Last summer when my daughter was 3, she began taking Suzuki violin lessons. It’s fascinating to watch her learn an to play an instrument and to learn to love music. I love being involved with her lessons and playing the role of a music parent rather than my usual role of a music teacher.
Before I had kids, I could only draw upon my own experiences from my childhood and my perception of what it must be like for parents to help their kids practice and learn an instrument. But now that I have to make the time to help Sophie practice, I get it. Practicing is hard, family life is really busy, can be totally chaotic and even the things that are most important to us or that we really want to do each day don’t necessarily happen. Parents have so much pressure to take care of so many different things for their kids and for themselves that sometimes it is impossible to do it all.
For years, I’ve encouraged my students to aim for 5 days of practice each week. I always told them that some weeks were busier than others and it’s ok if you don’t get all 5 days sometimes, but it’s also good to aim for all 7 days when possible.
When Sophie started violin lessons, I more or less followed my own advice. We got in a good routine of practicing Monday through Thursday each week, our lesson was on Friday and the weekends were hit or miss. Some days I would completely forget to help Sophie practice, some days we would be so busy and away from the house that there just wasn’t time to practice and occasionally she would tell me she didn’t want to practice, so I just didn’t push it.
Everything changed one day at a violin lesson last February when Sophie had been awarded with a sticker and she couldn’t decided where to put it. Her teacher pulled out a practice chart for her to put it on and told her to try to practice for 100 days in a row.
In retrospect, it seems so silly that her music-teacher mom wasn’t making her practice everyday, but it had honestly not occurred to me to get into that habit. We were just doing the best we could with a newborn and a busy schedule. I figured what we were doing was good enough, considering the stage we were in.
I’m always up for a challenge and my visual nature loves watching a chart fill in with progress. I’m sure 3-year-old Sophie didn’t realize what we were getting ourselves into, but from that day on, we were committed to practicing every single day.
She has practiced nearly everyday since then – for over 9 months! I can really see what a difference daily practice has made. Naturally, she has made a lot progress in a year, but when practicing stopped being optional and became an integral part of our day, she really started taking off.
The biggest surprise to me is that it is much easier to practice everyday than to not practice. When you are committed to doing something every single day, you don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s not an option so there is no internal monologue of excuses. You don’t have to make a decision about whether or not you will practice because you already know the answer – of course you will practice.
I have recently joined Sophie in her daily practicing. I had gotten into a bad habit of only practicing music I needed to learn for the sake of teaching. In the midst of my busy days between caring for my own kids and teaching lessons, I had completely fallen away from practicing to further my own skills and to enjoy the process of learning music.
When practice is something that you only do some of the time, you’re on a slippery slope. It’s way too easy to put it off to tomorrow. Then tomorrow comes and there just isn’t enough time, or you forget, or something happens that prevents you from practicing.
When you create a culture of practice, you become aware of all of the variety of skills that need to be practiced in order to learn an instrument. We get out Sophie’s violin nearly every day, but on days when it is impossible, we at least spend a little bit of time practicing her bow hold on a pencil, actively listening to a recording of her songs, singing her songs, sight-reading and clapping rhythms or even talking through the sequence of notes in her songs.
Occasionally she resists practicing, but it is easy for her to understand when I explain, “this is just something that we have to do everyday, just like brushing your teeth”. When it was optional, she knew she could talk me out of it, or that this could be a day she didn’t have to practice.
Before I made my own commitment to practice everyday, I had convinced myself that I simply didn’t have time to practice anymore. I’ve proven myself wrong for 96 of the past 97 days. I have found at least a few minutes on every one of those days to practice. I also thought my brain was just too full and too distracted at this season in my life to memorize music, but I have proven myself wrong again.
Most importantly, changing our mindset from practicing sometimes to practicing always has helped our family return to the root of why we play and learn music in the first place. We enjoy how it brings us together, we enjoy the process of learning, and we enjoy sharing our music with others. It gives us something to work towards and something to be proud of. In it, we experience beauty and peace that is sometimes hard to notice in our busy lives.
If you’re not in the habit of practicing each day, I challenge you to create a new culture in your home where practicing music becomes a part of what you do every single day. Your practice sessions don’t have to look the same each day, but you will probably find that even 5 minutes of practice each day produces far greater results that 1 hour of practice once a week.