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!
You and your kids can be great at violin, starting on day one! In fact, you must do several things well at the very beginning. Get this short list right and you’re good to go. Mess up on these points and progress will be slow at best.
Sadly, even many intermediate level players are fuzzy on some of these points. Their playing can suffer from poor tone, inaccurate pitch, tension, pain and inability to play fast or difficult passages. The basics of violin really do matter more than you might think.
Here are my left hand “must do” points, in no special order:
Violin Left Hand Spot Check:
I made a 30 second video for each of these points. You can find the videos here.
The secret: you should look much like a pro the first day you pick up a violin.
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Parents: Are your kids just getting started on violin? I’m not going to pull any punches. In my studio, violin lessons can get pretty intense, fast. There’s a lot to remember, and a lot that can go wrong. All of this means that the average 5 to 8 year (and you, as his home teacher) will need draw upon an unusual amount of focus, a reasonably robust physical makeup and some real fine muscle control.
Even something as simple as the slope of a shoulder and the relative position of a collarbone can make holding and playing nearly impossible for some kids until the moment is right. But not all is lost!
So, here’s my short list of necessary activities that will support the first song your child will likely need to learn in a Suzuki (and/or) traditional violin studio:
The honest truth: if your child has significant problems with any of these items her violin journey will likely be short. Don’t let this happen to your family!
This list is fairly basic, but at least one point deserves your consideration:
Set up your kids to be successful from the start. Break down these activities into their simplest components so that every repetition, every practice session, is in some way successful. This is at the heart of the Invincible Violin system.
Add complexity as appropriate to the development of your child. Instill the belief that can meet challenges and continually improve. At all costs, avoid dull, mindless repetition of any activity. Constantly provide your attention and support, provide praise when appropriate, and never offer it when it isn’t merited.
Here’s a website loaded with ideas and tools that can help with early motor skill development.
This stuff is way, way underrated. The connections to playing with a beautiful tone and great technique aren’t obvious to the average person. But a lifetime of playing and a decade of teaching has shown me otherwise.
Parents and kids alike are always super excited to get started on the instrument and learning songs. That’s great, but motivation dies quickly without having these six skills mastered. And that’s sad, and all too common.
Whether it’s baseball, math or violin the fundamentals do count. As parents, it’s our job to give our kids this solid starting point. It’s the foundation of becoming Invincible.
Don’t waste time! If the moment is right to start actual playing, there’s plenty you can do to make that moment shine when it finally arrives.
Have your own “too young” story or question to share? Please leave a comment below!
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!
If there’s any one way to make practice time painful and counterproductive, it is to practice in the land of “will be.” That’s because the oxygen of practice is visible improvement and immediate results. Invincible musicians universally share a “success now” practice regimen.
“Will be” musicians are not “wanna be” players. The former often pay their dues in spades. But their endless hours in the practice room are poisoned by a faulty internal dialog and a matching mindless practice method which is inherently ineffective.
Practicing in the world of “will be” always produces low quality work, despite endless repetition and an interminable work schedule.
The famous violinist Itzhak Perlman famously warns against practicing more that a few hours a day. This, in contrast to legions of 8 hour a day practice zombies that fill the practice rooms and dorms of music conservatories. Perlman clearly knows something that these musicians don’t.
Or, more specifically, Mr. Perlman’s practice is guided by his deep internal belief in his own efficacy, be it on the stage or in the practice room.
Your own practice alone can’t make you Invincible. Invincibility begins from the inside out. Ultimately your practice routine becomes exponentially more effective as it becomes congruent with your beliefs. And similarly, Invincible practice serves to bolster your internal dialog.
Too many musicians are put into situations that will only serve to cripple their future efforts. The scars can run deep. As a teacher, it is my heartfelt obligation to provide my students with a significant track record of positive experiences. And to provide the tools that they can use to achieve it.
Whether your goal is mastering Lightly Row or the Tchaik Concerto, the task can be (and must be) achieved with ease. You must find success at every turn or every turn will become a detour.
Stated another way: you must find the patience to become successful in the moment. That’s at the heart of being Invincible.
What are your favorite practice strategies? Please add your comment!