Our children play Suzuki violin. Fiona, 10, is in Book 7. Ella, 7, is currently in Book 1. These tips are more for parents of kids who are in Book 1 – the beginner kids.
Although we do the daily practice most days, the same old thing day after day can be challenging for young children (and for parents!) so it’s extremely helpful to change things up a bit when practice gets tiresome.
The following tips are things we tried that really helped us (all of us!) to not only get through the daily practice sessions, but to imbue them with a little more life, joy, and fun than usual – to energize ourselves. We find these parental ‘tricks’ particularly useful at the end of the year, when everybody’s just plain tired:
- Take it outside: If the weather permits, change things up by doing your violin practice outdoors. If you’ve been cooped up all winter in the same practice spot, you will be amazed at how liberating and fun just taking it outdoors can be. The first time we played outdoors this year, our practice session lasted twice as long as it usually does – maybe because nature has such a calming effect on children. (And you can take it outside every day if it works, not just once!)
- Play games: To start each practice session we invented a game called The Magic Bow. Ella got so excited about this game that she can’t wait to start practice (amazing! try it!). Here’s the game: The parent turns the bow into a magic wand – if the parent moves the bow up and down, the child can move their body up and down. If the parent moves the bow side to side, the child can move anyway they like, side to side. Put the bow down on the ground and the child can slither. Move it in a “tick-tock” fashion like a clock and the child can pretend to move in like a clock – tick-tock. And so on. This fun game gets your “sillies” out so they can focus, and helps start the session of with joy.
- Play the ‘Guess What Position I’m Playing In’ Game: This is another wonderful game we came up with (out of sheer desperation) that extends the time our child has her bow on the string during a session sometimes by two-fold. After you finish the practice session, play this game (that way you’ll get longer playing time). Ask your child to play their working piece lying down on the floor. Then ask them to play it kneeling. Then ask them to play it sitting crisscross applesauce. And finally, have them play it standing up in normal play position. After they are done, sit behind a couch so you can’t see them, or turn away, or have them blindfold you (makes it much more game-like for them) and have them play the song in each of the positions. When they’re done, you have to guess which position they played it in!
- Change the location: If things are getting really dreary and hard, as they often do at the end of the year/beginning of summer, take your child and their violin to a favorite spot at the park, or the forest, or to their grandmother’s house for an impromptu “performance” – anything to make it fun and change things up a little.
- Just do something fun: Another good tactic to keep them interested in practicing their violin is to plan to devote one practice session to something music-related, but completely fun – where they might not even have to play their instrument. Here are some ideas we’ve tried:
- Make and play a Suzuki violin board game,
- Have a musical tea party while you listen to Carnival of the Animals on the stereo, and read the picture book that comes with the CD.
- Sit and read a book together on the life of a composer (such as Getting to Know the World’s Great Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach), visit a website together like Listen to Composers for Kids and try to guess which composer wrote various songs.
- Turn on some classical music and dance!
- Schedule a fun, relaxed musical play date with a friend (or two!) of your child who also plays music.
- See my other tips here. The main thing to remember is to make it fun, like Dr. Suzuki did.
- Go to see a concert: Take your child to a concert whenever possible – it doesn’t have to be a long and boring one. There are many classical music concerts that you can take your kids to see that are fun and kid-oriented. We take our kids to a traditional New Year’s Day Viennese concert every year and it’s very upbeat and fun, with opera singers, orchestra, soloists and ballet so they don’t get bored. We have taken Fiona to see Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn. The girls have gone with their school to see the very amazing Black Violin at The Kennedy Center – this concert more than anything seemed to open their eyes to all the musical possibilities that are out there. Taking your child to concerts gives them a perspective as to why they’re trying to learn the violin – it gives them something to dream about and to reach for. So take ‘em! (-:
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