Pulling out a game is a great way to make a repetitive task more enjoyable! You can use them for any technique your child must repeat many times - a practice spot, a correct bow hold, good finger placement, et cetera. Whenever your child needs a little extra motivational push is the perfect time to bring a game into practice.
Why use games at all? They’re certainly not a requirement, and you may not need a game every practice, but especially for beginning students there are a few marked benefits. The first is that games can bring fun into a practice session where your child is struggling to focus, or struggling with the difficulties of their instrument. Practice can at times become tedious, and a game will help your child work through that feeling. The other big benefit to using a game is that it ensures a more complete repetition, including postural set up. Some children will try to rush through repetitions, playing quickly and without focus. This is less beneficial, as they aren’t thinking through the new technique completely each time they play it. Games can force children to slow down and internalize new techniques more completely, so that each repetition leads them to a bigger improvement!
What makes a good practice game? There are a few important considerations. First, pick a game that’s easy to set up, both to save time and to help your child stay focused. If your child must sit and wait during a lengthy set up, their mind may begin to wander. Games that don’t take a lot of room are also ideal for places with limited space. Another consideration is how long each turn will take - you don’t want to end up spending half the practice on complex moves, so games like Connect 4 or Tic Tac Toe are better than Monopoly or Scrabble. Other fun simple games are matching games like Memory or Spot It, or spacial games like Jenga or Cat Stacks. That being said, some children may dawdle with even the quickest games, while others can manage longer or more complex games. Whatever game you choose, there is one requirement that must always be met - that your child enjoys it!
Inspired by Teaching from the Balance Point by Ed Kreitman.
Whether your child is a young beginner or a veteran player, we always want to make sure that they form and maintain only the best habits while playing. However, this is much more easily said than done. Without proper care, your child’s playing could be adversely affected for years to come, so let’s make sure it’s right from the start!
The first thing to remember about habits is that wrong ones and right ones are formed with the same ease. After all, a habit is merely something we’re used to doing. A beginner who forms the right habits will have a much easier time progressing and learning, but even those with habits that need adjusting can change them with time.
Kreitman likens habits to a thick, braided rope. Trying to change a habit by brute force would be like trying to sever this rope, and would seem like quite a daunting task. However, if you look at this rope very carefully, you’ll begin to see that it’s woven from tiny fibers. Each fiber is wound together with others to form strings, and those strings are then woven together to form the thick rope. If we first unwind the main rope into strings, and then unwind the strings into fibers, the rope becomes much easier to cut through or break!
Similarly, Kreitman says, we cannot change a wrong habit overnight. In order to change a habit, we must make hundreds of tiny adjustments. Each revision is like breaking a fiber from one of the strings that make up our rope. This cannot be done overnight! It requires persistence, dedication, and patience. Although it is difficult, when we put this work in, a beautiful thing begins to happen. Not only is the old habit unravelled, but we weave a new, strong piece of rope with the correct habit to replace it.
What does this mean for us? Firstly, each time your child learns a new technique, be sure that they have thoroughly mastered each detail. If they know all the aspects of the new idea, they are more likely to keep the right habit as they progress. For habits that need changing, remember the rope! Rather than trying to hack through the old habit by changing every part of it at once, focus on small adjustments and bits of progress. Be sure to celebrate every small change your child makes! It may feel slow, but your child’s progress will be happier and more comprehensive.
Sometimes, practicing can be a struggle. Either it’s difficult to motivate your child to begin to play, or it’s hard to keep your child on task. Here’s some ideas on how to make practice run more smoothly:
If your child has trouble at the beginning of practice:
Give ten minute notification that practice time is approaching! Often, children need a bit of time to change gears mentally. If they have a chance to anticipate practicing, they will be more likely to go into practice time thinking of their instrument, rather than what they were doing before. Some families like to put on the CD right before practice time, to give kids a heads-up that practice time is approaching. This is a gentle way to let your child know it’s almost time to practice, and it gets your child’s brain thinking about their repertoire!
It is also important to give age appropriate choices in practice. This helps kids feel more connected with what they’re learning, and they may be more eager to begin playing if they know they’ll get to begin with a favorite song or activity. However, make sure that the choices reflect your child’s developmental level! Just as you wouldn’t let a child pick between ice cream and soup for dinner, it is important to curate your child’s choices to their age level. Younger children can pick from a limited list of practice games, or choose what order to do assignments in. Older children can begin to take a more active role in their learning, by picking techniques to focus on in review or finding their own practice spots in polish pieces.
If your child has trouble staying on task:
Make sure you have a good outline of what your child is working on, and that you or your child know where all their practice materials are located! If the flow of the practice is broken up by having to search for music or lesson notes, your child’s focus will be broken.
Games! Often, families will not make time for games in home practice. It feels more efficient to simply do the assigned pieces and techniques, rather than taking those extra minutes to play around. This may work wonderfully for some students, but others will benefit from that little extra motivation of getting to play Candyland, Tic Tac Toe, or whatever activities they prefer. For children who tend to stall out on taking turns, it’s important to choose a “fast” game, like Tic Tac Toe, rather than something more involved such as a puzzle. In the long term, it’s much more efficient to reinforce the idea that practice is enjoyable, even though it may take some extra time right now.
These are just a few options to help practice time run smoothly at home! Remember to speak with your individual teacher for more ideas!
Inspired by Expanding Horizons by Mark Bjork
As children grow, they become more independent, and start wanting to do things by themselves.
It’s important to establish a feeling of ownership in their Suzuki journey before this point, so that they feel like their instrument is “their thing”, rather than something that was chosen for them. This will help them continue to enjoy their instrument throughout their teenage years.
A great way to start establishing a sense of ownership in playing is by offering your child age-appropriate choices during practice time. For example, a small child may decide which review piece to start with, or whether they’d like to practice now or after dinner. It’s important that the choices you offer don’t give an opening for a negative response, since this can lead to practice time strife. An older student should be gradually given more and more control over practice time, to reflect their growing ability and knowledge. To help children feel more “in charge” at practice time, students should be encouraged to start analyzing their playing. This helps prepare them for independent studies. For example, after your child plays a song, ask them how they think it went, and which spots need work. At first, give them direction for how to work on things, but eventually this should also become self-lead. If they’re not sure, ask how their teacher would tell them to work on the technique. Have them decide how many times to repeat it, then check back in on the section and see how they’ve improved. Throughout this process, be sensitive to your child’s needs, so that when they tire of the extra responsibility you can take over guiding the practice.
Lessons are another place where it’s important to facilitate independence. Allow the teacher to work directly with your child, so that they feel like they know what’s expected of them in practice. The responsibility of taking lesson notes should also switch from parent to student around middle school age.
To prepare them for this change, around the age of 10, students should take a set of duplicate notes in lessons. The parent takes notes as normal, and the student writes separately what they believe they should be working on. The teacher will check in on these notes at the end of the lesson. This way, the teacher can discuss any details the child may have missed, and the parent will still have all the necessary information to make sure the child has a successful practice week. Gradually, the student’s notes will become more detailed and precise, and parents will find their notes less necessary.
It is best to start adding these new responsibilities into settled parts of practice first, rather than having them work on their new piece alone. Have them take over responsibility for working on review, or practice spots on a polish piece. Eventually, change to helping and guiding only at the request of your child, or just checking in on the work the child has done.
Practice in a methodical way, so that children can learn the format more easily. A format I like to use with my students is:
By sticking to this framework, your child will be more able to recreate a successful practice session on their own.
A gradual transfer of responsibility is the best way to go about helping your tween or teen become an independent musician. It builds security and confidence in their abilities as a musician and as a learner. Supporting your child through this potentially rebellious time will help empower them, and build the control and confidence they’ll need to realize their full potential as musicians and adults.
- Shannon Jansma, published in the May 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter
When you think of the benefits of taking Suzuki lessons, what comes to mind first? Many families consider the music benefits, but the everyday benefits are sometimes overlooked. Dr. Suzuki famously said that his goal was not to create great musicians, but to create great people.
Here are just a few of the wonderful life skills your child develops in Suzuki lessons:
Suzuki lessons are a wonderful way to give your child the gift of music. In addition to learning how to play an instrument, they learn many skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives!
- Shannon Jansma, published in the April 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter
Ideally, every practice time would be a joy, not a chore. You’d call your child over and they’d come willingly, feeling excited to work on their assignments. They’d stay focused through the entire practice session, with no tangents or distractions. Although this situation isn’t attainable every practice time, I hope that with these suggestions, it can become closer to reality!
To help your child come willingly to practice, it’s important to prepare them mentally. It’s ideal to set up a predictable practice routine so your child knows what to expect. Give your child a tenand five-minute heads up that practice time is approaching, and help them start finishing up whatever they are doing. Make sure all their needs are met beforehand - offer water, a bathroom run, and perhaps a snack before beginning.
To help your child be excited to work on their assignments, use games and incentives! These will help keep your child engaged until they are experienced enough to see the intrinsic value in practicing. Some great games that I like to use in lessons are Jenga, Connect 4, and Cat Stacks. Other fun ideas are: trying to throw small pom poms into your case after each correct repetition, making an audience out of stuffed animals by adding a new “audience member” after each correct repetition, or doing jumping jacks. Incentives like earning stickers, small prizes, or treats can also help your child be more motivated to practice.
To help your child remain focused through the whole practice session, work within their abilities.
Remember that focus grows! Give your child time to adjust to this more organized way of learning. At first, practice may seem very inefficient, as your child needs hugs or chat breaks every few seconds. Give them a chance to get it out of their system, and then gently redirect their focus back to the task at hand. Gradually, you’ll see an improvement in the amount of time your child can spend on a task. Keeping the practice area neat, quiet, and calm will also help your child stay concentrated.
As you and your child work together more, and try these suggestions, I hope you’ll find a comfortable, balanced routine during practice time.
- Shannon Jansma, published in the March 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter
- Shannon Jansma, published in the February 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter
The new year is a great time to start fresh, and establish new patterns! The following ideas are from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Although this book was written nearly 40 years ago, it’s still commonly referenced and recommended by teachers and parents.
Faber writes that she was a wonderful parent before she had children. She was “an expert on why everyone else was having problems with theirs” - until she had three herself. She decided to join a parenting group, and attended a lecture on children’s feelings from a young psychologist, Dr. Haim Ginott.
The lecture discussed a few key points:
Sometimes, however, it is difficult to accept a child’s feelings. Some examples of this are saying things like ”you don’t really feel that way”, ”you’re just saying that because you’re tired”, or ”there’s no reason to be so upset”. A steady denial of children’s feelings can confuse and upset them. It teaches children to not know, or trust, their feelings.
The author decides to try and put herself in her children’s shoes, and empathize with what they’re feeling.
She thinks to herself, “Suppose I was a child who was tired or hot or bored? And suppose I wanted that all-important grown-up in my life to know what I was feeling...?” She was determined to try empathizing with her children’s concerns, and allowing them to have their own feelings. After all, Faber thinks, “We each felt what we felt.” Learning to accept her children’s feelings led to a much smoother home life!
TO HELP WITH FEELINGS
- Shannon Jansma, published in the January 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter
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
I play a little game with some of my younger students who are just learning to listen: in one of its simplest forms, I will play the Twinkle Theme and they have to raise their bow in the air whenever I play an A. Most of my students are experts at this game after the second try. They know what “A” sounds like – we sing it at every lesson. More importantly, they’ve been listening to their CDs at home, so they know when it’s coming. (Sometimes, I’ll fool them by stopping after a “pre-A” note. Their bow goes up, I reveal my trick, we all laugh and I see if I can trick them again.)
Students and parents who are just learning to listen are off to a great start by listening in the car, or having the recording on in the background at home. Just by being exposed to the music in this way every day, students are learning melody, rhythm, and beautiful tone. In his book Teaching From the Balance Point, Ed Kreitman refers to this type of listening as “passive listening”, which I would encourage everyone to do every day. In addition, I would also want my students to add “active listening” into their daily practice, where they are focusing more on singular aspects of the pieces to which they are listening.
How do you start actively listening?
I send my students on scavenger hunts, starting with small, attainable goals. For Twinklers and early Book 1 students, try counting how many “A”s are in a piece. Or, ask them if the notes are short or long.
Is the piece fast or slow? As students progress, make the scavenger hunt harder: are these notes staccato or slurred? Where are the tempo changes in this piece? What is happening in the piano part in that piece? The list goes on.
Eventually, you may be able to step away from the scavenger hunt and ask open-ended questions like “What do you think is interesting about this piece?” “What do you like about the way this is played?” “What do you not like about they way this is played?” Questions like these can help develop students’ own musical ideas.
Active listening is a great way to bring students’ attention to the finer details of a piece: bowings, articulations, dynamics, and changes in tempo, among others. I have found that when a student is aware that these things are happening in a piece, they start taking ownership of their own playing, and their musicality really blossoms.
Remember: when in doubt about listening or any other practice habit, talk to your child’s teacher about how to make the most of your home practice time. And if you haven’t read Teaching From the Balance Point, I would highly recommend it! Happy listening!
- Shannon Jansma, published in the November 2017 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter