Music Teachers: How to Push the Practice Reset Button

Aargh!! It’s lesson time and here comes that nasty passage. Your student’s execution sounds no better than it did last week. Or for the two weeks before. Did he even practice at all? Did she just blindly plow through those four measures thinking it sounds fine? No amount of explaining, cajoling, pleading, demonstrating, or drilling seems to make any difference. Another week rolls by, and still no improvement. As a fellow music teacher, I feel your pain.

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How to Fix a Broken Violin String

Lots of players and parents continue to send me questions about broken violin strings, even though I did cover the topic in this post. Still, this short video offers additional help.

After watching the video, please re-read my original post. With any luck at all, you’ll be fine.

Remember these key points:

  1. DON’T PANIC! Broken strings are a common problem. Keep a spare set of strings in your violin case.
  2. Whether installing a new string, or simply tuning your existing strings, raise the pitch slowly as you turn the peg (or fine tuner), and don’t go past the desired pitch. Use a tuning meter.
  3. Keep your violin and pegs in good working order, and always store/transport your instrument at a moderate temperature. Maintenance and transportation problems can lead to excessive tuning, which in turn can break strings needlessly.
  4. Your violin strings may (and likely will) need to be replaced long before they break.
  5. Last but not least, never remove more than one string at a time from your violin, broken or not. Doing so can cause the bridge to collapse. That’s not good.
My thanks to Shar Music for providing this video.

 

How to Take the Migraine Out of Music Practice

The kids just hopped in the car on the way back from school and already the complaining begins. “I don’t want to practice music, it’s boring.” Once home, the the arguments pick up steam as notebooks and music are nowhere to be found. Finally the practice begins, through your kids gnashing teeth and still grumbling.

At this point even you are thinking: “I’m growing to hate this, and yes, it is boring. Truly, I’m tired of all the fighting. Maybe music isn’t for us. It’s weird, some families are doing just fine with their lessons”

Music’s Cancerous Warning Sign

When a student complains (or even fails to complain) of real boredom, it catches my ear and raises a red flag. Boredom is real, and it makes no sense to pretend it doesn’t matter. Kids won’t improve when they’re bored. Eventually they’ll quit music altogether, whether we like it or not.

Sometimes boredom is the result of “shutting down” when we feel completing a task is beyond our reach. In this case students tend to practice in a zombie-like endless repetition, without interest or engagement. Obviously, progress in this mode is painfully slow. More often, boredom during practice results from lack of variety or lack of challenge. Young or old, spending your day bored can poison any part of life, music practice included.

Talent Is Not Genetic

Plenty of kids no different than yours love and adore everything about their music experience. They’re zooming through their assignments and performing on stage with ease. They get their practicing done with a minimum of fuss, and wean their parents from the practice process at an early age.

What some parents call “talent” is simply identifying problems clearly and then quickly finding a solution that brings about a small improvement, on the spot.

Flip This Switch and Practice Changes Overnight

It’s simple. Practice only to improve, and to make progress right now! Set up your kids for easy success. Start with small problems, and short sessions, and let them enjoy their accomplishments in the moment. Do this every day and soon the practice habit becomes a pleasure.

Here’s what doesn’t work: shut your kid in a room for 30 minutes with a vague instruction about “learning your song.”

Start at Your Very Next Practice Session

  • Before beginning a practice session make sure you and your kids know the “big picture” goal(s). Normally these goals will be provided by your music teacher, making it important to take good notes during the lesson. Never begin a practice session without a clear picture of the specific results you’re working for.
  • I’ve found that during practice, a constant and clarifying “self-talk” can make all the difference. Ask your young student “are you practicing that spot for tone, rhythm or pitch?” a few dozen times, and he/she will begin to internalize that strategy.
  • Build a “library” of problem solving routines or drills. These drills help you break down large problems into smaller pieces. Every teacher uses these drills, so pay attention during the lesson, and you’ll pick up some great ideas. Eventually, you’ll become adept at inventing your own drills, perfect for the musical problem at hand.
  • Get kids inspired by exposing them to great music and musicians. Enjoy live concerts and videos. Give kids a role model, and a sense that music is more than just practice and lessons.
  • Fill out a practice journal. Celebrate accomplishments in the moment and in writing. Make note where you need help from your teacher.
  • Most of all, make music a daily priority. The rewards come when you decide that practice is on your “short list” of important projects. Go deep with this one project, and reduce the clutter of an over-busy life driving from one activity to another. Ironically, life can become richer by doing less.

A key thing to remember is that as much as the subject matter in my studio is centered around songs and the instrument, what I really want to teach is the ability to improve through practice. It’s a skill that is transferrable to any subject matter or goal in life.


What do you think? Have ideas like this worked for you?

The Five Things Your Child Needs from You During Music Practice

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?

  • Teach you (the parent!) how to practice. A practice method.
  • Provide material with the right amount of challenge.
  • Provide and demonstrate technique goals for the week’s practice.
  • Provide and demonstrate musical goals for the weeks practice.

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:

  1. Understand your teacher’s practice strategies. Try and include a variety of strategies that are age appropriate. Hint: “let’s try it again until it gets better” is a strategy for failure.
  2. Set up a daily schedule, and always include a segment of listening, repeating back, clapping rhythms, etc. that is related to getting familiar with any assigned songs. It is a shameful waste of everyone’s time to teach a student the rhythm, melody, bowings, etc. of a particular tune during precious lesson time.
  3. Directly supervise or monitor minute by minute practice of your child. Use the practice strategies (see above) as a guidepost for the “how” of practicing.
  4. Use the bulk of the practice session to complete the technical and musical goals that your teacher has provided. You should always have weekly goals from the last lesson in hand. (See number 5. below) Refer to the notes often. Add questions/comments/notes for the next lesson.
  5. During the weekly lesson, take good notes. Written, audio, video, whatever you prefer. Make sure your weekly goals are clear at the end of the lesson. Remember, you are the hero of practice, so be fully engaged during the lesson. Don’t fall asleep at the switch!

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!

Violin Technique Spot Check: Five Things You Must Get Right

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:

  1. Light Hand Touch
  2. Finger Angle and Contact Point
  3. Hand and Arm Rotation
  4. Left Arm Pendulum
  5. Wrist Neutrality

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.

Click on this link: Left Hand Cheat Sheet Violin Videos to view. Suitable for beginning and intermediate players.

Remember: sharing is caring. Please send this link to your violin playing friends and families. If you have a comment or question, please leave it below! Thanks.

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