Prioritizing practice elements

Nagaja Sanatkumar said: May 31, 2016
 Violin
6 posts

Hi parents & teachers,

I have two kids, 6 and 8, both on the book 4-5 cusp, the older one is about 3 pieces ahead of the younger one. I work full time during the day and the only quality time we get to practice is 45 mins each kid from 6:30 to 8 PM every night. Sometimes we double up and do a “group practice” if we’re short on time or there is a lot in common to cover. However, I’m still not sure how to prioritize each of the following bits into their daily work. I’ve tried rotation through the week but then I feel like i’m not giving each exercise adequate coverage. I can’t fit them all in every day before we either simply run out of time or they are too tired to keep going.

  • Tone/posture exercises, combined with review of 2-3 pieces (usually one from each prior book)
  • Scales/shifting etudes
  • Upcoming recital piece (practice with CD accompaniment)
  • Polishing last 1-2 piece(s)
  • Working out or memorizing small sections of new piece
  • Reading and/or orchestra work

I’ve also tried combining bits (e.g. let’s work on tone while we do this review piece) and that works sometimes but not always since I’m conscious to not ask the child to focus on too many things at the same time (that really frustrates them).

Any ideas for how to be more efficient? Or should I just scale back and focus on keeping it fun rather than accomplishing the week’s plan?

Paula Bird said: May 31, 2016
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

There is nothing in any teacher or parent rulebook that says you must play every measure of everything on your assignment list. Sometimes working to perfect the first eight measures, or any few lines, Will have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the piece. Your idea of rotation is an excellent one. Pick two or three things in each category. Pick a few spots in each assignment that need the most attention. Spend your time on those and rotate through the other things when you have the time and inclination. Doing it this way will be more efficient because it is more thoughtful. Nothing is worse then mindless repetition. Thoughtful repetition is what is needed. Perlman talks about this somewhere on YouTube on his channel. We all fall into this way of thinking that we need to do every measure, squeeze out every drop, but in truth what we do in one place will carryover into another. Short bursts of attention are actually much more effective as a practice strategy. That is what the research is showing.v we all fall into this way of thinking that we need to do every measure, squeeze out every drop, but in truth what we do in one place will carryover into another. Short bursts of attention are actually much more effective as a practice strategy. That is what the research is showing.

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

Kurt Meisenbach said: May 31, 2016
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Chacra La Diva Maldonado, Uruguay
11 posts

I totally agree with Paula’s comment about the “ripple” effect. In my experience it is always better to polish a smaller section of music to a higher degree than it is to just slog through a bunch of pieces. She also hit the nail on the head with her comment about thoughtful repetition. We have to repeat to get better, but if we don’t do it in a thoughtful and intelligent way, we may just be wasting our time.

Obviously, if you have a recital to play, you must cover all the material. But in daily practice where there is no concert deadline on the horizon, it is better to get good at one or two pieces than mediocre at five or six.

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself two questions when you are practicing: 1) Did the passage get better? Sometimes things don’t get better on the same day we practice them. There can be a delay between when we practice and when we see improvement. In this case question number 2 is important: Did I make a good investment of my time today? Did I concentrate on what I was doing? If you focus on the quality of your practice, good results are sure to follow.

In your situation your children are not likely to ask themselves these questions, but you can do this for them. This is one of the strengths of the Suzuki method—it involves us as parents in a way in which we can see the benefits of our involvement.

Good luck!

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