Goal Setting for Making Practice Fun

Goal Setting for Making Practice Fun by Sue Hunt, Music in Practice
Success comes from careful goal setting

Sarah started viola lessons when she was 3.  Her big brother had been playing for a year already and the family focus was on him.  From the start it was apparent that her mother didn’t rate Sarah much as an achiever.  She was convinced that there was a clumsiness issue.  Progress was so slow, that my problem was making practice fun enough to capture her interest.

Of course Sarah fulfilled her mum’s expectations, finding that the best way to get attention, was to mess around and generally misbehave in private and group lessons.  She did however pester me about taking her viola to school, for “Show and tell.”

Now generally, I break down the Twinkle Variations into about 7 easy little Pre Twinkle Songs.  Most children love to play these and the fun practice games which go with them, but not Sarah.  I tried everything that I could think of, but for 2 years she fought me tooth and nail over the first couple of these songs.  She just didn’t see the point, as she still saw messing around as the easiest way to get noticed.

Last autumn, her frustrated mum gave me a term’s notice, but said that they would give it all they had got and work hard until Christmas.  I was very sad to see this child fail and thought back to the day when Sarah asked if she could take her viola to school for a show and tell.  At the time I told her that she certainly could, just as soon as she could play Twinkle.  Maybe I could make the goal more tangible.

So, before her first lesson this term, I made a poster of a cat playing a violin.  I labeled 7 bits of the cat with the name of my Pre Twinkle pieces.  I wrote her goal on the poster as if she had already achieved it:  “Sarah can play Twinkle.  She is taking her viola to school.”  I also put on it a row of speech bubbles,  “Fine Focus”  “Great playing!”  “What good work!”

When she turned up for the first lesson of the autumn term, I asked her if she still wanted to take her viola to school.  Her eyes lit up, so I showed her the poster, explained that every time she learned a piece, she could colour that bit of the poster.  When it was all coloured in, she could take her viola to perform to her school class.

There were 3 pieces that she could just about play on a good day, so we immediately reviewed them.  These were the “A String Concerto,” “D String Concerto” and “Ding Dong” (a string changing piece).  I was flabbergasted.  I had never seen her pay such good attention.  She really put her heart into it.  Of course she immediately got to colour in three bits of the picture.  I sent her home with the challenge of learning the next piece and nearly fell off my chair when she played it perfectly to me at her next lesson.  Over the next few weeks, her father, granny and brother all took turns to come to marvel at the lessons.  I have never seen a child so motivated.

By the end of the Autumn term, she had learnt the first variation of Twinkle, paying attention in a way that her mother didn’t think was possible.  Needless to say, her viola went to school for “Show and tell” and her self-esteem has grown.  We are now well on the way to completing the Twinkle Variations.  Her mum, dad, brother, granny and I are all thrilled with how a bit of goal setting has made practice fun for Sarah.


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