Monday, October 22, 2007

How to Get Your Three-Year-Old to Practice the Violin with Joy

With JOY? Yes, and joy without sugar! Now usually, I just use candy to produce joy. One tiny M&M per accomplishment yields enough joy to get us through an average day's practice. BUT! Let's say you have a moral opposition to M&Ms.

Or your child has just eaten the frosting off three cupcakes and you think the addition of one more chocolate molecule would turn her into a giant squid. Here's a game to play with a violin practice that will make it fun and sugar-free.

1. Make your programs!

How many times do you want your child to repeat her assignment? In Sadie's case, we are working on the very first part of variation A, and I want her to go through it six times per practice. So we made six programs. The programs were each 1/3 of a sheet of paper, and they said TUKA TUKA STOP STOP in big letters. Of course, this is a good time to practice letters. You will also need a sheet of stickers, any size, for later.

2. Collect your audience!

Walk through the house, with a megaphone if you have one, calling, "Who wants to come to a violin show?" Collect whichever dolls/toys/animals are interested in the performance. Arrange them like an audience, and distribute the programs. Of course, your violin student will want to participate in all this, as is right and proper and educational.

3. Start the show!

Give the child a big introduction and let him/her take over. You be the audience. Maybe the dolls will heckle, and have to be subdued. Maybe the animals will have many questions about the parts of the violin. Maybe the action figures will shriek for more, more, more Twinkle Little Star.

4. Bring on the stickers!

Every time the child plays the song (in Sadie's case the first phrase of Twinkle, all the way through, with violin hand and bow hand working together) she gets a sticker to put on the program of one of toys. Beware -- all the toys will clamor for a sticker and demand a certain one, or a certain color, and be difficult. When every program has a sticker, the practice is over, EVEN IF THE CHILD WANTS TO DO MORE. Next time, you can pass out the programs again, and everyone can get another sticker. Until then, Buzz Lightyear and Barbie will just have to hum Twinkle to themselves.

There you have it! Today's method. Is it worth it, for forty-eight tuka-tuka-stop-stops? Absolutely. Dr. Suzuki recommended five minutes with JOY. How we bring about the joy is up to us. Watch this space for more diabolical violin practice manipulations!

Edit: Hey, I just found a very cool post on awesome gadgety violin tricks from my friend Karen.

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  1. Anonymous8:46 AM

    As many people have pointed out many times, those children are very, very fortunate to have you for a mother.

  2. What a little sweetie. My younger ones love performing for an audience of stuffed animals, as well. And the dog...Hunter gets a lot of private showings and private poetry readings.

    With the baby now, they like to show for her, too.

  3. What a coincidence! Some of those audience members are regulars at our story book reenactments in this neck of the woods. Although, watch out for that Buzz Lightyear, just last week he was blamed for spilling a cup off the kitchen table.

  4. Brilliant!!!

    I wonder whether this will work for Jack ... we can have them all sit on the piano so they can see...!

    Thank you!!

  5. Oh, this is SO CUTE!! I'd have a lot of fun attending too, ESPECIALLY if you had a little chocolate to go 'round.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!!

    Mrs. C

  6. Hi Lydia,

    I am hoping that despite the gap in time separating your post and this response, the latter won't go unnoticed.

    I am writing because I few days ago, raking my brain for solution to my fresh problem (it is about a week old) of getting cooperation from my daugther on all matters of daily life but especailly violin practice, I came across your advice and enacted the complete scenario with minor modifications yesterday. Emma turns 5 tomorrow, has been playing the violin since Jan 2009 following the traditional method. I was schooled in piano (8 years of a Russian music school) and was learning the violin during Emma's lessons. Leading by example has been very much our way and, algthough Emma never initiated practice, she took it as given that we do it as part of the daily routine, after tea. That is, she did up to about a week ago, when suddenly things started to go pear-shaped. Anyway, to cut a long story short, after a week of daily battles to even come close to the instrument, yesterday she played all her pieces (including a couple of hard ones) because the dollies were in attendance and demanded various pieces she learned so far, while praising her effort after each piece and repetition. She was even happy to take minimal instructions from Maestro's helper (me, in whisper) towards the end of the "concert". After she finished, the dollies and the maestro demanded more concerts. So, at this point in time, we are doing spectacularly well. Hence a massive thank you for your tip!!! But a growing unease inside me is: what if this solution is only temporary and will last a few days? I am trying to think of similar tactics for the future, but was wondering whether you have any more of your wonderful - and even magical - experience to share?

    Many thanks. I keep coming back to your pages, since I discovered them.


  7. Hi Svetlana!

    Nice to meet you! :)

    I am writing another post just for you. You'll find it at the top of the blog. I hope you like it!


  8. Hi Lydia!

    Likewise, it is nice to meet you, too!

    Many thanks for the detailed, inventive and imaginative advice. I loved it, lots new tricks to try!

    Emma and I did do our second concert for the dollies yesterday and despite my unfading enthusiasm with the dolly-show and lots of praise from the Disney princesses, some noisy disruptions from the stuffed dragons and grunts of appreciation by the teddy bears (not to mention the shrieks of excitement from Emma’s 20 months old sister Sofia), our concert-practice fell short of what I would have liked it to be for a good practice-practice. (I know, I probably raised my expectations a trifle since two days ago…) Emma was still keen to perform and happy to satisfy the requests by the audience for specific pieces of music, but seemed to be more focused on getting to the sticker-distribution part (after playing every piece) rather than having a quality sound. Although she was determined to play without making mistakes (which is a massive bonus), her attention was not as good as the first time, nor her bow hold, nor her bowing. Since we were in “concert”, I couldn’t really correct any of that, and the best I could come up with was to suggest at the very end that maestros give concerts once in a while, but do some good practice every day. She seemed to agree (but that was yesterday). Now, with your brilliant ideas of how to make practice-practice fun, I am optimistic we could get to (and through) the nitty-gritty bits of violin playing.

    Your observation “everything goes in cycles” rings true, as I recall that this time last year I was also struggling to motivate my budding maestro, so hopefully with your tips we could get through the trough of the cycle and emerge joyful and eager.

    It is uplifting to read your blog (and not just about the violin tricks), many thanks for such cheerful, inspiring and informative read!!
    With all best wishes,

    PS: Your “interesting read head” looks amazing on that photo – cute and determined! Is Sadie the youngest in her orchestra? Our violin teacher has brought it up recently that Emma is nearly ready to join a youth orchestra. I was pleasantly shocked, but of course since then Emma and I hit a bit of a brick wall with our musical activities, so I am guessing the orchestra idea will have to wait a little longer…

  9. Being the evil mom that I am, I would probably say, "Uh oh. You can't play a concert with that bow hold! What will the reviewers say! Let's get a perfect bow hold and then do the concert." Or you could say you can't start the concert until her bowing is perfect "backstage." Or you could say "We play concerts every Thursday" or something. Mix it up. Switch it up. If you find something she really likes, don't do it every day.

    Another thing you might do is have the audience give thumbs up or thumbs down on bow hold. Or thumbs up or down on whatever it is you're working on. Have her work to get the audience to give all thumbs up.

    Sadie isn't in an orchestra -- that group was just all the Suzuki students from our school, performing at the Bach Festival. :) She has seen Benny doing this for years, and it was very special for her to be advanced enough to play in this concert this year -- you have to be at least able to play Minuet 1 at performance tempo. :) :) Good times. We don't do any orchestras, although there is a really good one locally that some of our friends do. Because we spend a ton of time at the karate dojo, plus our violin group classes, we don't have room in the evening for much else.