Practice Tips

Posted by gretchenleanna on April 8, 2012 at 10:05 PM

Every child goes through the "I don't want to practice" stage, and without any guidence on how to work through it, that period of time can be frustrating and even downright defeating.  Just remember that they will get through this and will usually love their instrument even more once the start to hear how good they sound with proper practice.  It is my hope that these tips can help sooth tensions and even reenergize your child's desire to practice!

Have a Routine

The best way to avoid a conflict about practicing is to make it a non-negotiable part of your routine.  Just like brushing your teath or clearing the dinner table, it's not something worth arguing about because it simply has to happen.  Set a time where you can be focused on your child and when your child can also be fully attentive; if the student is hungry or tired, he or she probably will not be able to stay focused and positive.  If you have a child in school, try to practice either before school or right away when he or she gets home.  Playing a musical instrument is one of the only activities humans can do that uses both sides of the brain.  This means that if your child practices first, she will be connecting the two sides of her brain and making connections that can help her with problem solving skills needed for her homework.  On the other hand, if she practices at the end of the evening, she will be too tired from the day, brain tired from homework, to have the extra energy it takes to practice well.

Be Excited

Children learn by example and repetition, and you are their No. 1 teacher.  If you are excited and diligent about practicing and their involvement with their instrument, children will mirror that excitement.  On the other hand, if you're stressed out or short with them when you want them to practice, they will respond in kind.  Instead of telling them they have to practice, tell them you love to hear them play so they need to practice now while you can spend time with them.  

Look forward to your time with your child. In a busy day, take advantage of the chance to spend 30 minutes a day one-on-one with your son or daughter, and they will look forward to it as well.

Take a Bow


 At the beginning and end of each lesson, I will bow with the child as a sign of respect and as a mental cue that this is lesson time and everything else has to wait until after the ending bow. Parents are encouraged to bow during practices as well, so the bow signifies a time to focus on only the violin. 

Inspire Them - and Yourself!

Whenever you can, take your child to performances and concerts.  Whether it's a high school orchestra concert, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, a fomous soloist or anything in between, it will give a boost to the desire to practice while also shaping the goals for your child's musical future!


Make it a Game

The amount and variety of games one can play to keep practing fun and productive are endless.  Here are some of my favorites, but I'd love to hear what you have come up with!!


 Think how many times your son or daughter repeates a specific action when playing with their toys, or how many times they want you to read the same book over and over again.  They are wired to enjoy thoughtfull repetition, so don't shy away from it, us it to your advantage!!

Let's say your child is working on the "hops" section in Song of the Wind, and his focus is on landing his bow and finger on the string without a sound and with a soft bow hold.  You draw a tic-tac-toe board, and every time he does it just right, he gets to go, every time he does not land successfully, you get to go.  The game continues until he wins!


Though I'm not huge on bribing children, they have to really work to earn this, and it can sometimes take quite a while!  

1. Set out 6-10 (or however many repetitions was agreed upon in the lesson) Skittles - or any small candy - with two small bowls

2. Define the skill you will be working on.  Ex: Bow division and dynamics in the middle section of Go Tell Aunt Rhody

3. Put all the candy in the starting bowl and for every correct repetition, the child gets a candy out of the starting bowl and put it in their bowl - for every incorrect repetition, one of the child's candies goes back into the starting bowl.  They win when they get all the candies.  

*if it's a really tricky skill, you can give them or take away a candy for every successful or unsuccesful application of the skill instead of the whole passage or song.

    Memory Stations    

If trying to memorize what part of the song comes next is a problem, this game is jogs their memory and gets them moving.  

1.Choose a colored piece of paper or anything with a single bright color, and assign a color to each part.  For instance, Twinkle is bread (red) - cheese (yellow) -cheese (yellow) -bread (red).

2. Have your child put these papers - one for each section - any where in the room - creating stations

3. Play the CD and have them run to the station as the song plays

4.  Stop the CD before each new section and see if your child knows where to go before playing the next section.

5. Turn off the CD and have your child start at the first station and then move to the following stations as they play.  They can stop in between stations if they need to 

6. Line the stations up in a row and see if they can play down the row without stoping.

      Variation on Memory Stations

Simply hold  up the color and see if your son our daughter can remember how the section goes.  Don't hold them up in order, this is mostly to test their knowledge of the individual sections, not as much to test the cohesiveness of the song as a whole.

    Posture Friends

All of my students learn very quickly who Freckles is.   Freckles is my little hampster friend that sits on the violin while the student plays.  This not only encourages beautifully ballanced and tall posture, but it also gives them a place to focus their eyes, and something to smile about.  If it falls, the child usually laughs and wants to try it again and again until Freckles stays up the whole time.  

Can You Tell??

This is a great game for learning a new technique, especially with the bow.  Let's say you're working on keeping a smooth bow.  Mom or Dad has to close their eyes while the other takes turns with the child the play 2 or 3 bow strokes.  The adult moving the bow should make sure they are getting exactly the correct sound - you can try it in a lesson so I can help you if you like - and then the child has to try and match that lovely sound.  If you can stump the parent that's not looking, you win!!


Some times the best game is simply moving around.  If a child's getting stuck or frustrated, he's also getting tense.  Have him play while marching or swaying to help loosen up.  Some other examples might be to: let go of the violin with their left hand on open strings, exagerate bow circles with their bow arm, follow your motions of wiggling, squating, standing on one foot, or any other motion you think of without totally disruption their playing ;)

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