Let me begin by saying that being the music parent, instead of the music teacher, held a lot of surprises for me. I taught violin to up to 109 students, every week, for about ten years. As a music teacher I had a vision for my future children, and how they would behave, and be little genius music makers.
I will say that I was always kind to the parents of my students, and considered many of them to be great friends as well. I looked forward to seeing them each week, and we’d chat about other things outside of music too. But I never did quite relate to them in the way that I could now.
It was never even a consideration of mine that I could someday be a parent who would actually lose their Suzuki CD (and not be able to find it for like, a month) or practice only two days some weeks, or be late for a lesson (or two, or four), or have a child that wouldn’t speak to the teacher, or would run around the room during their lesson….or, horror of all horrors, tell the teacher “no” right to their face….
I had students that did all these things, but my future child would be so focused and musical, and I would be so organized and everything, that we wouldn’t run into these common problems…riiiiight.
And that’s without telling you the more embarrassing moments, like the time my child snatched a piece of candy right out of the teacher’s hand, and popped it into his greedy, little mouth, without even asking, and certainly without deserving it.
Yes, becoming the “music parent” has transformed me, and I now have a deep understanding and admiration for all music parents everywhere.
The lessons have gotten better as my 2-year old violinist (okay, 2yo squeaker) turned into a 3-year old violinist. But the practices…
Practicing 5-6 days a week is a challenge. The “honeymoon” stage of learning a musical instrument can be short lived, especially in young children. After the initial excitement wears off, it can be a bit of a struggle (okay, an all out battle) to get a 3 year old to practice with all the proper form, and without all the bad attitude.
In the last couple of months, I have made a huge effort to learn how to keep Kenny’s focus during a practice session. In doing so, I have found these 9 effective ways to keep practicing a little entertaining, without distracting from the real focus of learning how to play that instrument. Kenny is less frustrated, and we end our practice sessions without crying (him or me!).
Use a wooden puzzle, like the one pictured. Remove all the pieces. For every repetition of a given task (correct bow hold, song ending, scale, etc) he gets to pick a piece and put it in the puzzle. When all the pieces are gone, he can be done with his practicing.
2. Plastic Easter Eggs
Take 6 plastic Easter eggs, and put one tiny “surprise treat” inside. This can be 1 M&M, 3 peanuts, a chocolate chip, a fruit snack, etc. The key here is that each egg is a little different than the last, so there is the element of surprise. They want to practice until all the eggs are opened, because their curiosity won’t let them do otherwise. When we did this, Kenny would pop open an egg and hold up a single chocolate chip as if it was a trophy. Have them play through their music piece, and each time they do their best, they can open an egg. When the eggs are all opened, the practice session is complete.
3. Dry Erase List
Using a Dry Erase Board, list out a practice plan like the following example:
Bow hold exercise
Bow hold exercise
Twinkle Variation 1
Twinkle Variation 2
Start at the top, and each time they finish one task on the list, let them erase it from the board. Let them know that as soon as they complete the list, practice is over. This gives a great visual for them to see their own progress through the practice session, and see when they’re “almost done.”
4. Keep it out!
Keep the instrument out, but up on a table or counter so other little siblings don’t get a hold of it. Every so often, ask your child to play through their song two times, or even just once! If they’re used to practice sessions that include playing through their song several times in a row, they will be thrilled that you are asking for just one run through, and happily oblige…so long as you don’t ask for any additional practice at that time. If you say once, only have them play it one time, then set the violin up until later. Repeat several times throughout the day.
Many of our student’s parents use this practice method, and like to use a stand to hold the violin & bow when it is not in it’s case. This stand is a best seller in our music store. Here is the cello & bass version of the same stand. The stand is very sturdy and provides excellent protection for the instrument.
5. Giant Dice
Have them roll a dice to see how many times they need to play through each practice task. Roll again for each piece or practice exercise. We found our giant dice at a 5 Below near us, but Amazon also has large, foam dice.
Perform for family members or friends. Say, “Kenny is working on a new piece this week. Let’s play your song for Grandma!” Keep it positive and low pressure. Only have them play as long as they’re having fun for this one.
7. Phone Video
Make a video of their music on your phone, then let them watch it. Do it multiple times if they are enjoying it. We all know kids love to see pictures and videos of themselves.
Make it a concert! Grab a sturdy box, or use a stairway landing as the stage, and have them put on a performance. Announce their name and song title with great pomp, (“And now, we have Kenneth Mark Thacker on the violin, performing “Song of the Wind”!!) Be sure to clap, and wait for them to bow. Bringing a couple big stuffed animals, or a teddy bear as additional audience members also works well. This is also FABULOUS practice for real recitals. Practice it the way you will want them to enter and exit stage at a concert, and they will be comfortable doing it when the annual recital comes around.
Similar to #2, use plastic Easter eggs, but this time, grab a Lego minifigure and pull it all apart. Put one piece in each egg. As they do practice tasks, and earn the privilege of opening each egg, they will build the little man (or woman) one piece at a time. It’s surprisingly entertaining. Don’t let them see the minifigure ahead of time, or it loses some of it’s charm. Curiosity is your greatest asset here. Is it the woodland elf? or the princess? or the cowboy? They have to practice to find out. You could even make a silly one, with un-matching parts.