Here are some practice tips that might help you stay on track and reduce frustration during each session:
- Get yourself into a routine. Have a set time of day and set days that you practice. Suzuki used to say "only practice the days that you eat" (as in practice everyday). That might not work for your family dynamic, but perhaps committing to 4 or 5 days a week is a "doable" commitment. If your child is always cranky after dinner, then make sure to squeeze in your 15 minutes beforehand. Is your child an angel in the morning? Then maybe waking up 20 minutes earlier and fitting practice into your morning routine is the key to success. Try out various options and stick to what works for you.
- Stick to One Focal Point at a time. As soon as your child sits at the piano they are slouching, their wrists are too low and they keep forgetting the correct fingering in measure two. Or perhaps you take out their cello and their bow hold is off, their cello is crooked and they are playing out of tune. Sound familiar? Take a deep breath and reset. Try to mimic language that your teacher uses when your child gets themselves into "Perfect Posture" and just stick to one thing at a time. If your instructor really wants you to work on rounded fingers, then tackle that and don't stress out about the rest. Build your child's confidence as they steadily improve in this one area of their technique or musicality and you will see that they will immediately enjoy practice more (and so will you because you're not trying to make everything "perfect" all at once. The more they improve in one area, the more they feel that they are "good" at their instrument. Who doesn't like doing something that they're "good" at? You can then transfer this positive energy to tackling the next aspect of their playing that needs work.
- Watch the language and keep the mood light. If the first words out of your mouth after your child has labored through a piece are "fix this" or "you didn't do that", then your child will likely become discouraged. Wouldn't you? Always look for something positive about their playing. Trust me, no matter how "bad" it sounded, there is a well deserved compliment to be paid in there somewhere. At minimum, you can say "Thanks! You really tried that time." Always give your child specific positive praise before you give them the constructive feedback. "Your bow hold was so round that time! Let's try it again and see if we can get the left hand to work as hard as your bow hand just did" or something along those lines. How you say something is almost more important than what you say in maintaining a constructive practice environment.
- Play a game when you need to. Be creative. Come up with new ways to tally repetitions. Roll dice, pick cards out of a deck, move to a different spot in the house after each correct repetition, count pennies, anything! Break up the blah of playing something over and over again and not only will your child enjoy the practice session more but so will you. Get them involved with coming up with new games to play as they polish up that piece.
- Anatomy of a practice session:
- Warm-up/Tone work- this can be a tonalization, a scale or a review piece with that specific focus in mind.
- Ear training- interacting with the CD by clapping, singing or moving along to a piece, identifying pitches or rhythms or any other activity that your instructor recommends.
- Review- remember that Suzuki students learn technique and musicality as they learn each piece, so reviewing a piece is reviewing an essential skill that will come in handy as they learn the next piece. If you want to pick your child's pace in mooing ahead, review more! Trust me.
- New Song/ Working Piece/ Preview- alternate between playing through sections and drilling through tricky spots. Always follow your instructors instructions and don't learn ahead unless they give you the thumbs up. You may learn a mistake and that will take longer to correct.