How to Encourage Your Child to Practice
Getting your child to practice consistently and effectively does not have to be a struggle. When I reflect on my early years studying the violin, I remember wanting to be good, but disliking the mundane task of practicing. This is the key: practice does not have to be boring. 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 the child off to the activity.
When you become a parent, you are inevitably taking on a full time teaching position. 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 her practice, I don’t know anything!” Yes, the violin is a difficult instrument to learn, but at the intro stages it is certainly not beyond anyone’s ability to grasp. It is crucial that the parent sit in on each lesson and pay careful attention to what is being taught. Shinichi Suzuki even 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 instantly feel that the task is near impossible to conquer. Not only do children like everything to be fun, they also love doing things they can do well. When a task becomes too difficult or beyond their reach they will quickly lose interest.
While the violin teacher does play an important role in the child’s learning, the parent plays an even bigger role. Telling a young child to go practice is never going to work. They will not be able to teach themselves or remember all the things from the lesson, and they will resent the fact that they must sit alone with the instrument for a designated period of time. In those 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 mom or dad all to themselves, completely focused on them. Start out with just 10 mins a day and slowly bump up the amount of time. Gauge their interest level carefully and be sure to stop or direct the practice in a different direction if they become fidgety or irritated. If they have technique issues that need to be addressed, be sure to focus on one thing per practice session, to avoid making them feel as though they are doing everything wrong. You might find that your child doesn’t like being corrected by you, so be creative. Grab their 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 that they are learning. Take the practice session out to the garden to play for the flowers, change up the location often and use your imagination always.
Another suggestion Suzuki offers is to make it an occasion every weekend where the child stands on a mock stage and performs what they learned that week for a 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 enjoy being the center of attention and it will boost their self confidence, making them want to strive to do even better the next week.
If you can’t find the time to sit down and practice with your child every day, then at least make a point to bring them into the kitchen with you while you cook to keep you company, or something to that effect (put a practice mute on their bridge to make it less intrusive). Children often do not like to feel that the violin is isolating them from the action of the household.
Another key is to make the violin accessible to them 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 them practicing on their own, don’t make a production of it, avoid your urge to run into the room and exclaim, “oh you’re practicing all on your own!”
Remember that the violin is similar to every other muscle building activity, it is better to work out the muscles everyday for short amounts of time (even just 10 mins) rather than large spans of time once or twice a week. At all costs, avoid nagging your child to practice, find other ways to encourage them.
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 every day. It is, however, not necessary to make them sit down and listen to it. Instead, put it on while they eat breakfast, while they’re drawing, or during any activity that they enjoy. They will automatically come to associate the music with the positive activity they’re engaged in. Dance around the house with them to a Strauss Waltz or Beethoven Symphony, and you will end up with a joyful, music loving child, no doubt!