now the pieces are getting way longer (and she is going to do some competitions next year), so repetitions are getting necessary. The teacher said that she has to practice each piece at least three times. We tried it, but our daughter refuses. It’s off course a big step, it triples the practice time (and isn’t much fun). But I can see that she is at a point where repetitions are necessary, but how do I get her to do that? Who has tips for me?

Replies (14)

Edited: August 5, 2019, 12:33 PM · I may be off the correct track, but

1. what are the problems with her playing?
2. What will improve with practice?
3. Is she aware of improvements that come with practice?
4. Is it possible that the music she is assigned to work on is not sufficiently challenging for her to understand a need to practice?

You could record her playing if listening to the playback might clarify for her what needs more work?

I can remember faintly from my childhood (below age 10 - over 75 years ago) during rather mindless 30 minutes of daily practice I probably did not understand how the repetitions might improve my playing. This means that, much as I enjoyed it, for the first 5 years I did not really have any idea what the H--- I was doing! What might I do to sound more like my teacher(s)? Did it even seem possible? I doubt I was the only child who did not grasp why I was doing what I was doing. I probably did not link my violin actions with my goals before I was 13 - after having quit lessons (and all playing) for about 1.5 years. As soon as I resumed playing (without teachers) I zoomed ahead like a rocket, for a while.

Years later, in my own adult playing for many years I only practiced those passages of orchestra scores that I knew at first sight that I would have to work on (probably less than 5 minutes worth per concert). My practice time was devoted to other music I wanted to play. The first goal of practice was to get something technically right 10 times in a row. The I would put it away until tomorrow when I would see if I still had it from the get-go. If not, 10 times in a row! After getting it right then I could try to make "music."

August 5, 2019, 10:04 AM · To another part of your question: How long are you supposed to practice WITH your daughter? Is this something the teacher suggested? Did you already play the violin or are you learning with her?

When I taught I encouraged parents of 5 and 6 year olds to learn with their children, but found that within a few months the children had advanced past their parents and it was time to stop establishing what could be a competitive relationship.

When I was starting the violin at age 4 my father had been playing most of his life. He never interfered in my practice (what I did was between me and my teacher(s), my father just made sure I practiced 30 minutes a day). We never played together until I was over 13 and we played some duets a few times (Mozart, leClair, the Bach double concerto, etc.). I don't know if his interference would have been better or not.

August 5, 2019, 11:50 AM · What level is she playing at now? (Current and recent repertoire? Suzuki book?)

Blind repetition is not the point of practicing. The point is to listen, and correct/refine. For pre-competition work, repetition for security is necessary -- you have to be able to do it perfectly many times in a row. (My teacher generally suggests three repetitions. By the third, you will discover where inattention or fatigue causes mistakes.)

Edited: August 5, 2019, 1:10 PM · I suspect that in this case the parent is present as a coach rather than as a co-learner.

My feeling is that initially when kids a very young, playing through their pieces a few times a day is probably fine. Maybe that's what the teacher has in mind. The next stage is to make sure that there's something you're trying to improve each time. "This time for intonation ... the next time for bowing ... the next time for rhythm." But then you realize you can actually think about all of those things at the same time. That's the point where the piece starts to get broken down so that the hardest bits can be studied closely and then woven back into the whole, often one measure at a time. Most of us would consider this "real" practicing, and if your daughter is considering competitions, then this is where you need to be, pretty soon if not already. Most kids will consider "real practicing" much less "fun" than just playing their instruments, and that's the point where, frankly, many will drop out (or become stalled permanently if their parents forbid dropping out).

One thing I can tell you from experience with my own kids: If you wait too long to get to the "real practicing" stage, and if there isn't ever any tangible support and encouragement (and accountability or enforcement) coming from the teacher with specific how-to tips, then the concept of just playing through stuff will have become so habitual that it will be very difficult to reform. Your child is 7 years old -- it's not too soon to start building up good practicing methods and habits.

Also ask your teacher about studies.

August 5, 2019, 2:53 PM · Apart from short Book 1 type pieces, it really isn't appropriate in my opinion to play through a piece in its entirety three times a day. This is just going to burn your kiddo out and she will not want to play. In the weeks leading up to an audition or competition, we do play through the entire piece more often, but at most only twice, and only for a discrete period of time. Some things we did to make this more interesting at that age included: playing for stuffed animals/dolls, playing outside, playing in different places (try the bathtub!), playing in funny outfits, etc.

I do think that it is very appropriate to practice certain sections repeatedly. 7 times is about as many times as the average human can do while still staying focused (less if it is a long section). I would highly suggest either picking particular sections each day to repeat, or figuring out the sections that need work and just repeating those. We also use charts to keep track of repetitions -- there are some great free downloadable ones at Practice Shoppe. Dice can be fun to roll for the number of repetitions.

I have seen, sadly, many times when kids advance rapidly at first and then burn out early. It is critical to keep practice both fun and manageable!

Edited: August 5, 2019, 5:49 PM · "The teacher said that she has to practice each piece at least three times."

Mindless repetition isn't a good idea, and the teacher, by saying this, seems to be making a mistake. That said, my son's teacher would encourage at least one repetition, always with the accompanying comment to the effect - 'You played it well, I'm sure the second time will be even better'.

The point here is that mindless repetition is pointless and tiresome, and your child is right to object to it. However, 'repetition' for the sake of specific improvement is not pointless, and it's self-rewarding, when that happens. I used to make my son (1) play the piece or section being studied, (2) identify problem areas (myself) and give specific instructions to improve upon them. Nothing terribly ground-breaking - e.g. if intonation was weak in parts, maybe turn on a tuner (hush, sacrilege!), or play the passage on a (tuned) keyboard, or maybe if I was in a really nasty mood, sing it? Or if the tempo was uneven, turning on a metronome or simply tapping. Most often, the instruction would be to simply slow down, pay attention to the passage, and try to do (ideally something specific) better the next time, and then speed it up. Playing it more musically in some way is also a part of playing it better (and more fun and interesting), but usually we need to work on technical matters.

It sounds to me that your child would be up to and interested in learning to play better, and while the theory is perfect, the practice is challenging, as it's often not clear how one can play it better, but gently identifying what to improve and making an effort goes a long way.

August 5, 2019, 8:33 PM · Kids like to play. They don't like to work. Therefore you must make work into play.
Edited: August 8, 2019, 4:28 AM · Thanks everybody, your comments are great and very helpfull! I think my main question is: how should a enthusiastic 7 year old practice at home? In a way that she will progress, but keep the fun. Our teacher is great, but on this point not very specific. Before the summer our daughter did daily 2 scales, 3 to 5 short pieces for technique, a couple of exercises for position playing and 2 or 3 concert pieces. She played everything once, which took about 45 minutes. Besides that she played what she wanted to play for fun. But now the assignment is to do everything 3 times. So it triples the practice time, which I personally think it’s way too long. And since then there is a struggle and she is less enthusiastic. The instruction is like Paul Deck wrote: first the intonation, then the bowing etc. But she doesn’t want to do it. I think she is at the point where she is able to watch these things at the same time. But how to break down the piece in parts? Only the parts that are difficult? Or line by line?

@andrew coster: I started learning the violin with her. Very funny how that went. In the beginning I was going so much faster than her. But after 6 months or so, she speeded up and my progression slowed down. The difference is to big now to play together, although she sometimes finds it very funny to teach me. Basically I sit beside her while she practice. Only applauding and pointing out what was good. She doesn’t want me to interfere with her practice, that’s between her and the teacher and I’m not the teacher she says haha. But since she had to practice every pieces 3 times I became involved (because she refused it), and it’s not so much fun anymore.

@lydiaelong I don’t know her level, she doesn’t do Suzuki (although she can play book 3 easily, which she does in the holiday).

@susan Agrawal and @j Ray thanks for sharing your experiences. Great advice!

The last thing I want is to lose her joy in playing the violin. She really loves the violin, loves to watch 2 set violin and Hilary Hahn, loves to go to concerts. On the other hand I see that there are changes to be made in her practice routine if she wants to progress and if she wants to join these competitions.

Edited: August 6, 2019, 12:34 PM · So my girl is 6 and progressing fast so, likes to play but doesnt like to practise, so maybe I can tell how we do things to give you an idea.

First Cotton is so right. Kids like to play but they do not like to work. So basically you have to decide as a parent do you want to teach your child to work or not. It is very much a mindset. Some people require theirs children to work and some do not. It is quite impossible to progress as a violin player without the element of work. There comes a time in the playing when the progression slows a lot without work. It is the nature of playing classical violin.

To me working means getting improvement. Just playing through the pieces isnt going to give much improvement after the beginner stage and it is hard to figure out how to get good practise in those 45 minutes to facilitate improvement.

Ill tell you how we practised today to give you an example. We used about 45 minutes today.
She doing Suzuki at book 4 but we are going to move beyoud Suzuki after this year and our practise is not so much ”Suzuki-practise”.

We are trying to get a better bow grip, so first she just held the bow the right way for 20 seconds and I checked that every detail is correct.

She is going to do a Suzuki type concert in October so then we warmed up with Allegro. Before starting every piece I correct her bow hold. First she played with youtube once with notes , then another time without notes. Then I asked her to redo the last note as it was too short.

Gossec agavotte next and palyed with youtube player (intermediate). And the second time she tried to do it without notes. No correction as we are trying to relearn it again for the concert.

Next to Bach double and the most difficult part of 5 bars which I have printed and made larger. 4 more notes of shifting. This done correctly 3 times. 3 is a good repetition number, I find.
Then the first page with the other violin part from recording played together and then we redid the slow notes ( 4 of them) to be played sow enough. Then page 2 and 3 first with the recording of her part together and then with the first part together with me showing with a pen every single note. Then 2 bars again 3 times to make the shifting of the bow correct.

And that took about 45 minutes with the brakes when I tried to convince her that she can do it. She was very happy at the end having been able to do all.

Now , Im not at all sure whether we practised right or wrong, Im pretty sure that she would benefit from using more etudes and scales, but this is how we did today and as she is progressing we must be doing something well. We do sometimes etudes and other stuff too, but not so much until we change from Suzuki I guess,

And now to the point of motivation. I do not really think that any kid (true prodigies apart) will venture into difficult parts on their own and do the practise without bumps. It is too much to ask. She has chosen to play violin as a hobby so it is my job to make sure she does practise, not hers. She gets to watch cartoons and go out to play only after practise. We usually play something during the practise or I make a picture for her to colour after each practise bit. So the bits a short, only some minutes, but they a meaningfull and they are mostly the hard bits. We practise always at the same time and it is very much a routine that she knows.

Your teacher told you to do everything 3 times, is not as such the whole truth, you simply cannot do everything 3 times, but you should do the difficult parts correctly 3 times, that would be a better suggestion. But to do that you yourself have to know the difficult parts and have to learn exactly what is the right way to do them. It is difficult, I know. I have a background in pianoplaying and I have been and still am so much lost when I try to figure out how to practise, it is a skill but one keeps learning too.

For books 1 and 2 there is the application Myongaku at least for Ipad and with book 4 we have used Kerstin Wartbergs book which has slow and intermediate tempos for every piece. A very very valuable book in my opinion. Youtube also has a whole range of recordings for every piece for different tempos to play with.

August 6, 2019, 2:42 PM · I used to teach children, not in a musical context, but I found that getting them to do the work was a lot easier when it was made into a game/fun.

If there is a way for you turn the repetitions (or whatever practice work needs to be accomplished) into a game then I would recommend that. Perhaps set it up as a challenge/reward system, or X number of stars (a star earned from each set of repetitions for each piece) equals... your choice, you are the parent. Make it visually appealing so that she can see her musical practice progress. Then, as that work becomes easier, you can up the stakes and spread the stars/rewards out further and further.

Regarding WHAT to practice - that is what your teacher is for. They should instruct you with what needs to be practiced for next time, and if you are unsure ask for clarification.

August 6, 2019, 3:30 PM · I have to wonder where the line is drawn between playing and practicing. As one who teaches, I understand that developing particular skills are essential and often that translates into repeating patterns until you get them right as well as creating the neural pathways that will, in time, make that skill automatic.

Acknowledging that, if it isn't fun or interesting it will be b-o-r-i-n-g. My suggestion would be to find music that incorporates the skill that is sufficiently interesting that she will want to "play" it again-and-again just because it is fun to play.

At seven, what music does she like to listen to just for her own enjoyment (not to impress adults). Find that music and see if it includes the necessary skills that need to be developed.

FWIW: Two of my students are working on "A Million Miracles" and "Colors of the Wind" and they have elements that are developing the neural pathways necessary for them to learn at this stage of their development.

Edited: August 8, 2019, 4:28 AM · @Maria Lammi Thank you for sharing your experiences! Great insight, very helpful!
@ Gerog Wells You are absolutely right. You got me thinking and this is exactly where the main problem is. Our girl loves a lot of music and there are plenty of pieces she wants to learn really badly. So what she does is just look it up and trying to play it. She can sight read very well or she just listens to it on YouTube and is looking for the right note on the violin. This became a problem with the lessons. The teacher got annoyed that there were always other pieces that she didn’t assigned, it interfered with her plan she said. So she became very strict: no other pieces. On some pieces the teacher could explain why our daughter couldn’t play them (and then our daughter listened to the teacher) on some she couldn’t (and then our daughter doesn’t listen and plays the stuff anyway, besides her homework). As a parent I find this extremely hard to deal with and because of my lack of knowledge on the violin I’m not sure what to do. Yes she has to listen to the teacher, but on the other hand: if a child is so enthusiastic to play certain pieces I find it hard to say no. For example: yesterday she discovered Dvorak romantic pieces on YouTube (including one with notes), so she is playing it. Probably the wrong way (on Youtube I saw the violinist shifting, our daughter played this in first position). Why is that a problem?
Edited: August 8, 2019, 5:46 AM · Mikki, the thing is that with violin everything is extremely difficult or should I say painfull to relearn.

So if your daughter plays some piece that is not at the level she is at the moment, she will transfer and sement her technique to that piece. And if she later wants to learn to play the piece with a better technique, it will be tears.

I think George Wells ment with other pieces that they are pieces that are contructive for developing the right technique but that she at the same time likes and they are not to be played on their own either but with guidance

For example with my girl. So she is at the level of playing Bach Double in Suzuki, it is difficult but she can definately do it. But as we now started to relearn Gossec Gavotte which is way easier as a piece, she played it with the technique she had when she first played it 2,5 years ago and it is not so nice to work it again to be played with the technique she has now. So the technique sements to the pieces and has to be relearned. This is the reason I dont like Suzuki (other reasons I do like it) is that there shoud be continuous repetition and rising the level of previous pieces. i do not see the benefit in it, it is just hard and boring work with a lot of tantrums.

For me learning to play the violin or any instrument is all about learning to play the instrument the way one wants to play maybe with ones own pieces and not learning to play some pieces to the perfection. Pieces are just stepping stones for the greater reward which is the ability to play, and not very important in their own right. So when the study point is learned the piece becomes unimportant. And this is very much against Suzuki philosophy. And whether it is inate or socially learned my daughter thinks so too at least at this point.

I do let my girl play other pieces but they are her own or etydes, never do I let her play anything that she would be required to play later as a proper piece. It would be going up the tree backwards.

Improvizing is something that I would recommend. Because everyone can do it and it gives the child the freedom that counterbalances the somewhat rigorous schematic system of learning to play the violin that is hard sometimes. And when it is done after the practice many times a child may use the same technique that was practiced. Just a lot of encouragement from the parent :)

August 8, 2019, 8:15 AM · Mikki,

Thanks for the compliment. Your daughters teacher and the relationship with the music reminds me of Daniel Hope talking about how Menuhin got angry when he broke the rules of which piece when. Actually, a bit funny because Menuhin was anything but traditional or conforming as a child prodigy.

What you need is a compromise between the curriculum and the passion. I understand the focus on the piece to piece development but without the passion it's just playing notes and not making music.

My profession was Supply-Chain-Management and I taught and consulted in that field for my career. Occasionally I had a client who went above and beyond my curriculum, sometimes down rat-holes, but I discovered that they developed faster than those who plodded through my plan.

Your daughter's teacher doesn't realize what a gift having a passionate student is. Admitted, they are a bit more difficult but then tend to go places.

My only concern is that the teacher will kill the passion. Make a compromise plan to mix her passion with the curriculum or find another teacher who understands how to work with a passionate student. Menuhin, in his autobiography, noted that late in his career he had to fill in lessons that he bypassed on his way to the top.

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