As with so many things in life, perspective makes all the difference. Suzuki practice with your child should be enjoyable and a special time of bonding, not a power struggle or a set of orders to work out. If the child isn’t motivated to play their instrument ordering them to do so will only make practice feel like work instead of play. Practice time will be un-enjoyable and a fight more often than not. Learning to play an instrument is hard work but it shouldn’t feel like a punishment. Making music should be a joy, not a chore. The question then becomes, “How do I motivate or help my child to enjoy practice time?”
Tip #1 Plan practice at a time when you can be in a patient good mood. Practice time is individual attention time from you to your child. Children crave attention and seek approval from their parents. Give your full attention to your child during practice, try to be in a patient and good mood. A lot of your attitude toward practice will be felt by your child. If you are stressed out, or in a rush, they will feel it and mirror it right back to you. I’ve heard of some students doing practice early in the morning before school and work. Find a time that works for your family dynamic, and then make it a routine, just like brushing teeth.
Tip#2 Praise your child often, but honestly. Find something, anything they did well and praise them for it. Ask to hear it again because _________ was so wonderful! Lots of parents and practice coaches make the mistake of listing everything a child did wrong or stopping them every few notes to correct every little thing. This is incredibly discouraging to the child/student. Just imagine the ratio of positive to negative comments coming from your parent, the person who means the most to you and you want to impress the most. Make sure you are giving your child much more encouragement or positive comments than negative. A 3:1 ratio of positive to negative or better is ideal. Give them a boost of warm fuzzies by just telling them that you love hearing them play. Remember to be honest. Do NOT tell them they played with perfect intonation, bowing etc if they didn’t. But point out what they did wonderfully, ex: “You played that c# on the A string in the first measure with perfect intonation, did you hear it ring? I love the way it sounded, would you play it again just like that for me?”
Tip#3 Turn practice into a board game or puzzle. Play Jenga or any bored game. Get to pull or build one block of Jenga every repetition of a practice box or section of a piece. Move or spin to move a character after every task completed. Earn a puzzle piece after every repetition/section played then build it together at the end of practice. Set up a Domino track and earn one domino for every repetition/task completed. Use your imagination, the possibilities are endless here.
Tip#4 Read Edmund Sprunger’s book:”Helping Parents Practice:Ideas for making it easier, vol.1″ and ask your child “Why do we practice? What do you think the point is?” Let them know we practice to make it EASIER. The more we practice seriously, the easier it is to play our instrument. There are a ton of fun tips in this book and can be used as a reference for years and years to come for every Suzuki family.
Tip#5 Buy fun music to learn along side the Suzuki repertoire. My tween sometimes grumbles about her Suzuki music (and scales Oh my I think she always grumbles about scales) but loves to play her Taylor Swift sheet music. These “treat” pieces are practiced at the end of the session and can motivate kids to begin practice and warm up as well. My nieces and nephews have even performed Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Lord of the Rings music at recitals. Just because your private teacher tells you what standard repertoire to learn doesn’t mean you can’t bring fun music to your lesson, ask if the level is correct and ask to be taught it as well.
Tip#6 Play duets, Trios, or Quartets with fellow student friends. Growing up, Quartet practice didn’t feel like practice to me. It felt like fun, like play! There is ensemble music for every level of playing, even book 1. Your child will learn valuable ensemble skills and potentially make lifelong friendships.
Tip#7 Schedule practice play dates or practice helpers. Have a play date with a fellow student and have them play review pieces together. Have them improvise their own music. Have them give a performance for fun for the family! As a teenager I even played out in public with a duet partner for fun and to raise money for different charities. My friend and I play for hours and hours and it felt fun. Look for a charity to donate to and check your cities laws/art festival rules before letting your child play for tips in public.
Tip#8 Bribery! For younger students simple sticker charts are fun to use during practice. My 7 yr old daughter likes to put one tiny sticker down for each repetition of a section of a piece she practices. “Counting all the stickers at the end is the best part” she says. With older students a trade system can be motivating. For example every minute of practice earns one minute of technology time (computer/TV/video games). For a longer term goal I’ve heard of parents lighting a candle during each practice, when the candle is all melted away they go on a special family trip to the movies or out for ice cream etc. If you use bribery to make practicing more fun only use the positive kind! Do not punish or take away earned privileges/stickers/etc for not practicing, only give extra fun privileges FOR practicing.
Tip#9 Practice performing. Set up a family performance for your child. They will get extra praise and attention from you and any family member who is around to watch. (grandparents, siblings, cousins) They can even video call a grandparent/ aunt/ uncle and perform. If no one is around, set up a stuffed animal or toy audience for the performance.
Tip#10 Make up a story game with your music. Have your child make up emotions or a whole story to go along with their music, then let them act it out while a recording plays. Have them play the music and express the story or close their eyes and see the story while they play. Make a game with scales. Have your child play the scale with a secret emotion or story character, see if you can guess what it is.
Remember Tip #1 and if practice just isn’t working out and a power struggle or fight is blooming, stop and try again at a better time. (Don’t force a practice fight, no accomplishment will occur or playing improve if the whole practice is tears and fighting. ) Listen to your intuition, connect with your child, and gain the perspective that you are practicing together, it’s a special time for parent child bonding, approval and praise. It’s not the end of the world if one practice gets moved or skipped if it avoids making a negative memory of the whole music making experience. Make sure you are creating a musical environment for your child to flourish in. Play good quality classical music often in the background. Talk about famous composers and performers. Go to or watch performances. If you can create a culture of music in your family, your child will subconsciously be affected in a positive way. These are just my tips and ideas and stories heard. They might not all work for you. Use them as a jumping board to think up your own ways that are attuned to your family dynamics. Life and making music should be enjoyable and rewarding. Take a deep breath and follow your heart. –Julia
“Music is love in search of a word”