When it’s time to practice, your gorgeous home may be your very worst enemy. The luxurious carpet. The rich and inviting furnishings. The decorator paint colors on the wall. They’re all tiny signals that tell your mind: “Relax, enjoy. It’s all good.” And that may be the single worst message you can plant in your brain at practice time.
Are you practicing on a timer? Playing 30 minutes a day, or 45 every other day? Or some other random number?
Take that clock off your wall. It shouldn’t be the master of your practice time.
How much time should you practice singing per day? Here’s a simple answer: Practice as long as it takes, no more, no less.
Why practice thirty minutes, when you can get the job done in ten? Why set random time goals into place, when they have little or no bearing on the results you need?
OK, I admit it, as a child I was involved in a dysfunctional relationship… with practice. And the sad thing is your kids probably are too. They need your help; great practice skills are not inborn. Without regular guidance, kids almost always get bored and frustrated.
How much progress should you expect in the first year of violin, and what should your kids be able to play? The short answer: no more than you are able to play yourself.
If you can’t play this week’s song, how in the world could your six year old son or daughter?
I know you’re exhausted, the last thing you want is one more thing on your plate. Still, the fact is that without your help, your kids, (especially under the age of 10) will get stuck in their music lessons, sooner rather than later.
Well then, what’s the job of the music teacher?
You may have noticed that “teach the student Go Tell Aunt Rhody” is not on the list. And in fact, the song itself is just the starting point that you and the student must bring to each lesson. It’s your job as an Invincible Parent to make sure that everything from the teacher’s list is built into your child’s daily practice. Don’t expect a highly skilled music teacher to become your combination nanny and babysitter. Sorry.
The good news: As the years go by, a properly trained young musician becomes more and more “practice independent.” But this process begins and rests with you, the parent. Here’s your job as an Invincible Violinist’s parent:
Many parents are surprised to find out that music lessons aren’t about learning songs. Instead they’re mostly about learning how to learn. Solve that puzzle, and practice time flies by, while progress goes into overdrive.
Best of all, Invincible Violinists, become invincible in life. It’s all about setting goals, managing long term projects, staying motivated and enjoying the ride. So practice well, and enjoy your violin adventure!
Send me a still photo of your kid with her violin in playing position. It won’t take me more than 10 seconds to determine if she’ll be able to make any progress beyond her first year of playing. It’s not that I’m some brilliant pedagog of string playing. But after a decade of teaching young students the violin it’s quite clear when an approach is doomed to failure.
Here it is in plain English: if your posture is poor, so is your tone and technique. Stated another way, you must look something like a pro, if you want to advance past beginner. Mind you, looks are not a guarantee of progress, but they most certainly are a condition of success.
The number one success factor for new violinists rests in the left (or violin) hand. Fingers must be curved and inclined, just so. The perfect amount of pressure must be applied to the fingerboard. Too much squeeze and the tension will kill you, not enough and the tone will suffer. Because all of this is so crucial, I’ve devised routines to help students learn it in baby steps. This is an example of such a routine.
Over the years, I’ve developed many such routines. If you’d to see them, sign up for my e-course. Totally free, the form is at the bottom of this post.
But wait, there’s more! Like how exactly do you position the violin on your shoulder? And how do the arm, elbow and shoulder come into play? Yeah, it all matters, more than you might expect. And we haven’t even discussed the bow yet!
Don’t get me wrong, I admire your zeal to move ahead quickly and learn your favorite songs. Though really, learning songs is only the tip of the iceberg. More often than not, what the violin can teach you and your children is the virtue of patience.
Practical Advice for Invincible Violinists: Take your time, especially at the beginning. Don’t worry so much about learning songs; the extra time you spend with your kids on the basics will more than make up for itself with rapid progress in the future.
Focus on producing a full tone with a minimum of effort. Be certain that you have a comfortable and cozy physical relationship with your instrument. And don’t forget to look in the mirror. If it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
If you’re a Suzuki parent, you probably remember the song entitled Gavotte by Gossec. Some might know it as “the song from hell.”
As a teacher, I find the song quite magical; it contains several passages that enable me to read the mind of a young violinist, and to surmise much about his “musical parenting” as well.
These seemingly unplayable fast groups of 16th notes, are being encountered for the first time by a Book 1 Suzuki student. It’s the kind of passage seems to induce what musicians commonly call “black note fever.”
Seven year old John, might think (or even verbalize) “this is beyond me.” Hence, he’ll play and improve the large part of song for week upon week, though the execution of this particular passage itself never seems to change much. He has metaphorically left the room and shut off the lights. Completion of this project was filed in the “someday” or “never” category.
Enter six year old Susan, an equally skilled student. Upon facing the same passage, she experiences a completely different internal dialog. “My family and teacher gave me this age appropriate problem, and so they expect me to solve it.” And before long, the “impossibly” difficult passage, looks pretty much like the rest of the song.
Both Susan and John have yet to develop a mature practice strategy, yet Susan’s “I can solve this now” belief system stimulates a vastly higher quality of work on her part. If only by a process of elimination, she will ultimately discover one or more keys to unlock the difficulties in the notes.
And it doesn’t stop there. That same “I can do it now” internal dialog fires up a student’s motivation and zest for the violin journey. It’s a circle of positive self-reinforcement that grows ever larger and stronger. These kids rarely crawl to their lessons with an excuse of “I’ve had a really busy week.”
The confident six year old recitalist who can easily and brilliantly perform Gossec almost automatically gets the “talented” label. This, as if only the chosen few were fortunate enough to end up on the planet with the super-prodigy-violinist gene. Well let me just say, this just isn’t so. Any six year old with average motor skills has the ability to pull off the Book 1 Gavotte.
The wise family sees music as a journey of self discovery that gives a child something far beyond a “fun” activity, far beyond mere self-esteem.
Many a family sees their children’s music lessons as just one more extracurricular activity that happens to be centered around playing songs on an instrument. The wise family sees music as a journey of self discovery that gives a child something far beyond a “fun” activity, far beyond mere self-esteem.
All of that said, here’s my advice to parents who are serious about music for their kids:
1. Don’t use the T word. It will only make you kids think they “have it” or don’t. Either way, the result will kill the motivation to improve.
2. Don’t pamper your kids with praise for their half-hearted efforts. Instead, be the benevolent dictator that helps them discover their own ability to solve problems and succeed. Music may not always be fun, but at times can bring joy, bliss and elation, when mastered.
3. As a parent, part of your job is to keep the kids motivated and excited about their music lessons. Why would they be enthusiastic, if your head is buried in a magazine during the entire lesson, if you never take them to a great concert, or if you’re indifferent to the topic of music in general?
Be it Gossec Gavotte or the Sibelius Concerto, the challenge of continual progress is truly met within our minds. For the student and the family, we must always expect quality work, continual improvement and a sense of focused ease while practicing. As a parent, you are the hero that must make it happen.
What are your thoughts about kids and music? Please add a comment below. Thanks!