Practice after a few days off

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carterAs the parent of a violin student I struggle with returning to practice with my son after a few days off.  The days off are lovely.  It  is so lovely to see my son enjoy a few days without the structure of practice.  But, the day we return to practice is usually challenging.  Often the piece we were mastering when we left off a few days ago sounds brand new and my son becomes dejected, and says I’m no good, I hate the violin.

When I don’t practice for a day or two I usually start with a longer than usual session of scales and perhaps a new etudes that I have no ego about having mastered before attempting to return to work on the pieces I’m learning.   Getting my powers of concentration back in effect to play takes me time and as an experienced practicer, I know that I will want to cry or throw a tantrum if I try to leap into the same place I left off in a piece a few days ago as while my technique doesn’t go away, my mental ability to enter into the concentration required to play the piece erodes.

So, I since I know that it takes effort to return after a few days, why do I try to get my son to just pick up where he left off when it always leads to a confidence buster?   After a few days off, and knowledge that the first day back may be painful, I try to entice my son into playing by saying it will be a short practice.  “We’ll just run through the piece you are working on and one review piece.”  I think I’m being kind by saying it won’t take long.    But that never works!  Inevitably my son will play the new piece and it sounds like he’s playing for the first time and perhaps has not ever played the violin before at all.  He gets a long face, so I recommend he play the piece he learned before the the piece he’s just working on, and that doesn’t go well either.  My parental quick and painless approach to practice after a few days isn’t typically efficient and is usually painful.  It is often short and ends with thoughts to the tune of I hate this and I’m no good at this.

As a parent I’m pretty sure there is a better way and as I teacher, I know there’s a better way.  As a parent, I need the teacher to remind me that a quick sprint isn’t typically recommended as a way to get back in the grove.  Like it or not, playing the violin is a sport.  (more on that in another post).

After a few days off, start with a twinkle variation or a simple scale with a new rhythm. If a student is reading music, sometimes I start a lesson with asking the student to sight-reading something that is a little easier than what they can do or start with a funky rhythm exercise or a strange bow technique or game to make the wackiest noise possible.  Tune the brain to the music making channel before leaping in.  The first day back doesn’t have to be a long practice, but it has to allow for the mind to get in the grove.

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