As we approach the winter holiday season, it can start getting really hard to find time to practice! Schedules are busier and less structured, and traveling with instruments can be complicated. Additionally, many students suffer from "vacation brain" and have trouble focusing or getting motivated to practice. Here are some strategies for scheduling practice time, and utilizing the time you have.
Having a regular practice time is the best strategy for making practicing easy. Growing up, my brother and I's practice time was 7:30pm. Even now, when I see the clock at 7:30, my first thought is "practice time!". However, even if you normally have a set practice time, holiday schedules can get in the way. If you can't stick to a single regular time, schedule it into your child's day, the same as homework, swimming lessons, etc. Add it to your family calendar and stick to the schedule. If you make practicing just something you do, rather than an extra thing that is added on at the end of the day, it will be much easier to accomplish.
Even though practice time may be limited, it's important to keep it fun. A positive association with practicing is very important, so avoid making this a stressful or rushed time. Continue to play the games your child likes. You can make up new holiday games as well. One fun game is to have a special holiday practice candle. Light it every time you begin a practice, and blow it out when you're finished. See how long it takes to use up the candle. When family is visiting, your child can give a small concert in lieu of a regular practice. There are many ways to keep practicing fun!
When you encounter resistance from your child about practicing over a school break, it's important to talk about why we practice regularly. Muscles are slow learners compared to the brain, and need lots of repetition to make it stick! Muscles also forget things quickly, so we can't take too much time off from practicing.
There may be days where practicing is impossible to fit in. Either days spent travelling, at other people's houses, or days that are just packed with errands. On days like this, it's important to focus on what you can do. The easiest is listening. Put the CD in the car or on your child's MP3 player, and have them hum or clap along. Listen to a newer piece five or six times in a row. Older children can bring along their book, and follow along while listening. Remember that if there's a day where practicing just doesn't happen, it's alright! Plan for tomorrow and brush it off. Don't make it a negative experience for yourself or your child. Talk about the plan for tomorrow, and make sure to stick to it. Skipping a practice day once in a while is not a big deal, but it's important not to let it become a habit.
- Shannon Jansma, published in the November/December 2014 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter