Even the most promising, talented, motivated students have those days when it is tough to get out their instrument and practice. Follow these guidelines to help foster a positive environment conducive to handling challenges and getting things done. Motivation can be self-perpetuating when you plant the right seeds and tend to them regularly. Don’t expect your student to do all their own self motivating. Parents can do a lot to contribute to their success.
Come to violin and viola lessons as often as possible. Parents of students at any age who attend lessons have a better understanding of concepts the students are working on. They witness the type of playing that led up to the instruction and the result of the solution proposed by the teacher. With this experience they more fully understand the subtleties involved in the concepts and are better equipped to be of assistance. Their child will also give them more credibility as the leader of their home practice when they hear their parents echo what they heard from their teacher.
Supervise daily practice. The degree of parental involvement in daily practice will depend on the age of the student. A 5-7 year old will need each practice session completely led by the parent. Students age 8-12 will develop some independence but should still be monitored throughout the entire course of their practice session. They should know that you are listening. Parents should point out specific good things they hear, and also be ready to provide constructive feedback. Middle and high school students usually want more autonomy. Parents can still offer to listen to a play through, help planning their time and goals, and give occasional feedback about the practice they hear.
Communicate with your teacher early and frequently. Let your teacher know how things are going and be proactive with questions and observations.
Acknowledge the effort you witness your child putting forth. This is the strongest form of encouragement you can offer. Avoid telling your child something general like “good job.” Be specific and descriptive- “I heard you play the whole piece with such gorgeous tone, that takes a lot of focus!”
THE RIGHT STUFF
Provide a space to practice with minimal distractions and keep everything your child needs to practice there. The more work it takes to assemble ourselves to get things done, the less likely it will happen. A ideal practice space has:
All music books
Pitch generator, tuning drone
Recording device and speaker
Several sharpened pencils with good erasers
Provide a good working instrument. Playing a string instrument is hard enough without having to battle with idiosyncrasies like old false strings, dirty greasy bow hair, bridges that got knocked out of adjustment, pegs and tuners that won’t work and cases that don’t close right. Strings last anywhere from 4 months to 1 year and that is it. When strings die they don’t resonate properly and don’t respond to pitch. Practicing on an instrument with dead strings feels about as good as trying to get blood from a stone. A fresh set of strings can rejuvenate interest in the instrument and increase the rewards of playing well. Bow hair should be replaced every year at minimum. When bow hair gets worn out it feels slippery on the string and usually results in added muscle tension in the bow arm trying to compensate for the lack of friction. Your best source in San Diego for a good instrument is The Violin Shop. Replace broken or lost rosin and be sure your case has a good place for your shoulder rest and cleaning cloth.
Build practice time into your daily routine. Take time to review your daily schedule and add practicing into it every day. Students who practice daily tend to stay motivated because they don’t experience the regression associated with missed practice days. Make practicing a requirement to avoid boundary pushing behavior. Be supportive and involved while sticking to your routine. Studies say that habits take 3 weeks to form. Parents may find it gets easier after that point.
Set goals and provide rewards. Find out what piece your student wants to play on the next recital and the one after that. Goals should be exciting and also achievable. Discuss goals with your teacher and make plans for how to get there. Follow weekly instructions from your teacher and complete assignments to stay on track. Some great reward ideas are - tickets to a concert, a new recording, new sheet music to their favorite song, or even a nice mechanical pencil.
Attend concerts. Put the carrot out there for your child. Hearing professional and amateur performers is enjoyable and motivating. It brings relevance to the hard work they do. After all musicians can help us feel emotions, they entertain people. Get swept away in a Beethoven Symphony or witness the astonishing pyrotechnics of a world class virtuoso.
Play for friends. Having friends over for dinner? Visiting family from out of town? How about a mini-concert?
Play with friends. Friendships forged in orchestra, performance class and recitals can be cultivated. Invite a friend over and try a duet!