Rapid progress in 20 minutes a day

Celia Jones said: Jul 6, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

Hi. I am looking for ideas from parents whose 4—6 year olds practise only 20 minutes or so a day and progress fast.

My 5-year-old has been learning for 2 years. In the first year she loved to play and would play around an hour, then I would stop her and drag her away to the park or somewhere. When I made the practises more focussed, I would note the start and finish times and we would rarely do less than 30 minutes. However I’m very interested in the “less is more” concept and we used it ourselves successfully on specific teaching points such as straight left wrist.

I have heard from 3 violin parents whose children are all progressing very fast, they tell me their children practise just 20 minutes a day. I can’t see how they can physically fit in all the teaching points and review in that time—these are children approaching Book One recital standard within one year of starting.

Other parents whose children this sort of age progress at this very rapid rate say they spend around 40 to 60 minutes, which seems more feasible. Either way, 20 or 40 minutes, what do your practise sessions look like? Do you do other violin related stuff outside of your formal practise slot?

Paul said: Jul 6, 2012
Paul Rak11 posts

Hello Celia, I am interested in what replies you get too as my 6 year old daughter is at song 10 of the 1st book at the end of our 1st year and if you are saying there are parents who are getting their children right to the end of the 1st book which has 22 songs by the end of the 1st year, that is amazing. Is that what you are saying or did I misread your post? The 3 minuets, Farmer’s song and Gavotte are quite complex pieces and this would mean that during the year my child would have to master new techniques and new songs every 2-3 weeks while still rehearsing earlier pieces in the book. Wow!

Celia Jones said: Jul 6, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

Yes Paul, some children do get through that fast. There’s no way all children can go that fast—the point of Suzuki method is that by creating the right environment and giving them enough time, all children can achieve excellence. However, it’s essential to understand how to create the right environment and these quick learners must have that, even if in addition they have some other advantage such as tonal mother tongue, absolute pitch, professional musician parent.

Sue Hunt said: Jul 7, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

It really is a matter of getting specific sequential instructions from your teacher—exactly what, why, how and how many AND following these instructions daily.

AND lots of listening. Just put the recording on repeat in the kitchen.

Celia Jones said: Jul 7, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

Sue, I think I maybe didn’t phrase my question clearly enough. I’m interested in hearing from parents whose children are moving fast through their teaching points as well as repertoire, to understand what is different about their practising.

For instance one parent asked me how did you progress as you do, do you really practise every day, and I said 6 days, every week, pretty much. So she says, but how do you fit it in on a bad day? and I say well if it is ten minutes while the pasta is boiling, that’s some, and then ten minutes between pasta and dessert, that’s the rest. She was like, you practise between courses? Well yes, it works for us.

An idea I got from watching another child was, she never puts her violin down unless the teacher says to. She sets her posture then waits for instruction. When she stops playing, she holds her posture. My daughter is learning from watching that other little girl in group class. This saves tons of time and it means her posture is better too, because we used to get so tired of going through the feet, bow violin routine every time she got distracted and put her violin down that we just start playing with imperfect posture.

These are the kind of ideas that I’m interested in.

Merietta Oviatt said: Jul 7, 2012
Merietta OviattViolin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

I’m not a parent, but I know some of the secrets of my parents:

1- Split the practicing into 3 sessions a day 1st—scales & etudes in the morning 2nd—review and “other” in afternoon and 3rd—working piece and pre-view in the evening (before school, directly after school, just before dinner). They say that it makes the practicing seem much shorter though they get through a lot. They do 10-15 minutes each session. They have the CD playing at all times in the car and specific pieces during brushing teeth, homework, changing clothes, etc…

2- This is something that I learned when I had me niece for a summer (my personal Suzuki parent experience): Before we started practicing we looked at what was assigned by the teacher and, on a dry erase board, wrote down exactly what we were going to do for practicing that day (it only took a minute or two to do so & she got to write on the board). After she finished one of the points on the board she got to erase it. Kids love dry erase. She had had many problems practicing before, but I figured out it was because it was some endless thing she had no control over. She was getting bored or frustrated after only 15 minutes because she had no idea how much longer she was going to practice or exactly what was left. Since doing this “daily plan” she actually moves much faster through her daily assignments, has no huge practice melt-downs, and has started flying through the pieces. She just can’t wait to erase the points and has been practicing her cursive while writing it down (according to my sister)l

3- When I was a Suzuki kid I used to love this: I was given how many times I had to do things (when I was younger and mostly in book 1). My mom would line-up peanuts or raisins, or for really difficult things—m&m’s (my mom didn’t like sweets much). I used to love that each time I would complete one time I would get a very tiny treat—I FLEW through my practicing and it served as my snack time. If you don’t like food, I have a student who has a version where they get penny’s for each time. At the end of the week they can turn their penny’s in for something. This doesn’t have as much instant gratification, but may work better for an older child who really wants certain things…they can earn it. I know some people don’t like things like this, so it’s up to you. I loved my peanuts and raisins, though—and loved seeing them lined-up on my stand to begin my practices.

I hope this is more what you were looking for, and I hope this helps you! Good luck, your kids are so lucky to have a parent so involved!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Merietta Oviatt said: Jul 7, 2012
Merietta OviattViolin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

Oh! one more thing most of my students do: Don’t put the violin away. Have a safe place for it, take it out and leave it in the open case (of course loosen the bow each time they finish). This way, the student is really tempted to just grab it and play at anytime throughout the day. It also makes it really easy to grab a few minutes here and there during a busy or difficult day. Though it’s only a few minutes at a time, it is possible to get through everything.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Terri said: Jul 7, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello, Viola
10 posts

Listening.

Paul said: Jul 7, 2012
Paul Rak11 posts

I whole heartedly agree with Merietta on her last point about the violin being accessible and not left in the case. I bought 2 special hangers so that my daughter and I could have our violins hung on the old piano ready to grab and play at a moment’s notice for our daily practices. Only on the day I need to take the violins with me to work to be ready for our afternoon class with our teacher do the violins get put into their cases. Please see the 3 photos of the violins in our living room and how well they hang on the hook part of the scroll.
In fact the violins are so easy to start playing that my daughter grabs her violin and plays it within seconds when her grandfather comes every day to take her to school. Sometimes she plays for him 5-10 minutes even though her Suzuki parent (me) is at work.

If you Google “Swing String Violin” you can find lots of vendors sell these hangers for just $13-14. They have 2 sizes, one for small and adult size violins.
Here are 3 photos of my home install of the violin hangers which you can bolt to the wall or a piano which is what I did:

Paul said: Jul 7, 2012
Paul Rak11 posts

By the way I bought a floor stand for my violin first but it is easily hit and poses a risk for the violin and bow. With the hangers on the piano (or wall of course), the violins and bows are just high enough to prevent our pets, our own feet and our vacuum cleaner from harming our instruments. Plus it looks cute when our violins are side by side.

Sue Hunt said: Jul 8, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Celia, you are right, with more focussed practice, you won’t need to do as much.

OK, Speaking as the parent of 2 grown up Suzuki kids, when we started, I didn’t understand how our teacher wanted us to practice, but as a musician, I was too embarrassed to ask. Because of this our practice was very unfocussed at home. Other non musical families with 2 and 3 year old kids, raced past us, because the parents had complete faith in the teacher and practiced exactly in the way she told them to do. They kept their practices within the attention span of their little ones and guess what, they flew!

Our next teacher had one very successful student. She later moaned to me that this was the only child who followed her instructions to the letter.

A colleague of mine, Sharron Beamer regularly gets children through book 1 in record time by giving highly explicit easy to follow practice instructions.

Nathan Milstein once asked his teacher Leopold Auer how many hours a day he should be practicing. Auer replied, “If you practice with your fingers, no amount is enough. If you practice with your head, two hours is plenty.”

As an afterthought, the speedy families probably aren’t telling you that they probably fit in extra micro practices here and there.

Celia Jones said: Jul 8, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

That’s a great tip Paul. Thanks!

Merietta, I think you have just answered some of my biggest problems that I hadn’t managed to define. Yes, yes yes, that is it, my daughter thinks violin practise will go on for some random length of time. She often tries to take control herself by specifying practise time to start shortly before a non-negotiable deadline such as school or bedtime.

Sue, I think, in a way my question could be rephrased as “how do you get your child to follow the teacher’s instructions?” and “how do you make sure you do have the teacher’s instructions?”

One of the things I’m struggling with right now is whether I am accurately following the teacher’s instructions. Because we used to have a non-Suzuki teacher and I did a lot of the teaching. It’s hard to shift mode.

Anita said: Jul 8, 2012
 38 posts

Hi, I’m a parent of two violin students, 7 and 9 years old. Our secret—Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen. And then listen some more. Listen in the car, every time you run an errand or go to soccer practice or on the way to and from school. Listen at home. Put a CD player on perpetual repeat outside while they play in the yard or swim in the pool. Keep it on while they play inside in their rooms, in the kitchen, in the living room.
LISTEN! It helps that we don’t watch TV, btw.
I am so sick of Book 2 that I could scream, but my daughter recently did the first 5 songs in 4 weeks, and she’s sailing along.
My son is progressing even more rapidly. The difference between my daughter, who is 9, and my son, who is 7, is that he gets to LISTEN to his sister work out all the kinks first—over and over and over. So when he got to Gossec’s Gavotte, he had already worked out the double 4-note slur, “Gossec’s phone number,” and the rest of it, so it was just a matter of working on bowing. I don’t try to stop him from figuring songs out by ear.
The difference between the two is striking, and all about LISTENING. By virtue of being the younger sibling, he gets exponentially more listening time!
We do a 30-minute practice, once a day, 5 days a week. That includes Suzuki repertoire, scales, and fiddling tunes.

AMB

Sue Hunt said: Jul 9, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Some kids work better if there is a set number of tasks rather than a set practice time limit. We still have to make sure that our perfectionism doesn’t prolong a practice.

Having said that, you have to have a set number of correct repetitions per task. I find that using the child’s age saves argument. I drove my kids to distraction by asking for “Just one more repetition” and by insisting on correct repetitions in a row. This is incredibly stressful to a child. Nowadays, I insist on “Stop. Prepare. Play.” only counting the correct reps.

That leaves arguing about whether or not a repetition is correct. Here it really helps to have the teacher’s criteria written down on a practice card. If it is complicated, break it down into micro points, with your teacher’s help. Believe me, a teacher would far rather that you got the first steps perfect than making a mess of the whole thing. In my experience, parents don’t ask enough questions.

A student has to know that sometimes a player needs an assistant to check positions (for instance it is difficult for a child to see if their bow is straight on the string).

However, sometimes a child will insist that something is right even when it isn’t. If you are sure of your ground, call for “Cheater’s proof.” If you reach an impasse, leave it and ask your teacher for help. He/she will know some ways of getting the muscle movement right before complicating it with the music.

Paula Bird said: Jul 9, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Cheater’s proof? Sounds intriguing!

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

Terri Parsons said: Jul 9, 2012
Terri ParsonsCello, Flute
14 posts

Why is speedy best? Why do parents think that the faster they get through the books, and if their children do not keep up with other children, there is somehow something wrong with their progress? Slow can mean methodical and solid technique being learned which will carry them farther is the future with better technique, tone, projection, and musicality all around. Oh and yes..the instrument MUST be out and visible. No doubt. Can’t hide a piano can you?

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

Jeremy Chesman said: Jul 9, 2012
Jeremy Chesman
Suzuki Association Member
Organ, Recorder, Voice, Harp
Springfield, MO
24 posts

I think listening is the key. All of my students report practicing, but my harp student that is progressing the quickest has mastered the art of listening. He has loaded his CD on to an iPod, and made a rule that if he’s playing video games, he has to be listening to his CD’s. It makes a huge difference.

Also, remember that every child has different rates of learning and has an aptitude for different things. It’s not so much how much they do, but how well they’re doing it that is important in the long run. Taking a longer time to master something from the beginning makes the later books go much quicker.

Celia Jones said: Jul 9, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

Terri Parsons wrote:

“Why is speedy best? Why do parents think that the faster they get through the books, and if their children do not keep up with other children, there is somehow something wrong with their progress? Slow can mean methodical and solid technique being learned which will carry them farther is the future with better technique, tone, projection, and musicality all around.”

Slow might mean solid technique being learned, or it might mean erratic or even retrograde learning due to something that the parent could change, given the right information.

Sue Hunt said: Jul 10, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Paula, I borrowed “Cheaters Proof” from Pat D’Ercole, who uses it in her Chips Game. Essentially, it means, “Whoops, we weren’t quite focussing on the same thing. Don’t count that, just do it again.

Paula Bird said: Jul 10, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Lovely, Sue! And I loved my training under Pat!

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

Terri Parsons said: Jul 10, 2012
Terri ParsonsCello, Flute
14 posts

Celia Jones wrote:
‘Slow might mean solid technique being learned, or it might mean erratic or even retrograde learning due to something that the parent could change, given the right information.’

Point taken. But it should not be automatically assumed that it’s because the student has retrograde learning. In my opinion there should be no assumptions at all but instead different ways of testing the reasons for the lack of, for lack of a better term, progress. Progress is relative. You can have a happy student building solid technique and having fun applying the technique to pieces while learning to perform for family and friends privately and in recital but not “keeping up” with other students having begun studies at the same time. Everyone learns at different rates and depths. And somewhat to your point, some times the student has just lost interest and that’s ok too.

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

Teresa said: Jul 10, 2012
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

I’m intrigued, what is the “Chips Game”?

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Celia Jones said: Jul 10, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

Terri, I think the idea that parents ought not compare their children’s progress is a very common one within the Suzuki community, and it’s one that I feel strongly opposed to.

I see it from both sides. On the one hand I have parents ask me how come my child progresses so fast. On the other hand, I see other children progressing faster—not just scraping through the pieces, but with really solid technique. For children progressing slower than my daughter, they are usually not practising more than 3 or 4 days a week. The parents want to know how I find the time, and how I persuade my daughter to practise. And for some of them, my tips make a difference. If that is the result of parents comparing their children’s progress, why would you want to discourage them?

For my own child, I’m not making assumptions if I think she is not progressing as fast as she could, or if I think she is going backwards. When I see another child doing better, I want to know what they are doing, because there might well be an answer as simple and concrete as the daily practise answer.

Sue Hunt said: Jul 11, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

It really boils down to one thing. Is your child engaged in the process? If they are using their brains they will actually make better neural connections. If they are just puppetting your instructions, it will take a long time.

I recommend reading the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. It is a riveting explanation of what is needed to create world class ability in anything.

Paula Bird said: Jul 11, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

The Talent Code is also available as an audiobook. Sue is right. The research is very enlightening.

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

Paul said: Jul 11, 2012
Paul Rak11 posts

Thank you Sue for the book referral….For the book, here are the key takeaways from the Talent Code as per a website link I just found:
1. The elite got that way through many thousands of hours of diligent practice.
2. High repetition is necessary to gain competency in a skill.
3. You learn the most by pushing yourself to the edge of your ability and paying attention to your mistakes so you can fix them.
4. The learning process is often frustrating and you can’t always tell when you’re improving until you’re put to the test later.
5. A good curriculum “chunks” skills together so they are easier to learn, and the chunks get bigger as the student becomes able to handle the earlier ones.
6. Students should spend a lot of time watching masters practice and perform.
7. Coaches and teachers value hard work and persistence over “natural genius.”
8. A good coach establishes an emotional connection with his students so he knows when to be nice and when to push hard.
9. You can focus on specific skills by doing drills that isolate it for repeated trial-and-error.
10. Those who achieve greatness often started with a humble instructor who fostered a love for the subject.
11. Those who see themselves doing an activity for a long time find more time to practice (and therefore get better) than those who only set short term goals.
12. Kids who feel talent can be gained through hard work have better problem-solving skills and more determination than kids who believe their intelligence or skill is inherited and unchangeable.
13. “Having fun” isn’t the primary goal of people who want to get good, though they find what they do pleasurable on some level (or at least necessary) and push through all the difficulties and challenges.

This list comes courtesy of http://www.aesopian.com/1697/book-review-the-talent-code-by-daniel-coyle/

These are great guiding “Golden rules” and I just printed them out and am laminating these principles for my home to remind me of role with my daughter’s violin practices and lessons

Paul said: Jul 11, 2012
Paul Rak11 posts

At the risk of being labeled an overachiever, I have created a pdf you can download of the list above :) I already printed 3 and laminated them, one for home, 1 for my wife who is helping our daughter with piano lessons and 1 for work where the list can remind me that these lessons extend beyond the violin with my daughter. Ok, too late, I am an overachiever! :)

Take Away Lessons from The Talent Code Book by Daniel Coyle

Alissa said: Jul 11, 2012
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

Thanks Paul!

Terri Parsons said: Jul 11, 2012
Terri ParsonsCello, Flute
14 posts

Celia: I think my main point is that a student flying through the Suzuki books is not an indication they are playing well.

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

Celia Jones said: Jul 12, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

Sue, I think that is the nub of the matter. When the child’s attention is totally focussed they don’t forget what they learnt. Then the quality of learning is dependent on the quality of teaching and examples. So a great teacher plus plenty of experience watching and listening to great playing gets great results for a motivated child.

I guess the difference between the child progressing well and the child progressing super-fast is probably due to multiple factors, like Paul’s long list.

Terri, I I think it’s a question that comes up again and again for Suzuki teachers, the parent who either wants their child moved up a group class because they’ve learnt lots of tunes, or the parent who feels their child is not doing well because they spent three years in Book One. Either way I think it reflects a gap in the official Suzuki documentation, that some teachers do fill with their own material, in the form of progress charts that show skills learnt and standards of playing. Otherwise you have only the books, and it is also true that many Suzuki workshops and conferences ask for “top piece” to be listed on the application form, without any reference to any other standards. So why wouldn’t parents use top piece as a proxy for progress? And it is unfair to say “don’t compare”, because that is like saying that child is simply more talented than yours, and that talent comes from the ether or God or magic, not from any practical thing you could do. Which is totally contradictory to the “every child can” principle.

Kim said: Jul 12, 2012
 39 posts

I think the point about students flying through the Suzuki books is a good one. My violinist just turned 8 and is 3 pieces into book 3. She was the youngest in her group class by 2+ years last year. The other kids in the her class had more solid technique and just sounded and looked better as they played. Some kids just learn notes fast and I know for both my kids (I have a piano kid too), that if the teachers held them up weeks and weeks after they knew the notes to a piece and could play it with reasonably good tone and technique, I think both of them would get extremely frustrated. I do think there is a balance to work through there for some kids. Her technique is coming as we move along. Just not necessarily in the same way as a 10 to 12 year old playing the same pieces.

So my violin kid started at 4 and was done with book 1 by age 6. She was a tough starter (drama!), we had an emergency teacher change, and had to start over. She really made most of her progress from age 5 to 6. Got through book 2 in a year, on track for less than a year for book 3. She does not love violin! If she were, I think she’d be moving even faster. Some things we do …

1—I play with her everyday. I am not an amazing violinist but I did take lessons growing up.
2—We listen. AND LISTEN. :-)
3—We do have our violins out in stands (we have a high spot to set our stands).
4—We use many of Sue’s techniques.
5—We do at least some review everyday where we talk about some old point (today let’s make sure our thumb is bent while we review, or our feet our in the right position).
6—any new material, I follow teachers instructions and when in doubt I cut it off early and maybe just play it a few times for her. I have a kid with a very low frustration tolerance. Working on it!
7—group lessons are a priority for us and make a big difference in motivation for my kid.
8—We practice 6 days. Sometimes the day off works magic.

My piano kid is a some what fast mover too (he’s in book 6 at age 11, started at age 5).

I do know kids that progress faster. And what it seems they have that my younger kid doesn’t have (that I’ve noticed) is passion and a natural desire to want to learn and progress in their ability. My older does have some of that (not consistently, but has at different points in his journey, not at the moment! ;-) ).

Merietta Oviatt said: Jul 13, 2012
Merietta OviattViolin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

Paul—Thank you!!! I have actually read the talent code a couple of times and LOVE it! I printed out your pdf and already have it laminated…can’t wait to put it up in my studio. This isn’t just a reminder for my students, but for me as a musician and in life! Thank you!

Celia—The philosophy of Suzuki has a foundation of not necessarily creating a professional musician, but a person with a good heart. Also, our training helps us all understand the same teaching points in all of the pieces so that we understand why the pieces are important and what technical aspect they are presenting. After that (and that really isn’t giving our training and the philosophy its due credit—they are more than just that), it is up to the teacher how they will run their studio. That includes filling-in with their own material, charting progress, etc… Though I can see how it could be frustrating to a parent, as a teacher I am glad that I get to personalize my studio and how I do things. That’s what makes us individuals as teachers and how we can help our students become artists with good hearts. As frustrating as I can imagine it is to hear this, progress is completely dependent on the child. I could have a child fly through book 1 and then get stuck on Etude. A child who took a really long time at the beginning of book 1 could then get to Etude and have no problems with it—and pass-up the other student! It really doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, it just means they are two very different students. All we as students and parents can do is give them every tool and every opportunity to do their best and become their best person. It actually sounds like you have everything well underhand on the parent side—just keep going! You are awesome!!

Teachers—Reading all of this, two words keep popping into my head: Parent Education.

What a great thread!! I love seeing all sides of the coin here. All posts have been wonderful and make great sense.

KCK10—LOVE your list! Keep it up!!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Anita said: Jul 23, 2012
 38 posts

Would any teachers have any answers to the original question?

“Either way, 20 or 40 minutes, what do your practise sessions look like? Do you do other violin related stuff outside of your formal practise slot?”

A step-by-step description of a 20-minute practice session would be helpful.

Also: Is there anything parents of more than one child can do to “speed up” practice sessions—like playing review songs or scales together? Showing each other bowing? Anything?

Thanks!

AMB

Celia Jones said: Jul 24, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

Thank you for all the answers to this post. We have had a couple of weeks of trying out 20 minutes a day, so I can answer Anita’s question, would love to have other people’s answers.

I’ve been breaking the 20 minutes into two ten minute sessions. The first few times I set a kitchen timer but after four days my daughter asked me not to use the timer because it interrupted her train of thought. Seeing the huge improvement in focus, I haven’t been tempted to ask for just one more repetition. She really does learn more because she seems able to fully switch her mind to the task.

2 minutes improvisation.
1 minute specific task
3 minutes scales
4 minutes new piece
4 minutes review piece
6 minutes repertoire

I spend time outside those 20 minutes setting up the practise area and planning the practise. That can be up to fifteen minutes to come up with something inspiring or write out the whole week’s practise plan. Without that planning, I can’t move quickly through the practise and for my daughter it seems to stretch out indefinitely.

We listen to some violin music for about twenty minutes at breakfast. I vary it, Books one to five mixed up with other Bach, and the Bartok duos my daughter loves. We also have Radio 3 or Classic FM on a lot. And we watch some carefully chosen violin videos—about five minutes—every day too. We do a lot of singing and using movement to learn new pieces, just when we feel like it maybe out for a walk.

said: Jul 24, 2012
 48 posts

Celia Jones writes: Hi. I am looking for ideas from parents whose 4—6 year olds practise only 20 minutes or so a day and progress fast.

I guess we fell in that category. My child started playing at age 5, and finished book 1 in a bit less than a year, and during that time I’d guess the average practice time was around 20-25 minutes a day.

I wish there were some specific thing I could point to and say “This is the secret of rapid progress” but I don’t think there is.

During that first year, we practiced every single day, and the focus really was on keeping it fun and interesting. This took a lot of creativity, engagement, and mental effort on the part of the practice parent. As I said in another thread, during the first year, our top 10 priorities for practice were were:

  1. Reinforcing the idea that practicing is something you do every single day;
  2. As much as possible, making practice enjoyable;
  3. 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.

We didn’t have any consistent practice plan (except for “practice every day, and make sure it’s fun”). We didn’t have any consistent practice time. We didn’t listen to the CD consistently, except that we played the CD every single night at bedtime as the child was going to sleep. It did take a lot of effort to come up with all the games, silly activities, etc. that we used in practices.

This might have looked superficially less focused and less disciplined, but we actually were working on the main teaching points from lessons. For us, paradoxically, this somewhat unstructured approach to practicing resulted in pretty rapid progress … but that doesn’t mean it would be right for anyone else.

I know there are many families that find that a consistent practice plan is essential. And, actually, during the few times a year when I’m away and my child will have to be practicing without me, we work out a very detailed written plan for those days.

After the first year, we began to shift away from all the games and creativity, and into a more traditional practice mode. Our practices still are often only 25-30 minutes on weekdays during the school year, though they’re longer when we have more time. But they’re more structured:

  1. Start with tonalization / open strings bowing / “son filé” / other exercises
  2. Scales, arpeggios, double-stops
  3. One or two Wolfahrt etudes
  4. Depending on time available, one to four review pieces
  5. Current piece(s)
  6. Other non-Suzuki stuff

If we’re pressed for time, we’ll drop 3 and 6.

Anita said: Jul 25, 2012
 38 posts

Thanks, Celia!

My interest in having a concrete break-down of a 20-minute practice has more to do with fitting a meaningful practice into our day, once school and soccer season starts, than in producing fast-learners! :-)

I have 2 children, and even a 30-minute practice for each translates into an hour—which quite frankly, we just don’t have!

Thanks, and have a good one!

AMB

AMB

Paula Bird said: Jul 25, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Let me raise the issue then: how much time is spent daily or weekly on soccer practice versus violin practice more on soccer-related activities versus violin-related activities? Just curious. I often run into a scheduling issue with group classes, where students are so heavily scheduled with sports tournaments and games, that they are unable to maintain a regular group class schedule. I have to raise the issue in terms of balance between the activities. The violin group classes are a team sport and it would not be fair to detract from the violin team in favorite sports team, would it? And the other consideration would be why the children are engaged in so many activities that take up so much time in their day.

Several of my students opted to terminate the sports activities because the families felt that the sports unfairly demanded too much time per week. In my day we didn’t have to have these organized sports activities. We just went over to the playground and got a team and a game together. Much more relaxed.

Maybe it would be better to consider whether the children should just focus on one of the two activities. If you and the children cannot fully devote yourselves to learning the skill, wouldn’t that be better then doing it halfway?

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

Paula Bird said: Jul 25, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Goodness, I must apologize for grammar and silly stuff in my post. I dictated it to my phone and didn’t read the preview. Yikes! Sorry!

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

Anita said: Jul 26, 2012
 38 posts

Well, soccer doesn’t start until Sept., so nothing until then. Then, it’s practice with the team 2 days a week (an hour in the evenings), and games Saturday mornings (also, about an hour). Kick in an hour each day to “get ready”—dressed, water bottles, etc. The kids attend a Montessori school, so there is little / no homework, although I’m anticipating that may change this year, as my oldest will be in 4th grade, and school gets more “academic” as the children get older.

It’s the combo of the two—school and team sports (or any physical activity, for that matter)—that keeps their minds busy learning new things, and thus, I think, slows violin progress.

I recently discovered, this summer, what a wonderful thing BOREDOM can be for violin progress. We don’t watch TV or play video games (we just don’t have them), although we do have an extensive library. But what I found happened this summer, after just a few weeks of playing with toys they hadn’t seen all year (we tuck them away during the school year) and re-reading favorite books, boredom set in, and my kids started playing the violin at all hours of the day!

Now, we also do A LOT of physical activities over the summer—swimming lessons, tennis camps, Taekwondo. It’s just that—clearly—that wasn’t enough. They wanted more mental stimulation. And the violins were out and ready for them to seize upon.

I used several tips I learned in this forum. We kept the violins out and accessible, all the time. No need to zip-up the cases, as we weren’t toting the violins to school every day. We listened to the CDs ALL THE TIME. No going off to school for 6 hours a day; I could keep the CD playing while they played here at home, or in the car, or pretty much anywhere we were. We lose all that once they go to school.

I really don’t see this as a soccer or team sports vs. violin thing. It’s a brain development thing—or a “feed the beast” thing. I think, when there was an opportunity to feed their brains violin, they ate up as much violin as I could give them—and made excellent progress. The rest of the year, when their brains are being stimulated by learning new concepts, history, long division, making and losing friends, you name it, they just aren’t as—receptive?—to learning as much on the violin. And our progress slows. Then, practice on the violin is more like treading water, advancing slowly, and maintaining skills and techniques previously learned. I’m satisfied with that.

If anything, for us, I don’t think physical activity or team sports interfere with learning violin, as much as school does. It takes up such a huge chunk of their time and day. It stretches their emotional reserves, stimulates them in ways that are supremely satisfying to their developing brains—and so, they’re just not as hungry for violin as they are when they’re not in school. But I’m not going to take them out of school! So why would I take them out of team sports? They love all 3—school, sports and violin. We will continue to juggle, and do the best we can. Isn’t that what we all do in life?

BTW—I would challenge any teacher to suggest that their parents cut out TV, iPads, computer time and video games first—before cutting out organized sports. “Screen time” eats up so much of children’s time, and yet in general, I think, parents and teachers have no idea how much time their kids spend in front of various screens. They totally overlook this “lost time.” It’s so much easier to blame an “extracurricular activity”—it is, after all, extracurricular—than the couch and TV in your very own living room!

AMB

Ingrid said: Jul 26, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
3 posts

Re: practicing with two kids.

I think what you can do really depends on your kids ages, levels, and personalities. I have two ages 8 & 12 who started together and have managed to remain pretty much together so far—by the 8 yo working extra hard and 12 yo being a little lazy; although I think we are reaching the point the younger one needs to spend some time solidifying skills and going slower, but so far he has kept up by sheer determination & extra practice, so who knows.

Anyway, I don’t have anything we do on a daily basis, but there are those days when my time and/or patience is more limited, and here are some things I’ve done to get practice done on those occasions—various strategies depending on the day & situation, in no particular order:

  1. Ask the older one to practice with/assist the younger one. She learns by being “teacher for a day” and he gets assistance, and probably a different perspective than I provide.

  2. Have them work on some duets—Suzuki has some using the regular repertoire, there are lots of other duet books, and we’ve created a few from simple two-voice piano pieces.

  3. Ask them to work together on their ensemble pieces, especially when a concert is coming up. I might work with both of them together on this or turn them loose to work on it on their own together. This is after they’ve learned the notes. Playing together at home really helps them be more prepared to play in a larger group.

  4. Have them review past ensemble pieces together—they find this very fun sometimes! I should mention they have different parts—one is on viola now—so that hearing the 2 parts together is pretty fun.

  5. Have them each perform a piece for each other and the listener give comments—what was good, what could be improved. This could be any review piece or something being polished for a recital. Good listening practice for the listener, and training for how to give useful feedback—although I confess so far I’m more enamored with this idea than they are.

  6. Sometimes I will have them do part of their practice alone, first giving them instructions on what to do, what to listen for, how many repetitions or what constitutes a good repetition. Sometimes this is very empowering to say “you know what to do, you can do this on your own”—and they have to really own the practice. I am still listening from the next room and can give feedback if needed, although sometimes it is really better to bite my tongue and let them work it out.

Practicing alone or with a sibling may not be quite as focused as you’d like, but can have value of its own, and is more practical as they get older and/or more advanced. Also part of my theory is the value of keeping it fun & positive as much as possible (varying the routine to do this), and making sure the instrument is played every day. On a hectic or tired day it might just be review, and technique might not be perfect, but the continuity of “we do this every day” and the muscle memory of having played daily (although I will stop them if they get too sloppy) is worthwhile.

Of course more listening is always good too—”listening like a maniac”, and listening to review and future pieces as well as current, this you can do with both kids together in the car, at the dinner/breakfast table, etc. And trying to be as focused & organized as you can in the practice time you spend with them—maybe just have them play the difficult section for 5 good repetitions rather than the whole piece to utilize time more efficiently for example.

Anita said: Jul 26, 2012
 38 posts

These are some great ideas! My kids are also pretty close, although only this summer did my youngest get to a point where he was able to play with his older sibling. His sense of competition—over everything, violin included!—proved to be too frustrating, particularly when he couldn’t play a piece quite as well as the older child, and playing the pieces together meant everyone could HEAR the difference.

Aha! Duets! What a great idea! I’ll have to ask our teacher about books for duets. They know the May Song / Twinkle duet, but we haven’t done it in a while. They’ve also done harmony / melody with fiddle tunes, but I don’t know of anything like that for Suzuki.

I wonder if there’s a Long, Long Ago duet out there, somewhere?

Thanks, Ingrid!

AMB

Carmen said: Jul 26, 2012
 13 posts
Lori Bolt said: Jul 27, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
229 posts

Good point, Anita, about “screen time”. Something to consider….

Re: your post about summer vs school year schedules: I would submit my opinion that it is all the saturated listening that motivates your children to gravitate toward the violin more during the summer. Yes, the boredom factor probably plays a role too, but never underestimate the power of listening to motivate. Do you also occasionally play a more advanced Suzuki book CD for them? Maybe this could enter the picture in Sept.

Why not commit to listening more than usual for three more months after school begins and see whether this changes your children’s hunger for violin and so, increases their practice? I can think of no better answer to the original question than increased listening!

Lori Bolt

Celia Jones said: Jul 28, 2012
 Violin
72 posts

LIke Anita, I think school affects my daughter’s motivation to practise. Her school is very exciting with no quiet time or naps. She wakes up fired up with ideas about the day ahead, and comes home buzzing, and sometimes unable to switch focus until after dinner.

The thing that has struck me, as we try out this 20 minute practises, is that the kids that do well at it must be not only highly motivated but also disciplined, trusting and obedient. My daughter wants to be able to play the Boccherini and Beethoven minuets in Book 2 and often tries to instead of whatever she is supposed to be doing. I tell her, wait. If you do what the teacher says, you will be on Book 2 next year. That message is slowly sinking in, but some kids clearly follow instructions from the outset.

I honestly don’t think that blanket listening is the panacea several posters have suggested. We have had the Book One CD on every day, often 3 times a day, yet my daughter will confidently play a somewhat wrong version of her next piece and tell me that it is right. She really does not hear the pitches clearly enough. We have actually had better results since I stopped playing Book One and had my daughter listen to me sing or play single phrases, and her copy them. A big factor in progress must be those children whose sense of pitch is good when they start, one less thing for them to learn.

Anita said: Jul 28, 2012
 38 posts

I’ll try to have the kiddos listen more, but … with school, the question is, where do I find the time? We already listen every chance in the car—and I do mean, every chance. We also listen at breakfast and dinner. My poor husband! I have Book 4, and we’ve listened to it occasionally. I generally start listening to the next Book about 6 months in advance. Our teacher is pretty good about knowing my children’s rate of progress, and has been able to recommend listening to the next Book with that time span in mind.

I love the duet idea! Another great idea: Our teacher suggested the two of them “improvise” when they play with each other. One plays a review song (Book 1), and the other can play any notes in the key, in any order. It works! Then they switch off. It’s a lot of fun.

We’ve also started playing a “Mystery Song” game. They go to opposite ends of the house, and work out a new fiddle song (quietly—so the other can’t hear) entirely by ear. They haven’t yet presented the songs to each other, but the idea is that they will and then “teach” the other the notes.

I only mention the school / interference thing, because we have violin playdates with a little girl whose parents “unschool” her, and she’s a whiz at the violin! But she has all day to play, and explore, and listen, while mine are in a structured learning environment, and don’t do as well on the violin. I guess it’s a matter of environment.

AMB

Paula Bird said: Jul 28, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Anita, “poor husband”? Does he listen to a song, read a book, watch a movie or TV show just once and never again? Gosh, I thought that folks chose a “favorite song” because they enjoyed listening to it over and over. I still listen to the same beautiful classical pieces of music every morning while I write and drink my coffee. I think of listening assignments the same way. Set the volume on “background” level, where you do not feel a need to talk louder to be heard. Punch the repeat or loop button, and forget that it’s playing. My parents played music at every meal and in between as well. It sounds like you are doing a great job of finding listening time, although you made it sound like you stopped once school started. Your friend’s daughter may have fewer activities that command her time and attention. Have you asked your friend for advice in this area?

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

Carin said: Jul 29, 2012
 Violin
9 posts

Great posts, I am really enjoying the commentary.

In regards to the cds, one point I haven’t heard mentioned is creating a cd with repeats of a few current songs which we have found really helpful. I do play the entire cds 1-4, but when my son recently started lightly row (age 3) we created a 70-80 repeat for background music at home/car.

The first 2 days we reviewed and played eccdbb abcdeee, his teacher cautioned me to go slowly, practice independent fingering, etc. And then on the third day outside of practice, he played the next part spontaneously—eccdbb abcdeee eccc dbbb …. This may seem like much to people but as a non musician I was amazed. IHO this is part of the genius of the suzuki method and due to the cds.

Just my two cents. Thanks to everyone for the great discussions.

Elizabeth said: Sep 19, 2012
Elizabeth K20 posts

Hi Celia! I’ve been thinking about what you said here in the thread about kids who have the short practices being not just highly motivated but also disciplined, trusting, and obedient. I started wondering how you could use the excitement she has to make her practices more effective.

Tell her that at the end of her practice session (or beginning of the session if that’s better), she gets 5 minutes to play anything: whatever she wants to play, however she wants to play it (10 minutes if she’s really having a blast). Don’t say anything about how it sounds. As frustrating—and badly—as it might sound to you, you’re doing her a huge favor most parents don’t. Here’s why…

This stubborn determination she has right now is pure gold. This is going to be what helps her take ownership of her music in the next few years. And getting her to take ownership is essential if she wants to play really well. It’ll be how she makes her own music goals, pushes herself to achieve them, and practices diligently without being reminded.

But in order to do that she has to stumble, fall down, and figure out how to get up on her own. When she’s figuring out her pieces by ear she’s essentially using her own trial and error methods to make sense of the music she recalls in her mind. Practicing a bit with no direction gives her just enough freedom to get her excited about learning more music, but not enough that she develops really bad habits she’ll have to unlearn later.

There are tons of obedient musicians, but you won’t find as many passionate ones. Somewhere down the line child musicians learn that sounding “perfect” and not trying anything too risky is more important than everything else. Playing music isn’t “playing” anymore because practice becomes a dreaded chore. It’s tragic really, and why a lot of kids quit.

But the musicians who play beautifully and take our breath away are the musicians who keep that stubborn push we have as kids—that insatiable thirst to play something greater than what we can play now. She wants to learn Boccherini and Beethoven minuets because they’re fun. I wanted to learn the Vivaldi A minor concerto in Book 4 as soon as I heard it played at my first recital. It was the best song in the world to me. I was practically counting down the days to learn that one, screeching out little phrases in my room, figuring out bigger parts of the piece the closer that day came.

Kids who only learn to be obedient and disciplined in music end up plateauing every time. They learn that rule following and playing all the right notes is more important than keeping the fire and passion alive. They play it safe for so long that as a result their music turns into a snooze fest down the road compared to their passionate peers. They may play skillfully, but they rarely give the kind of outstanding performances that bring you to tears and have you jumping out of your seat.

That willingness she still has to learn and figure new songs out, no matter how bad they sound right now, is priceless. She sounds fantastic.

Elizabeth

P.S. If she really needs some work on a piece that sounds really off when she’s practicing, you can have her listen to it for 10 times a day. Some days my Mom put only one song I was working on at lessons on repeat, instead of listening to the whole book recording from beginning to end. It works well for car rides or background music while she’s sitting at home. I hope this helps!

Practice for Parents Helping You Help Them

This topic is locked. No new comments can be posted.

You must log in to post comments.

A note about the discussion forum: Public discussion forum posts are viewable by anyone. Anyone can read the forums, but you must create an account with your email address to post. Private forums are viewable by anyone that is a part of that private forum's group. Discussion forum posts are the opinion of the poster and do not constitute endorsement by or official position of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc.

Please do not use the discussion forums to advertise products or services