Parents who are deeply involved in their child’s violin and viola lessons and home practice profoundly impact the progress of the student and increase the benefits of their musical study. Their role in the success of the student is crucial. Following these guidelines will help you and your child get the most out of your investment.
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. Parents will get a recap from their teacher of concepts to focus on and passages that need extra attention. Their child will give them more credibility as the leader of their home practice when they hear their parents echo what they heard from their teacher. While you are there please remember that students will be more productive getting instruction from one person - avoid speaking up during the lesson and let the teacher handle everything including general enforcement of behavior.
Supervise daily practice. The degree of parental involvement in daily practice will depend on the age of the student. A 4-8 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, goals, and rewards, 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. Feel free to email recordings of a portion of the practice session to your teacher and ask for clarification and comments.
Foster an environment of trust and support. Performing well at all ages and stages of maturity requires openness and confidence. This type of support is modeled in lessons. Like the teacher, a parent’s job here is to be constructive. Avoid harsh criticism and be quick to point out what the student does right. Even if the gain achieved is small give them credit. The cumulative effect of these small gains can be significant over the course of weeks and months.
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 idea with praise is emphasize the things they did right so that they will keep doing it.
Get all materials to your violin and viola lesson. Create a system that is age appropriate so that all materials - music books, lesson notebook, shoulder rest, bow, etc - make it to the lesson. Keeping everything in one place at home and having a tote bag for lesson day is helpful.
Provide a home practice space 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 violin and viola. 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. Replace broken or lost rosin and be sure your case has a good place for your shoulder rest and cleaning cloth. Your best resource in town for this is The Violin Shop in San Diego.
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. Committing to daily practice also takes resistance out of the equation by firming up boundaries so there isn’t a question about whether or not to practice today. Dr. Suzuki used to say “Only practice on days that you eat.” 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. Lithuanian-American violinist Jascha Heifitz said, "If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days of practice, the critics notice it. If I miss three days of practice, the public notices it."
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, a nice recital outfit, or even a nice mechanical pencil.