Do you know the Practice Song which is sung to Suzuki’s ‘Perpetual Motion” from his Violin Method Bk 1?
Singing this Song in group classes always brings a pretty even mix of laughter and groans.
Yes it is cute and funny, but why the groans? Is it ridiculous, or unjust to have to practice to learn something? Do we dare to question the need to practice tables and spellings? Could we ever think of letting our children miss a homework deadline, or even turn up unprepared for a test?
Of course, being able to spell and count are very useful life skills and I have every sympathy with those who believe that music isn’t a very lucrative profession nowadays. But why do so many of us have difficulty in justifying regular daily music practice, preferring to turn up to music lessons in a state of embarrassment, brimming over with profuse apologies and excuses for our failure to practise with Junior?
But wait a moment. Why do we send our children to music lessons? To get them into a famous orchestra, or to turn them into world class soloists? Not if we’ve got our heads screwed on properly.
What’s that I hear you say? You want them to learn self discipline, co-operation, to learn from criticism, establish an ability to bounce back from disappointments, deal with frustrations, learn focus and concentration, project management, patience, problem solving, develop memory skills, self worth, a positive mindset and to strive for mastery?
And what about aesthetic appreciation, enhanced co-ordination, a better brain, enhanced powers of observation, improved stamina, realistic self-evaluation, self confidence, self expression, wider horizons, and growing up with a motivated and supportive peer group who could be friends for life? See my article on Music Lessons – How Music Makes Your Child Brighter.
Oh yes, they also develop the ability to make beautiful music.
BUT there is a catch. From bitter personal experience, I can tell you that going to music lessons isn’t going to give our children any of these life skills on a plate. We have to help them to practice.
•1 Consistent Regular Practice:
Practice needs to happen every day. If it doesn’t, your child will forget and become frustrated with the process. Sometimes this may be a challenge but as long as you have time to eat, there is always time for a tiny practice session.
For a civilised practice session, you only need two more rules. When you observe them you will notice a great difference in your child’s development and in the relationship between the two of you.
•2 For you, the practice assistant:
ONLY POSITIVE, TRUTHFUL, SPECIFIC COMMENTS ARE ALLOWED. It takes only one negative remark to undo all you have achieved. If you want success, be careful of your player’s self esteem.
Tips and pointers must be given as a gift, not a criticism – e.g. “I loved how you are paying attention to holding your violin right up on your shoulder, well done! Now, what was that special trick that our teacher showed us to make it even easier?”
As long as good things happen during a practice session, your child will want to be there. Does your child find it rewarding and satisfying to work hard? Not yet? Too immature? Well, for a young beginner, who won’t be getting musical satisfaction, dishing out prompt extrinsic rewards, for hard work, can work wonders. Before you object, consider your own attitude towards a bonus, when you have worked hard at something particularly difficult?
•3 For your child, the player:
EVERYTHING that is repeated will be learned! You must give yourself enough time to prepare to get each note right. Sometimes you will need to play very slowly indeed, but if you do this, you won’t have to waste time correcting mistakes. It’s much more fun getting it right!
We assistants will need to be prepared to do a lot of patient gentle reminding. “Just how slowly and carefully do we have to do this to get it just right?” Once this is understood, “What’s your practice tempo?” should be enough.
You never know, by ensuring regular, calm, happy, daily practice, your child’s new life skills could rub off on you.
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