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#103 "Play something for me!", Gramma Says ~ What to do?

By Christy | the Practicing Pro
You can also Watch LIVE/HERE

Last year I wrote a blog and did a live about the 4 ways to have guilt-free practicing over the holidays. It was a very popular one. 

Its number 85 so if you missed it - its a good one so I wanted to recap it and add some personal stories and examples.

1. Find Balance in Practicing
2. Use a Holiday practice activity
3. Plan unstructured times to enjoy music and share it with others
4. What Guilt-free practicing on the Holiday can look like 

Today the focus is on NUMBER THREE - and what to do when a visitor says “Oh! A piano, play something for me!” and your child says “NO”.
First let's quickly touch on one and two then deep dive into number three.


1. Find Balance in Practicing
Look at your calendar - REALISTICALLY Decide the days you will and won't practice ahead of time - if it's a non-practice day then listen to your recording on a flight instead, do some theory practice in the car on a long drive to a relative’s, or do an impromptu concert. 

2. Use a Holiday Practice Activity
I cannot emphasize this one enough. Make some progress by reviewing and upgrading pieces as a focus. At our school the teachers took the month of November, and each lesson did a few review/upgrade pieces with each student and wrote them down for about 6 weeks until December when I collected all of their beards back filled out and made these “Santas growing beard” activities for them. Making about 250 of these Santas took a bit of time but worth it!!! The payback in reviewing/ upgrading over the holidays will be HUGE in our school, and students will work hard knowing that the WHOLE community is doing this Christmas-practicing activity together. When they return after break I'll hang them on the wall so they can see all the work in the community. There will be a few who literally still have those in their lesson bags unopened since their last lesson. This wall of hard-working Santa beards will fill and be swapped out for a few weeks so that child can do a few in lessons with their teacher and head home with the goal to finish it in the new year. PERFECT TIMING and motivation to help them learn to practice daily and troubleshoot some reasons why it could feel hard in their lives right now. Its also a grea time to challenge a parent to join the Practicing Pro Academy starting in the new year! See more about that at the end.

There are other activities from Practicing Pro available to you as well like this Christmas tree, Santa Advent, Creative Snowflake and Music Charades! I have included a link and short description for each activity as well as the end. 

3. Plan unstructured times to enjoy music and share it with others
Has this ever happened to you?
After a wonderful Christmas dinner with family, Grandma exclaims, “Johnny, play a song on the piano for your grandma”.
Johnny replies, “Do I have to? I am not good at playing the piano!”

Playing spontaneous musical requests is very popular during the Holiday when others come to visit, especially the piano since it's a visible instrument right out in the open. It can be difficult to be put on the spot to perform at Christmas for visitors.

SO - Be prepared!  Anticipate this happening. 

Choose a song ahead of time that your child chooses themself and loves to play. Help them make a choice thas not too hard and will bring them success. Something that will leave them feeling good about themselves. 

You can also consider what kinds of songs people like to hear. At Christmas, it’s usually a Holiday song followed by your favourite song of choice. Choose an easy-for-you Christmas song that others can sing along to.

At our school, we learn “Jingle Bells” as the staple. It's easy for a beginner to learn the chorus, and then more advanced players can learn the verse, harmony and accompaniment. We start it in November so that by Christmas, request time is old news for them, and they have the confidence they need to play in front of someone, with singers, or even with an unfamiliar instrument. Jingle Bells is also great to sing along to, so if you know your child is uncomfortable as an adult, you can jump in and say,” YES, they will play it but let's all sing along too,” and that way, it's a win-win. Last weekend at our school holiday carol event, about a dozen violins played jingle bells (at 4 degrees C) outside to door at over a dozen houses with about 80 other people singing along. By the time they were done, they knew the song! Once back at the school, we had hot chocolate and cookies. While people were socializing, a group of players played from a book series we all use at the School called the “Christmas Kalidescope” series. Some of the students parents have bought their own copies, some did with their teachers a few songs and also used them for sight reading practice in their orchestras. A few hadn't seen them before. There was NO COMPARISON, in confidence and participation! The ones who knew a few songs or owned the books jumped right in requesting their favourites and bravely trying new ones in our eclectic group of musicians of all ages and levels. The ones who hadn't been prepared were shy and reticent to join and even hesitant to stay close and watch. Once they felt comfortable, they all joined eventually with coaxing but the difference of involvement had everything to do with their preparation by their teachers and parents or not, and nothing to do with their personalities. So as a school. Choose a book - everyone uses it! As a family - same. As a teacher in a music studio - same. If everyone has a comm on resource, they will enjoy music together more successfully. This is one of the foundations of the Suzuki Method. Suzuki students can go anywhere in the world and just jump right into a new Suzuki School of Studio and make friends to play with instantly. This is what you can also create at Christmas time!

Another advantage to using the same books is that when you get together you can play harmonies. I find that at Chrostmas if I really embrace Holiday music that my students sight reading curve SOARS!!! They know the songs from TV shows, the mall, school etc… Even if they are not Christians, or celebrate Christmas at all they will still have heard the songs in their travels each December enough to make playing the tunes easier but not completely m=by ear either. This helps so much with sightreading! 

Plan times beforehand to play songs for visitors and to sing along that are really comfortable for your child. That way, they are not caught off guard when a spontaneous time to perform comes along and have already practiced! Also, make sure they happen at the right time during the event too. Are they tired after 8 pm? Do they not want to leave playing a game with cousins to perform for the adults? Watch for all of these things and have a plan for their success.

For example, You can call Gramma, who lives far away and play your Christmas sing-along song with her, and she can sing on Zoom for a practice run at the start of December. Then when your Auntie or Boss comes to the house, they already have practice on Zoom with Gramma so its much easier. 

Last night in the Kitchen my grandson started an impromptu (led by him) scarf dance from his SECE class with two kitchen towels he noticed and his dad quickly got out his song (minuet by Boccherini) and joined him, soon mom, gramma, grandpa and even Great Gramma where all moving their arms gracefully about to the music. This led to maracas and “I want to wish you a merry Christmas” with a full sing-along. This young one year old learned a few huge life lessons.
1. When he moves to music others will stop and support him and even join in
2. We have a family rule to never “laugh” at children no matter how cute they are ot how hard it is not to laugh but to treat them with dignity - so in this case he learned to trust us to not “think he is funny or chute” but that we value him as an artist and musician
3. He can make others feel happy when he shares his music and singing. 

Its never too young to teach children these things and its also never too late to change your behaviour, habits and language and teach these things too!

4. Guilt-free Practice Sessions and what they might look like. 
Again quicky - How to not feel guilty this Christmas? Put a focus on listening daily, reviewing / upgrading daily and making it your main focus to play music for others to bring them joy. Teach your child that by sharing their talents and hard work with others, they can make them happy. Make the focus on this, and the guilt to “progress” even during the Holidays will disappear. 

I also love to emphasize sight reading during the Holidays. Buy a great Christmas book. Again my current favourite for strings is the “Christmas Kalidescope” series. But really, it can be anything. In our house growing up it was the Readers Digest Christmas Sing along spiral bound book.  Invite over other musicians and play music together early in the season and again at the end. Practice for the first get-together and then in between for the next one. Again focus on the results of the music and how it makes others feel happy instead of focusing on perfection.

To end with today I want to read a bit of two letters i got this weekend.
The results are to love sharing music with others…..that’s always the focus. 

I continually remind my children of something you said to us many years ago and continue to remind us, about the importance of sharing your musical talent for the enjoyment of others.  And you can see how much they all enjoy playing which again was apparent last weekend!   It has been the most important message the you and your school send out to parents and children that music shouldn’t always be a chore but also a joy.  I am glad that even at 16 my son does still enjoy it.  He still always reminds me, ‘practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes progress’, ‘you can do big hard things by making them into smaller easier things’ and that ‘music is to make others happy’.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and don’t forget your practicing pro resources. Make sure you are on the newsletter list. You can jump on by grabbing the “Successful Practicing Checklist”. This checklist is something you don't want to have a practicing musician without Bring it to your next practice and check off all the amazing things you are already doing. Notice one thing on the list you can change right away for some instant wins. Choose a bigger goal form the list that seems hard and join the Practicing Pro Academy starting in the new year to have the music practicies at home that you KNOW you want and can have. This is a 6 week online course where I’ll walk you through each step to achieve your goal for this year. If you are serious about having effective, positive and fn home music practicies then you have found your people! Let’s make it happen together. 

Resources / Christmas practicing Ideas:
A list of ideas for practicing and making music during the Holidays.

A fun Santa beard to fill with white sticker dots or fluffy cottonballs

A fun Charades practicing game

A Smaller Advent or Practice Tree - Predecide what each ornament will represent, a scale, a few review/upgrade pieces, a drill spot 10 times, or a concert.

A Bigger Advent Christmas Tree

Growing Santa’s Beard

Hope you enjoy these Holiday activities, and that they bring you successful practices this Season.

Check out my Free PDF download Checklist for a Successful Music Practice for teachers and practicing parents.

Your easy checklist for successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent or music teacher, this checklist will help you organize before, during, and after practices for effective and fun practices.

INVITATION from Christy Hodder:

Speaking of amazing practices, let me tell you all about the digital course, the Practicing Pro Academy. This is for the serious practicing parents and music teachers and is an at-your-own-pace, step-by-step, online course to bring you more effective, positive, and fun home music practices. Registrants receive a special package in the mail from me, and I am with you in person with Q&As to answer all your questions.

Learn more about PPA and join the waitlist HERE for the next Practicing Pro Academy course. It's only offered once a year so you don't want to miss it. The registration will only open for a few weeks and I'll let everyone on the waitlist know immediately so that you can grab one of the spots.

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