Everyone has trouble practicing sometimes. Even those who completely love their instrument will at times feel the weight of the repetition and analysis required for a productive practice session. Identifying ways to improve practice time will help your child grow as a person and a musician, and will hopefully help take some stress off you, too! Here are some common problems families run into, and some tools for overcoming them.
If your child struggles to begin practicing, try giving a five or ten minute warning beforehand, so they can finish up whatever they’re doing. If a verbal reminder seems not to help, try playing the CD for five or ten minutes before practice time. It’s also a good idea for children to disconnect from electronics five or ten minutes prior to practice time, to allow them to come back to the real world. A good transition activity that easily flows into practice is putting on some classical music (my students have loved Anitra’s Dance, the Finale of Beethoven’s 7th, or of course anything from their Suzuki repertoire is a great choice) and having a dance party. Other good options include doing physical warm ups like finger taps and stretches, or talking through the plan for today’s practice with your child. This will help change your child’s mindset and prepare them to focus on making music.
If your child is having trouble with any aspect of the practice itself, try to gamify it! You can write down all your child’s review songs on slips of paper, and let them draw out of a hat. You could also make six different review lists and let your child roll a die to see which they’ll play. Balance an ever-growing stack of beanbags on their head as they play the piece they’re polishing - add to the stack as they complete each section correctly. Pull out a board game (my studio likes Jenga, Story Cubes, and Spot It) and let them take turns between correct practice spot repetitions. Anything that lightens the mood and gives your child a little mental break between tasks is helpful!
If your child has trouble focusing for the duration of the practice, try to split practice time up. Two or three shorter practices throughout the day, with an engaged child, will be much more productive than one practice with a child who’s tuned out. If your schedule doesn’t permit multiple practice times, set a practice duration. Base it on your child’s attention span - meet them where they are, first, and then once you’ve got a good routine you can incrementally increase the time. Set a practice goal, like no complaining for the next 15 minutes, or only talking about lesson things during practice time, and reward your child for accomplishing the goal. If making it through the set time with no complaining or distraction is too challenging, try setting up a point system, where a good behavior (responding to directions right away, staying focused, etc.) is marked with a token or checkmark. Once the child earns a certain number of points, they get a special treat or experience. Another way to boost focus is to make the goals of each assignment clear. Before playing a practice spot, tell your child what they’re meant to accomplish. For example: “We’re practicing this spot to improve your circle bows! Watch carefully and see how gently you can land!” Be sure to give your child lots of praise while working together. Helping your child feel successful and appreciating their efforts will extend their focus, too!
If your child has trouble with slow practice or detail work, be understanding, this is a hard one! Even many adults struggle with the mental side of accomplishing useful slow practice. You can ease into slow detail work by adding one small detail of the piece at a time. First, only clap the rhythm of the piece slowly. Then, say the note names or finger numbers in rhythm at the same speed - some children like to “play along” with just the left hand while doing this. Lastly, have them play the section. This is a calm, gradual way to get them tuned into detail work. It’s also a good idea to listen to slow recordings of the repertoire. It can be hard to play a piece slowly if you’ve never heard it done! There are many videos online of teachers playing the Suzuki repertoire slowly, and you can also change the playback speed in your media player’s settings. Other fun activities to promote slow, detailed work are pretending to play like a sloth or a snail, “pausing” or “freezing” your child between notes by lightly tapping the top of their head, or by having their stuffed animals or toys keep the beat!
If you’re having a persistent issue with practicing, be sure to speak with your teacher! They’ll have specific insights about your child, and the best way to avoid a lasting issue is to address it early and as a team! The most important part of practice is that your child remains mentally engaged. They’ll accomplish more, and enjoy playing better.