Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Practice the REALLY Hard Stuff!

I've written a lot about practicing with my 3 year old and 6 year old.  I don't have much to say these days about my 10 year old because she practices on her own.  It's been a rocky road transitioning from my practicing with her every day to her doing it on her own.  It wasn't up to me, but it's a good thing for her and our relationship.  When she was little she used to get very frustrated with me whenever I'd correct her.  Since she's grown older I don't tolerate her yelling at me like I did when she was little so we've come to a mutual understanding that if she wants my help she can't get mad at me.  She's mature enough to know this and only asks for help when she really needs it (which is about once a week - it's kind of like a mini lesson between her real lessons.)

My amazing daughter (I can say that because she's mine - right?!!) is part of an amazing group called Rocky Mountain Strings.  They perform a lot and go on tour every Spring.  Sometimes it's just local and every few years they venture out of the country.  They really are quite an impressive group of performers.  This year they are learning two really hard pieces, a Paganini Caprice and a Bach Partitia.

To musicians this may seem like an obvious way to practice pieces like this, but everyone needs to learn how to practice this way - it's what we've been working on for a while.  With pieces that have complicated fingerings like these pieces they need to be practiced very SLOOOOWLY.  The old adage says, "If you want to play fast you must practice slow."  (Actually - is that an old adage?  I don't know.) My darling daughter has really been good at practicing this way lately.  She has her metronome right on her stand and plays 1-4 measures with the metronome very slowly and increases the tempo slowly until it's at a comfortable fast pace.  I'd say she plays each section about 100 times before moving on.  It's incredible and she even tells me after practicing how good she feels about her playing.  She practices about 45 minutes on one piece which is incredible stamina for a girl her age, but she's actually enjoying it (most of the time.)  I tell her she needs to practice at least an hour a day which, if she really did everything it would probably be more like 3 hours - but she has lots of other interests including talking on the phone with her friends.  So, in this respect other things aren't getting practiced (ah-hem, Christmas music - the concert is this week!!)  We are doing the best we can and she's nothing short of amazing for all that she can do on her own.

Does it sound like I'm bragging about my little girl.  I am!  But I hope that maybe through this post you'll remember to practice slowly - lots of repetitions - and see the progress that can be made.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Pre-Twinkle Practice

This is how we are practicing this week with my Darling 3 year old!  For the last two months she's been a happy practicer, begging me several times a day to practice.  This week we experienced the first moments of resistance.  I'm pretty sure one of the problems may be because I was frustrated one day and snapped at her during practice.  I regret it and have tried to stop practicing before I get upset.  It doesn't happen often, but when the baby is crying and I have lots to do and she's rolling around on the floor or has a bad case of practicitis (I'm thirsty, my cheek itches, my foot hurts, look at my owie) I tend to get frustrated.

This, in conjunction with actually having to play her violin more than sit is causing a few groans around our house.  Back to my good ol' bead counter.  She now knows 6 pre-twinkle songs and I've told her that after she plays 10 songs she can have a piece of candy.  She's still restless and doesn't stand for that long so in-between songs we do bow games, sing songs, practice our rhythms, etc.  I let her choose which songs she plays.  Today she played "All the Pretty Flowers" six times and each of the other songs once.  Sometimes it's spread out more equally.

Here are the songs we practice:

Eek the Ants
Pop goes the Weasel
Dirty Doggy Scrub Scrub
Elephants and Ants
Little Mice
All the Pretty Flowers

I have a handout with all my Pretwinkle songs that I'm working on.  Hopefully I'll have it online soon!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Practicing Lots of Pieces

We've been in need of fun practicing ideas at our household this week.  The holidays are here and my kids don't want to practice.  My darling 6 year old has SO MUCH to practice each day, but her attention span is really only good for about 35-45 minutes.  So, we get done what we can in that amount of time.  She's learning to read clocks at school so I tell her where the hand will be and she can be done.  I don't always make my kids practice for a set amount of time - in fact most of the time we just practice until we're done.  Lately, looking at the clock works for us.

One of the many things she needs to practice at this time of year is CHRISTMAS MUSIC!!  She needs to practice 15 Christmas songs and instead of droning through the list we made this chart together.  I've assigned each of her songs a number and she randomly picks a number on the chart and plays the song assigned to that number.  We then put a sticker on the number.  When she's finished (hopefully by the end of the week) I've offered her a piece of candy.  Just as simple as that and she's happy to practice her Christmas music again.

You can assign your own pieces 1-15 and play this with your children.  This would be a great way to review!  I also made one for a list of 10.

Find these charts here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Witches Dance

My 6 year old is a great player by ear.  You can ask her to play just about any song and she can figure it out.  It cracks me up when she starts playing Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.

This can, however, be difficult sometimes when it comes to polishing pieces.  With Witches Dance in Suzuki Book 2 we went over the tough fingering sections one week and then one day she just played the whole piece - with a lot of "blips!"  I thought this might go away after practicing it, but she still can't seem to play through the whole piece without fumbling up her fingers.  She's never really taught her hand how to play - she just plays it by ear still.

So, we need to do more overs and overs.  I created this chart for Witches Dance.  The piece basically has four different sections (the BOO!, twirling witches, scary witch, and the ending) and she needs to play each section 5 times to fill in a circle.  There might be some sort of reward for finishing the chart - but maybe not.  It's just motivating us to concentrate on smart practicing.

Today we spent a good 15 minutes just on this piece.  It improved SOOOO much and she was even having fun.  I used a bead counter to count each 5 times and then she'd fill in another circle and choose which section to play next.  She was skipping around and ended up playing each section at least 10 times.  At the end I told her to play the piece though again and she only did one little "blip."  It'll be extraordinary after we finish this chart!  
I can't wait!
(Find this chart here)

Friday, October 26, 2012

How to Practice with a 3 Year Old

My darling daughter, Caroline, has been wanting to play the violin since she could walk!  This is one of my favorite pictures of her as a toddler climbing up on the piano to play one of the violins.  She knew she wasn't supposed to do it!  That's why she has a mischievous look on her face.

I've let her play on a little tiny violin for years now, but finally I've decided to make an effort to practice with her every day.  My other kids take from another wonderful teacher, but because of time and money I've decided to take on being her teacher for a while.  She's 3 years and 4 months old now.

I've had several people ask how I can teach {practice} with such young children.  Here is a little glimpse of how we practice each day.

1. First of all, you need a darling little child.  Students in my studio can start as young as age 3, but its sometimes easier for the parent to wait until age 4 or 5.  I know a teacher who is teaching some 2 year olds this fall.  It's possible, it just takes time and patience.  Practicing with a young child can sure be fun, though!  They love to learn new things and play fun games!

2. I start all my students on a foot chart.  This keeps them focused at the lesson and during practicing.  It's customized for them and I let them color or do whatever they want with it.  This foot chart is made out of vinyl that I got at Joanns.  You can make 4 foot charts out of 1 yard of vinyl.  I've seen other teachers make them out of folder files, paper, you can even buy them online premade with feet and rhythms.

3.  I keep a practice book to organize my practicing.  Since I'm teaching my own child I fill out another chart every 7 days with updated material.  I let Caroline put stickers on when she wants with the things that we've practiced.  You can make your own practice books like I did, or they can even be found premade online.  

4.  The downloads at the Practice Shoppe have so many fun charts.  Kids this age love charts, stickers, and goals.  This particular chart is for 100 bow holds.  When she finished the chart she will get a prize out of my prize box - and have a beautiful bow hold!

5.  Of course, an instrument is important.  I often start 3 year olds on a foam-a-lin, but Caroline has been playing around with the real thing since she was one so I just let her use her own violin.  Notice I have to put lots of stickers and stuff on the violin to help her, especially on her bow.

6.  I have lots of these bead counters at my house and my kids and students use them a lot.  This is great for all types of practicing.  This week we do a bow hold then flip a bead (the later I mark her chart).  Maybe next week it will be the amount of times she plays a little pretwinkle song.  The goal always changes, but the bead counter is always a constant 10 TIMES!  No quitting until you've done it 10 times.
7.  Magic wands are a wonder with little kids.  OK - they aren't magic, but I tell them they are.  I first start off with practicing bow hold on a magic want.   This is a picture of the wand rubber-banded to the violin to help with playing straight on the highway.  You can also use a pencil, but the wand is so much more FUN!  I can even still hang up the violin with the wand on the violin.
8.  Another gadget we practice with is the "elbow stick."  I'm not sure who came up with this idea, but it's great for practicing opening up the elbow and singing all the pretwinkle songs.  It's just a dowel and sprinkler part with some rubber bands to provide a stop for the sprinkler part.  We sing all our sings with it every day.  I have to help her a lot still, but she's gradually getting so she can do it on her own.  Another way to practice this movement is by doing "soaps" which is just rubbing the bow hand up and down the violin arm while doing the twinkle rhythms.  We do both. 

I hope this gave you some good ideas about practicing with young children.  It can be a challenge at times, but oh so fun!  And it's awesome to be able to show other people that your amazing children can do something hard like play the violin!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween Bingo

Halloween is almost here and perhaps I'm posting this a little late, but this may be helpful for future Halloweens to come.  Bingo seems to be part of every class Halloween party and I decided to incorporate it into my most recent group class.  I printed out a blank Halloween bingo card for each of my students and cut out all the pieces we need to go over during the lesson (which ironically was all Christmas music.)  I glued them on randomly before group class and had another set of pieces in my witches cauldron.  The kids took turns picking the pieces - then we'd mark the chart - then work on the piece.  The kids really enjoyed the game part of the class between the playing part.  Anyone who got BINGO got a Halloween candy.  Everyone got bingo at least once before the end of the lesson.

I'm going to be doing this week with my daughter practicing as well.  We have TONS of Christmas music to review in addition to all the other stuff we need to practice.  Bingo is a great practicing game with there is lots and lots to practice.

Hope you enjoy.  You can download it on The Practice Shoppe Downloads page HERE.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Magical Review

During our two-a-day practices my daughter spends a good part of the evening practice playing through pieces for her Rocky Mountain Strings group as well as review. For the past nine months she has been overwhelmed with pieces to learn for two different performing groups, Christmas, as well as keeping up with Suzuki - so I haven't enforced review for a long time. One performing group is done for the year, the other is having their final concert next week and all the pieces are learned. I'm finding that she has more time so I instigated another review routine.

I found this chart in the Maurer's String Book. It's great because it enforces the most recently learned pieces in Book 4 and 5, and still allows for a little review of the other books - but it's not overwhelming. Hearing my daughter play these review pieces has been magical. In the past year her tone and technique have skyrocketed and she played these pieces with such quality! I heard the most beautiful Allegro - which was a great example for my 4 year old who is currently learning that piece. Her musicality in the Seitz Concertos (after stumbling through some of the notes since it's been a while) was incredible!

I affirm that REVIEW is an important and essential part of the Suzuki Method. If my daughter didn't review when she was in books 1-4, then this review now that she's in book 5 would have just been relearning all the notes. Instead she's taking pieces she already knows and is adding on layer after layer of musicality!

You can download this review chart at The Practice Shoppe. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Interview

You can hop on over to the amazing blog, TEACH SUZUKI, to see an interview of me.  Learn a little more about The Practice Shoppe and why I do what I do.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why Are We Doing This?

Yesterday was one of those days.  You know - the feeling of "why am I even doing this?"  As I'm driving to the lesson thoughts are going through my mind.  Oops, we didn't practice much this week - I was tired - she was ornery - there was no time.  Why am I paying for lessons anyway when I need the money for other things?  Is it worth it?

Then I remember something I read on Facebook a while back that really hit home.

Why have I spent hundreds of hours of my life practicing with my kids, going to lessons, sacrificing . . .

Not because we expect you to major in music,
Not because we expect you to play all your life, 
Not so you can relax,
Not so you can have fun,
But - so you can be human,
So you will recognize beauty,
So you will be 
So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world,
So you will have something to cling to,
So you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good,
In short . . . more life.

What value will it be to make a prosperous living unless you know how to live?

I hope that this blog will help someone when they are having one of these kind of days.

...to change the subject....

My darling daughter just learned Two Grenadiers.  And, for those of you who know this piece, the bowings are a killer!  We've finally mastered them, but I want her to get in the habit of playing the whole piece correctly. So, I've whipped up this little chart.  I've told her that every time she plays the Two Grenadiers correctly she can mark off a grenadier.  If she can finish it before her next lesson (one week) she'll get a prize out of my prize box.  Enjoy!

You can download this chart here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Big Ear Contest

I recently got an e-mail from someone frustrated that her students didn't understand the importance of listening.  Of all the many discoveries that Dr. Suzuki made about young children learning to play an instrument LISTENING is one of the big ones.  I recently found this blog with a great little article on listening.  I've seen the benefits first hand with myself and my own children.  How can a child learn well WITHOUT listening?

So....here was my reply.

I've always wanted to do this, but haven't - lack of time, I guess (isn't that always the excuse these days!)  Anyway, I was thinking of having a "Big Ear" contest.  I have a chart on my website for this.  A student would mark an ear for every hour they listened.  There could be some sort of time requirement (1 month - or something like that) and everyone who finished the chart in that period of time would be the winners.  You could have some sort of award for the winners.  One award I've thought of for some of my students who accomplish big tasks are the earbuds I have on my site.  They are cute and perhaps it's not something they have.  It would encourage more listening.  Here is the link to the page with the Big Ear chart.  

Hope this helps!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

More Ideas for Review

I gave all my older kids this paper to remind them of some other creative ways to review.  They each have two different lists in their practice book that they can use....or do one of these ideas.  I can't force them to review, and I figure if they want to do it it'll be more beneficial.  I find that when I remind my older daughter to review she enjoys it quite a bit.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What time do you practice?

At the beginning of each school year I give a paper to my students with a student plan that asks them to list three goals they have for the year.  I also ask the question, "What time will you practice this year?"  I really think it is important to schedule practice time because life gets in the way and it will always put off if it's not part of the schedule.

I've practiced with my kids at all times including 8:00 p.m. (which was terrible.)  Now that I have two kids in grade school that need to practice I've told them that their practice time is in the morning before school (6:15 & 7:00.)  So far...so good!

The first day of school was great because the kids were excited for school.  The second day we were all tired and it was hard.  I'll admit tears were shed that morning.  But after school that day the girls enjoyed reading, playing on the computer and painting.  As they were painting and laughing I mentioned how nice it was that they could enjoy their afternoon instead of being tied down to practicing.  They both admitted that it was nice.  Each morning has been good ever since.  Work first, play later is our motto each morning.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Practicing Duel

Here is what I've been doing lately...
She takes a lot of time...

But, we're still practicing.  I just can't blog about it.  

Here is what one of my student's is doing.  I teach both the child and mother and right now they are both finishing Book 1.

Person 1 picks a piece and a challenge card and Person 2 has to do it. Then switch.  Games don't have to be complicated, but they can make practicing more fun!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Circle Bow Bubbles

I got another positively adorable chart from one of my student's moms who is also taking lessons from me. Here is what she has to say about this wonderful chart!

This is a great way to work on bow control and stability, tone, posture, and my bow hold all at the same time without having to remember where I'm at in a piece, what note I'm supposed to be on, etc.

It's a silhouette of a child blowing bubbles combined with bubble graphics.  Each bubble represents 10 circle bows.  There are 150 bubbles on the chart.  When the chart is completed, the student will have done 1500 circle bows.  I printed this one for us on card stock since it will be around for a bit.

Thanks Amanda!!  
I added this chart to The Practice Shoppe under the Downloads page> "100-199 Times" AND "200 or More Times" because it could fit in both categories.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Results of Consistent Practice

This is a practice chart I made a long time ago, but have never used it until now.  My girl's teacher decided to give it out to all her students to have a SIX WEEK PRACTICE CHALLENGE.  Practice every single day (including the day of the lesson, Sundays, Fridays, Saturdays, Holidays, Birthdays, etc.) for six weeks.  If you can do that - go for 100 days.  If you accomplish that you could even try for 1 YEAR of practicing without missing a day.  Their teacher puts a plaque on the wall for all the students who practice for 1 year (or more.)  In her 30+ years of teaching she has about 10-15 plaques on her wall.  It is no easy task to practice without missing one day.

We decided to do the six week challenge and we are on day 8.  For my family we usually don't practice the day of the lesson.  I don't have any qualms with practicing on Sunday, but sometimes I'm just too (ummm, busy isn't the word....lazy?)  Fridays I teach from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with only a few hours in the middle when the kids are in school.  After teaching all day - I want my weekend so it's hard for me to practice with the kids that day.  So, practicing every day is a challenge for my family, but we are up to it.  After only 8 days here is what I've noticed!

1.  We were prepared for the lesson.  We did not have to be guilty or nervous about going to lessons because we knew we did the best we could do.

2.  Initiating practice was easier.  Once in the routine, getting the violin ready and sitting down was just what we did.  It hasn't been a battle.  I have noticed that instead of saying, "It's time to practice now."  I've changed it to, "We need to practice (before you go to school, before dinner, etc.) - when would you like to practice?"  The kids response was usually, "How about 10 minutes."  This gave them the ability to choose and once that ten minutes was up..."It's time to practice."  "Okay mom."

3.  Review is actually fun.  We differ when we practice review.  Sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at the end, sometimes scattered throughout the practice.  But the pieces have been fun to play because they are easier.  Practice more - playing gets easier.

4.  We are learning faster.  We struggled for months through Minuet 1 and Minuet 2 (when I was sick).  Now, since the beginning of January we've perfected Minuet 2 for the recital AND learned Minuet 3, Happy Farmer, and previews to Gossec Gavotte.  We are really moving.  My oldest daughter just started book 7!

5.  She is playing more beautifully.  We have been working a lot on tone.  My youngest daughter has really struggled with having a deep beautiful tone.  She likes to play skimming the strings with her bow.  Her legato bows and sticky tone in her pieces has really improved.

Humph!  It's amazing how playing gets easier when you practice!  I'm so proud that my daughters have been up to the challenge.  Let's just hope we can get all the way to six weeks!...100 days....maybe even a year!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Practice Book for the Littlest Players

Meet Caroline.  She's 2 1/2 and loves to practice.  So, I made her a practice book and she LOVES it!  She's my only child that begs me to practice....3 or 4 or 5 times a day.  She can successfully play every variation of twinkle on open E string, including variation B if someone is playing with her.  She has okay posture and a baby bow hold - very tight - but she's working on a round thumb and pinky.  
What she can't get yet...everything else.  I try even a simple play position and rest position feet game.  It's like I'm speaking Chinese to her. She doesn't get it.  But she still loves to play.

An Easy Practice Game

I finally got back in the groove with practicing with this little game.  It's so simple I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner!  It's been so successful that it's been the standard way of practicing with my 5 year old for over a month now.  Never has a practicing game lasted so long, but this one has!


I first got this idea from one of my students moms who always comes up with great ideas to get her 5 year old to practice.  There are lots of different ways to use this chart - and not only for beginners!

I have two blank charts available at The Practice Shoppe.  One is 6x6 and the other one is a typical 5x5 Bingo chart.  Fill in the blanks with the current practice points (if you don't want to always print out a new chart you could laminate it and use a dry erase marker.)  Use different things to mark off the pieces such as chocolate chips, gold fish, gummy bears, acrylic jewels, etc.  When a line is completed the student get all of the treats or items on that line.

You could also print off TWO copies of the bingo chart and cut one up and put in a bowl or ziploc baggy and randomly pull out the different practice points to practice.  When a BINGO is made (a line completed) practicing is over.  My daughter LOVES to play this way because every once in a while her practice session isn't very long (but not very often.)  With this rule I've told her that if she gets a BINGO before she practices her recital piece then we still have to practice that at the end.

Some more ideas from my student's parent:
Sometimes just for variety, I'll include variations like the following:

"Play ______ with your eyes closed" 
"Play ______ with a distraction"  (I got this from dog training.  You pick something they should know well and have them play it while you are trying to distract them);
"Play ___ Scale to your favorite animal rhythm"  (She has to figure out the rhythm of the animal name, like hip-po-pot-a-mus, then play that rhythm for each note on the scale - she LOVES this);
"Pitch Page"  (sing a pitch page from the I Can Read Music book);
"Rhythm Page"  (clap a rhythm page from the I Can Read Music book);
"Play a piece for your dog" (whatever dog is parked on the couch becomes the audience and she enters the stage, I pantomime opening a curtain, she gets into position, plays, bows, etc.);
"Play your favorite piece"
"Play your most challenging piece"

As a teacher I had a student's mom ask how to get her daughter motivated to review Book 1 since she just wants to move on and learn Book 1.  So, I used the same concept and put all the pieces in Suzuki Violin Book 1.  This would be an excellent way to practice Book 1 - maybe a special practice each week devoted only to Book 1 review.

I hope you enjoy this game as much as we do!