How long do your kids practice?

said: Oct 17, 2009
 17 posts

I’d like to know how long your kids practice in a go? Do they manage to concentrate for the whole practice session?
I’m asking as I have the feeling that my four year old does not get enough practice allthough we do try to practice every day. Our session will stretch over 20 min, but with lots of breaks to jump around and do “silly things”. I would estimate without all these breaks we get less than 10 min effective practice. I’d like to “train” her to have more stamina, as she has troubles to get through 30 min one to one lessons with the teacher. She gets tired of standing and starts to wriggle and is not very attentive.
I do not have much possibility to compare her with others to know if she reacts like all four year olds (and I should give more time to develope) or if she needs to learn to be or should be more concentrated. Which experience/advice would you all have?
Regards Rippe

said: Oct 17, 2009
 8 posts

Your 4yo sounds a lot like my 6yo pre-twinkler. He can barely make it through a 30-minute lesson too. Our practice sessions last about fifteen minutes, and after six weeks of lessons I am finally starting to see some progress in his attention span. Lately I’ve been bribing him with Goldfish crackers. After each Up Like A Rocket (or whatever) he gets one cracker just for doing it. If he maintains a good bowhold the entire time, he gets two. If he doesn’t maintain a good bowhold, but notices and fixes it himself without me reminding him, he also gets two. He is pretty eager for the next cracker, so it has cut down quite a bit on the wiggling and goofing in between. I have tried other strategies, but this is the one that seems to work best with him.

said: Oct 17, 2009
 17 posts

Hi Suzuki Mom,
Yes, bribery does do the trick in most cases, but I try to limit it as it led to some tentrums when I did not offer them :oops: .
We tried the method of do everything five times. I have a little box with two compartments and five shiny colourful glass nuggets. So each time she plays the scale once up and down she gets to move one nugget. She would say now I am playing for the red one, etc. That worked quite well. After one year of lessons I tried to add five more to encourage her to repeat everything ten times, but that was too big a jump. And I think the fun of playing for colourful stones is wearing out a bit. So I am looking for more little tricks.
Thanks for your input.
Regards Rippe

said: Oct 17, 2009
 8 posts


Yes, bribery does do the trick in most cases, but I try to limit it as it led to some tentrums when I did not offer them :oops: .

True, bribery definitely isn’t the answer for everything! And what happens when I run out of crackers??? However, I think that at least with the violin there is a minimum threshold of technique that you have to get through, one way or another, before you can get much enjoyment from the instrument. I mean, how many kids really want to do ten Up Like a Rockets every day, even if they really want to play the violin? But all that pre-twinkle prep work has to come first, and if bribery makes it go smoother and quicker, then so much the better.

My daughter is 10, mid-Book 4 (violin), and very motivated. Even so, we still play games, use stuffed animals, dice, etc. She would probably practice just as well even if we didn’t add the fun stuff, but it’s worth it for the extra good will.

Have you read Helping Parents Practice, by Ed Sprunger? It’s full of games & strategies. I’ve found it to be hugely helpful.

Laurel said: Oct 19, 2009
Laurel MacCullochViolin
Langley, BC
120 posts

This sounds quite typical of a 4-year-old! My 5 1/2 year old can’t handle much at a go either.

One thing I found effective was to add 1 repetition every few days, or every week. So this week you would do 5 Up Like A Rockets, or whatever you’re working on. Next week you’ll do 6. The week after, 7. After that, 8. etc. etc. etc. By then your teacher will likely have added a new skill to work on, which you start at 6 repetitions—the next new skill you could start at 7 repetitions—and so on.

Another way of doing it—have her do as many repetitions as her age (4), but then ask how old a sibling is, or her best friend. If the friend is 4 as well, you can say “Let’s do your age and So-and-so’s age too!” and all of a sudden she has done 8.

If your child starts to balk at that many repetitions, go back to 5. The ability will come and you will likely notice a difference between now and June. Remember what Suzuki said: “Two minutes with joy, five times a day!”


Diane said: Oct 20, 2009
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

From a teacher’s viewpoint—I teach 15 minute lessons to 4 and 5 year olds. Any child that can focus at this age for 30 minutes is extraordinary!

This gameboard was made by one of my student’s parents. Feel free to download it and use it. While adults may lose patience to play the game—kids love it! Sometimes us grownups just have to relax a bit!

Little steps yield big results!

Happy Practicing!

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Barb said: Oct 20, 2009
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts


This gameboard was made by one of my student’s parents. Feel free to download it and use it.

Thank you! I made two of those games for two of my students today. Having a game “if we have time for it” at the end of the lesson motivated one student to be cooperative. He enjoyed it, even though if I had simply asked him to play the pieces he landed on without it being a game, he would have balked. He is 7, so his instructions were to practice x, x, and x, and then play the game in his practice time at home this week. I threw in the odd “put your cello down and hop up and down 6 times” for some variety.

By the way, I don’t give my students a set amount of time to practice, because I saw in my own kids too much focus on the timer when they studied piano. We use 100 day charts, and they get credit even if they only play 5 minutes. One of my 7 year old students sometimes doesn’t want to practice, so her mother tells her “just 5 minutes, then” and she will usually happily play more than that once she gets started. Usually 30—45 minutes and sometimes more (and she has a 45 minute lesson). I don’t think any of my boys have ever practiced 45 minutes, I know in their lesson their attention span is up somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes usually (they are 5, 6, and 7, and the 5 year old has the longest staying power!). :)

Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Jennifer Visick said: Oct 22, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

In the spirit of “games”…. I’ve had some success with customizing Spintastik for lessons. I don’t use it all the time, but everyone thinks it’s great when I do use it. I’m sure it could be used once in a while for “home lessons” (i.e. practicing).

-Jenny Visick-

Sarah said: Nov 5, 2009
11 posts

I’ve found that a child who moans through a 20 minute practice can easily practice for 45 minutes when it’s done with games. We’ve used a ton of different games over the years. One that works well for 4 year olds is a fishing game. My daughter took a piece of poster paper and made a pond out of it, then we cut out paper fish and coloured them. Each fish had a different thing to do on it (”Up like a rocket”, “5 bow holds”, “taka taka stop stop on A string ten times”, etc.). We made a fishing rod out of a dowel stick and attached a string with a magnet on the end to it. Then we put paper clips on each of the fish and we had Fishing Practice. I made more than enough fish—more than I thought we’d ever do at one practice, but my four year old wanted to catch every single one.

When they got further into book 1 the fish became songs with one practice point each (play Lightly Row and keep a bent thumb on your bow) and we put the fish into a jar and used them for daily review.

My four year olds practiced anywhere from ten minutes to 45 minutes depending on lots of different factors, but games were a sure way to increase practice time easily.

said: Dec 1, 2009
 2 posts

I have four children (although only two are violinists) ranging in age from 3 years to 15 years. I would be impressed by a 4-year old practicing consistently for 30 minutes. Perhaps 2-3 ten minute practices per day?

As to my violinists: I have a 10 year old in book 7 who practices around 60-75 minutes, five nights a week. I’m sure 7 days/week would be ideal but well…life intrudes! I let her choose the two days that she wants to take a break to give her a feeling of control and satisfaction.

My 7 year old, in book 3, practices 30-45 minutes, five nights a week. He also has some choice on which days he’d like to practice. His sister acts as his “practice coach”.

Along the idea of a practice coach—if there is an older student in your program to whom your child responds favorably, then perhaps you could pay him to be a practice coach. Around here, student teachers charge $10/30 minutes.

Looks like you have many superb ideas from previous posters. Let us know what works!

. said: Apr 24, 2010
 6 posts

that sounds just like a four year old. its perfectly natural for them to act like that. can you imajine any young child standing for half an hour? ask your childs teacher if they can have lessons sitting down. my seven year old used to have the same problem, but when sitting she can actually make it through 45 minutes of practice. when she was younger, i used to bribe her with gummy vitamins which she absolutely loved. try giving your child small things that are enjoyable. i might even suggest buying another music book that you guys can practice on with fun songs in them something like the Disney Classics book. they are easy enough that you can play them without help from a teacher, and your child will love the songs. sometimes all they need is a little motivation.

Phankao said: Oct 5, 2011
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

15-20mins would be very good for a young child, right? I tend to do other “practices” like singing or bow rabbit or finger exercises anytime during the day. Not during any specified time of the day.

Carin said: Oct 6, 2011
9 posts

My son can last through a 20 minute lesson generally. His teacher gets down on the floor with him and is very good at engaging him. Sometimes he is more cooperative than other times.

At home we can do a 20 minute lesson with lots of side conversations and small delays. I have the lesson in a quiet bedroom with no toys in sight. During the day we may review little flash cards for “tas and ti-tis” when we are not practicing and he will make tas and ti-tis with his french fries, etc.. We do clapping during the day and sing some songs to the variations. Little things to make things fun.

For a reward I occasionally swing him around in his violin bag, he is 3 so I don’t think that would work with older children, lol.

I’ve read a few books, but not the Sprunger book, have to get that one.

Good Luck!

Matthew said: Oct 7, 2011
Matthew Olson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Bellingham, WA
16 posts

For younger students it can be helpful to break of your practice into two 10 or 15 minute sessions during the day. This can be easier than one longer session!

Matthew Olson

Sue Hunt said: Oct 8, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

I love practice games. They give lots of opportunity to practice quick refocussing (a most important life skill). They provide mini breaks to refresh the mind and body. They can be used directly to reinforce technique, like the fishing game which is in my pack of 36 Beginner Bow Hold Games

As a teacher, I find when my students play lots of games during practice sessions, they tend to:
a) focus better
b) practice longer
c) turn up for lessons better prepared
d) develop more self esteem

Bribery has ugly connotations. Try rewarding. Even boring adults will work hard for a reward.

Music in Practice

Rachel Schott said: Oct 21, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

Sue Hunt

Bribery has ugly connotations. Try rewarding. Even boring adults will work hard for a reward.

Have you read “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn? It gathers results from study after study after study that have all proven that rewards are actually detrimental to performance. It’s a very thorough, very convincing argument.

It’s a mind-blower…Carrie Reuning referenced this book in a keynote a few years ago and I finally read it over the summer. WOW.

Sue Hunt said: Oct 22, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Sorry, I should have made myself more clear. I am familiar with the “Punished by Rewards” concept. It is a very sensitive subject. Indeed, there are many ways that rewards can be used to make a child feel bad and insecure. Many of us make the mistake of confusing rewards with encouragement or bribery.

Some adults dole out sweets, like stream of “High five” “Way to go” “Good job” “Love you”—this is just a comfort blanket for the kids, but take it away and that becomes a punishment.

“Don’t behave badly and you will get a treat!” That’s bribery. How many of us have experienced unfocussed students who, repeatedly ask parents if they are going to get the usual after lesson treat?

Rewarding one child in a group doesn’t work either and can create bad vibes from peers.

BUT…. Young beginners seldom get intrinsic rewards from trying to play the instrument. It does make a lot of difference when I give extrinsic rewards for focusing well enough to do the task with success. I do not dole out rewards willy-nilly, but under strict conditions:

  • I have an OK from the parents.
  • I explain MY terms to the child, so that he or she will know exactly what has to be done.
  • I set the child up to win, Preparing carefully, going as slooowly as needed.
  • I always stick to my terms and I even gloat a bit at the idea of winning the reward for myself.

Under these secure conditions, the reward is really earned and contributes to self esteem.

One of my friends still remembers with pride, the cookie that Dr Suzuki gave him for his perfect spiccato.

Warning—Parents, don’t to compete against your own children. My families find a toy to practice against, or use me in absentia, as a practice baddie.
Music in Practice

Paula Bird said: Oct 22, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Bravo, Sue! Well said. Thoughtful explanation of the differences and need for all aspects in teaching.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

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