How to Practice - A Guide For Parents
How to practice - a Guide for
- Establishing a consistent practice routine
- General motivation and stimulation
- Outline of a practice session
- Becoming more independent
- Recommended books
To start up the progress successfully, a parent needs to, first of all, establish a consistent practice routine:
- That means, the parent needs to find a regular time slot during the day for practice
- The parent sets the tone, time and the tempo of the practice
- The parent must NOT skip days as getting out of routine is detrimental
- We will also talk more specifically later on about motivation for younger students and motivation for the older students
- Practice time needs to happen BEFORE whatever else entertainment is planned (whether it is playing or TV time or iPad time etc.)
- If practice takes too long due to not being focused it needs to be clear to the child that it will eat into its entertainment and reward time.
- In case the child refuses to practice, entertainment time and reward is not on the agenda anymore.
- If practice becomes too difficult, forget about moving on in the book but give following instruction: reassess your practice routine and make it your primary mission to find a time of the day which parent and child can stick to. Make it consistent and the same time every day (best in the morning before school). That may be challenging for a few days but it guarantees success.
- The most important factor- but very often underestimated- is GROWTH:
a lot of parents are of the opinion, that as long as the child spends a bit of time some of the days of the week on the instrument and goes to the cello and group lesson, it should be fine since they feel it is just a light-hearted after-school activity. Unfortunately, since playing an instrument is a skill, which requires regular and daily practice, this usually slows the progress down considerably and the result is that the child feels it is not good at playing the instrument.
This is the best recipe for failure as most kids will give up their instrument as soon as they get a little older (usually around 11 years old).
General motivation- a challenge which requires the parent’s and teacher’s real effort and imagination:
- Let’s start off with the easiest and smallest motivation boost: the short -term goal in practice:
Parent and child need to plan their practice session BEFORE they start practicing.
I always advise parents to draw up an outline for the next practice session right after practice. Anything which needs attention is still fresh in memory and it makes sense to write it down for the next practice in order to save time.
Especially for the older child (5 years and onwards) I advise that it should be the child’s decision (together with the parent’s help) to decide what needs attention at the next practice session and in what order the various bits should be tackled.
- Motivators at a younger age are games, rewards like stickers or other treats and especially the group. The group is immensely important as it provides stimulation: like-mindedness, games and fun and support as well as getting motivated by the peers.
- As mentioned already, progress (meaning growth, not progress in the book!) is the best motivator.
As soon as a child, or anybody for that matter, realizes that they are progressing and feel that the success is boosting their confidence, they will want more.
It is human nature to feel that you are a good person and loved if you are good at something.
It is the parent’s and teacher’s task to provide the student with this feeling of success and to lead and guide him or her to achievement and accomplishment and thus to fulfillment.
- The most popular motivators are workshops and courses:
The influence of other teachers will keep things fresh and interesting and stimulate the student. Often a different teacher will give the student the same feedback as the student’s teacher at home, but he or she will say it in a different way and it can resonate better with the student either due to the different choice of words or due to approaching the issue from an entirely different angle. So sometimes the penny suddenly drops with regards to a certain issue after a course or master class with a different teacher.
- Another important point is the like-mindedness the student will find when attending a course: I know it from my own experience, growing up attending a grammar school where music was not considered important and therefore there weren’t many children for me to exchange myself with on a music-related level, who also played an instrument and who were interested in classical music and I felt quite isolated and in fact embarrassed about playing an instrument.
When I started to take part in courses and music camps though, everything changed. I was thrilled to find that I was “normal” and the fact that I loved classical music and making music was not something weird.
I felt incredible relief that it was not just ok to love classical music but that there were really cool kids who were
brilliant at their instruments.
Fortunately Suzuki kids have the advantage of the weekly group lesson and therefore don’t have to feel isolated anyway but any additional socialising on music camps is an extra boost and whereas the weekly group is only a small number of kids, the amount of kids attending camps and courses is big, making the child realise that it belongs to a big network.
The network of Suzuki musicians and parents with their kids and their approach to music making is extraordinary.
A great motivator: Concerts:
There are concerts, put on for students to perform and there are concerts played by professionals, for students to attend:
I always try to organize as many opportunities as possible for my students to perform since I know from own experience how much it spurs me on:
1) It is a short-term goal to work towards
2) It provides me with real progress
3) A successful performance boosts my confidence
4) A successful concert gives me the drive to plan another performance
5) In case I was not happy with my performance I ca n’t wait for the next concert to redeem myself!
6) The appreciative audience boots my confidence
7) I love the feeling of giving pleasure to other people
8) I can learn so much from watching my peers perform
9) I love supporting my peers and being motivated by them.
Then there are concerts, performed by professional musicians:
always a fantastic experience for the student to observe the pros in action:
1) How do they behave on stage and present themselves?
2) How do they start a piece and end it?
3) What atmosphere do they create on stage?
4) How do they communicate with the audience?
5) How do they deal with the situation when things go wrong?
6) How do I feel as the audience, listening to the performer and how can I try and recreate this in my own performances?
I now would like to come back to our previous point made, of parent and child drawing an outline of a good practice session in advance to the next practice:
- The following format is just a general outline but works well and helps as a guide to an effective practice session:
2) Review (at least 3 pieces)
3) Exercise for the latest piece
4) Play the latest piece
6) Play best piece
It is a good idea to stick to this format until it becomes a habit and is internalized. Then one can also, of course, vary it a bit, depending on the individual student’s needs.
- Revision is one of the most important “musts” in the Suzuki method and actually in general but sadly is mostly underestimated and often neglected.
Partly because the student doesn’t have enough guidance how to revise without getting bored.
So it is vital that parent and child understand that the house can only be built with a strong foundation and that, without reinforcing the foundation on a regular basis, the house will simply crumble and finally collapse.
The Suzuki pieces are built in a certain way, where one piece adds to the other and supplements and completes it. Therefore, ticking a piece off and throwing it in the bin will result in gaps in the technique due to lack of reinforcement.
It is paramount to explain this strategy to parent and child as they need to understand in order to follow the principle of revision.
- For most effective revision always stick to ONE POINT only, for example:
2) Technique (tone depends on playing the instrument correctly)
3) Notes (correct fingering and bowing)
4) Musical performance (which develops through listening to examples of great performances and through repetition, evolving the student’s interpretation)
- From book 2 onwards we need revision of earlier repertoire, according to the technique needed in the more recent pieces and the top piece.
- Review concerts are another good idea to get students polish an old piece from an earlier book to the best he or she can: in a review concert every child has to play a piece from the second previous book before and make it sound like the current book player he or she is.
- Focus is key to a successful practice session. However, focus is the biggest challenge for every young student and the amount of time often being wasted during practice sessions is staggering.
Therefore, it is important to establish an understanding for parent and especially child right from the start.
- To avoid mindless repetitions and reinforcing of mistakes it is necessary to make it a habit to immediately correct mistakes. If mistakes are not corrected, unfortunately, the child reinforces the mistakes and it will take 5 times as long to override the habitual mistakes.
- A good tip is to give
the child points for stopping just before a habitual mistake, then focus and take the necessary time to get it right.
- One of my most favorite practice helps is a recording device: I know out of own
experience that a student will ALWAYS be more prepared and willing to change things when he or she can hear or see it for themselves!
- Also, play along to the Suzuki recording with speed-shifter. Listening to the CD alone is not sufficient. Only playing along can give the needed point of reference truly.
It is more tricky to play along to the recording or the accompaniment in advanced pieces but it is still possible as long as the student really listens to the piano.
- From book 4 onwards sitting down with the sheet music and following the score while listening is very advisable.
- Latest from book 4 onwards the student should know more interpretations than the Suzuki CD. The teacher will point in the right direction what cellists are worth checking out but the student should be adventurous and browse through Youtube or iTunes.
Becoming more independent:
- From book 4 onwards, depending on the student, it is possible to give the student more responsibility and allow him or her to do some practice on their own, not on a daily basis but for example at the end of practice:
I would not suggest the review necessarily as it takes maturity and supervision to review effectively old pieces but the student can try and figure out the new piece. The parent can check the next day whether notes, fingerings, and bowings are correct.
- The student can use the recording device (as it is the best teacher!)
- The student can play along to a video, recorded and filmed by the teacher.
Other simple tips: https://www.thecellocorner.co.uk/practice-tips/
- Parents who feel that they are progressing too slowly
- Parents and children who are bored with the old easy pieces
- Parents and children who don't understand the point of review
- Teachers who are having trouble with parents not understanding instructions
- Parents who need help with specific review tasks for each piece
- Anyone whose children rush thoughtlessly through review
- Everyone who is fed up with review charts
- Parents who don't understand what the teachers want them to practice