Time management suggestions

Carrie Kelly said: Apr 5, 2012
 Piano
4 posts

I have a 5 1/2 year old daughter studying piano and I’m having difficulty managing our time when it comes to practice sessions.

It’s not a viable option to practice in the mornings because we have a school with a very early start time. I also work full time so we really only have a 2 hour window between the time when I get home from work to bedtime. During that time we need to eat dinner, do any homework assignments (which are minimal at this point, thank goodness), get ready for bed and have a little down time as a family. Many nights I’m left with having to decide whether we’re going to practice the piano or have a bath because there simply isn’t time for both. We have more time on the weekends, but I hate to feel like we’re cramming because we haven’t been able to work everything in during the week.

I hate to feel like I’m looking for the music equivalent of an exercise video that promises rock hard abs in only 10 minutes a day, but I’m hopeful someone has helpful advice.

Paula Bird said: Apr 5, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

It sounds like maybe music lessons are not the best thing for you to be trying to fit in to your overcrowded schedule right now. I do not advise the cramming in two days technique, because it rarely works. You will be frustrated with your results. If you can commit to a shorter expectation of time expenditure, you may find that you may accomplish a great deal more.

Please see my blog about the power of 10 minutes. It would be wonderful to be able to spend more than that, but there is still a great deal of power to be found in this tiny amount of time.

take 10

And then there is my article about the power of routine:

power of routine

When a parent cannot find 10 minutes to spend in a day, I offer to help them arrange a suitable time by looking at the calendar with them. It is possible to find creative solutions to this issue. Some students practice while the parent prepares dinner. Listening assignments can be completed while getting dressed for school or taking a bedtime bath or during meal times or driving in a car. Bow holds can be made or new bowings learned before sitting down to eat dinner. I had one set of studio parents whose children all attended the same Montessori school. The parents actually took turns visiting the school during the lunch hour and practicing a little bit with the children. I was so impressed with that wonderful idea.

You mentioned family “down time.” What a perfect opportunity to involve the family and provide encouraging motivation for your child. Why not have everyone get involved in some way? Isn’t practicing with your child a perfect example of family quality time? Why not include music practice in your list of family down time activities? Why not show your child that his or her musical activity has just as much merit and importance as playing a game of Scrabble or building a Legos structure or watching TV?

I recall Jeanne Luedke, the family Suzuki expert give a talk to a group of very busy parents at a workshop. When one parent raised the issue of having trouble finding practice time, Jeanne told the parents that she had the answer. She asked everyone to take out a sheet of paper and quickly write a list of the activities that they needed to do every day. Jeanne waited about five minutes for all the parents to finish making their lists, and the parents eagerly did so because they were excited about getting an answer as to how to NOT practice very much. After the parents made their lists, Jeanne asked them to hold them up, and then she told them to rip the lists in half and throw half of them away.

Jeanne’s point was that parents and their children often do way too much. That may not be the case for you because of your work schedule.

I hope I have given you some help.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Daina Volodka Staggs said: Apr 6, 2012
Daina Volodka StaggsTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Frisco, TX
6 posts

It sounds to me like your teacher recommended that you practice before school to relieve some of the stress. Are there things you can practice that don’t require a piano? How about listening? There are many ways to practice, and you could see if there is some way that you can incorporate performance ideas, poise, form, and maybe even technique away from an instrument. Have you reached out to parents within your program about this? It may seem impossible, because you really want to make music in a caring way with your child when you can. Remember, there is always potential in mentorship. Little people eventually want to be big people. Not mommies.

I would recommend perhaps finding an older student within your program that could mentor your child somehow in your place for 2-3 days per week. If your child has a lot of time away from home to start with, she may have an easier time working the skills in teaching points and review from someone else. She might really enjoy it. I would recommend asking for help from an advanced student at your Suzuki program, perhaps a teenager who can drive and lives nearby, to come and practice with your daughter while you are still at work. This approach may be criticized by some as sacrificing a potentially stronger emotional bond with your child, but truly I think that tutoring is good for students and mentorship of older children to younger children is indeed a large part of the Suzuki Method. The advanced student benefits by perhaps earning some money and getting to teach, which really puts the pespective back in the hands of the student as the path of learning takes hold. Your instructor is the person to ask if this sort of approach would help the effectiveness of your practice. She might have just the person in mind.

Paul said: Apr 9, 2012
Paul Rak11 posts

Hello Carrie, I am a fellow Suzuki parent-father and my daughter Emily just turned 6 and we are doing violin while my wife is doing piano with Emily in the mornings. I am in the same boat as you are….I own my own business and am lucky to get home by 8pm most nights as my wife and I work together and usually eat out after work instead of cooking at home. By the time we are done work and dinner, we are lucky to get home by 8pm…..my daughter has a hard time focusing on violin then and I really struggled figuring out what to do.

But there are ways to address this….first, the 10 minutes Paula Bird talks about above is so, so true. In the last 7 plus months of Suzuki, I have learned from 2 master Suzuki teachers that the 1st year of Suzuki is more about learning how to practice than about the instrument you are practicing for. This concept is so important…your (our) struggle to get a grip on practicing is really one of our largest challenges, which I am sure you can agree with. The result is that short high quality practices are worth far more for your 5.5 year old daughter than 30-60 minute practices which really is not reasonable at that age.

But wonderfully, I have found at the same time that 10 minutes often turns to 15-25 minutes so quickly. Yet even if we have just 10 minutes after we get home, it can be very high quality practicing…..and Emily appreciates them being shorter and I have far less resistance from her that way.

To help get the most out those 10 minutes you refer to Carrie, have you read Edmund Sprunger’s book Helping Parents Practice? I cannot say enough good things about this book but in a nutshell, if you read his book you will find 99% of what you are facing is addressed in his book. Edmund really does make practicing easier and he helps squeeze out of the training and practice greater value than you can imagine. I am only 1/3 of the way through the book and already our practice times are benefiting immensely. I cannot over praise the book enough.

So in summary, I try and take practices wherever I can with Emily. I have even left work early, at 5pm and squeezed in 10-15 minutes while Emily is still full of energy, then gone to the gym, then dinner, then another 10-15 minutes just after giving Emily a bath.

Without a doubt consistency of practice times is important but tough for some of us parents yet I have compensated with intelligent tips from both the discussions on this website and books like Helping Parents Practice.

All the best to you and your daughter!

Carrie Kelly said: Apr 10, 2012
 Piano
4 posts

Thank you to everyone who responded. It’s helpful to hear I’m not alone in this struggle. What concerns me is that this is as un-scheduled as we’re ever going to be. Piano is her only activity other than school and homework in kindergarten is minimal.

Being reflective, I think I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking if we only have a short amount of time, it’s not worth it rather than taking advantage of even a 10 minute window. My question on that though is how do you use your time efficiently so that you get something out of the 10 minutes? Perhaps my daughter is particularly prone to dawdling but I watched the clock as we practiced last night and scales alone took 6 minutes. We practiced for 40 minutes and worked on two Suzuki songs in preparation for a recital (played each song 5 times each), 8 measures of music reading and 4 scales. I’m sorely tempted to get a stop watch and track how much time she spends searching for keys when she knows perfectly well where middle C is. Can you tell I’m ready to pull my hair out? :)

I’d also like ideas on practicing away from the piano. I’ve read as much as I can online, but it seems like the advice is tailored to violin rather than piano and pianos aren’t terribly portable. Other than listening to the CD (which we do in the car and during bath and whenever else we have time), what sorts of pianoless piano practice activities have people tried?

On the issue of a mentor, I like that idea and I’ll give it more thought to see if it’s logistically possible for us. While I appreciate the parent/child bonding element of Suzuki, an older child mentor seems like it would be a lovely offshoot of the sharing of music element.

Thank you for the suggestion for Edmund Sprunger’s book, I’ve put in a request through the library and am waiting for it to become available.

Elizabeth said: Apr 10, 2012
Elizabeth K20 posts

Hi Carrie!

The Suzuki method is just as much (if not more) important than actually playing. Anytime you can play the music for her, do it. Instead of worrying right now about other ways to practice without her instrument, just increase the amount of time she’s listening to her music.

The ultimate goal of practicing for really young kids is to build stamina, make practicing a habit, and keep her frustration to a minimum, so she’ll stick with music and enjoy it. I’d make the sessions short and focused (no longer than 15 minutes at a time).

To make this work, plan out the sessions at the beginning of the week before you even start practicing with her. Here are the three steps to making this work.

1. Start with what absolutely has to get done before she returns to her teacher. Teachers are pretty specific about what needs to get done, so they probably wrote it down somewhere in their notebook or practice journal if you’re not sure. If you still have questions, shoot them an email or give them a quick call. Teachers would rather clarify their assignment than reteach it next week.

2. Make a super simple plan to get it done. At the beginning of the week, sit down with her and divide the tasks up between the days of the week leading up to her lesson (this shouldn’t take longer than 5 or 10 minutes). She’ll feel involved in the planning practice process with you and more invested (which means she’ll dawdle less).

Now that her weekly goals are specific, practice will feel easier to start, which is usually the hardest part of practicing.

3. Breathe. Finding middle C takes time. Positioning ourselves the right way before we play takes time. And all of that (even if it feels like it’s at a snail’s pace) is a part of practicing. I probably go through some of the same motions she does when I practice, but it takes me a lot less time than when I was 5.

So when she gets frustrated and upset, breathe. When you get frustrated, breathe. Practice should be as painless as possible. Do not be afraid to stop a practice session, even if you feel like you need to trudge through and get more done. You want to associate good feelings with practicing. I’m giving you permission to stop practicing completely when she starts wiggling!

And if she really needs to return to practicing that day (let’s say a recital is in a week or so) let her break at least 30 minutes before she practices for 5 or 10 minutes again.

Hope this helps!

Elizabeth

Practice for Parents Helping You Help Them

Carrie Kelly said: Apr 10, 2012
 Piano
4 posts

Elizabeth, I love the idea of making a weekly plan and will definitely try it to see if it cuts down on the dawdling which, admittedly, makes me insane which can’t be helping.

Barb said: Apr 10, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Just to add to Elizabeth’s idea of a weekly plan, some kids are very motivated by using charts they can tick off, or put stickers on, or color in! If she knows she gets one of these for each thing she does during practice, it may help with the dawdling.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Paula Bird said: Apr 12, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Try a Bits & Pieces Day!
Bits & Pieces

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

said: Apr 12, 2012
 48 posts

It’s OK to have short practices some days … even very short practices if that’s all the time you have. Then try to balance them with longer practices whenever possible. The main thing is to just go ahead and practice every day. On an especially busy day, maybe it’s just five minutes before school in the morning, plus ten minutes in the evening.

For younger children, the main point is to inculcate the idea that practice is something they do every day, like brushing their teeth. Get them started that way, and all else will fall into place eventually.

The dawdling thing is really tough for parents, I agree. Kids that age just have no sense of time; they don’t feel the same urgency that you do. Like a lot of aspects of parenting, the main effect of being a Suzuki “practice parent” is to do a stress-test on our capacity for patience.

If your child is practicing every day, and you’re not having big disagreements about practice … congratulations! That’s good enough for now.

Barb said: Apr 12, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Jon, I’m sorry to see that you changed your post—I quite enjoyed reading the first one, and I thought it had some good advice! I laughed at the 23 or so steps of dawdling string players can go through!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

said: Apr 12, 2012
 48 posts

Thanks for the kind words, Barb. I tend to have second thoughts about things. The original version of that comment was fun to write, but after an hour or so I re-read it and thought it seemed like … a bit too much. Not everyone shares my silly sense of humor; and I decided that I’m not really in a position to be giving anyone advice, or at least not all the opinions that were in there before I shortened it! But it is pleasing to know that at least one person read and liked it.

Paula Bird said: Apr 12, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Jon? Why? It was a great comment. When I first read it I thought “this is someone who gets it!”

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Paula Bird said: Apr 12, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Good thing I kept a copy of the original comment in my email box. Anyone still want it?

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Sue Hunt said: Apr 13, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Yes please Paula.

Paula Bird said: Apr 13, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Sorry, Jon, this was just to wonderful! Teachers and parents loved it!

Jon said:

Those among the large population of teachers reading this “Parents’ Corner” forum might want to avert their eyes, because this discussion is getting into the “shameful secrets of parents” zone….
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OK, no teachers reading now? … here we go …
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Carrie, thanks for starting this thread. Your situation must be so very familiar to lots of parents. When school starts early and the parent works a full day and bedtime is early, it’s really really really hard to fit things in. And you’re right, it only gets harder—we have a 10-year-old, who still goes to bed before 8 on school nights, but who now has homework and, in some seasons, a couple of afternoons of sports. For organized activities, we limit ourselves to 1 instrument and 1 sport and it still seems like there’s just no time.

For us, the solution is to always, no matter what, cram in at least a short practice wherever it will fit—before dinner, after dinner, right before bed, or occasionally in the morning. On a really tight evening, it’s only 10 or 15 minutes, on a more reasonable evening it’s 25 or 30. Sometimes, if we know the evening is going to be problematic, the child will practice for 10 minutes before school in the morning, then another 10 at the end of the day. Then, on weekends, snow days, holidays … any other non-school day, we’ll practice for 90 minutes or more, usually with a break in the middle.

Those shorter weekday practices might not seem like much, but the difference between practicing 15 vs 45 minutes is much less significant than the difference between practicing 15 vs 0 minutes, for us at least.

In my very humble opinion, in the early years, the ten most important goals for practicing are, in order of importance:

Reinforcing the idea that practicing is something you do every single day;
As much as possible, making practice enjoyable;
Learning the general life lesson that when you encounter something new and difficult, you can figure out what the problems are, break them up into manageable pieces, work diligently at them, and eventually it becomes familiar and do-able;


and finally 10. Making “progress” on your Suzuki pieces.
Paul Rak mentions “consistency of practice times”. That has always sounded admirable to me, but in five years we’ve never managed to achieve it. Likewise, about once a year we try various kinds of charts, weekly plans, etc. We don’t usually stick with them very long, except for some reason when we go on vacation; then it helps to have a plan. Or if I’m going to be away for a week on a work trip, we’ll come up with a practice guideline before I leave.

The only consistent “plan” we follow is: scales first, then something easy to warm up, then focus on whatever needs to be addressed given the amount of time available. In a short practice, we’ll just try to hit the main points from lesson. In a long practice on the weekend, we’ll do whatever we feel like, usually alternating fun stuff with the lesson stuff.

As for this:

I’m sorely tempted to get a stop watch and track how much time she spends searching for keys when she knows perfectly well where middle C is. Can you tell I’m ready to pull my hair out?

Ho ho. At least the piano is right there, ready to play. With a string instrument, the opportunities for dawdling are endless:

Find the instrument’s case
Bring it to the sofa
Sit down
Stop and think for a bit
Unzip the case (slowly)
Open the case and stare at the instrument, as if you’ve never seen it before
Take the instrument out
Stare into space for a while
Aimlessly fiddle with the shoulder rest, or endpin, depending on your instrument
Put the instrument down and slowly take out the bow
Start to rosin the bow
Realize that you forgot to tighten the bow
Put away the rosin
Tighten the bow
Look for the rosin
Rosin the bow
Put away the rosin
Start to tighten the bow, and discover that you already tightened it
Stare into space for a while
Get off the sofa
Wander aimlessly, gathering music stand, music, pencil, tuner, metronome, endpin rest, chair, etc.
Realize that you left your instrument by the sofa
Start tuning…
I have come to the conclusion that really the main effect of being a “practice parent” is to give me virtually endless opportunities to work on developing my patience.

Of course, on the really busy days, there’s no time for all that. So if it’s getting late, and time is of the essence, I’ll take care of steps 1-23 myself in about 30 seconds … and then start playing.

Badly.

Very badly, in fact.

This always works, without fail—the child will be over here in a flash, grabbing the instrument from my hands and jumping straight into practicing.

My motto is: go with whatever works for you, but practice every day and try to keep it fun.

PS: Unlike approximately everyone else in the Suzuki Universe, I’m somewhat ambivalent about Ed Sprunger’s book. I’d encourage parents to read it, if they can find a copy without too much effort, but it’s not a panacea. In fact, there are a fair number of things that annoy me about the book. But that’s just my opinion.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Paula Bird said: Apr 13, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I would like to hear more about your thoughts on the Ed Sprunger book. I’ve watched him teach —wonderful teacher!—but have never finished his book. I’m kind of an action person. Ideas are great but I need steps to put ideas into practice, astound know from my blog podts.

Anyone want to start a thread about this?

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Terri Parsons said: Apr 13, 2012
Terri ParsonsCello, Flute
14 posts

I do not agree with the notion of over practicing to make up for a lack of practicing. I tell my students to try and do at least 15 minutes even if that is all they can do; slow scales, open strings, etc., but if their normal practice time is 1 hour, DO NOT practice 2 hours the next day to make up for the 15-minute practice day. The reason for this is that the body will get over-used and fatigued. When you practice as you are over-worked all it does is cause injury and doesn’t do anything for the student in terms of increasing abilities. If you are at a 1 hour practice session time in your journey, and you have a 15-minute day, the next day is 1 hour and no more. A student should never try to make up for lost practice time, it does more damage than good.

Terri Parsons
Cello/Flute Teacher
Cellist
La T Da Music
www.lajollastrings.com

said: Apr 13, 2012
 48 posts

“I do not agree with the notion of over practicing to make up for a lack of practicing.”

That’s not how I’d describe it. In our household, the length of practice just varies a lot—some are longer, and some are shorter. Of necessity, the longer practices are (usually) on days when we have more time. In any practice longer than an hour, we’d generally take a break in the middle, the pace would be more relaxed and leisurely, and there’d be more variety of activities.

I do think this kind of day-to-day variation within the week is probably a good thing, partly because we like that kind of variety and it keeps practices from getting stale, and partly because it mirrors the current thinking among athletes about how to train.

In any case, keeping the practices consistent in length would mean that all of our practices were short. That’s not what we want.

Obviously, if someone’s practicing so hard that they’re over-tired or experiencing injuries, that calls for an immediate change in how they’re practicing. That’s never been an issue for us.

said: Apr 13, 2012
 48 posts

“I would like to hear more about your thoughts on the Ed Sprunger book. I’ve watched him teach —wonderful teacher!—but have never finished his book. I’m kind of an action person. Ideas are great but I need steps to put ideas into practice”

OK, it’s been a while since I read HPP. There was a lot about it that I liked. One of the most striking things is the insight into how and why children respond the way they do, and why they respond so differently to parents vs. teachers. Sprunger’s book also reinforces a lot of ideas about what makes for ineffective vs effective ways of interacting with children during practice. (I say “reinforced” because I think on some level I was aware of many of these points before, but in a vague and unformed way—but it’s very helpful to see it all written down).

What I liked less about the book is hard to express, especially since my memory of it is a bit hazy. It relies very heavily on argument from analogy—one moment, the child is being compared to a surgeon getting ready to perform an operation, the next moment she/he’s an Olympic athlete, and so on. Sometimes analogies can help people understand things, but HPP seems to over-rely on them.

I would have liked to see a more “evidence-based” approach to Helping Parents Practice. I know there’s research out there on how children learn music, and I would have liked to see more of that. Instead, after a few chapters, the impression I got from HPP was that the author has a great deal of experience with teaching children music, and is essentially saying “here’s what I’ve learned works and doesn’t work, as a result of all that experience”. That’s OK … but … I’m not really looking for a guru. I would have liked to see more synthesis of different ways of knowing what helps parents practice.

It’s interesting to compare Sprunger’s book with Ray Cutietta’s Raising Musical Kids (be careful, as there are two unrelated books with that same title). Neither one is completely satisfying to me, but they seem to complement each other nicely. Cutietta fairly often refers to actual research by other people to support the points he’s making. I liked that. (On the other hand, the cutesy cartoons scattered throughout RMK didn’t do much for me).

I think when we were new to this, “Helping Parents Practice” would have been really helpful. I just wanted all the advice I could get. Now I can afford to be more measured. I’m still constantly looking for ideas and suggestions, but it’s a matter of picking and choosing building blocks that I can fit into this structure that we’ve been working on for a few years now, rather than urgently needing prefabricated guidance.

All that said, I probably ought to re-read Helping Parents Practice now.

Barb said: Apr 13, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I found HPP helpful from a teacher’s perspective, enjoy reading it (most of it more than once) and have had my parents read some of it. One of them, like you, Jon, also finds the analogies overdone and annoying. Didn’t really bother me. Sometimes those kinds of “pictures” can really help get a point across—maybe it depends on learning styles.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Terri Parsons said: Apr 14, 2012
Terri ParsonsCello, Flute
14 posts

In any case, keeping the practices consistent in length would mean that all of our practices were short. That’s not what we want.

Why not? I do not find that any one long practice is any better than several short practices. And, if you are concerned about keeping practicing fun then having a younger student sit for a long period of time is not conducive to fun for them it’s drudgery (unless of course you have a prodigy on your hands). Short but focused practices 2-3 times a day works even better than 1 long one if they are not focused.

For the players that have instruments in cases and daudle:

Put their instrument on a stand and keep it out. Even if you have to pull out the endpin for them and leave the instrument sitting somewhere safe it’s better than giving them opportunities to dawdle. I request my students never leave their instruments in the case if at all possible. If they see it they remember to practice it. If it’s in the case well, unseen and forgotten. You can learn to tune the instrument for them as well or make a game out of how fast they can get ready and sit down. They get a smiley for every time they do it within a certain time frame and at the end of the week if they have built up enough smilies they get something fun.

Terri Parsons
Cello/Flute Teacher
Cellist
La T Da Music
www.lajollastrings.com

Litz Brown said: Apr 15, 2012
 Violin, Cello
2 posts

I have a 5.5 year old who “dawdles” too, but I’m starting to think that his dawdling is only dawdling to me, the parent. I actually believe he’s teaching himself to transition -at the expense of my patience. I know I have a hard time starting my own practice sessions and over the years I’ve developed a routine to get into it. Maybe the “dawdling” is the beginning of that routine—in which case, I’d be tempted to include it as “practice time.”

If he’s taking waaaay too much time, it’s usually a sign that he’s too tired to practice and I help him get the violin ready, and then we do a tiny practice. I mean tiny.

Barb said: Apr 15, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Interesting insight, Litz.

I have a student who sometimes has trouble getting started practicing. I think it was more of a problem when she started lessons with me at 6. She didn’t like to have whatever she had been doing interrupted. The family does not operate on a schedule very much when it comes to things like practice, so I can understand how, “It’s time to practice now,” out of the blue would not go over very well. I think it’s better that the child knows in advance more or less when practice time will be, or at least get a 5 minute warning. Dawdling to get started was a problem for them, too. Once she got started practicing she really did enjoy it though.

They considered leaving the cello out as Terri suggested, and that’s what works for me, but they have birds, dogs, cat…. thought it best to keep it in the case. So the mother decided that she would get the cello out of the case and the daughter would be responsible for putting it away. That really helped. I think I heard about times when the mother would start to play much as Jon described, with the same result!

In the first few years another thing that happened was that the student would complain about starting to practice, so the parent said, “Okay, let’s just do 5 minutes.” Then once she got going she didn’t usually want to stop after 5 minutes.

The other thing was that the student really enjoyed playing along with the Cello Time Joggers CD, so the mother would put that on to play. Then the student would hurry to be able to join in and not miss playing with it! They home school so usually have a lot of time available to practice, and even from the first year this student would often practice 45 minutes or more (including the playing along with the CD mentioned above). Of course they have their busy days, too, and there are times that practice has to be limited to 10 minutes.

The student is10 now, and past the Cello Time Joggers level now. The mother still gets the cello out to make starting to practice easier, though.

The student has not missed a day of practice other than over a camping/hiking trip for a few years now, and does not WANT to miss a day, so sometimes if she balks at the instruction of “practice time” the mother will explain the situation to be either if she puts practice off until later, the mother won’t be available to get the cello out for her, or it’s getting late, so if she isn’t going to practice now she will have to skip it for that day. Neither of those go over very well.

I have another student who has trouble getting into mode at his lesson (likely at home, too). I find that starting with a game helps him.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Carrie Kelly said: Apr 15, 2012
 Piano
4 posts

Reading all these responses has really given me food for thought about why our practices aren’t working for us.

Perhaps the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough time so much as we can’t get everything done in the time we have. What I’ve been doing is force feeding her to get as much in as possible, she gets overwhelmed and dawdling ensues. Neither of us particularly care for practice lately so it’s easy to not look for 10 minutes to do at least something.

I have to ask myself does this mean we have too little time or too much to do? She’s 5 so 15 to 30 minute practices are entirely age appropriate and doable. But they’re not enough to finish everything and yet I have a hard time allowing myself to consider that we just aren’t going to do everything every day. Instead I do as much as we can, get to the end of the week and realize there are things we haven’t gotten to at all and then I try to cram it in, not because any rational part of me thinks this in any way furthers her music education but because I the practice parent feel like I’ve failed that week if we don’t.

So I’ve decided to try Elizabeth’s suggestion of a practice plan with smaller goals. Rather than start everyday at the beginning and never making it to the end, I’ve identified a few things that need to be played everyday and split everything else into halves to be played every other day. Nothing is getting skipped or left until the last day. Because she’s not feeling overwhelmed, my daughter is accomplishing more in 15 minutes than we were doing in 40 minutes. And even though she still dawdles (she’s five, a certain amount of dawdling is inevitable, right?), I grit my teeth less because I know we will get to everything and I don’t look like a slacker practice parent.

Barb said: Apr 15, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

That sounds good, Carrie!

Reading your most recent reply here for some reason reminded me of the parents’ practice chart I found HERE at Ottawa Suzuki Strings’ site. I thought it had some good pointers and reminders and could be really helpful to parents who struggle (or even those who don’t!). Many teachers supply practice charts for the kids—this one is for the parents!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

said: Apr 16, 2012
 48 posts

Litz writes: “I have a 5.5 year old who “dawdles” too, but I’m starting to think that his dawdling is only dawdling to me, the parent. I actually believe he’s teaching himself to transition”

Interesting idea. The other thing I realized is that the “dawdling” issue is not just at practice time—it’s something that comes up in many different contexts when I’m in a hurry to get from A to B and the child isn’t in the same hurry.

Terri writes: “I do not find that any one long practice is any better than several short practices. And, if you are concerned about keeping practicing fun then having a younger student sit for a long period of time is not conducive to fun for them it’s drudgery […]. Short but focused practices 2-3 times a day works even better than 1 long one if they are not focused.”

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. And in fact I doubt that we often have a continuous practice session that lasts more than 45-50 minutes; if it’s going longer than that, we’ll typically take a break in the middle for a snack, stretching, etc. You could call it an 80-minute practice, or two 40-minute practices.

But in any case, I’m not talking about a parent standing over their sobbing child, holding a clock and demanding that they reach their quota of minutes on the weekend because they are falling behind after a week of shorter practices.

What I’m talking about is that after a couple of days when we’re frustrated at having to keep practice time short, it’s wonderful to have the luxury of practicing for as long as we want on a weekend or snow-day or holiday or whatever. Let me illustrate, with a contrast:

  • On Day 1, my child has an extra-long day of school and after-school activity, and I get home from work late. We only have 15-20 minutes to practice. So we have to hurry through even the most important things, with no time for anything extra. We play a few scales, perhaps a brief tonalization or bowing exercise, do one review piece to warm up, play through her latest piece, spend a minute working on a rough spot … and then it’s time to get ready for bed.

  • On Day 2, there are no after-school activities, and I get home from work early. We have a bit more time for practice, so things aren’t as rushed, we can spend a bit more time on the things that need work, and there’s time to mix in a couple of non-Suzuki pieces for fun.

  • Day 3 is a weekend. We are able to practice in the morning, when the child and I are both rested and feeling good. I get out my own instrument and we begin by playing scales together, then some duets for fun (and to practice listening & playing with others). Then the child works on a couple of Suzuki pieces. Then we take a break. After the break, the child plays whatever they want from our music collection for a bit (maybe some pieces from Barbara Barber’s “Solos” books, or some fiddle music, or whatever). We also might put up the score from an early Haydn or Mozart quartet and try playing a couple of lines, rotating through all four parts to get practice with the different clefs. Finally, we’ll work again on polishing some of the Suzuki pieces. Along the way, we’ve worked in some kind of silly game involving stuffed animals telling us which pieces to play next, or solving crossword puzzle clues in between each piece, or whatever.

If every practice were like Day 1, we wouldn’t make as much progress and we’d miss out on the fun of having a practice like Day 3. On the other hand, on some days the options are either a “Day 1″ practice or nothing. IMHO, it’s vastly better to keep on practicing every single day, even if some of them are dissatisfyingly short.

said: Apr 16, 2012
 48 posts

Carrie writes: “Reading all these responses has really given me food for thought about why our practices aren’t working for us. […] I have to ask myself does this mean we have too little time or too much to do? […] I have a hard time allowing myself to consider that we just aren’t going to do everything every day. Instead […] I try to cram it in, not because any rational part of me thinks this in any way furthers her music education but because I the practice parent feel like I’ve failed that week if we don’t. […]

“So I’ve decided to try Elizabeth’s suggestion of a practice plan with smaller goals. […] my daughter is accomplishing more in 15 minutes than we were doing in 40 minutes. And […] I grit my teeth less because I know we will get to everything and I don’t look like a slacker practice parent.”

Wow, what marvelous insights into your own practice parenthood!

That sounds like you’ve got things figured out. Congratulations. There’s a lot to be said for not trying to do everything every day. If that made you a bad practice parent, I’d be the world’s worst practice parent. It’s neat that setting smaller goals can make the practices more successful, which in turn helps both the parent and the child keep going for the long haul … where setting larger goals can lead to families giving up or burning out.

As with so much of parenting, it’s really all about the long term.

said: Apr 16, 2012
 48 posts

Barb writes: “The family does not operate on a schedule very much when it comes to things like practice, so I can understand how, “It’s time to practice now,” out of the blue would not go over very well. I think it’s better that the child knows in advance more or less when practice time will be, or at least get a 5 minute warning.”

Yes. We are not at all consistent about when we practice, but I always give advance warning. In fact, ten minutes before I’m ready to practice, I’ll ask my daughter if she’s ready now. Invariably, she’ll say she needs a little more time (usually because she’s got her nose in a book and doesn’t want to stop). My reply is “OK, if I give you ten more minutes, will you put the book down without complaining?” And it mostly works. She hasn’t yet noticed that I also need the 10 minutes….

If that doesn’t work, I move to Plan B. Here’s how it went one day a week ago:

Dad (tightening bow and picking up child’s instrument): “Tonight, on stage at Carnegie Hall, in front of a cheering audience of thousands of admiring music-lovers … it’s world-renowned virtuoso DAD , performing the brilliant masterwork of S. Suzuki … MISSISSIPPI HOT-DOG![badly out-of-tune TTLS Variation A ensues, played fortissimo, but with great flair and panache…]

That got her to put the book down, stat.

Elizabeth said: Apr 16, 2012
Elizabeth K20 posts

Carrie, I’m so glad your practice sessions are more productive!

Practice for Parents Helping You Help Them

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