Notes for Parents about Practicing
Using the “Parent’s Daily Dozen”
Content adapted from Stephanie Judy and Vicky Barham
The “Parent’s Daily Dozen” practice chart was developed in response to a discussion in 2001 on the Suzuki-Chat e-mail list about what teachers can do to help parents gain better skills at being a practice coach or “home teacher.” After discussion and revision via Suzuki-Chat, it was tested at various Suzuki Institutes and in several teachers’ studios, with both teachers and parents reporting that it was useful. It is recommended that you use this chart for 8 weeks.
Some general notes about practicing
For most children younger than twelve, taking music lessons and learning to play an instrument is primarily the parent’s commitment. Some children are enthusiastic; some are not. No child is aware of the challenges ahead, and every child needs the parent’s consistent, loving support to meet those challenges.
The first year is the hardest. You will encounter some rocky times and may even regret that you got started! Hang in there, because during the first year we are not so much teaching the child how to play their instrument, as we are learning to understand how your child learns best.
The relationship of the parent to the child in music practice is similar to the parent/child relationship in learning to cross a street. Initially, the parent has total responsibility—the child simply goes along for the ride, in arms, in a stroller, or in a backpack. Gradually, the child begins assuming more and more “street-crossing” responsibility—first by holding the parent’s hand instead of being carried, and then by walking beside the parent without holding hands. At some point, the child learns to look for cars and helps decide when it’s safe to cross. Eventually, the parent gradually relinquishes responsibility to the child.
In practice sessions you will “carry” your child for a long time—maybe weeks, maybe months, maybe years. You will make sure that practice happens and you will ensure that the environment is positive. If you and I do our jobs well, then, little by little, your child will take over responsibility. By the time your child is 12 or 13, he or she will be practicing independently, and you will look back and feel that it was worth the effort.
Specific notes about the “Parent’s Daily Dozen”
1. If you have a recording, listen to it a minimum of three times each day. Daily listening is the single factor that is most strongly correlated to a student’s success in learning to play an instrument.
2. Develop a practice routine that happens at the same time every day. Pick a time when your child is reasonably alert, but also calm. In most families, it’s best to set a practice time as early as possible in the day so that if it doesn’t happen, you still have time left in the day to do it. It’s also a good idea to tie practicing to another inevitable daily event—“After lunch, we practice.” Find a special corner of your house where you can keep the things you need. You will be spending a lot of time in this space, so make it inviting and special: add a vase of flowers or put up some photos of composers and violinists--including your child!
3. Before the practice starts, decide together what you plan to accomplish.
4. Children often dislike changing from one activity to another. A bit of warning helps smooth the way: “In 10 minutes, it will be time to practice. Find a stopping place in your book/game/puzzle.”
5. Consider developing the habit of bowing to begin and end your practices. It may feel awkward or unnatural the first few times, but that’s OK. Do it anyway. Bowing is an activity that helps put a boundary around practice time; in addition, it automates performance etiquette.
6. Consider that a parent’s attention is a precious commodity for a child. Practicing together gives you an opportunity to offer undivided attention to your child every day. Your child will take cues from you about the value of practicing. If you give it only a quarter of your attention, your child is not likely to develop much commitment to it, either.
7. Please remember that, during practice, you are acknowledging effort—not achievement. (Achievement will come through effort, and never without it). Smiling, nodding, giving a “thumbs up,” applauding, tapping your foot in time to your child’s music, or closing your eyes and listening intently are all excellent positive reinforcement.
8. Demonstrate appreciation to promote productive, contented practices. Your child is working hard and, at times, really struggling. Your child will get discouraged and frustrated from time to time because s/he has a limited understanding of the process; you as the adult are able to take a longer view. Using a “one-point practice,” in which you focus on one thing at a time, is highly recommended. Pick one thing that will make the most difference in the child’s playing. This may well be something that was emphasized in the lesson and written in the assignment notebook.
9. Give your child every choice that you reasonably can. Many children get frustrated when they feel that they don’t have any control over the situation. She doesn’t get to choose whether or not to practice, but she can choose which review piece she wants to play first, and whether she’d like to do scales at the beginning or end of the practice.
10. Review a previously played piece every day as a way to build confidence and memorized repertoire.
11. End the practice when the child is happy and enthusiastic, or end it with something the child especially likes to do.
12. Before leaving the practice area, summarize the day’s practice with your child. Consider rating the practice on a scale from 1 to 10, giving 1 to 5 stars (like a movie review), or whatever seems appropriate.
Copies of "The Parent's Daily Dozen" practice charts are available during your child's lesson.