Practicing

Marija said: Sep 15, 2018
Marija Bubanj
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Chicago, IL
4 posts

Hello—again a topic on practicing—a 6-year old violin student, a boy, who has a strong personality and needs to be bribed to practice either by video games, apps or some money like 25 cents per practice. But overall, the motivation is slowing down. Any suggestions on how to keep him motivated and engaged? Any games/activities regarding the practice routine, motivation, bow games or other activities…? He is currently on Song of the Wind.

Thank you!

MB

Tamara Glassburg said: Sep 15, 2018
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
1 posts

For a 6 year old I’d use a poster and add a sticker each time he practices without resisting. Then when a certain number of stickers are on the poster he can have a reward but I’d suggest it be an experience reward instead of something material. If he only responds to material rewards, this is a separate problem.

Marija said: Sep 15, 2018
Marija Bubanj
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Chicago, IL
4 posts

I do use stickers on a poster board too and it works well for some children, but I am noticing more kids now days prefer material rewards or candies to some experiences that are non-material like, an event, concert, etc…and yes, this is a problem…

Kurt Meisenbach said: Sep 15, 2018
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
38 posts

Marija, in one of the chapters of a book I have written for parents, the issue of rewards is explored. The following ideas are from several of the chapters.

Children learn best when they want to learn. Inappropriate rewards can reduce this desire. When the reward becomes a bribe, the child learns to do the right thing for the wrong reason. The bribe may produce short-term results, but it will have long-term negative effects.

The parent is in a better position to deal with the situation you describe than the teacher. The parent has more time than the teacher to find out how their child truly feels about practice and about the instrument they are playing.

In this situation, we need to know how the child is feeling on the inside. This can be a slow process that may take several days or even weeks. The child must first know that he can trust the adult who is inquiring. Consider the following:

  • Has the child been asked what instrument he would like to learn? If it is his own choice, he is more likely to do it. Ask him over a period of several weeks which instrument he thinks he might like to play. Go to YouTube and watch some videos of people playing that instrument. Even better, find someone your child’s age playing the instrument he has selected and watch that person together.
  • Ask the child why he does not want to practice. Is it peer group pressure? Do his friends play better than he does? Is it too difficult for him? Does his brother or sister play the same instrument and there is sibling rivalry?
  • Listen intently when he talks. Don’t interrupt and don’t correct.
  • You don’t have to agree with what he is saying, but you can show that you understand how he feels.
  • Listen to everything, no matter how little. If you don’t listen to the little stuff, they will never tell you the big stuff.

Over time, the child will open up to the patient and non-intrusive parent. Once his true feelings are known, a better approach can be developed. If rewards are still needed, let the student choose the reward (one within reason, of course). Over time, rewards should not be necessary. Recognition yes, but not rewards. Studies have shown that a child learns best when learning is it own reward. Frequent, specific praise is the best way to recognize good work. It builds confidence, a sense of success and a willingness to take on bigger challenges.

The above suggestions are better done by the parent, not by the teacher. This brings us to what may be at the center of the issue. Are the parents committed? Do they like classical music? Does the student see that classical music is important at home? If music is not important to the parents, it is not likely to be important to the child, especially at the age of six.

Do the parents know how to practice with their child? Many do not, but are afraid to ask for help. The book provides some basic do’s and don’ts that worked well for my Suzuki students and parents in Uruguay. I am now trying them out in Plano, Texas where I now teach Suzuki Levels 1 through 3. The recommendations are progressive—the parent learns one lesson at a time how to become a better practice partner at home with their child.

If you are interested in looking at the book, I can send you a PDF (no charge). The book will be available from amazon.com in December. It goes into more detail on this issue and many others that can be difficult for parents and teachers.

Marija said: Sep 15, 2018
Marija Bubanj
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Chicago, IL
4 posts

Hello—some great points, thank you! I would be interested in reading the book, the PDF would be appreciated.

I find it difficult to work with many children and their parents. In this particular case, I have already tried most of the suggestions you were writing about. This student and his 8-year-old brother have been taking violin lessons with me in their home for the past 2 years. The older brother, who in addition to violin also plays the piano, is much easier to teach and has a different personality and motivation. So, I do believe there is a bit of a competition going on between the brothers, but when I tell this to the mother, she denies it.

And I have also tried talking to the boy and asking him why he doesn’t like to practice, but usually, he is acting shy and barely says anything—very closed emotionally. There is also a lot of distractions in the house since there are 4 young boys in the family, but only those two are playing instruments and taking lessons.

I don’t think parents know how to practice with this child and I think they scold him if he doesn’t want to practice—or bribe him in a way I described. And you are right, they feel embarrassed to admit it. I find many parents being embarrassed about opening up and being honest in admitting that they don’t always know how to practice with the child or how to deal with them in general. And I feel this as a big burden on the teacher—the teacher can’t get involved in the family dynamics.

Kurt Meisenbach said: Sep 15, 2018
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
38 posts

Marija, I have sent you a PDF. Your experience is very similar to mine. All parents want the best for their children, but they can have a difficult time understanding what their role needs to be in helping their child to learn to play an instrument. The parent’s role is to help, not to try to fix everything. It is to be a guide, not a traffic light at every corner. Once the parent understands what their role is, their work becomes less stressful and more enjoyable. This is what the book tries to do. Hope it helps.

Marija said: Sep 15, 2018
Marija Bubanj
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Chicago, IL
4 posts

Yes…and that’s what is the most challenging to explain to the parents :)

Joanne Shannon said: Sep 16, 2018
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
126 posts

I don’t explain much to the parents. Everytime an opportunity shows itself, I ask the parent (& sometimes the older child) …what will you do if this happens at home?..(like playing a poor twinkle with finger 4.) Sometimes I give them a choice of answers….would you keep going to the next finger or would you stop and play finger 4 three good times in a row? Everyone needs to learn what practicing is and how to do it. It’s not as obvious as it seems. Sometimes we spend 5 minutes just practicing a few things so the parent can see what I expect them to do. Sometimes I sit them down at the piano with their child and let them know that I’d like to watch the practice together. I gather a couple of things into my head as I watch, stop them after a minute, and show them a better approach to a problem that came up. I let them know that it’s more important to work on a small spot in a piece then to just play the whole piece through. Learning how to practice is a lifelong challenge, it doesn’t just come naturally.

Edward said: Sep 17, 2018
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Morris Plains, NJ
58 posts

@Kurt Meisenbach, “A guide, not a traffic light.” I like that!

I recently had to ask a family to stop. After 3 years of struggle, the child still showed painful and obvious signs that his heart was not in it. The parents seemed totally shocked that I was recommending to stop, as if they were unaware of the dynamic. Something to consider.

In the meantime, try these (and have the parents take a look too): http://edwardsviolinstudio.com/practice-tips/

Happy practicing,
Edward

Free Guide: Five Ways To Motivate Your Kids To Practice

Jennifer Visick said: Nov 28, 2018
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1034 posts

Popping in with a recommendation for Robert Cutietta’s book “Raising Musical Kids” which has a great chapter on practice rewards/motivation.

One idea I like a lot from that book is the idea of randomizing some rewards. That is, instead of (or, perhaps, in addition to) giving rewards that a student can see coming (which is similar to earning wages for a job)…

…find a way to give “surprise” rewards every once in a while for things the student is doing well (but which you don’t tell them ahead of time that you’re going to reward).

Irregular rewards are much more like winning a lottery or a door prize than earning money at a job—you know that you definitely won’t win if you don’t buy a ticket, but you also know that even if you buy a ticket, it’s still up to chance whether or not you win. Buying more tickets increases your chances of winning, but it’s there’s always an element of surprise… In the case of randomized practice rewards, “buying a ticket” becomes daily practice, or practice with a smile, or daily listening to professional musicians, or whatever needs to be done daily…

Research and anecdotal evidence both suggest that surprise rewards are more powerful habit builders than regular, foreseen rewards.

[Do a thing], get a reward every time? Eventually you’ll only [do the thing] when you want or need that particular reward. Eventually there will be a time when [doing the thing] is not worth it to you to acquire the reward you know you’ll get, especially if you know you can get that reward anytime if you do it later.

But [do a thing], get a reward sometimes but not other times? The mystery and surprise become part of the reward: maybe you don’t want or need the reward itself, but what if today is the only ‘reward day’ for the next couple of weeks? What if the next reward is based on a streak of a certain number of days in a row? Better [do the thing] just in case!

Note that these kinds of rewards appear spontaneous to the STUDENT, but not to the parent/teacher. The reward-giver needs to plan ahead of time, in secret, in order for the rewards to work and in order for them to be truly random (as opposed to being influenced by what kind of mood the parent happens to be in, or whether or not the parent had a good breakfast, on a certain day).

And the rewards themselves can also be randomized—not only does the student not know for sure if today’s practice session will net a reward or not, but the student doesn’t know WHICH reward will be given, nor for WHICH practice assignment the reward will be tied to.

And of course the eventual goal is to get to the place where the music is its own reward for the practice. But people who haven’t experienced the results of 10 years of practice (or who just haven’t experienced 10 years of life, period)—they aren’t going to know that there’s a very real, worthwhile and lasting payoff at the end of 10 years of practicing.

So come: let’s conspire together to get them to find out. ;-)

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