May is officially just around the corner. As we are nearing the end of this unique pandemic school year we are also hitting crunch time with Viva Suzuki and end of year recitals coming up quickly. Rather than taking the foot off the gas pedal, these next few weeks will require some extra prep and practice as your student gets ready to record their parts for Viva and the end of year Studio recital.
This is a tricky time for a Suzuki parent, because motivation to practice may be fading but healthy practice habits are more important than ever. Although in an ideal world our children would all be intrinsically motivated to practice well every day, reality is often quite different.
What are some ways that we parents can help keep the music practice motivation up?
Rewards can be helpful during phases where a student is resistant to practicing. It’s important to make the reward relevant to the child in front of you - and one reward may not work with all siblings in one family.
Rewards can be immediate, like one smartie for every repetition of twinkle or rewards can be delayed - fill your practice chart with X stickers and get Y where Y can be a treat, or a book, or an activity with a parent or something you know your child would enjoy. Rather than a practice chart you can use a jar and marbles and decide together what aspect of practice gets a marble. When the jar is full then a predetermined relevant to the child reward is given.
Structure the practice. Your teacher will have a basic routine for their lesson that you can structure your practice around; for example - scale - review piece - new piece - group class work. Some children may like to have a checklist where they check off each practice segment as it’s done. Others may prefer some unpredictability so they could roll a dice to decide what practice segment comes next.
Add Fun. If needed, use a practice board game like this one. Simply print it off and find a token to move along the board. There are two ways to use this game. Choose three practice points and assign one to each shape - smile/triangle/heart. Your child rolls a dice, moves their token the number of spaces on the dice and does the practice point corresponding to that shape. Alternatively, cut out the cards on page 2 and 3 and on the back write down one review piece per card -or one practice point per card - or fun/silly challenges like play Twinkle standing on one foot, play Allegro while marching, play Go Tell Aunt Rhody with your bow backwards - or a combination of all these ideas. Shuffle the cards and then your child picks the top card, moves their token to the next square showing that picture and does whatever is written on the back of the card. Getting a question mark, means the child can choose. (Maybe your child can choose to get you to do something!)
Availability of the materials. The instrument that is out and ready to be played is easier to get practice started with. Have a safe space where the instrument can sit or hang and be ready to be scooped up and practiced. Reducing barriers to practice, even simple ones like getting the instrument out of its case, will help get practice started quickly.
Positive language When it’s time to practice use positive language to set the tone - for example: “We get to play music together” instead of “We have to practice”. Frame your comments positively during the practice session.
Listen to the repertoire - even our most mature students can benefit from listening. Listening helps with practice flow - listening to the pieces that are being practiced and that are coming up next makes learning the piece that much easier.
A special note about teenagers
- By the time our kids are teenagers most of these practice strategies will not be relevant - though keeping the instrument handy and listening are helpful at all ages. Teens love apps and there's a fun one called Modacity
that teens can use to track their practice. This app allows students to make practice playlists, track practice time, track progress and set reminders. Users can record themselves and listen to themselves. They can save recordings and listen to old recordings of themselves to see how much they've improved. Modacity allows them to take notes, even keep a practice journal.
A final note for all ages ~ Celebrate the Milestones
Whatever age your child is, when they finish a book, have a mini party - bake a cake or let them choose a favourite meal for dinner. Go for icecream after a recital or event like Viva Suzuki (or make your own sundae bar at home during our virtual recitals and events). Find some way to mark the occasion and make it special for your Suzuki Kid no matter how old they are.
And remember to give yourself a pat on the back too, being a Suzuki Parent is hard work and takes practice too.