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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!