Practicing and Parenting

Lesli said: Apr 5, 2015
 Violin, Piano
7 posts

Hi All,
This is more a relationship than a violin question. I find, after 2 and a half years, that I’m a poor practice partner with my daughter, 6. We have a great relationship otherwise, but I am not a good teacher for her. The stress is making me avoid practicing, and I’m getting resentful. Her playing has gotten sloppy, yet she won’t accept correction. And yet, she insists that she want to play and wants to continue lessons.

What are the possibilities? Have Dad try the practice with her? Hire students from the local music programs? Just give up for a while and let practicing go? Any thoughts?

Lori Bolt said: Apr 6, 2015
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

It’s not easy practicing with your child…many peaks and valleys along the journey. You may want to sign up for the Parents as Partners Online videos SAA offers. You can view them through June. There are many topics, no doubt several that may help you. It’s a good sign that your daughter wants to continue! Have you gotten any suggestions from her teacher about the situation? I would start there.

Lori Bolt

Heather Reichgott said: Apr 7, 2015
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
102 posts

Hi Lesli,

Sorry things are rough. Would you consider working with the teacher in such a way that you can be a source of positive reinforcement for your daughter, and the corrections come from the teacher? Perhaps reserve correction only for the 1 thing per piece that the teacher has identified as the one-point focus, praise everything that you hear the student do well, and leave all other corrections to the teacher?

This is how we do things with our 7-year-old. We transitioned last year from me being the teacher to having a non-parent as the teacher, and when my role shifted from detail-oriented teacher to positive parent, everything got so much better. She really is progressing well, too, it’s not like she’s being held back by the wrong notes I do not mention. The teacher fixes them at the right pace. The teacher’s one-point focus is the only thing I correct during practice. Actually, I recently discovered that my daughter remembers the one-point focus and it’s better if she tells me what it is before she starts practicing the piece. Then I don’t have to stop and correct much. Honest praise really can work better than correction, too, it accomplishes at least as much when I say “Finger 4 worked so well that time!” on the good repetition than if I say “Finger 4 did not work well that time!” on the bad repetition.

It is so hard for a child to be criticized by the parent. Extra hard to be criticized by the parent in detail while trying to do something that’s already very hard to do.

My understanding of the parent’s and teacher’s role is that the teacher is the source of corrections (presented in a positive way) and the parent is the source of honest praise (plus helping the student remember to practice). See if your teacher will get on board with you in helping you re-balance things.

Good luck and most importantly have fun and enjoy the music

Lenni Jabour said: Apr 8, 2015
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Toronto, ON
10 posts

Please read Edward Sprunger’s “Helping Parents Practice”. You are right, it is totally a relationship question, and that is one of the first things you will read in his brilliant book. I feel certain it will make you feel encouraged, validated and inspired in many ways beyond violin practice.

Meanwhile, try to set the resentment aside and do 5-10 minute daily practices for now, until you have a chance to read the book and gain a firmer hold of what you want to achieve during that time for you and your daughter. I suggest saying as little as possible in those short practices—draw practice pieces from a hat, use stickers, a cute puppet to convey the practice points… but keep your words to a minimum.

I am sure that because you have a good relationship that you are a better home teacher for your daughter than you may feel at the moment. The fact that you are concerned about this and reaching out is an excellent and promising first step. All my very best to you.

Music is a language of the heart without words. 
- Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, 1898- 1998

Lesli said: Apr 9, 2015
 Violin, Piano
7 posts

Thanks, everyone. Lots to think about. As it happens, I’m already reading the Sprunger book—though I wish he’d written volume 2, about resistance!

I’m pretty burned out at this point. I kinda-sorta know what the problem is: corrections make her dig in her heals and resist. And we go into a downward spiral from there. But if I don’t correct, the half hour a week at lessons probably isn’t enough at this stage.

On her teacher’s advice, we tackled the violin hold—which had gotten really sloppy—by using a music stand to hold the scroll. My daughter preferred that to me holding the scroll, which made her cranky. :) Her crooked bowing is the second issue, and she and I worked on that yesterday, with minimal resistance. Sometimes, appeals to logic work with this 6 year old.

On the whole, though, the process is exhausting, and really not what I’m good at. I’m more than happy to applaud while she plays, but whoever she practices with—at least at this stage—needs to do a bit more.

As for what I hope to achieve: she has a good ear, and might well be a good musician. I’d like her to explore her talent and take it wherever she likes. Why violin? Because she asked for lessons at 3—likely because her uncle plays, and she saw a lot of Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street :)—but also because she is a smart kid, to whom a lot of things come easily. The physical aspect of violin does not come easily, and it’s good for her to have something that she needs to work for. Talent only takes you so far in life—ultimately, it’s hard work that succeeds.

Thanks again!

Suzuki Mom said: Apr 10, 2015
 4 posts

Love your advice, Heather. Leslie, sorry to throw another book advice to you. I read “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber. She wrote many other books that I found very useful and help me see from the kid’s points of view.

It is a hard work for a six years old. I picked up learning it myself as a mom and I felt my “violin muscle” for a long time until it slowly developed enough and not bother me, then I had better focus. It is hard practice to us left brain, right brain. Easy for me to tell what the teacher said but it is hard work. I am humble by what my daughter is learning each week. How to practice is a learned experience for all involved. Break it in small “nuggets” and accomplish many small victories worth a lot to us.

Is she a part of a group class? It is fun and the focus is different than individual class, still learning a lot and be with other students (and mom or dad) who are going through similar experience.

I know that my daughter skills transfer to all things that she does. She said, “It is nice to be good at something.

Best to you, Leslie.

Erin & Christopher Palmer said: Apr 10, 2015
25 posts

I went through a stage with my 6 year old. She started about 2 years ago and is finishing Book 2. Around Waltz things got really difficult. She stopped listening to my corrections, threw tantrums. Corrections threw her into the self-depricating cycle (”I will never get it! I am horrible at violin!” etc). The thing that helped us is making a practice chart and at teh end of each practice getting either a smily face or a frowny face. After however-many smily face only charts she got a prize (some books she picked out). It was far enough away (like 10 weeks or so), that this helped us get through this tough stage. Only recently in the last 3-4 weeks, we no longer need to use the smily faces, because her attitude changed. The other thing that helped is morning practice. We used to practice for 1hr 20min at night, and she would actually only play for about 40 min of that (wining, complaining and chatting took up the rest, I timed her with a stopwatch once for my own amusement). Now we do 20 min before school, and we get SO much done! We only practice for about 30-40 min at night now, and get SO MUCH done! It is amazing!

The reason I mentioned Waltz is because I think it was a spot where for my smart kid who listens to the CD a lot and has a good ear, things got difficult. She could NOT remember which ending came when! She actually started having to work at memorizing her music. I think on a plus side though it is good that she learned to work for something that does not come easily to her.

Good luck to you! I hope you are able to find something that works well for you!

Gretchen Spinnrade said: Apr 10, 2015
6 posts

Hard to add to the excellent suggestions you already have. I’d just endorse everything Ed Sprunger writes in “Helping Parents Practice.” (And I too wish he’d publish the long-promised volume 2….!) We’ve picked up on other ideas in the “Parents as Partners” series both this time and the last time around 2 years ago. I particularly like the idea of using a puppet or stuffed animal to distance yourself from judgment.

It seems to me DD needs some period of an alternative practice style to break out of the negative patterns. Any opportunity to make a game out of the practice could lighten it up. I have a 6 year-old daughter who is beginning Book 3. We’ve had our share of bumps in the road along the way. It’s almost always that we’re putting too much pressure on her because of an upcoming event. Or it’s because I’m just not thinking creatively about how to engage her.

One of the tricks that I pull out of the kit when she starts objecting to repetitions is this: “Let me hear the start of the Boccherini Minuet; but play it the worst ever. Make it dark and minor.” Then she proceeds to play an awful version. Next: “OK, that was really terrible. Play a so-so Boccherini now.” Finally, “Now let’s hear a beautiful Boccherini. See how much contrast you can bring out in the dynamics.” Then, “Can you do that again?” For our daughter, the contrasting purposefully bad and purposefully good efforts seems to jolt her out the doldrums. Plus, it’s an opportunity to talk about the character of the piece or whatever technical bit we’re working on.

Do either you or husband play? If so, the 2nd violin parts are very accessible as are the piano accompaniments. Doing a bit of this can put you and daughter on-side.

Any opportunities to diversify a bit? We do some fiddling on the side; and it adds to the fun.

You asked having husband do practice. My wife and I traded off practice for a while; but it was too much. I go to all of the lessons and I also play the violin; so explaining what needed to be done was inefficient. And we were both interjecting during practice. Made daughter crazy.

Lesli said: Apr 11, 2015
 Violin, Piano
7 posts

Hi Suzuki Mom!

Thanks for the book suggestion.

Yes, it is hard work! I’ve also studied as an adult, so I have some idea of what she’s going through. She is in a group class, and has always done well in it. The one-on-one is harder.

Hi Erin!
I can’t imagine practicing over an hour! Fifteen or twenty minutes is probably our max. Since we get home around 6 most nights, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for dinner, practice, homework, and the rest. But 20 minutes seems reasonable to me to develop good technique, even if that means less rapid progress through the books.

I’m going to try having a friend’s 11 year old practice with her once or twice a week. He’s not doing Suzuki, but has played pieces from the first three books. She knows him well and it might break the tension that has build up around practice.


Lesli said: Apr 13, 2015
 Violin, Piano
7 posts

Hi Alan!
Sorry, I missed your post!

Things seem to be on the upswing. We’ve had some good practices. She isn’t the puppet kind of kid, I’m afraid. Before she ever lost a tooth, for instance, she let me know that she thought the tooth fairy was parents. So she’d never buy a puppet act. But she does respond to logic, and simply telling her that I didn’t like the way things were going, and I hoped we could start fresh worked better, along with emphasizing that if she wants to play better, cooperation works better than obstinance.

So at the start of each practice, I let her know what we hope to accomplish. After a week, the violin hold has improved a lot, and the bow is getting straighter. I focused just on the violin hold and the straight bow, and didn’t worry about her current piece much. We played a lot of early book 1, just doing the pieces that were easy so we could focus on the fundamentals. Then we worked a bit on her current piece and another for a recital coming up.

I’m also letting her do some “free play.” She likes taking the piano pieces she’s learned and figure them out on the violin, and then play them for me. That’s a real chance for positive reinforcement, because I’m thrilled she loves playing enough to do that. (In another thread, I mentioned that she started piano in the fall, at her own initiative. It’s going very well, in part because violin has prepared her musically, in part because it’s “easy” compared to violin—no physical set up, etc. ) I love watching her work out pieces from violin on piano, and vice versa. She’s finding real enjoyment in that, and no doubt learning a lot from it.

I would say that we haven’t been very pushy at all with her on violin. In part, we aren’t temperamentally suited to it. Also, I had some major surgery last year, and was in a lot of pain, with limited mobility for over a year before that. So more or less from the time she started, our family was under stress from my disability—thankfully, that has been largely resolved. But looking back, I’m sure it played a role. My patience and energy were sapped, and I’m sure we got into some ruts with practice.

So I think we’re finding our way out of them now!

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter said: Apr 13, 2015
Holly Blackwelder CarpenterSAA Board
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
College Place, WA
168 posts

It s not easy. There are rough spots. Today I had one, but for once I remembered to take my own advice and remembered it was not about the violin, it s just that the violin is when she has my full attention. She isn t correcting what I tell her to because she is testing the rules in general for all aspects of life.

I ve been gone 4 days (to add to the guilt I was gone at an SAA board meeting) and so today I took her alone with me to run errands. And I made myself step back and really watch her while I was teaching group class. And her bowhold and bow arm are gorgeous. Yes the violin keeps slipping and she forgets to adjust sometime, yes the left thumb is still not consistent. But have I been remembering to compliment her bowhold? Nope. So I bought her a large stuffed panda as a small panda has been our sign to to think about the bowhold. She couldn t put it down and she took it in every store. It will now be the audience when she practices—and it will remind me to look at what we HAVE accomplished. ,,because it is usually my issue when we have an issue.

To close, I will tell on myself. If you do parents as partners you will,note that I have a talk on practicing with your child every day. So I won t repeat myself here, but I will tell on myself:

If you watch it you will probably think practice is never missed in our household and I am always positive and perfect as a parent. The day I made that video I was rushing a deadline due to illness and a trip to Japan so I was super focused on finishing the task. As I was getting ready for bed I realized that I had forgotten to practice withi Abigael BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY MAKING A VIDEO ON PRACTICING EVERY DAY WITH YOUR CHILD! Oh the Suzuki parent guilt and the irony! I Couldn t get my 4 year old out of bed to practice the day was done. So remember, there is the goal, there is the high bar, but if you miss it, try again the next day and don t beat yourself up over the past. Above all, make sure you, as the parent, enter the practice room relaxed and not rushed, whatever that takes. (And some days it will take a miracle). Hang in there!

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter

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