Dr. Suzuki says we must practice only on the days we eat. Since this is hopefully most days, practice can begin to feel tedious, even for the most diligent students. It can also be exciting for children to mix up their routines a little! Here are some ideas to spice up a bland practice routine!
Setting a regular practice time is probably the best way to make sure practicing happens most days. The trick is finding a time that works for both your child and your family’s schedule. Experiment with different times, to see how your child’s focus changes throughout the day. Many children don’t have the energy or focus to practice right after school, and will prefer before school or after dinner. If your child is a bit older, let them have some say in when they practice! It will help them take ownership of their learning.
If practice time flows easily from one task to the next, children will naturally focus longer. It’s important to keep the momentum going. If practice is drawn out by pauses to search for music books or lesson notes, children will lose focus, and practice will feel like it’s taking much longer than it should. Keep your child’s practice materials and instrument in a stable spot, so that everything is easy to find. An older child can also help with practice set up, as a way to start mentally preparing for practice! This will help keep practice flowing smoothly.
Make review exciting with a game! Sometimes, students fall into thinking that review is boring, because they are just repeating music they already know. If review is a struggle, turn it into a game - students could draw piece names out of a hat, roll dice for a for a piece number, or earn a little prize (such as a skittle, grape or coin) for each piece played correctly. There’s a popular version of name drawing called the “fish game”, where families cut out little fish shapes and write review pieces (and sometimes the main technical focus or “practice spots”) on them. Then, with a “fishing rod” made of string and a tape ball, the child “fishes” for each assignment.
Make practice spots fun! Another great Dr. Suzuki line is “Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill”. But ten thousand repetitions is no easy feat. Even five or ten reps a day can feel like a lot. Any turn based board or card game can become a practice game! Your child earns a turn by playing the spot correctly. Another fun practice activity is building a Lego set, where each time the child plays the spot correctly, they get to add a piece.
Keep a positive attitude! If parents treat practice time like a chore, children will pick up on that feeling. Similarly, if parents don’t concentrate during practice time, their child will not be able to either. Once the parent is focused and ready, they can help their little one more effectively. Work with your child’s abilities!
If your child can only focus for five minutes, or even one minute at a time, that’s okay. Practice without focus isn’t worth much. It’s better to give your child a little break and then come back to practicing. For an energetic student, five jumping jacks can be a good practice break. A calmer child might prefer reading a few pages of a book. Whatever your child prefers, make sure it’s something they can do for a short time and then come back to practicing without becoming too distracted.
Having a well stocked arsenal of games and activities will help your child with review and repetitions of new techniques. Parents can also help practice time flow more smoothly by making sure the practice time is regular, and the space is organized. Parents should keep in mind that children will pick up on their feelings about practice, and that having a positive attitude will help keep practice time a fun experience!
- Shannon Jansma, published in the December 2017 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter