© 2021 Leonardo Garcia

Playing time should consist of a variety of activities. Depending on the amount of time spent playing each day or each week, young students and their parents should mutually agree to prepare for the upcoming lesson and to spend some time refining playing and improving skills. The positive correlation between increased time spent on the instrument and increased skill is not a myth. However, time spent on the instrument is easily wasted. Structure playing time around several of the following activities:

Right Hand and Left Hand Finger Activities – For the right hand, use string-crossing patterns or for more advanced students pick a right hand study. For the left hand, a movement requiring an anchor finger should suffice (anchor finger 1 down, then play a pattern like 13131 leaving finger 1 anchored/pinched for the duration of the pattern). For advanced students, longer patterns involving scales or slurs help to develop strength and accuracy in the left hand.

Favorite Song Review – Students (and parents) should always have a developing list of songs and activities to pick from every time they sit down to play their instruments. The more detailed the better: name of song, when it was first started, how long until memorized, tallies for successful run-throughs, time goals, etc. Having practice charts or notebooks also provide students with a diary of their accomplishments, trials, and history. Taking notes (parents) during lessons and during playing (questions that pop up) is also conducive to better results.

Learning New Songs – This process requires diligence. Learning a song with mistakes means playing with mistakes. Sitting down to learn a song can sometimes be overwhelming, though. Most often, an overwhelmed student falls into the “just play it through with the music a bunch of times” mentality. This method is not efficient and often leads to frustration. A method that leads to success, and one that I often use in lessons, is to learn ONLY two or three notes well (quality vs. quantity). The sooner (and younger) students form the habit of learning this way the better. Remember to keep this process engaging and interesting by asking questions that challenge the student’s perception of the newly learned material (two or three notes!). Students should be able to give precise answers to questions like: Which fingers are used? What is the string pattern for the notes? Do all notes sound clear? Does it sound beautiful? Any recognizable patterns? Do other songs use the same notes? Can you play it with your eyes closed? Can you play it looking at your right hand? Left? Etc…

Then, when the student has eliminated all doubt by questioning (with parents helping) the way they execute the newly learned notes, play a game to try and build on this success. Tallies are good motivators: play notes clearly, you get a point, produce a buzz or thump (parent sets challenge), parent gets point, first to five wins. Playing for pennies: student gets 5 pennies and the “house” (or stuffed animal or parent) gets five pennies. Play a group of notes well (try to specify goal), student gets a penny from the house, student plays poorly, house gets a penny from the student. Game ends when student has all pennies. Onto the next round of pennies… Praise all successes!

Clapping, Listening, and Singing – Clapping, singing, and listening should never go underrated. Clap the rhythm of a part of the song. Listen to the song being learned several times. Listen to the rhythm, listen to volume/loudness changes, listen to the endings, and listen to the silence between notes if possible. Also, try singing along with the notes just learned. A simple “la” is fine but if there are words it can be more fun. Write words if the song doesn’t have any.

Creating Songs – Pick a song. Experiment with note substitution. What happens if we leave out all of these notes? What happens if we play this note instead of this one? Reassemble the notes of the song in a few ways and then write out any interesting or appealing groups of notes (in string/fret code if necessary). This is FUN!