When I first started teaching, I’d forgotten what it was like to have to practice while my friends were watching TV or playing outside. Although I always enjoyed attending my lessons and performing, practice was something that often got in the way of being a kid and making the most of my afternoons.
As an experienced teacher and mum, I know all too well just how hard it is to motivate our kids and students to practice, not only regularly but effectively.
Today, I’m going to share with you the violin practice tips that I have developed over the years, not only to help my students but also my own five children.
#1 – Get Involved
The first and most effective way to encourage your little violinist to practice is to get involved and help out where you can. If you don’t do so already, talk to your child’s teacher about attending lessons. Although you may not be able to assist with the technical side of their progress, you want to develop a genuine interest in their music and have an understanding of what is required of them each week.
Try to find time to sit with your child as they practice; even if it’s just being present in the room while they play. If you can, offer encouragement and remind them of anything you heard their teacher say during the lesson.
You don’t have to be a violinist or even know anything about music to make a positive difference to your child’s progress and improvement; simply taking an interest in their practice routine will do wonders for their confidence and progress.
If you are lucky enough to play a musical instrument, join in where you can; you don’t have to be brilliant, your child will LOVE making music WITH you and want to improve to be as good as you.
#2 – Ditch The Timer
Although it seems obvious, practicing to IMPROVE is a concept which many students and their parents don’t understand. Setting a timer for 10 or 20 or even 60 minutes does not automatically equate to improvement and progress.
When I first started teaching, I’d give each of my students a set amount of time that they should be practicing per day. For my beginners, I’d draw 12 little boxes in their notebook and ask them to tick a box each time they finished a 10-minute session.
It wasn’t long before I started to realise that something wasn’t working; the boxes were getting ticked but progress was slow and the students continued making the same mistakes each time I saw them.
Nowadays, although I guide my students as to how long they should be practicing for their age and level, I don’t make time a focus.
At the end of each student’s lesson, I’ll write down some ‘goals’ that they should be working towards achieving before they see me next.
This afternoon, I helped 10-year-old Natalie make a practice list in which we included the following:
- C major scale 3 times without letting your 1st finger get sharp
- Coda from Air Varie in slow, medium and fast speeds without getting faster
- Shifting exercise with proper slide and swap technique
These three items are not the only things that Natalie will be practicing over the week and will only take approximately 10-15 minutes to do well. What’s important is that Natalie won’t be looking at the clock, she’ll be focusing on achieving each of the goals that I’ve set and this will encourage her to practice purposefully and effectively.
#3 – Make It Fun
Although you want to encourage your child to play for the love of music, this love often takes a while to develop. In the meantime, a packet of stickers can do wonders and can be used at home or after lessons.
Here’s a violin that belongs to one of my little students. As you can see, we’ve decorated it quite extensively with dinosaur stickers, each of which has been earned through achieving certain goals.
You don’t want to overdo the stickers or let them become an expectation but used effectively, stickers can get a little student over a practice ‘hump’ and back on track.
If you turn this violin over, you may be surprised to see a smiling face looking up at you. This is ‘Joey’ and Joey loves making beautiful music. Personifying the instrument has been a key factor in encouraging Joey’s owner to practice thoroughly and without fail each and every day for the last 3 months.
#4 – Practice At An Appropriate Time
For my own little children, I find mornings to be best for effective and thorough practice; they are fresh and happy to do their best. My older daughters are always grumpy in the mornings and because they leave for school quite early, afternoons and evenings work best for them.
There’s no use doing ineffective practice or practice for the sake of it. As mentioned earlier, you want to practice to improve.
Choose a time that works best for you and your child. If you’re in a rush to get to work or have to be somewhere else within the hour, it’s probably not a good time to begin a practice session; you don’t want to come across as rushed or stressed!
#5 – Ensure A Good Practice Environment
Upon visiting one of my students for a lesson, I was horrified to find that their music stand and violin were set up in the playroom; a place where younger brothers and sisters were running around and playing with dolls and cars.
There was no way that this student could concentrate on their violin playing and no way that any significant improvement or learning could take place.
Set your child’s music stand up in a designated, quiet place and ensure that practice takes place in this same place every day.
#6 – Make Practice Part Of Your Routine
Young children love routine. I find that during lessons, even some of my older students get a bit frazzled when I do something out of the ordinary or not in the order that they’re expecting. Lessons are at the same time, on the same day each week and I usually divide each session into three parts:
- Technical exercises
- Scales and Arpeggios
Now don’t get me wrong, we do make these three parts exciting but the point I’m making is that they are part of a lesson routine.
At home, you’ll find it much easier to instigate positive practice if you have a specific time allocated. Perhaps it’s between breakfast and teeth brushing time, or between afternoon tea and a favourite TV show. Find a time that works and stick to it.
#7 – Don’t Overdo It
Nobody became brilliant at anything overnight! Learning to play the violin takes time, and a lot of it. If you see that your child is becoming bored or frustrated with any one thing, move on to something else. It’s SO important to make practice time a positive experience for your developing musician.
Always finish practice on a positive note; there’s no use pushing through an extra round of twinkle exercises when your child is clearly not enjoying themselves. This will simply give them a negative feeling about their practice and make it harder for you to resume the next day.
#8 – Keep A Practice Diary
Many of my students like keeping a practice diary. This is simply a little book which records all the important things to remember from your lesson as well as the days you practice and the hurdles you’ve experienced. It’s quite satisfying to look back over the book and see just how far you’ve come.
#9 – Allocate A Rest Day
Even the most advanced students need a rest day each week. Not only does this provide something to look forward to but it gives your brain and body a chance to recuperate and freshen up for the following day.
My own children choose a rest day each week based on their sporting commitments. So, for example, my second eldest daughter does a figure skating class on Saturdays. Because she leaves early and comes home quite tired, Saturday is a perfect day to take a rest from violin practice.
#10 – Network With Other Families
Does your teacher have other students around the same age and level as your child? If so, why not get to know these other children and their families? they’re no doubt going through the same highs and lows as you are!
As your child progresses, they’ll enjoy having friends who take part in the same exam sessions, competitions, concerts and recitals as they do. They’ll be able to play duets together and egg each other on for upcoming performances hence making learning the violin a more ‘normal’ part of life.
#11 – Have Fun!
I just couldn’t leave this one out!
The single most important thing is to make music, and in particular the violin something fun and exciting for your child. As a parent, you may have hopes and dreams of your child excelling in AMEB exams or achieving a music scholarship to a prestigious private school. These things are only possible if the student actually ENJOYS the music that they are playing.
I know what it’s like to practice with young children; I have five of my own! It’s not always fun but the rewards far outweigh the tears, you’ve just got to be persistent and patient.
I hope you’ve found these tips useful and if you have any of your own you’d like to share, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can
founder of myviolinbff.com