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Practice Challenge 2018: Notes From a Practicing Parent

It's 6pm on a Saturday. My daughter's bedtime is in 2 hours; she and her brothers still need baths, snacks, and the house is a wreck. We haven't touched her violin all day, despite having been home and doing relatively nothing productive for the previous 8 hours. It's time to practice, and I find myself feeling grumpy that we haven't done it already. Why hasn't she done her practice yet? Answer: She's five, and she doesn't even remember to brush her teeth unless I remind her. It's not her job to make sure practicing happens daily. It's mine.

We're wrapping up practice month at Upper Beaches Music School, and let me tell you, it's no joke. While my daughter is practicing more frequently and more productively, I have to say, the real lessons learned have been mine. (For more details on how our month-long practice challenge works, read this. It involves a giant jar of jelly beans as the prize.)

Here are the top three points I've learned as a mom of a small musician this practicing month:

1. Practicing is 90% my responsibility.

We should really give the practice challenge prize to the parents, and it should be wine, not jelly beans. With few exceptions, no kid is going to magically sit down at the piano and just start practicing, every day, for weeks on end, and actually practice the stuff their teachers assign them. As a parent, it's my job to establish a solid practice routine (read this blog post to find out how), find creative ways to motivate my child to practice (read this for ideas), and be prepared to be firm in order to establish and maintain the expectation.

2. The attitude I bring to the practice session is adopted by my child.

If I show any resistance to practicing, my daughter can smell it immediately. Once I realized how much I could influence her desire to practice (or not), I started saying things like "It's time for... WORLD DOMINATION!" and she would giggle and stop whatever she was doing to play her violin. I don't think she even really knows what world domination means, but that didn't stop her from understanding that important, fun things were about to happen with her violin and she didn't want to miss it. Similarly, if I prefaced the practice session by saying something like, "are you ready to NAIL that spot in Allegro?" or, "Tell me how awesome your bowing is about to be in O Come Little Children. How awesome? HOW AWESOME??" On the other hand, if I sighed and told her, "Let's practice your violin now. I know it's tough but let's just get through it," this set her up for thinking about her practicing as a chore. (Sometimes this can't be avoided. Read this post to learn about the benefits of doing hard things.) Obviously, pumping her up before a practice session and telling her how excited I am to see her succeed is more motivating than if I act annoyed that I have to put down my phone in order to watch her play.

3. Teaching the discipline of practicing is a gift I can give to my child.

Somewhere around week two into our practice challenge, my daughter exclaimed "I've got it! Fast is slow, and SLOW IS FAST!" It had finally clicked; if she fussed and argued to start practicing or messed around by playing quickly but sloppily, the practice session took twice as long. If she played slowly and carefully, practicing was a breeze and we were in and out in no time flat. This kind of break-through in a child's mentality toward practicing (or anything else they view as unsavoury, like cleaning up toys or taking a bath) is just one example of the many life skills children learn from music lessons.

As the director of Upper Beaches Music School, my goal in implementing practice month was to motivate the students. April seemed like the right time to help them get through a potentially stale stretch in the year so that they were properly prepared for spring recitals. I think this goal was reached. What I wasn't expecting is that I, too, would learn about how to practice. As with all success in our children's lives, the victory belongs in part to the parents. So kick off your shoes and enjoy some wine... I mean, jelly beans.

About the Author:

Rebecca Lane is the director, founder, and owner of Upper Beaches Music School. She teaches at the school on Saturdays, but most days you can find her chasing after her three young children, one of whom is in the Suzuki violin program at UBMS.

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