Practice Tips and Strategies

Getting yourself or your child to practice is not always easy, however there are a variety of routines and structures that can help.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but is a compilations of things I have seen work over the years.

  • Keep the fiddle out where you can see it.  The task of taking a fiddle out of it's case can feel oddly daunting and laborious, but sometimes if all you have to do is just pick it up then you might be inclined to grab it for a speedy practice, and then that might even change into a longer practice too.  Make sure it is a safe space where it won't be harmed, away from direct sunlight, heaters, stoves, air air-conditioners and anything else that can be harmful to the instrument. 

  • Create a good practice space.  No one wants to be banished to the other side of the house to practice, but at the same time it's impossible to focus on playing when surrounded by distractions.  I suggest a nice corner of the house where the fiddle lives, and work with your student (or yourself) to identify what you need to add or remove to help it be a good space for practice.  It's nice to have company while you practice, so a comfy chair for an audience can go a long way.

  • Ask to be serenaded.  The words "go practice your instrument" don't tend to elicit enthusiastic responses.  Try flipping it, and ask your child if they would play for you, and then engage with them, asking why they like that song, what they thought they did well, what new things they are working on.  Applaud when they are done and help them feel proud for sharing their beautiful music with you.  If you are adventurous, take a risk and ask them to teach you to play something.  

  • Offer practice as a choice they might want to choose.  For years my mom would say "It's time to set the table.  Would you like to set the table or play fiddle while I set the table?" and then after dinner she'd say "Would you like to clear the table or play fiddle?"  Sometimes I chose to set or clear the table, and other times I'd choose fiddle, but I felt like I had control. 

  • Create a practice calendar or chart. Sometimes getting to put a sticker on a calendar for each day you practice is motivation enough to get going.  Talk with your child and see what they feel excited about. 

  • Incentives.  I've seen a wide range of incentive programs and there are plenty of pros and cons to all of them, but sometimes they work well for some families.  One I particularly like is a "practice candle".   Light the candle when your child is practicing (or let them light it) and it can burn while they are playing, and then they blow it out when they finish playing.  When the candle has burned down to a stub the child gets some pre-determined  treat.  

  • Good routines.  Having a regular routine of just practicing at a certain time can go a long way.  Some families find squeezing in 10 minutes of practice every morning works really well.  Others do it immediately after dinner.

  • Model good behavior.  Make sure your child sees that you are pushing yourself to learn something new, take on a challenge, or push yourself out of your comfort zone on a daily basis.  I heard one mother say "In our family everyone is working on something that feels tricky every day. That is our family value, and you chose fiddle as what you want to work on." 

  • Don't let it get ugly, remember your priorities.  Practice is important, students don't improve without practice.  But it's easy to start family battles about practice that become a bad habit, and much harder to change attitudes after the fact.  Learning to play an instrument isn't always fun, but it should be more enjoyable than miserable.  It is ok to miss a few days, or even more, of playing if that means you and your child aren't struggling and if they aren't developing bad feelings about their instrument.  The priority is to learn about music, learn lessons about hardworking and perseverance, and possibly develop a wonderful life long passion.  Therefor, it should be fun. 

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Annika Amstutz