Making It Chewable
You come into the lesson, you admit that the practice week was horrible because it was like pulling teeth.
You come into the lesson, tattling on your child to the teacher saying the child would fall into tears and temper tantrums every time you tried to practice.
You come into the lesson, feeling defeated from such a rough week of practice, and maybe even thinking, “my child cannot play the violin, and we probably should quit”.
The problem is simple. First, there is not enough positive and genuine praise. Kids are extremely smart. In lessons, they've been learning good sounds versus bad sounds, good bow holds versus bad bow holds, good posture versus bad posture, and while they might not be able to execute it yet by themselves, they know what is correct. Do not praise your child for something that they know wasn't right. Its not good for their self esteem, and its not good for their progress. Genuine praise feels good to them. It excites them, it motivates them, it gets them to do it again. And again. And again. It doesn't matter if it was an awful attempt, bow screeching, posture horrible, bow hold stiff— find what they DID do well and compliment them on that. Maybe their feet were in the right place, or even just apart. Maybe they watched their bow for the first couple of notes. They will know that they did that correctly, and when they hear your praise for it, they will light up and be excited to do something else correct too.
I find that most things go downhill with practice or motivation when the praise is not positive enough. Unfortunately, as humans, we hear criticism a lot louder than we hear compliments. And when we hear criticism after criticism with very little compliments, it can feel defeating. Fast. Very fast. Thats when you start having to pull teeth. Kids want to feel good about what they are trying so hard to do, and we have to give them credit for their attempts. Find whatever you can to compliment them first, and then give them some constructive criticism. I recommend the following:
“Your pinky was so curved while you did that! Do you think you can get your thumb to be just as wonderfully curved as the pinky?” This language gives them something new to work on, while complimenting their pinky, and having the thumb be as great as the pinky. Not that the thumb was bad.
“Mr. Pinky is being extra stinky today! What a trouble maker! Im going to keep a close eye on him to make sure he’s behaving!” With this, you are taking the blame off your child, and onto a new character, Mr. Pinky. He is removed from your child, and its not your childs fault, its pinky’s fault. Now, both of you know that the only way to get the pinky to curve is if your child takes responsibility for it, but the language with how you approach it is not so severe. I highly recommend this approach with any body part you are addressing. Use “the hand” instead of “your hand”. Use “Mr Shoulder” instead of “your shoulder”.
These two tips go a long way; having genuine and positive praise more often, and always first.
Now as I said earlier, if the child feels like they aren’t doing well, they will shut down in their own way. Face will go blank, tears will start rolling, practice will become a fight. This is the child acting out of fear; fear of failing, fear of working so hard and not succeeding, fear of having you be disappointed in them for 30 minutes straight while they work their hardest.
There once was a man who ate a bike. No, he did not sit down with a bike and magically swallow the bike in one sitting. No, he did not even take the tire and chew on it until it broke down. He simply took a small part, like a screw, ground it up into dust, and sprinkled a small bit onto his delicious breakfast every morning until eventually, without even noticing, he had eaten a whole bike. His breakfast was just as enjoyable as always, and he is now in the Guiness Book of World Records.
Your positive and genuine practice is your delicious breakfast. It is the way that your child will remember you as; supportive, loving, attentive. It is the basis for what we need to create a violinist. But the hard part is grinding up that screw.
How do we make something so easy for your child that they will not come to the violin every day out of fear, or exhaustion, or anger, but with motivation and knowing that it will be okay as long as they put their best foot forward? We have to make it chewable.
If your child is struggling with a Mississippi Stop Stop, do not pound them into the ground until they can do it just because the teacher told you to work on it. Go back a step. What did you work on before you started Mississippi Stop Stops on the violin? Bow exercises? Do some of those. Give lots of genuine praise. Posture practice? Do that too, with lots of genuine praise! What can they easily succeed at? Give them confidence boosters to show them that violin practice is about success, not struggle. 90% of practice is positive reinforcement, building confidence, practicing their skills. 10% of practice is trial and error, and how to improve without making it emotional, and purely what we need to add to get better.
If practice is not chewable, it will not be doable. If practice seems too long, or without an end in sight, it will not be swallowable for them. If practice seems too hard, make them not want to do another repetition. If practice is making both of you frustrated, then what are we really doing? We have to remember that violin is a vessel in which we teach confidence, love, relationships, refinement, attention to detail, kindness, respect, and trust.
Make practice easy. Make practice about succeeding, and not failing. Make practice chewable.
Dr. Suzuki called his method “No Mistakes Practice”. He called it this because he saw the value in practicing what you are good at. Dr. Suzuki was like a child himself; always playing games, always trying new things, incredibly curious and full of life. Children loved him, and he loved children. Children have wide open minds with barely any experience with negativity, and much less how to handle it. Our job is to find a way to ensure “No Mistakes Practice”, AKA, making it chewable. Doable. Where they are able to succeed easily.
Remember that every child can learn to play the violin. If the child is not succeeding, take a look at why they are not succeeding. Is it lack of inspiration? Lack of knowledge or clarity? Frustration? If the child is not succeeding, it is not their fault. It is up to parents and teachers to make it all chewable. Kids naturally come with loads of excitement, inspiration, wonder, curiosity, and fearlessness. We want to build on that, and not deplete that.
Make it chewable.