From the Video Series, Parents as Partners Online 2016

When I have a new cello student, one of the first big assignments I give them is to make 1,000 good bow holds. I don’t allow my students to place the bow on the cello string until this is accomplished. So, in the lesson, we carefully prepare the bow hold, making sure that both parent and child understand, and at the end of the lesson they are sent home with a daunting assignment to accumulate 1,000 bow holds.

Generally at the next lesson when I ask how many bow holds they have, the parent will say quite proudly, “7!” or, “8!” or maybe, “10!” After offering my congratulations, we do some math and determine that at that rate, doing 10 a week it will be 2 years before we make a sound on the cello.

Then the practice begins in earnest.

We need to find ways to make this happen and ways to make it happy. In preparing this talk, I had to think back over many years to think of what worked for my two children. My son really loved macaroni and cheese. Here we have 1,000 pieces of macaroni, and every time you make a good bow hold, you can put a piece of macaroni in the jar until all of the macaroni is in the jar, and then the entire family can have some delicious macaroni and cheese thanks to the child who did all the work.

It’s nice to make bow holds for the people that love you. Five for mommy, five for daddy, five for your sister, five for your brother, five for uncle Charlie, five for aunt Mary, how about your cousins?

Some children like to make bow holds in crazy places. Under the bed, on the top bunk, inside the bathtub, behind the curtain. Mom has to go with them of course, and that makes them happy. It’s nice sometimes to make a tour of the house and make a certain number of bow holds in every room. How about 10 in the kitchen? 10 in the living room? 10 in the bedroom, the bathroom, behind the house, outside of the house?

My daughter was crazy about animals, and she would do almost anything for animals. I could say, “Ahh, the giraffe wants to see 10 beautiful bow holds. She would do it for the giraffe. “Ah, the elephant would like to see 10 too! And now the zebra is saying ‘oh, would you make me 10 beautiful bow holds? Here comes the lion, the king of the jungle, and of course he wants his bow holds too.

You can throw dice and do the number of repetitions. Many children like to use spinners; you may have one of these around in a game. You can use Monopoly money, a 5 for five bow holds, or 10 for 10, and as you accumulate them you can change them in for 100s.

You could draw a picture, adding a line for each repetition. You don’t have to be a great artist to do it. Also, children like dot to dot pictures. You can download them from the internet. Each repetition you connect a line until you have the picture completed.

My children loved it when I read them a story. I would stop at a cliffhanger moment, and I wouldn’t continue until they had done a certain number of bow holds. “For Yertle, the King of all Sala-ma-Sond, Fell off his high throne and fell…” (do your bow holds here) “Plunk! In the pond!”

Sometimes I would go around the house and put a bunch of crazy object in a bag, and my children would have to pull out each object and make a bow hold with it. A magic wand, a carrot, a wooden spoon, ice cream scoop, a piece of celery, markers, candles, screwdrivers, a zucchini, a glue stick, and many more objects you can find around the house.

With my son, we made a cheerios necklace for a while. I don’t think it was for bow holds, he was repeating something else. Every time he did a repetition, we would add a cheerio to the elastic thread, and when he had enough, we would tie a knot in it, and he could wander around the house wearing it and eating cheerios at will, which he enjoyed.

Some children like to make a goofy face, and while they make a goofy face do a certain number of repetitions.

My daughter liked to do three bow holds on every step of our staircase that lead from the first floor to the second floor. 14 steps was over 40 bow holds. She had a choice whether she would start at the bottom and climb up or start at the top and climb down.

You could build something with legos. Add a lego each time your child does a repetition. You could build something with bigger blocks.

Set the kitchen timer for a random number of minutes, and when it dings, the child has to come running, pick up his bow and do the required number of repetitions. It’s good to leave the bow out where it’s very handy if you are doing these things.

Also interesting to see how many good bow holds you can make before the sand runs out in the timer.

My children would almost do anything for the practice monkeys. I think there are 18 in a barrel. We used to hang them from the music stand. And when they had all 19 in a chain, they could put them back in the barrel.

You could set up dominoes every time you did a repetition, set up a whole string of them and when you have a certain amount, they can decide how many, you can have the fun of pushing them over.

Some children like to go into a dark closet with mommy and do a certain number with only a flashlight, shining a spotlight on the bow hold.

This next one might not appeal to all parents, but my children liked to wake up before we woke up. They liked to sneak into our room and wake us up with a few bow holds.

For my daughter it was all about the animals. She had her collection of little ponies. We would put a bowl of oats out for the ponies, who were always hungry every morning, and we would put it far away on the table, and every time she did a repetition, the pony would move a little closer to his breakfast until he was finally allowed to eat.

When my daughter was a pre twinkle student, we were still using LPs to listen to our Suzuki songs. Then it became cassettes, and then CDs. One day when the needle got stuck, and it was repeating the same two notes over and over, she said, “Mommy, fix it! It’s practicing!”

At the end of this 1,000 bow hold project, not only do we have a beautiful bow hole, but more importantly, we have a parent and a child who have learned to work as a team. Ready for many such assignments in the future, and an awareness that it takes many repetitions to develop ability.

I’m sure you will have many creative ideas too. Enjoy the journey and above all, keep it happy.