How to Encourage Your Child to Practice
When I reflect on my early years studying the violin, I remember wanting to be good, but disliking the mundane task of practicing. The most important thing to remember is that children want everything to be fun. Any instance which feels like a chore rather than playtime will turn them off to the activity.
Whatever activities you decide to engage your child in simultaneously become learning experiences for you as well. Often I hear parents say, “I can’t help him/her practice, I don’t know anything!” It is helpful if the parent sits in on the lesson, especially for very young students. Shinichi Suzuki suggests that the parent learn to play a song in those first couple lessons, not only to better understand the violin, but also to give the child added incentive to learn the instrument. If the parent expresses that it is too difficult for them to learn, the child will simultaneously feel the task is impossible. Not only do children like everything to be fun, they also love doing things they can accomplish with ease. When a task becomes too difficult or beyond their reach they will quickly lose interest. In that case, baby steps are key when initiating any challenging activity.
While the violin teacher does play a prominent role in the child’s learning, the parent plays an even greater role. In the first couple years, practice time should be an occasion where the parent and child are learning together in a fun, relaxed manner, just as they did when the child was learning to speak. Children relish any chance they get to spend with their parent all to themselves, entirely focused on them. Start out with about 10 mins a day and slowly bump up the amount of time. Gauge their interest level and be sure to stop or direct the practice in a new direction if they become fidgety or irritated. If he/she has technique issues that need to be addressed, be sure to focus on just one thing per practice session. You might find that your child doesn’t like being corrected by you, so be creative. Grab his/her favorite stuffed animal or doll and pretend like it is the “violin doctor.” Use silly voices, play pretend, and your child won’t even notice they're learning. Take the practice session out to the garden to play for the flowers or perform for a teddy bear tea party. Change up the location often and use your imagination always.
Another suggestion Suzuki offers is to make an occasion every weekend where the child stands on a mock stage and performs what they learned that week for a willing parent or family member who does not regularly attend lessons. At this time, you and their “audience” should only be concerned with giving them tons of praise, no corrections. They will quickly recognize that the violin brings them to the center of attention and it will boost their confidence; they will strive to do even better the next week.
If you can’t find the time to practice with your child every day, make a point to bring his/her music stand into the kitchen while you cook, fold clothes, weed the garden, etc. (put a practice mute on the bridge to make it less intrusive). This way your child won't feel as though the violin is isolating him/her from the "action" of the household, and you can provide assistance if needed.
Another key is to make the violin accessible at all times. Hang it on a safe hook near their playthings, so they associate the violin with a toy that they are free to pick up and play with at any time. If you hear your child practicing on their own, don’t make a production of it, avoid your urge to run into the room and exclaim, “wow, you’re practicing all on your own!” In this instance, let your child have fun playing with the instrument in their own way and it may just develop into a regular event.
Remember that the violin is similar to every other muscle building activity, it is best to work out the muscles every day for a short amount of time (even just 5-10 mins) rather than large spans of time once or twice a week. They will find the instrument more enjoyable the easier it becomes.
If your child studies from the Suzuki Method Books, the CD that comes with the book is essential. You will find that your child learns much more rapidly if the CD is listened to regularly. Put it on while they eat breakfast, while they’re drawing, or during any activity that they enjoy. This will automatically associate their violin songs with the positive activity they’re engaged in.
Dance around the house with your child to a Strauss Waltz or Beethoven Symphony, and you will end up with a joyful, music loving child, no doubt!