How to keep my kid interested despite

Erin & Christopher Palmer said: Apr 12, 2016
25 posts

My daughter is 7 years old cellist. She is in Book 3, working on Minuet in G/Gavotte in C minor. She played violin first, and around 2/3-into book 1, she switched to cello. She loves her cello, and enjoyed playing. At this point she has been playing cello 2 years ago. She is still very young and somewhat inattentive. She has a wonderful teacher (new since September, we moved), who is very keen at fixing her technique. She sped right through some technical points in earlier pieces, without really learning the techniques and plays out of tune a fair amount. So she started Scherzo in late August, and then Minuet in G in December. She is used to getting through pieces quickly, because she has a decent ear and can memorize quickly, but now her teacher is making her pay attention to fine points of playing, like being a bit out of tune, or or not moving her thumb with 2nd finger, etc. I think ever since she started studying with him, she has started playing a lot better in terms of her sound quality.

Well, the problem is, that for her, she does not see all the great progress she has made. She learns pieces and then gets really bored with them, and just wants to get through playing them without paying careful attention to all of the things she is working on. (For example, she figured out the slow part of Scherzo by ear, but wasn’t using all of the 2nd positions. One week we worked really hard at putting in all of the 2nd positions, but after 2-3 weeks, she reverted to using 1st position, when we were not spending dedicated time in practice to that teaching point, in favor of something else.) So it seems that she plays her pieces best when she just learns them and then regresses. Well her teacher wants her to actually polish the pieces… So it seems that she never quite gets to the point of being “done” with a piece. He doesn’t start her on new pieces until she polishes the old ones, etc. So as a result we have been “stuck” on the same piece “forever”. She has no interest in polishing her assigned spots because she doesn’t believe that her teacher will assign her anything interesting that she actually wants to work on. She really wants to play La Cinquitaine and Humoresque and it seems to her that she will never get there.

So my question is, how do I keep her interested? How do I help her not make the same mistakes in her lesson? (Even if we have fixed it at home). How do I help her play consistently well? Really any advice! Thank you!

Jennifer Visick said: Apr 13, 2016
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1072 posts

Perhaps you can set up some temporary, goal-based, and somewhat randomized external rewards.

For external rewards that work—I like the way Jennifer Nolan & Tory Hopps set up rewards for chores in their book “Spintastik for the Family”, and I also love the advice on using external rewards in Robert Cutietta’s book “Raising Musical Kids.”

For example:

Each week there may be 2 or 3 tasks to accomplish (it is important that these are concrete, simple to understand, “did it get done” tasks, not time-related or ambiguous such as “did you spend x amount of time practicing this” or “did you improve?”. Time-related tasks mean a child cannot change how long they must spend at a task by doing it more efficiently or in a more focused manner, which is often demotivating instead of motivating.)

… task 1 (for example: play Scherzo with correct 2nd position fingerings 3 times this week)
… task 2 (for example: play measure X with perfect intonation 10 times this week)
… etc.

THEN one out of a list of rewards is randomly assigned to each task each week. In the Nolan/Hopps book, they suggest using a game spinner and allowing the children to help arrange the potential rewards around the wheel each week. These are the Nolan/Hopps rewards:

… favorite dinner
… screen time (tv / computer / mobile device)
… pick a snack
… story time
… later bedtime
… favorite dessert
… pick a movie
… invite a friend
… back rub
… play a game
… earn a dollar (or whatever amount is appropriate for your family)
… pick your reward from the list
… come up with a couple of your own customized rewards (agreed upon by parent and child together)

For a musician, you might customize that list with a few music-related rewards—i.e., concert tickets, buy a song of the child’s choice on iTunes, or download a music-related app, etc.

In addition to “earning” rewards, you can plan to give “unexpected” or “unreliable” rewards (unexpected to your child—not to you).

These might even work better than earned rewards (earn: think getting a monthly paycheck for a job which doesn’t always give you joy. “unexpected”—think buying a raffle ticket which may or may not yield a reward).

E.g., if you catch your child doing something well (you should decide ahead of time what this thing is, and sometimes it could be on the task list for the week, other times it may be from last week’s task list, or it could be something completely different). If it happens, you might say (apparently spontaneously as far as your child is concerned), “you did X! I think that’s worth a reward right now.”

Then you’d either have the child spin for a new reward, or you’d have one pre-picked and ready to give, or perhaps you might have something ready that’s not on the rewards list at all but that you know your child will enjoy, such as a favorite chocolate bar, a high-quality new cake of rosin or a new cleaning cloth (if needed), etc.

Spontaneous rewards should not cancel out the expected ones…

Of course this is more work for YOU, but it could be a temporary way to help motivate your child until the internal, intrinsic rewards of playing music well start to kick in.

P.S. The Nolan/Hopps “Spintastik” books comes with a physical game wheel spinner that had magnetic tiles with different chores & rewards listed on them that children could physically re-arrange around the wheel. I don’t know how available that book is now, but you could of course make your own, or, draw items out of a jar, or use an app. I often use the iOS apps “Spinny Wheel” or “Decide Now” for making customized “game wheels” in classes or private lessons…

P.P.S. Rewards could also be pieces of music that your child is interested in that are easy and which won’t be “worked at” in the lesson. I.e. pop music, sheet music and backing tracks for fiddle tunes, melodies from a favorite movie, etc.

Heather Reichgott said: Apr 13, 2016
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
102 posts

Sounds like my daughter. Our teacher has been giving her a lot of supplemental pieces that are easier than the Suzuki pieces, so she can read them easily and master a lot of them quickly, and each supplemental piece has like 1 technique point to work on so she does the reading and note learning and then has the positive experience of mastering the 1 technique point.
Then we move very very slowly in the Suzuki pieces but with more technique points. Seems to work pretty well. (Our teacher may also just be waiting for her to grow up a bit before moving ahead faster, which is ok too.)

Kirsten said: Apr 19, 2016
 103 posts

Consider your listening routine. A student who does more practice than listening will primarily hear her own tone and intonation as her benchmark.

Does your daughter listen to the recordings daily? If the teacher is assigning review pieces does she listen to the recordings of the review pieces daily too?


Alan Duncan said: Apr 24, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
81 posts

I have a 7 year-old violinist. And I completely appreciate the point about attentiveness. The task of helping her focus on the details has tripled since she’s begun playing in Book 4. There’s just a lot there.

Here’s what we do. We came up with a point system. Every successful repetition gets a point. Every review piece gets a point, etc. But I also set up weekly challenges. Those challenges have bigger point values, so they’re more motivating. For example, in the Seitz 5/1, the E major section is tricky for intonation. So she has a standing challenge to get all of the G# and D#’s in tune. She’s extremely competitive so she responds to the challenge. Once she accumulates 400 points, she can trade it in on something experiential.

I’ve come to appreciate that the waxing and waning focus is just her age and state of development and that it’s up to me to meet her where she is. I’ve also come to learn that the more concrete the goal, the more focused she can be. If it’s just “let’s hear you play the E major section”—the results are unspectacular. But if I add some interest and challenge to it—she responds.

I also use every opportunity I can to stand behind the teacher. We, too, had a transition in teachers this year. The detail and focus is different—just different points of emphasis. So, it’s slowed her down in terms of moving piece-to-piece through the repertoire. But we’re very consistent about reinforcing the teacher’s emphasis. And we talk about how much her tone, and phrasing and use of vibrato have improved. Eventually, I’m hopeful that she’ll see progress as the accumulation of consistent technique rather than what piece she’s on.

Above all, if your daughter is anything like mine—concrete goals and creative, fun creative point systems work well.

Phankao said: Apr 24, 2016
 128 posts

LOL—Duncan—I’d love to have you as my child’s practice coach! I’m a very boring practice coach. I help break the pieces up in sections (actually mine can pretty much do this on his own now), and then help identify areas for target practice. And I just basically EXPECT the child to work on those areas to improve quality before putting the piece together.

Edward said: Jun 10, 2016
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Morris Plains, NJ
73 posts

*Promise her for every boring thing she does, she gets to a fun thing.*

Ask her what is most boring and what is most fun (SHE gets to define this).

Let her play La Cinquitaine and Humoresque if that is actually what she wants for fun, but only in combination with working on the repetitive skills.

You can find other practicing ideas in my guide to practice motivation. Its free for anyone to use.

P.S. LOVE Duncan’s point system. I have a 100s chart for graduating Twinkle (play it 100 times, any rhythm counts), but nothing like it for more advanced students—I want to adapt that.

Happy practicing,

Free Guide: Mom, Dad, Can I Practice?
Free Game: Leprechaun Practice System --> Works for online teaching!

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Wendy Caron Zohar said: Jun 10, 2016
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
100 posts

So many great ideas here for motivating kids to practice!
Repetition is the goal! Successful repetition! and make it fun and rewarding! all yes!

But — I’ve seen too many times, evidence that the child is repeating at home, under the parents’ watchful eyes (or more often, not) how NOT to play: they are practicing with BAD habits, and learning the BAD habits very well!

Playing their piece, but with bad left hand form (resulting in tension or poor intonation), poor bow hold, poor violin hold or posture, poor bow arm motion! … or perhaps other mistakes like wrong notes, right notes but sloppy intonation, incorrect bowings, articulations, dynamics, memory sections … and the list goes on.

And then at lessons it’s so difficult to fix! They’ve been dutifully repeating these errors at home, which have now been ironed into those poor brains, like indelible marks or creases.

So before we send our students home to practice, and to count repetitions (only the good ones count, I always say) we need to demonstrate over and over during the lesson, to the child and the parent, exactly what the goal is; what makes a “good one”, a good repetition. This is where the teaching must be creative, crystal clear, in small units, and responsive to each student’s challenges!

For the older students who are at lessons without their parent, the student must understand clearly, what to fix, what to achieve, to what to aspire, and on their own! Video record the lesson! Whatever it takes! And focus on one practice point at a time. And THAT needs to be the goal of practice that week. Better to have slow progress but with all things set up correctly, and progressing, the right way!

I can say, from 40+ years of teaching, that this is the most crucial aspect for motivated and successful practicing: a clear understanding by student and parent, of exactly what is the goal, what is correct playing, and what would make it ‘wrong playing’. It’s especially hard with parents who are non-musicians, as they are generally very accepting and praising whatever they see/hear their child doing during home practice, if they are being encouraging, and think “At least they’re practicing!” In that case, fewer repetitions would be far better! Then we can try to correct it at the next lesson!

100 repetitions only once it’s correct! and then on to 10,000!

Wendy Caron Zohar

If we work hard, music may save the world.—S. Suzuki

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