Words that work: Parent as a partner in practice

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At Hartt (University of Hartford School of Music) last week at their Suzuki institute I attended a discussion called, “Words that work: Language to Promote Effective Practice” led by Dr. Susan Bair.  Here are are some of my notes from the discussion combined with some of my own thoughts.

1. From time to time, remember why you and your child want to learn to play the violin and what life skills you hope your child will learn.

  • To be really good at something
  • To love music
  • To listen and be moved
  • To create
  • To learn to express all kinds of things
  • To learn to respect what others respect
  • To nurture your child’s creativity
  • To demonstrate and learn to adopt other ways of nurturing your child.
  • To get a scholarship to an ivy league college

2.  From time to time, remember what skills you hope your child will learn from the practice of learning to play the violin

  • Joy in learning
  • Commitment
  • Persistence
  • Vision
  • Ability to learn from mistakes.
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Good tone
  • Rhythm
  • Intonation
  • Musicality

3.  When it comes to practice, learn to depersonalize comments

  • Use “lets” and “we” such as Lets do this or We do…
  • instead of, could you… refer to the bow or the first finger or elbow… for instance, “I’m asking your elbow to feel like it is bouncing off an elf’s hat”.
  • Use non verbal corrections –  sometimes waving a magic wand is more effective than asking for the thumb to bend.

4.  When thinking about repetition,

  • use a clicker instead of counting.
  • Roll a pair of dice instead of telling the student the number of repetitions required.
  • Use a deck of cards in place of a roll of dice.

5. When memorizing a new piece.

  • Create section boxes and have student physically move from one section to the next.

6.  Use positive words

  • Instead of “get up” say, “leap to your feet”.
  • Avoid “right” and “wrong”  in corrections.
  • Instill the idea that there isn’t one true way to do things.  Trust kids to use their ears and heads to make artistic decisions.
  • Use questions – instead of “use more bow” ask,
    • “is there a way to get the string to vibrate more?”
    • ask questions that you don’t know the answers to!
    • be careful not to ask accusing questions such as why did you play an f# there or why did you play the bowing wrong? (this type of question implies the child is wrong.)
  • Wait for answers — sometimes it takes a long time for children to formulate responses.  No one likes to be told what to do.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.  Multitasking is overrated. If you are working on bow strokes, don’t nitpic on intonation. Multitasking diminishes our ability to learn one thing.
  • At the beginning of a practice session, say something positive… “It was such a great feeling yesterday when I heard you correcting the intonation as you went without getting upset!”
  • Avoid the use of “but”  (Wow, you really kept in Kreisler’s Highway, but….”)  This translates as you did it wrong.
  • Use descriptive words
    • Peaceful Bow Hold
    • Brave Tone
    • Generous Tone
    • Confident Posture
    • True Intonation
    • Your performance was a gift to the audience
    • Your performance was a celebration of your hard work

7.  Try to make sure there is more playing than talking during practice sessions.

8.  Be firm that practice will occur.

  • Do you want to have a snack now and practice in 5 minutes or practice now and then have a snack?

9.  Offer choices

  • Do you want to start with O Come Little Children or Go Tell Aunt Rhody?

10.  Schedule time for no feedback

  • One day a week ask child to play anything they want.  Some parents refer to this day as “Simply by Applause”.  Don’t give feedback on this day, simply applaud.   This gives the child the opportunity to experience the joy of playing.

11.  Empathize

  • Acknowledge that playing the violin is hard work.  “You are working so hard on this and I appreciate your commitment.”

12.  Recognize the achievement, praise the effort!

  • Instead of, “you are so talented”, try, “that was such an excellent performance, you worked so hard to produce it!”
  • “I saw that you kept your bow close to the bridge the whole time! Your tone was really bold.”
  • I noticed you kept your eyes focus on your violin and you kept your focus!
  • If the child goofs off-  “In our family we value hard work and honesty.  Was that the best you could do?”
  • If the child makes a mistake — “The best way to learn is to make mistakes!”

13.  Set goals instead of a time frame for practice.  For instance

  • Today we need to listen for ringing tones in our two review pieces , work on the the tricky spot in your new piece, then listen to the review pieces and the new piece while practicing our tree posture.   Would you roll the dice to see how many times we’ll play the tricky spot.
  • If time for practice is limited, set goals and a time limit.  If the goal is accomplished during the time frame, then let the child know that there will be time to go to park.   If the goals aren’t accomplished, then there won’t be time to go to the park.
  • If the parent has work to do, such as folding a load of laundry or unloading the dishwasher, let the child know that if the time limit is exceeded, the child will need to help with those tasks.

14.  If the child is starting to practice on their own, make sure the child understands the practice goals and tasks for the week.   A practice chart with specific tasks to work on can be very useful in this case.    If a task is confusing, email the teacher for more clarification.

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