Everyone has trouble practicing sometimes. Identifying ways to improve practice time will help your child grow as a musician, and helps take some stress off of parents as well! Here are some common problems families run into, and some tools for overcoming them.
If your child is always resistant when you tell them it’s time to practice, try giving a five or ten minute warning before practice time. Some children need time to mentally prepare to switch tasks. 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. If a verbal reminder seems not to help, try playing the CD for five or ten minutes before practice time. This will help switch your child’s mindset.
If review has become a chore, turn it into a game! 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 dice to see which they’ll play.
If your child has trouble focusing for the duration of the practice, split practice time up. Two or three shorter practices 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. Try to base it on your child’s attention span. 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, not mentioning other things during practice time, etc.) is marked with a smiley face. 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!”
If your child has trouble practicing slowly, ease into it. First, clap the rhythm of the piece slowly. Then, say the note names or finger numbers in rhythm at the same speed. Lastly, have them play the section. You can also find many videos online of teachers playing the Suzuki repertoire slowly. Sometimes students have trouble with slow practice because they always hear the recordings at performance tempo. Screen any videos first to make sure the playing level is appropriate.
If you’re having a persistent issue with practicing, be sure to ask your teacher! They’ll have specific insights on your child, and it’s important for the teacher to be aware of the situation. The most important part of practice is that the child remains engaged in the activities. They’ll accomplish more, and enjoy playing better.
- Shannon Jansma, published in the February 2015 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter