One of the hardest things you’ll face as the parent of a musician is handling the discipline of regular practice. It’s rare for a child that plays a musical instrument not to have times where they’d rather be doing something else (anything else!) when it comes time to practice. If parents fail to hold firm (something I see far too often), the child may learn bad habits that will haunt them later in life. When it comes to starting a musical instrument–and sticking with it–the stakes can be high!
I’m going to tackle this tricky topic from a unique perspective: I’ve gone through the stages myself as a young student, and I’ve seen many examples of healthy (and not so healthy) parental involvement in my years as a professional teacher. I started violin at age four, with no say in the matter. My mother decided that since my Grandfather had been playing the violin in the local symphony, that it was something that I should at least try. She was sensitive to the challenges faced by a 4-year-old, but she was committed. I learned many years later that she planned to keep me playing violin until about age 7, even if I hated it. Thankfully, I didn’t hate it. But that didn’t mean I always wanted to practice, especially in my busy pre-teen years.
1. Prepare for Struggle – When a child really wants to learn something, they don’t necessarily consider the amount of effort and dedication that has to go into it; that is why adult students can sometimes be the best learners. Here is a violin tip for you to think of this concept in a unique way. Think about how you felt in school sometimes during mid-term exams or during college finals. The effort you had to put into making good grades happen wasn’t always fun. But aren’t you glad you did it and are now able to say you accomplished it? I believe this same concept should apply to young kids and learning music (think of it as early college-prep). If they are interested in learning the violin, you as a parent should not give in to them quitting or not practicing because of tough times. They are learning skills that will last them the rest of their lives such as being more disciplined, and taking things seriously when they have expressed interest in learning it.
2. Remember the moments when they’ve shown desire – I think a parent has to set strict practice rules for their kids just like they would do for their homework. If their child continues to have desire for learning the instrument (they have in the past year talked about how much they enjoy doing it), I believe the discipline as a parent is crucial to their success. Don’t allow them to drop out because it is “tough” and trust me, it isn’t always going to be easy. I’m just glad my Mom stuck with putting strict practice goals on me, and didn’t allow me to do other things until I reached those goals (it worked about 75% of the time). There were plenty of times where my Mom could have pulled me out of it (I was doing three different sports), but she didn’t. Now, I thank her as a teacher, author and professional of the violin, that she knew she had to continue her discipline. Don’t you want your kids to say “Thanks Mom/Dad” someday like I am right now?
3. Establish Practice Expectations – Here are some violin tips regarding your child and practicing. These practice goals have worked well for me as a default over the years, and then you can adjust from there depending on how your child does. Keep in mind that quality practice is important, so try to make sure you understand if they are practicing properly by having a close relationship with their lessons. If they don’t meet these goals (but still have desire for learning,) don’t give up.
Age 4-6 – Practice goal 30 minutes per week
Age 7 – Practice goal 45 minutes per week
Age 8 – Practice goal 60 minutes per week
Age 9 – Practice goal 75 minutes per week
Age 10 – Practice goal 100 minutes per week
Age 11 – Practice goal 125 minutes per week
Age 12 – Practice goal 150 minutes per week
Age 13+ with high goals – 175+ minutes per week
These are goals that have always worked for me as a teacher. If the teacher that you have isn’t enforcing these in some way, that can be a problem. Find a teacher that will give rewards for meeting the goals, and if you are having trouble at home with enforcing, ask the teacher to explain how important it is to listen to their parent. They might need the reassurance from the teacher. Hope you enjoyed these violin tips!
DISCLAIMER: I believe my advice is good, but I don’t have any children yet, and realize that every situation is different. You know your child the best, and will know if it’s time to throw in the towel or not. Some day (or weeks!) when my child doesn’t want to practice the violin, or another musical instrument, I hope I have the patience to take my own advice!