Updated: Oct 25
By Christy | The Practicing Pro
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I’ll never forget an experience I had at a park one day. I was playing with my grandson when I overheard a conversation between a 5-year-old boy and his mother. She knelt down to his level and looked him in the eyes and said “Bryce, we need to leave in 10 minutes. Is there something here at the park that you will be really disappointed if you don’t do again before we go?” He paused and thought for a while and she waited patiently. Finally, he said “the swings!” and off they went together towards the swingset. I was blown away. It was a welcome sight among the many parents that were on their phones while their children played or were chatting with other parents. I thought “WOW! There’s a Suzuki parent at work!”. This mother was directly involved in the play experience and was helping her child adjust to changing activities. She was also playing an active part in developing his ability to make successful time management decisions and manage his transitions within those. It was clear that this question before leaving the park was part of a routine and came as no surprise to the boy. Parent involvement, after all, is a core value of the Suzuki method.
"You don't have to practice every day; only on the days you eat." —S. Suzuki
Shinichi Suzuki was an advocate of routine. He believed that daily practice was essential to learning an instrument. In order to practice every day, it’s best to establish a routine so you and your child can expect when, where, and how long they will practice. Not only will this make their practice go more smoothly, but it is critical for a child’s daily life.
Children can adjust to change much better if they know what is coming. For example, it’s easier for a child to go to bed when they can expect a bedtime routine to always be the same each night. For example, take a bath, jammies on, brush your teeth, two books, bed. They might make a fuss when you say “okay it’s bath time” because they do not want to stop playing with their toys, but once they are in the bath and they know the next steps to come, they calm down. Studies have shown that an established bedtime routine is linked with improved family functioning and sleep habits. Routine in general for children is so important in fact that it has been the topic of many studies. The findings are clear: routines for children are the groundwork for future academic success and developing social skills. A child that has a set routine at home is more likely to feel safe and looked after, building the trust they have in their parents and themselves, allowing them to build the adversity needed to face new challenges or changes such as puberty, moving, a new sibling, etc.
Routines are beneficial for parents too! They allow you to plan your day and feel calmer and clear-headed about the million things you have to do when you know the order they are done in. A calm and collected parent fosters calm and less anxious children.
When you have a child in music, routine is especially important because, without it, children often lack the self-motivation and discipline to decide to practice. If they know that when they come home from school they go straight into their practice, they are less likely to protest it. For example, children know that they have to brush their teeth before bed. When they are really little, they may have a tantrum every time you tell them to brush their teeth because it’s not much fun and they are not used to it yet. But flash forward a few years, and brushing their teeth has become so ingrained into their routine that they don’t even need to think about it, let alone make a fuss.
Practice at the same time every day
The same is true for music practice. As soon as you fall out of the routine of practicing every day at the same time, it’s harder to pick it back up. Has this ever happened to you with exercise? One day you decide to get back into shape and you work out every day for three weeks straight and feel GREAT. And then you have visitors, or you go away for a weekend, or just get busy and you fall off the bandwagon. All of a sudden, you haven’t worked out in months. Picking it back up and getting those running shoes on just seems so much harder now than during the time you did it every day.
Practice in the same place
Routine in music practice isn’t just about what time in the day they do it. It’s also important to practice in the same environment for the same length of time. This only strengthens the routine and allows a child to feel comfortable and safe. It’s so important to establish an area in your house as the music practicing zone. Sometimes practicing can make a child feel vulnerable if they are embarrassed that they are not yet very good at the piece they are playing. By having a certain place or room that they get used to practicing in, they are less likely to feel discouraged or uncomfortable when they make mistakes. It helps too when parents and siblings are supportive of their music journey and reinforce the idea that perfection is not expected and that every day is a learning opportunity.
Practice the same length
The length of a practice should also always be around the same time. If a child starts their practice not knowing what is ahead, they may feel overwhelmed when you tell them “okay today we are picking up a pizza for supper so I have a WHOLE HOUR to help you practice!” An hour of playing their instrument can seem like a daunting task for a young child. Instead, tailor their practice time to their age. When they are first starting out, stick to something smaller like 15 minutes, and incorporate as much of their practice as possible into games. As they get older and more advanced, you can build on this and increase their practice time slowly so they don’t feel like their practice time is something to dread because it “takes forever”.
By establishing a routine, you help your child succeed and avoid those dreaded meltdowns. Tune in to the next blog where I give 10 helpful tips to avoid tantrums when switching between activities.
INVITATION from Christy Hodder:
DIGITAL COURSE from the Practicing Pro Academy
Speaking of amazing practices, let me tell you all about the digital course, the Practicing Pro Academy. This is an at-your-own-pace, step-by-step, online course for teachers and practicing parents that will 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 monthly Q&As to answer all of your questions. You can start the course right away, if it's currently running, or join the waitlist here and I'll let you know as soon as it is.
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Checklist for a Successful Music Practice
Your easy checklist to have successful home music practices from Christy, the practicing pro. Whether you are a new or seasoned practice parent, this checklist will help you organize before, during and after practices for effective and fun practices.
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