Will I Always Have To Practice With My Child?

Will I always have to practice with my child?

I think we can all agree parenting is much more of a marathon than a sprint.

The journey of parenting a child who is learning music from a young age into their teen years and beyond is one too

For those of us who are involved in the day to day practice with young children, we know that it takes a great amount of commitment and effort to keep moving forward.

We may ask ourselves “Will I always have to practice with my child?”

 

In the preschool, and early grade school years it looks like this: 

In the Early Years we carry them

 

Your child has to be a willing participant but you are the one powering forward (and even helping them become a willing participant).

Progress feels slow sometimes.

You, as the parent, can get tired and wonder if it’s worth doing.

You wonder if it’s worth it.

But also, there are great times to be had if we enjoy the time together and enjoy the process.

Your child won’t always need you to carry practice along this way.

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5 Practice Strategies for Music Students with ADHD

5 Practice Strategies for ADHD

There are often focus and attention issues in practice with young children when they are first starting to learn an instrument. Often students naturally build their ability to focus over time but, sometimes students are struggling with a bigger issue of ADHD which makes the focus needed to practice difficult for everyone involved.

The tips I am going to share below may help any child learning to focus for longer periods of time.

For students with ADHD they will likely need strategies like these to be able to practice for any significant length of time.

Before we go on to talk about specific strategies – let me tell you about my personal experience with ADHD.

When I was a young teacher a mother came to my studio with her son and said their former teacher would not work with him any longer because he was struggling in lessons due to ADHD (this was 15 years ago and I think there were far fewer resources and far less accessible information for teachers at this time).

She brought me a sheet of paper with the symptoms listed and asked me to read them and tell her if I was willing to try to work with him.

And there spelled out in black and white was a long list of characteristics that I could have written myself if someone asked me to make a list of all the things that frustrated me about myself.

It literally made my eyes well up with tears because I really realized for the first time that these things were not character flaws, they were due to how my brain functioned.

When I was young girls were not usually diagnosed with ADHD – especially the inattentive type. Instead my parents were told I wasn’t working up to my potential, my desk and locker were an inexplicably disorganized mess, and though I seemed to be doing my homework it just wasn’t making it back into school.

Being Diagnosed with ADHD in my 20’s was actually a relief to me because once I knew that I was struggling with something specific, I could learn to use strategies to work with myself and use my creative brain to my advantage instead of fighting myself all the time.

Whether your child uses medication or not, helping them learn the skills to navigate life with their unique, fast paced brain is important.

I credit the structure and creativity involved in music with helping me do just that.

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Practicing Music During the Grade School Years

Practicing Music with Grade School Child
This post is first in a series about working with grade school students as they learn and practice their musical instrument.

How do we work successfully with the development of our grade school age music students, both as teachers and parents?

I meet people every week who tell me they wish they hadn’t stopped playing an instrument when they were younger.

Usually they stopped playing during the middle or high school years. This is when life gets busy and it’s hard to keep going with the instrument unless it’s a big priority in the family or there is a good social outlet for music by that age (more on that in a future article!)

If we value learning music as a part of our family’s culture and as an activity we want our children to grow up with long term the groundwork for being able to, and wanting to,  stick with it long term is built for most students during the grade school years.

Working with the developmental stage our children and students are at as they approach the instrument is so important.

Without keeping this in mind we can get into all kinds of power struggles and difficulties that might be avoided with a little more perspective about what children at this age need.

The Center for Parenting Education has a great article outlining the basic developmental skills being developed at this age (read the article HERE).

The article has great suggestions about how to encourage emotional and cognitive development at this age. I’m going to share some of them below with my own thoughts about how they apply to studying a music instrument. (The headlines in bold below come from the article).

When we keep our children’s development in mind as we practice and work with these big tasks they are learning at this age, we are much more likely to be successful long term!

Praising them for trying to do things

Research shows that when we praise our children for their effort on a task they will work harder on such tasks in the future. Praising for “talent” or how smart they are really has the opposite effect. As parents we help students this age best when we notice the effort they are putting in and encourage it. Even if there is just a little bit of initiative and they are willing to keep trying when something isn’t easy right away, this is huge. Praise the effort!

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10 Effective Ways to Start Practice with a Young Child

start practice

How do we start practice? Especially with young children, getting started is easily the hardest part.. This is even true for me as an adult.

There are countless things that get in the way of getting starting. Often the hardest part is leaving one activity, that we’re already engaged with, and getting started concentrating on something new.

I hear from my own students that they are always glad when they have practiced, but that getting started is often a challenge. One way to help smooth the transition is to start (and end for that matter!) each practice with something fun. Get your child engaged in the process without doing something more challenging right away. In effect, this eases them into the mindset and mode of practice.

As we wrap up a month long series on practice with preschool students I wanted to share the following list of ways to get started when practicing with young children.

 

“I have a new game to show you today!”

This can involve flipping a coin, rolling dice, or creating an audience out of stuffed animals. The game doesn’t have to be elaborate but the element of surprise and novelty can catch your child’s interest and get them excited to get started.

Start with keeping a steady beat together

Research actually shows that children who kept a steady beat and moved together with adults to music exhibited more cooperative behavior afterwards. Use this to your advantage and find some music to play with a steady beat (most children’s music would work great) and find the beat together. You can keep the beat on your knees, head or on the floor.

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Preschool Practice: Why does Progress Seem So Slow?

Preschool Practice & Slow Progress
This post is second in a series about Preschool Age Students. You can read the first article here: Secrets to Successful Practice With Preschoolers.

Often when we practice an instrument daily with our preschool age child it can be hard to see any progress at all.

Progress is often happening, but it ca be very slow and gradual . As a teacher who only sees students once a week, I often notice the week to week improvements more than parents notice changes happening from day to day.

I always warn parents of students this age that it will often seem like nothing is happening from one day to the next,  and that as long as they keep practicing and listening, it will happen over time.

A lot of what is happening at this age is actually invisible:

  • Fine motor development
  • Connections in the brain
  • A sensitive ear
  • A sense of musical pulse
  • The ability to feel and keep a steady beat
  • and many more . . .

What’s happening on the actual instrument your child is studying may seem maddeningly slow to us as adults. But, what is happening in the brain and body is really quite amazing.

I encourage you, as a parent, to document progress from month to month. You can take a video or jot down bullet points of what your child is doing in practice each month and then from month to month you can better track progress.

Notice the tiny details.

If you are regularly practicing and listening to music at home . . . and if you can keep noticing the little details as your child progresses I think you will be very encouraged by these monthly check in sessions.

Older students may judge progress by learning new pieces or by seeing difficult music become easier to play but, in the preschool years we see progress in little tiny increments.

If you look for big leaps forward or learning new music as a way to gauge progress with a preschool student it is easy to feel like things are moving slow.

You may see an 8 year old beginner learning music quickly and feel discouraged

but that isn’t a fair comparison.

What will your preschool age child be able to play at age 8 if they are starting now at age 3 or 4?

The best environment for your child to learn in now is one where you celebrate the small wins, encourage them to do their best for their age and maturity level, and celebrate the process along the way.

Try to think of progress and momentum in lessons from this new perspective and stay encouraged!

You are giving your child the wonderful gift of learning music and the gift of being a parent willing to invest in their development.

Remember the sometimes invisible aspects of their development that you can see improving & enjoy the process as they learn and grow!

 

Meet the Beyond the Music Lesson Podcast

Episode 0 Beyond the Music Lesson

I am so excited to announce a new podcast that I am hosting with my friend and colleague Abigail Peterson.

On the Beyond the Music Lesson Podcast we will talk about learning music, teaching music and parenting music students.

Our first intro episode, where you can hear about who we are and our vision for the podcast, is now live.

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Secrets to Successful Practice with Preschoolers

Secrets to Successful Practice with Preschoolers

There are many great reasons to learn an instrument as young as the Preschool years including: a child that shows interest, time to practice as part of the routine before school & homework begin, and that students this age are at a developmental stage where music will become part of who they are, just as learning their native language will be.

A big key to a student’s success at this age is for parents to know that they have a huge part to play, especially when it comes to practice each day.

If you are practicing at home with your preschool child you may be encountering practice challenges that are unique to this age. Also, if we as parents try to practice with this age group the same way we would with a 10 year we’re very likely to encounter resistance and problems. 

If we instead work with the developmental stage of our child, and keep in mind their own personalities we can have a lot of success and a great time spent together doing it.

Here is one of the secrets to success for practice with this age:

A successful practice with a preschooler may not look anything like your definition of practice. What counts as practice at this age might surprise you.  It might look totally different than you remember practice being when you were growing up. Or it may be totally different from your preconceived ideas about practice if you’ve never studied an instrument yourself. 

It actually  may look a whole lot like play (although a structured form of it).

When I was getting my education degree I took a whole class on teaching science to preschoolers using play. My daughter who is studying to be a Speech Language-Pathologist is learning to use play combined with Speech Therapy when working with this age group. And, often in lessons I use little games and activities with this age to teach music and the violin.

I invite you the parent to do the same.

There are some students who this will appeal to more than others & specific games and activities will be more interesting to your child than others. Experiment and try out different ideas (there are many if you search on Pinterest or Google for “practice games”).  I also recommend putting together a practice toolkit (Read my post about that HERE) so that if your practice session needs something to make it a game you have it right on hand when you need it.

Here are some of the main concepts about practicing with Preschool aged children that I have found to be helpful to keep in mind:

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  • The preschool years characterized by lots of play and lots of imagination.

Act out a story with your music. Draw a picture with one part being added after each little chunk of practice. Add a block to a tower that you build over the course of practice. Throw a ball into a bucket for each part of practice you complete. The ideas are endless and don’t have to be complicated. Experiment and see what appeals to your child and be sure to change things up from time to time to keep it interesting. 

  • Be creative.

Preschool is the age where creativity and imagination are a huge part of life. If we fight it during practice it can cause a lot of conflict. Maybe one day we bark the twinkle rhythms like a dog, and the next day we quack like a duck. Maybe we imagine the bow is a rocket ship blasting off into space. Go with the imagination and fun. It isn’t a waste of time, it is connecting positive feelings to practice. It is engaging your child fully in what they are doing. It’s how they learn and interact with curiosity. Even if it seems silly to you – as a teacher let me reassure you, this is still practice.  

  • Do the least amount of talking possible

I find this to be true in lessons and I hear from parents all the time that it’s true for them at home in practice. The less we, as adults, talk and explain things during practice the better practice goes. Demonstrate. Roll dice to figure out how many times to practice something. Most of all, remember to keep directions very very short and to the point. Kids this age are very physical – keep them doing things in order to keep them engaged.

  • Stop before your child is begging to stop or is melting down

Start with short practices. Do them a few times a day if you can. One of the secrets of practicing with this age is to stop before they ask to stop. I know in some cases your child may ask to stop before you’ve started – if that’s the case work on the other tips in this article and keep practice short. When I teach a lesson to a preschool age child (especially when they are first starting) I am often working with a child who can focus for a couple minutes at a time, at best. At first I give breaks between what I ask the student to do and talk with the parent about practice or have them do an activity that is unrelated to their instrument and then we do another small chunk. Over time we string these together and the attention span grows. Keep it short! Your child is more likely to be a willing participant in working on something hard if they know it won’t go on forever.

  • Use lots of positive reinforcement and enjoy the process

Sometimes it can seem like nothing is happening because development is happening in the brain that we can’t see. Sometimes our child is growing or ill and is not at their best. Don’t worry about the results when you hear them play on a day to day basis. If you’ve been playing awhile go back and look at a video from 6 months ago and notice the progress. Growth is happening and if your child is willing to participate in practice (at least most days) and enjoys their instrument, then it is going great!

  • Finally, find the most ideal times to work with your child

Older students may be able to concentrate whenever they put their mind to it. Preschool age children who are extremely tired, hungry or have used up their ability to concentrate for the day may not be able to concentrate at all. Don’t take this as a sign they won’t be able to learn an instrument or that you the parent is doing something wrong. Play around with practice times so you work with them when they are at their best.

An important note of caution: practice should not devolve into fights with your child on a daily basis. As a teacher, I always like to know right away if there is a challenge like this so that we can work together to help solve it.

Who our children are developing to be is much more important than what we practiced today. We cannot control our children’s strong emotions or their behavior, but we can set up the best environment for them, personally, to learn in. That may look really different from one child to the next. Your relationship with your child comes first and there are often many ways to solve practice problems so it becomes more pleasant for everyone if you are struggling. Ask your teacher to help if you are struggling.

Wishing you all many happy practice sessions!

Is My Child Ready to Start Music Lessons?

Is my Child Ready to start Lessons?

“Is my child ready to start music lessons?”

This is a question I hear all the time as a music teacher.

It’s a good question. How do we know if our child is ready for lessons?

There are many factors involved but I am going to touch on 3 things to consider before starting.

First, can your child focus for short periods of time on a task.

It can literally be 30-60 seconds at first. What I’ve found is that if a bit of focused concentration is there, we can build on that attention span. At first we might be stringing together little tiny bites of concentration, with built in tasks in between. Overtime we can stretch that out and your child will learn to focus and concentrate for longer periods of time.

Many years ago when I took training with Susan Kempter she recommended asking parents to observe their child doing an activity, like a puzzle. See how many minutes, or seconds, your child focuses on the task before looking away or getting distracted. This gives you the baseline for what to expect with practice and where you’ll start building from as practice sessions start.

A long as some concentration is happening you are on the right track for getting started.

Will your child interact with another adult who is giving them instructions?

The nature of music lessons, even for very small children, is to interact with another adult who is giving instruction. For many students this is the first time they will work in a close one on one interaction with someone who is not a parent or relative. Depending on the child, this may be no big deal or may be something that you will need to work on before lessons start.

For very young children I love to have parents take Suzuki Early Childhood Education classes before starting lessons because it sets up this framework of cooperation and interaction with a teacher, in the context of music.

Older students may just need to have an understanding that the teacher is going to work with them to learn the instrument and that both you, as the parent, and they as the student will listen and try out the task assigned in order to play well. This seems obvious but I have had students who have not been ready to take instruction and learn from a teacher, so it’s something to keep in mind and work on.

Finally, the most important consideration for if your child is ready to start music lessons is:

Are you the parent ready to undertake music lessons with your child?

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When I polled other instrumental teachers about what indicated to them that a child was ready for lessons there were various answers about little details –  but the overwhelming answer, which I agree with wholeheartedly, is that you, the parent, have to be ready.

Research shows that one of the biggest indicators of a child’s long term success in music is actually the parents long term commitment to music. (Read more about this in Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code).

I think it’s because we approach activities our children are “trying out” much differently than those we are committed to them doing long term. We put more time and emphasis on helping them form habits and stay disciplined about something we want them to still be doing years from now, for example.

Music lessons, and especially practicing with your child daily, takes a lot of time as a parent.

You will have a wonderful opportunity to bond with your child, understand how they learn, and help them to flourish and thrive. You will also need to find to make room in your family’s schedule to practice and perhaps sacrifice time for other things in order to practice daily with your child.

As the parent of grown children, I can tell you the time and effort is worth it. But I can also tell you it’s not something to be taken lightly.

  • Can you get your child to a lesson, and group class, each week?
  • Can you make time for listening to music at home and in the car?
  • Can you carve out time to sit with your child and help them learn to practice, with your teacher’s guidance?
  • Can you commit long term to this process? (You can read about why short term commitments to music don’t work here)

If your child otherwise seems ready, I hope the answer is yes.

If it is then your family is ready to start taking lessons.

Find the best teacher you can, create a positive practice environment, and enjoy the process of seeing your child learn to play an instrument.

It is so worth it!

Best Suzuki Triangle Resources of 2017

Happy New Year!

I’m excited to start a new series on the blog this month about different ages and stages and how they affect practice, communication with students and children, and how to help music students thrive at each of these developmental stages (preschool – high school).

Before launching into the new year I wanted to highlight the top resources of 2017 from the Suzuki Triangle Blog in cased you missed any:

Free Resources:

Ebook: What You Practice Today is Not Important: But Who You Become Along The Way Is

This is a quick, motivational read that explores the biggest stumbling block to families continuing with lessons long term and how to set and meet long term practice goals with your child in practice. This is a great read for teachers & families alike and you can have it sent to your email by clicking HERE

5 Day FREE Email Course on Working Productively with our Children in Practice

Join hundreds of parents & teachers in taking this short email course that helps you identify the needs of your unique child, your own goals for learning music and how the two can work together to help your child thrive in learning a musical instrument. I have heard back from many, many parents how helpful this course has been to them, sign up today to go through it yourself >> Course Sign Up Page

Ebook of 5 Day Email Course 

By popular demand, I created an Ebook of the 5 day email course so that it would be easier to go back and refer to the information in the course. People who sign up to take the course now get the ebook at the end, but if you already took the course and want the ebook click HERE 

Practice Rules

Practice Rules

This was a fun project! Blog readers in the Suzuki Triangle Community shared practice rules from their house and we put together a fun, frame-able graphic that you can have sent to your email. Click here to download

You can also support the blog by purchasing some fun products with the practice rules printed on them from CafePress – 10% of sales come back to the blog. You can find practice notebooks, posters, and other products HERE.

Book

Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families

This book is full of useful ideas from my own experience as a Suzuki student, parent & teacher as well as current research, expert interviews, and parents like you.

Here’s some of what you’ll learn:

  • Practical tips to make lessons & practice sessions work for your family
  • How to have a great family experience with music lessons
  • How to set up a practice environment that helps your child succeed
  • The tools you need to overcome roadblocks to practicing
  • How to work effectively with your child in practice sessions at home
  • How to get your child set up and off to a great start from the first lesson
  • What expert teachers have learned about what helps families thrive
  • And much more . . .

Beyond the Music Lesson is available in paperback and Kindle versions. Grab your copy today and start making the most of every music lesson!

Beyond the Music Lesson Book Cover

Buy it on Amazon,

Book Depository (for free international shipping), 

or get a signed copy sent to you direct from Christine (U.S. only right now) by clicking here. 

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I hope you have a wonderful start to 2018 & that some of these resources are helpful to you as you teach and/or practice in the new year!

 

Favorites from 2017

2017

It’s that time of year again – time to make plans for a new year ahead, and reflect on the year that is coming to a close.

Part of the process for me is coming up with list of favorites for the year, related to teaching. There is even a favorite from The Suzuki Triangle Community included as well. I hope you’ll share one of your 2017 favorite resources or memories in the comments below!

Some of the links below are affiliate links which means I receive a small commission if you buy through my link. I promise to never recommend anything I don’t already love myself!

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Favorite Books

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