My Twinkle Mat owners Kathleen Montgomery (at piano) and Paige Vogt (with violin)
Guiding your child through their daily violin practice can be joyful—but if you feel more frustrated than fantastic, you're not alone. Based on over twenty years of raising string musicians through the Suzuki method, here are my five reasons your child might be struggling with violin practice and strategies for parents (and teachers) to start bringing the joy back into music time.
1. IT DOESN'T SOUND GOOD TO YOUR CHILD (OR YOU)
Squeaks, scratches and off-pitch notes are all part of learning to play a new instrument, and it can be frustrating for both parent and child. But your young violinist can create beautiful sounds from the start if your approach is right.
Strategy: Start Small. A knowledgeable teacher will give your child bite-sized chunks allowing you to focus on perfecting that very small part, even if it's just a few notes. By narrowing your scope, you set your child up to succeed which helps motivate them to continue learning and growing. Celebrate the small wins!
Strategy: Create Harmony. Consider accompanying your child as they play. You don't have to be a professional musician to do this! By playing along on the piano, or even something as simple as a rhythm shaker, you can help them feel they're contributing to a beautiful musical whole, inspiring them to keep going.
2. YOUR PRACTICE SPACE IS DISTRACTING
Messes, noise, and an inconsistent practice spot can make practice time something you and your child both avoid.
Strategy: Designate Your Music Space. It's important to designate a certain room or corner your "music space"—preferably somewhere away from household traffic and noise—and make it a place of refuge and organization. Create a home for all of your music and practice supplies and consider hanging a piece of music-themed art on the wall.
Strategy: Utilize Your Practice Mat. Your Twinkle Mat is also an important tool to help your child transition to practice time. When you unroll your practice mat each day, you establish a ritual that signals to your child that it’s time to focus.
3. YOUR CHILD DOESN'T FEEL OWNERSHIP IN THEIR MUSIC EXPERIENCE
Sometimes your child simply doesn’t want to practice. This is one of the greatest challenges as a practice parent: How can I motivate my child without coercion or guilt trips? While punishments might work in the short-term, they don’t help your child take ownership of their musical development or foster a lifelong love for music.
Strategy: Create pockets of inspiration. Igniting interest is more powerful than punishment. A home or car filled with classical music will help them appreciate its beauty and value. Attending live performances (with treats after), and seeking opportunities for your child to play and perform with others are two other powerful motivators.
Strategy: Make practice personal. Help your child choose some “just for fun” pieces they’d like to learn. Give them the responsibility of unrolling their Twinkle Mat at the beginning of each practice session. Together define short and long term milestones they’re excited about, such as a performance, a new song, or a celebratory pizza party.
And if it’s still not a great practice day, that’s ok. Meet your child where they are, and try again the next day. One successful practice session after another will add up to a magnificent musician. The goal is help your child love to practice and play forever, not just until you aren’t around to force them.
4. YOUR PRACTICE TIME IS TOO RUSHED
If you're feeling rushed or stressed during practice time, chances are your child will too.
Strategy: Hit Reset. Before we began to practice I found it essential to take the time to finish what I was doing and emotionally reset. Your child needs your patience, focus and positivity to effectively learn.
Strategy: Schedule a Buffer. To help create a relaxed environment, consider creating a buffer around your practice time. For example, if your child has 30 minutes of practice, block out up to an hour-and-a-half to accomplish it. This allows you both to take breaks and go at the pace you need without stress.
Strategy: Put Child Over Checklist. Move away from a “checklist mentality.” Remember your child is more important than the practice items that day and be willing to adapt to your child’s needs and accept that you may not get to everything on your practice list that day.
5. THEY'RE AFRAID OF FAILING OR NOT MEETING YOUR STANDARDS
Even if it’s not our intention, sometimes practice parents’ high expectations can make their violin students feel intense pressure to succeed. I don’t think parents should lower their standards—musical excellence is a wonderful goal. Just be sure your goals are appropriate for your child’s age and ability level.
Strategy: Define Excellence Day-by-Day. Perhaps you define excellence on one practice day as playing one line of music in tune and staying calm and positive throughout the practice session. If you break down trouble spots to the appropriate size, your child should always be able to be successful.
Strategy: Emphasize Effort. Make it clear to your child that you value their effort above all else. Let them know that your love for them is not dependent on how they play a piece. The most successful practice days are grounded in unconditional love and appreciation of your child’s effort, no matter how small.
One of the greatest blessings of working with my children through music over the years is to now see their ability to tackle hard things, break them down, work at them consistently and keep going until they have created something beautiful. May you experience this joy as well.
Ready to create a focused and joyful practice space? Learn more about our Twinkle Mat practice mats, thoughtfully designed for teachers, students and parents like you.