Friday, December 17, 2010

Twinkle Flashcards

For a twinkler, flashcards are very versatile.

I start teaching the young twinklers to recognize a twinkle rhythm. As soon as they master this we do it to break up practice sessions. There's something fun about flashcards for a 4-year-old.

The twinkle flashcards are also a good way to decide what to play next during practicing. My 4-year-old has learned all variations of twinkle and we have to play them all every day. However, she HATES when I tell her what to do, so she chooses a flashcard and plays that particular twinkle.

Other flashcards that I use to break up practicing or lessons are note value cards (quarter note, half note, eight note, quarter rest, etc.)

I'm also starting note flashcards with my early twinklers and they are really picking it up. I start with the open strings, then the A string notes, E string notes, etc.

I don't do flashcards every day, but it is a great excuse for a child to put her violin down and have a little break - but still be learning.

You can download these twinkle rhythm flashcards here at The Practice Shoppe.


One of my favorite articles in the SAA is "The Official Medical Guide to Practicitis." My daughter has had a bad case of practicitis this week. She particularly has a problem with Physical Avoidance Syndrome. "The major sign is a request to use the bathroom." EVERY practice, EVERY lesson! Another sign of her practicitis is Acute Spontaneous Juvenile Pain Syndrome. "Symptoms range from something like toe aches and headaches to whole limbs being sore and unable to move." It doesn't matter what it is - it's magnified 100 times when practicing. She also seemed to have a certain amount of sadness or fatigue whenever she had to perform. However, as soon as she was off the stage - she was all smiles again. One way I got over this little problem was a bit of bribery. "If you play your violin happily at the concert tonight you can have some ice cream after!" "Okay!!!" At our last concert, she was all smiles - too much. She was giggling, waving to me and my parents (10 times), and whispering to the girl next to her the whole time! Well, I suppose it was more amusing for concertgoers to see this side of her personality than the crying/tired side. It's all part of the journey...

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Playlist

I love my iPod. What I love most about my iPod that wasn't as easy or convenient with my good ol' portable DVD player or walkman is the PLAYLISTS. Since the Suzuki method is so focused on listening it becomes a daily part of my life. My playlists makes it easier to listen to the Suzuki music over and over and over and over and over again....

Here are some examples of playlists you can have on your iPod:

  • Put your whole Suzuki book on and add the next three songs 2, 3, 4, or more extra times so it gets extra listening.

  • Include different versions of the pieces you're learning. In the upper books there are multiple versions - often in an orchestral setting or with a different instrument.

  • Include outside pieces your teacher is having you learn. Most of the time there is a recording.

  • Make a playlist of only accompaniment songs. This is great for kids in the upper books to use for review.

  • Put all the pieces from every Suzuki CD you own on one playlist for background listening.

  • Insert some of your child's favorite songs as well as the Suzuki pieces on the playlist so they can do some fun listening as well as the Suzuki listening.

  • I make a car playlist with songs for each of my children. This includes Book 1 songs, Book 5 songs, nursery rhymes, and some Kids Bop (from McDonalds) for my son.

A SMART way to practice

My ambitious, excited 4-year-old wasn't so excited to practice this week. The first day after her lesson we started practicing and we only got three things done and my daughter sighed, "Mom, I'm running out of gas! I'll finish later." Well, after this was said there was no use. I tried to be upbeat, but I started to get irritated so I just quit practicing. And, because of my busy life - it didn't get done later either.
So, the next day I pulled out some treats from my studio. Smarties to be specific. There are 15 little Smartie treats inside a Smartie package and I told my sweet daughter that she could have one little treat every time we did something for practice. So, we bowed and said "Good Afternoon" and she got a treat. We did a bow exercise and she got a treat. It turns out that A LOT of practicing can get done with 15 little Smartie treats. Aside from the first day - this has been the best week of practicing.
{other things we practiced: Up Like a Rocket, Stirring the Witches Brew, chin holds, Tuca on E string, Tuca on A string, elbow stick, Pop Goes the Weasel, clapping rhythms, and everything all over again.}

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I was practicing with my 4-year-old daughter, and she struggled to do 10 of what I asked her to do. The next time around I told her I would say the alphabet, one letter between each repetition. Before she knew it she had done 26 happily. Sometimes you just have to change things up a bit!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I mentioned some time ago that my son quit piano lessons. That was back in January of this year - so a while ago, but I'd still like to address the topic of quitting music lessons.

First of all - Almost everyone wants to quit at some point. That tends to be the nature of children when something is hard. I'm a believer that quitting is not an option when you've started something you've committed to.

However, in the case of my son - each day was a fighting, screaming, crying battle. I don't think he had more than 5 happy practices in the four months he was taking lessons. It was absolutely draining to me - knowing that I TEACH children, why can't I handle my own? When it came down to it, my son never wanted to play the piano, I just put him in lessons because I thought I should. He had absolutely no desire so it was torturous for him. I hope that parents don't force their children to do something they never wanted to do in the first place. It was a different scenario with my girls - they both wanted to play - and I won't let them quit.

Here are some things to try when someone wants to quit:
  1. Make sure they stick with it until the next performance. Sometimes they just need a reminder of how good it feels when they perform and everyone tells them how great they are.
  2. Ease up on practicing. Whether you are a parent or teacher you can tell when a child is struggling and so assign less (if you're a teacher), or demand less. I almost wrote "expect less," but I don't think you need to expect less in quality or time. Just require less of the child. Often children just have a slump of enthusiasm, but something may spark it again.
  3. Don't overschedule children! With lessons comes practicing. So, if someone is in any sort of lessons they need to have the time to practice. If a child is doing sports, dance, church activities, and school activities (not to mention homework - and just plain downtime) is there any time to practice? If there is no time to practice that may be why someone wants to quit. If it's not the lessons you want your child to quit, then you may need to choose another activity.
In short, I don't think quitting is really the best option, unless it's the best option. My son has NEVER asked about piano lessons since the day I called his teacher and said we weren't continuing lessons anymore. However, 9 months later I hear coming from the living room a choppy rendition of "Dashing Through the Snow" played by my son. Something stuck in that first four months and maybe when he's a little older we'll take another stab at music lessons, but not until we make sure it's something he's interested in committing to.
....and a little side note - I HAVE heard an adult say "I wish my mother didn't put me in piano lessons when I was a child" and, "I hated violin lessons.  I wish my mom let me quit."

UPDATE: My son is now 18 years old.  I have often thought of all the great benefits that music lessons would have had on my son that he missed out on.  But, still, never once, since I wrote this post 12 years ago, has my son ever wanted to play any musical instrument...ever.  It's just not his thing!  But he's still a great guy!!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to Practice with a Twinkler

It's been three weeks of practicing with my 4-year-old daughter and I'm reminded of some essential steps to practicing with a small twinkler. 

1. Make it short - most 3, 4, and 5 year olds are not used to standing still for very long. The time will gradually lengthen during practicing, but at the beginning make it short and consistent so they have a good experience with practicing. If it's drudgery from the beginning you will not succeed.


2. Make it fun - There is no problem with using fun practice charts, toys, and treats with practicing. My daughter gets so excited for her 1 candy corn after practice. So far her teacher has given her some simple chart to X off each day. This week we have a 25 chart to complete for her new song, Pop Goes the Weasil. Wands, toys, animals, etc. all make practicing fun for a little child. Think of their preschool class...they aren't sitting in desks all day learning their colors and shapes - they're learning in a fun environment. Make that fun environment at home.


3. Do it over and over and over and over and over again - If your practicing is short you can do it a lot of times throughout the day. The first week my daughter just had to bow, clap the rhythms, make a simple fox with her bow hand, and hold her violin up with her chin. All together that took about 5 minutes. We'd do it all over after she did everything once. If she was still focused we'd do it all over a third time. Then later that day we'd show dad what she was practicing and do it again once or twice. That's practicing everything FIVE times each day. What a great way to start getting geared up for repetitions - which any person learning an instrument will have to do A LOT of!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Starting Lessons

My 4 yo daughter started violin lessons this week. I'm reminded of how important it is to get into the routine of practicing from the very start. I challenge all my new students to practice every day for 100 days. That is my expectation and they often follow through with it. Here is My First 100 Days chart to share with you. You can download it here at The Practice Shoppe downloads page.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Practicing

I love the feeling after a happy practice.  We are able to go the full length of practice without having a melt-down I give my daughter a hug and ask if she likes playing the violin.  She always says yes!  Here is a chart to help have THREE weeks of happy practicing.  This is great for someone who likes to draw.

If you want to download this chart click here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I was thinking yesterday about how I'm trying to give advice about practicing on this blog and yet I really don't have the amount of experience as so many moms out there.  I have one child doing violin and piano and that's it.  My son was doing piano but we had to quit (but I'll talk about that later.)  However, I feel that if I chronicle my ups and downs perhaps someone can get some inspiration, advice, or even comfort knowing that practicing with a child is hard. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Repetition is Key!

Am I tooting my own horn by telling you {again} how awesome these bead counters are!  Probably!  I've had a bead counter off and on for my 7-year-old.  These last two weeks have been awesome practicing weeks for her because of this bead counter.  She has started the Bach Double and we have been listening to it over and over for at least a month in the car on the way to school.  Each week her teacher assigns her four or five HARD spots in this piece.  I help her the first few times and she is on her own.  Every day she has me flip the bead counter and does every section ten times.  I'm telling you - this little girl will learn Bach Double in lightning speed.  I bet she'll have it memorized before she turns eight (seriously - $100 bucks right now.)

I think she is so successful at learning the violin so fast because we have been doing repetitions on every piece since she started the violin.  I took her teacher very seriously from the start when she said play a spot 50 times per day.  I'll tell you - we did it 50 TIMES every day.  It probably wasn't until the end of Book 3 when we had SO much to practice that I would be a little lenient on the overs-and-overs.  But I believe that she now has a brain that can do overs-and-overs so easily.

So, if you want a tad of advice.  DO THE REPETITIONS!  It's hard at first but then it becomes habit.  It's the only way to really learn a piece well.  Professionals do it!  Nobody is ever too good to play the hard spots over and over!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review Magnets

I was at a Suzuki Leadership Retreat and a friend of mine gave me a box of practice helps that she sold at institute years ago.  Inside were these little review magnets.  It's just a list of all the songs in Suzuki Book 1.  I put them on my magnet board and have my daughter move one over each time she plays one.  She's in Book 4 so reviewing Book 1 isn't happening like it was two years ago, but she still needs to go over them.  The best part is that she's playing these pieces just beautifully!  She adds dynamics or phrasing where she thinks it would sound good.  Her vibrato is ringing through all the pieces.  I'm amazed at the quality of sound that is coming out of these easy pieces.  THIS IS WHY REVIEW IS SO IMPORTANT!  She is learning to become expressive and dynamic with her playing on these beautifully easy pieces.  

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So Many Practicing Ideas - So Little Time!

Four kids is a lot to handle and do everything else I want to do!  I never seem to have time to do everything, but I have been working a lot on starting a little business called The Practice Shoppe.  Who knows if it'll work out or if I'll make any money, but I'm noticing that I have a little business side to me that I never knew about.

I have had so many practicing tips and ideas that I need to get more on the ball and update this blog!  Every week it seems like I have a new chart idea and it always works for a few weeks.  Perhaps if I share them with you something will click and you'll find something that you love!

Some of my students are faithful at marking off their practice guide each week.  Others, never look at one.  I recently put a chart in the parent's hands to fill out if their child wanted to use it.  My own 7yo is a half-and-half practice guide person.  There are weeks when I will fill one out and use it meticulously.  Other weeks I fill one out and it sits in the bag never to be seen again.  Although my own daughter doesn't ALWAYS use a practice guide I still believe that it is the best way to practice most efficiently.  Time is always an issue with practicing and rarely can we get everything done!  But with a practice guide, we can equally practice everything each week - even if it is not daily.  Of course, the new stuff is daily, but other things tend to slide when there isn't enough time.

I feel like I put the same things on my daughter's practice guide each week so I decided to make it a MONTHLY guide this month to see how it works.  Check it out here.  I wrote all her books and exercises at the top, then gradually worked down everything she needed to practice including review pieces.  So far the new practice guide got her attention and she wants to see how many x's she can put on the chart!  This would also be a good chart for ONLY review songs.  Good luck using it yourself.