A wonderful and very young student recently performed for the first time in our winter concert. Before the concert we worked really hard to make everything feel easy. There were many moments of frustration and lack of focus but also many, many moments of great music-making that were fun. After having worked so hard during the few weeks preceding the recital, my student had improved dramatically. I could tell when he was up on stage that he was prepared and eager to share the songs he had worked on. He had seen Pepe Romero perform the week before and even imitated Pepe’s bow after his pieces.

We practiced in many different ways but in the end it really boils down to careful and thoughtful repetition. We shifted focus often during a practice session. For example, after warming up with some finger activities. We would play each song slowly once. Then we spent 5-10 minutes on each song varying our goals before a final few performance rehearsals. Here are some ideas to use with your child when practicing new songs or reviewing old ones:

1) Focus on NOT buzzing and keep track of how few buzzes are produced. Try to identify and eliminate the specific buzz-producing pinches.
2) Direct your child’s aural attention to what happens after plucking a note.
3) Play the freeze game (parent says ‘freeze’, child stops mid-piece, parent says ‘unfreeze’, child continues from where he/she left off).
4) If you’re a guitarist have student do one hand while you hunch over and do the other hand’s movements on the same guitar.
5) Clap in rhythm while child plays to emphasize the structure of the pulse.
6) Focus on endings. Are they quiet, too loud, pretty?
7) Focus on metaphorical breathing at the end of a musical phrase or idea.
8) Smile while playing the entire song.
9) Have your child play the entire song with closed eyes or in the dark.
10) Direct your child’s attention to the left hand while playing entire song. Then ask for feedback: Were you on the fingertips? Were their any uncooperative fingers? Did it look smooth?
11) Direct your child’s attention to the right hand while playing entire song. Then ask for feedback: Did it move? Did it bounce?

There is so much to learn for children who start an instrument: poise, attitude, respect, patience, and what work really is. Engage your children with creativity when practicing and eventually they will develop good practice habits. Children have the ability to work hard and deserve recognition when they improve as a result of it. So, go get ice cream!