Help, Keeping my cool and staying positive during practice

Heather said: Jul 3, 2013
 11 posts

I have 5 year old twins currently working on Andantino and below. We are very good about getting a daily practice in and the kids don’t complain that much about doing it per se.

The issue I’m running into is that whereas my son will just do the practice and take corrections in stride, my daughter will be a little passive aggressive if she’s not feeling the practice session and have her violin sliding off her shoulder or hold her bow in a way she knows she shouldn’t.

The worst thing though is that if I dare to stop her playing or correct something. She will either ignore me or just start bawling! Clearly she isn’t as into practice as her brother. She just wants to get it done and wants to run through the songs and exercises as quickly as possible. I get that, that was me as a child.

When she acts like that I have a hard time keeping calm and positive and I get quite agitated which only makes the situation worse and the practice session longer.

What could have been 30 minutes of practice turn into 60 miutes of practice/crying/ finish this song or you won’t get read a story!

I really want to make this a positve experience for her and I recognise that it’s me that lacks the skills to make it a fun and wonderful learning experience. I am no teacher and I don’t have the best patience.

Any advice?

Rebecca said: Jul 3, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Guitar
Magna, UT
12 posts

I deal with same sort of thing, only it’s my daughter that does her practicing and my boys I struggle with.

A few ideas:

  1. Try to make positive comments when practicing. The challenge is to find ways of correcting without saying “no” or “wrong.” Try offering instructive suggestions of what you want them to accomplish. For example: “That was interesting. This time lets make sure 3 lands right on the tape.” Or, “Good. (Praising the effort) Let’s play this time as a team. You focus on fingering while I help your bow.”

  2. Pick only one thing to focus on for the entire practice. Or let her pick it. You can control this a little bit too. Give her a choice between two or three. Like bent thumb on the bowhold, straight bow on the highway, or making sure a particular finger always lands on the right tape, etc. If your teacher is giving you regular feed back on different posture points, use those. Let her change or switch it each day.

  3. Make cards of all the pieces/activites you need to accomplish. Lay them out and let her pick what you work on next. Put the ones you finish in a different pile. Help her visualize where she is in her practice…if she’s almost finidhed or not. This can be especially helpful if there have been really long practices…because she never knows if this is going to be a fast one or a “forever” one.

Sometimes you can throw one or two fun ones in. Like playing a piece in an unusual location or way (like bow upside down, or walking). Or a different activity like snuggling while listening to one of the pieces, or jumping jacks. Throw a tiny snack, bathroom break, etc. in there. Get creative. has some great ideas and printable practice sheets. Check it out.

  1. Decide how many times you will do something well. (We like to do 5…unless the teacher specifically says differently.) Pick a small section. Demonstrate or make sure she understands the goal for this passage. Have her perform the passage, then ask her how it went. Did it count? Rules: Both of you have to agree. And, if she doesn’t know…or wasn’t paying attention….then it doesn’t count. Even if it was good. Because the goal with this game is active attentive participation. She has to play it 5 times correct or well before she can stop. If after several tries she hasn’t been successful it playing correctly, it’s too hard. Re-evaluate the passage. Break it down. Make it easier. The goal of practicing is to make things easy. (Sometimes you can up the game by changing the rules to 5 times correct in a row. But, I wouldn’t start there.) Use fun toys so she can visually see how many times she has left.

Lastly, always remember tomorrow is a new practice day. A new chance/opportunity. You’re practicing too. Things will get better. You’re doing great!

Hope this helps!


Laura said: Jul 3, 2013
Laura Mozena
Suzuki Association Member
Mancos, CO
106 posts

First of all, I love Rebecca’s ideas. And mine were going to be very similar. When I have students who express this type of problem I usually suggest 2 different things (both opposites believe it or not) which on works depends on the students personality.

1—practice is 30 min. long no matter what. Set a timer. Have a clear list from your teacher as to what needs to be practiced that week and check things off as they are accomplished. The more detail here the better. Good examples for the list might be. first, Play the hopping 3 part of song of the wind 5 times with mister 3 landing on the tip. next, Play long long ago with a good bow-hold the whole time—stop if bow-hold slips. Mom can lay on the floor to get a good view (kids love this). etc. when the timer dings the practice is over. If there was lots of crying and wasting time that does not make the practice any longer, just less was accomplished. If there is anything on the list that was not checked off then that is where you start on day 2.

2—there is no time length to the practice but instead a list of what must be done in one day. (again very detailed) and if everything is accomplished with a good attitude and effort then the practice might be as little as 10 min. But the more complaining or “down time” (crying etc.) that happens the longer the practice will be. BUT there should always be a limit to this. Anything over an hour at this level is not good for the student or parents nerves and a simple “well, I have to make dinner now” can end the practice without negativity if necessary.

Hope this helps,


Heather said: Jul 4, 2013
 11 posts

All helpful advice. I think focusing on one thing a practice will really help. I do tend to nitpick. We do have a list of things already so she knows what needs to be worked on, but the timer might be a good idea. It’s all worth a try. Anything is better than tears and tantrums

Anita said: Jul 5, 2013
 40 posts

As a parent with one violin student who started at age 4 and the other at age 6, I’ve seen my share of tears, tantrums, foot-dragging, whining, lolli-gagging, etc. All I can say, is, just be patient and unwaveringly consistent. Set a violin practice time and then stick to it—for years.

When they cry, whine, etc. don’t get mad—remember they’re allow to have feelings, too. Just don’t feed those emotions—don’t allow those emotions to “pay off” for the child with a delay in practice, etc. Don’t give it credence by reacting to it.

I have a practice rule: “No leaking on the violins.” (The term “leaking” came from a Transformers Animated episode in which Sari is crying and Bumblebee remarks that’s she’s “leaking” on Optimus Prime, whose spark has just extinguished. ) Which is to say, the emotion of wanting to cry is legitimate, but if they’re going to cry, they have to put the violin down and then do their crying. Learning to play is a long, sometimes painful growth process; it’s frustrating and downright scary (from your child’s perspective) sometimes. There are going to be tears. But by putting the violin down, I’ve found it removes the source of the frustration / anger / fear etc. right away, and the tears stop flowing pretty quickly. Once they’re composed, they can pick the violin up again.

And I’m going to get lambasted by teachers everywhere for saying this—but chocolate helps. For what seemed like the longest time, the motivating factor to do a violin practice in our home was “chocolate challenge”—do something 10 times in a row correctly, get a Wilbur bud—the equivalent of a Hershey’s kiss. Hey, it worked and it didn’t produce choco-holics, either. They practice now, with little or no prodding or reward (other than the joy of playing itself), 5-days a week.

Which is all any parent can ask, right?


Heather said: Jul 5, 2013
 11 posts

All good ideas. I suppose I just have to work on not feeding the tantrum and not getting angry, last night’s practice went very well. :)

Edmund Sprunger said: Jul 5, 2013
Edmund SprungerTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Saint Louis, MO
105 posts

You wrote: “She just wants to get it done and wants to run through the songs and exercises as quickly as possible. I get that, that was me as a child.”

One question might be this: What would have helped YOU as a child? What would you have wanted from a parent when you were in that situation?

Anita Barrios wrote: “When they cry, whine, etc. don’t get mad—remember they’re allow to have feelings, too. Just don’t feed those emotions—don’t allow those emotions to “pay off” for the child with a delay in practice, etc. Don’t give it credence by reacting to it.” This is good advice to keep in mind. I’d also say that it’s important for you to have a reaction to it, the question is what kind of a reaction. Delaying practice is maybe a useful reaction if it allows both of you—especially the parent—a chance to slow down and do a little bit of thinking. I’d say that the most useful reaction is to try to understand what it is that disturbs your child and to find a way to help your child work through it. Very easy to write, but a challenge to put into practice…

Edmund Sprunger

Catherine said: Jul 9, 2013
Catherine Mikelson
Suzuki Association Member
8 posts

One thing I have found helpful in my studio recently is a “Working Together Jar.” It’s pretty basic! You’ll need a jar and something to put in it (noodles, tokens, etc). Each time you notice her working cooperatively during practice, you would place a token in the jar. Before you start, have a talk with your child about what you need to do to have a good practice together. Explain the jar and have her pick something she’ll get or do when the jar is full (a trip to the zoo, an ice-cream sundae, a new toy). I would do this sometime other than practice time. You can get the jar ready when you are both in a good mood and not around the source of your angst! That way it’s in place and ready to go ahead of time.

This jar has been great for other things. For example, I had a student who didn’t want mom’s help during practice. They are now working together well and the jar is nearly full. :) They may need to do a second jar, but they also may not need to. The goal is to create a habit of cooperation!

Deena said: Jul 14, 2013
 9 posts

I clicked on this link because I was going to suggest you pick up a copy of Edmund Sprunger’s book “Helping Parents Practice”. I’m glad to see he has commented her :-) My son has been taking lessons since he was 5 and he just turned 11 and it has helped me through many years. It is nice to re-read it at times or reference parts that are helpful for the different “phases” my son might be going through.

Incentives and tricks may need to change or be modified over time. So don’t be surprised when things you have come up with stop working or decrease in effectiveness. I try not to attach a certain time to practicing either. If it takes my son 20 minutes to get himself ready to practice I let him. I know now that if I want him practicing by 5pm I need to tell him it is time to practice at 4:30pm to meet my goal :-). If he needs to delay and get water 5 times while practicing, I let him, but in a controlled way. Sometimes I give him a timer and he has to be back in 60 seconds. For example, he’ll have to finish a certain number of repetitions with upholding a certain standard before he refills his already half full cup of water :-)

Also, make sure you aren’t trying to fix everything at one time. This is one way of frustrating a kid very quickly22. For example, if you are working on her playing a couple of measures from memory don’t nag her about her straight bowing, thumb bump, curved pinky, and everything else possible all at one time. I know this is hard because technique is super important, but I have been told by many professionals to stay away from doing this and it is very good advice. We have to pick and choose our battles. Ultimately, nothing can be accomplished with a miserable kid and parent.

I try not to get myself into situations where we are pressed for time too much. I used to get particularly stressed when I saved practicing for the end of the day when we only had 30 minutes and then shower/bath time. Now I have him start much earlier while I am doing other things like cooking dinner so if achieving all of the practice objectives takes an hour and a half I don’t feel so stressed or tired and therefore more prone to express frustration. If we are absolutely pressed for time then I pick ONE or TWO realistic objectives and focus on those only. Then I try to make it playful so he can focus on achieving the objective. The one objective might be just a few notes we have to fix or “make easier” to play correctly or an exercise like properly doing vibrato. My best advice would be to try your best to avoid times/situations that may cause your frustration to get more spread thin.

For slowing him down I use practice aides also. He would rush through everything too :-) You can’t argue with a timer, the metronome, or the amazing slow downer…so we use those things. Those items allow me to set the pace and minimize the argument—will he argue with me at times about using those things? Most certainly, but they help define “slow down” instead of it being some vague instruction. He can handle the metronome being set at 60 or the amazing slow downer being set at 50%, but I’ve noticed he doesn’t handle “slow down” very well :-) Make sure you are clearly defining your instructions/expectations for her. One of the most frustrating things for an individual is not truly understanding what is expected of them. A lot of times kids don’t know how to express this….even the ones who have superior or very mature communication skills. They aren’t going to say “mommy I don’t know what you mean when you say slow down” or “please describe to me what good intonation means”. :-) Often times they are thinking “I did slow down” or “I played those notes well enough”. Because this is what they truly believe, not because they are trying to be fussy.

When he was little one of the things we did was “slow motion” practice too. I had a button I would hit and we would both move in slow motion. I would continue to hit the button multiple times to speed up gradually. He thought it was a game, I was using it to fix stuff.

Okay, that is all I have for now. I’m sorry it is so long. I hope I have at least mentioned one thing that will help. I understand how challenging staying positive can be. One of the reason why I enjoy going to the summer institutes is because I always overhear other parents negotiating practice times with their children as well. It feels good to know we have the same experience.


Heather said: Jul 16, 2013
 11 posts

I just wanted to thank everyone for their extremely helpful feedback. Practices are going 100% better and she has a much better attitude. It turns out I wasn’t communicating what she needed to do effectively enough. She really didn’t get I wanted. She also wanted me to physically show her how to do whatever it was I was asking her to do, more often than I originally though she needed but I get that she is a visual learner.

I’m also trying to focus on only one thing a lesson (like keepin her bow straight). I was fustrating her because I was nitpicking all of the little techniques she was supposed to know.

Now when I correct her she just says she’d like to try it again and doesn’t get upset. She has noticed the lesson is much quicker and everyone is happier. I heap praise on her when she doesn’t throw a fit. Again thank you, thank you, thank you.

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