We have been practicing with our 6 year-old for over 300 days now. After celebrating 200 days of practicing my daughter pointed out that I never practice. It was then that I realized that even when I was practicing, she was not around to hear it. I play string bass and also teach at the same school my daughter takes lessons from on violin. I mostly play in the community with the local theater, community orchestra, and wherever needed. My practice times revolved around free time before lessons and while she was sleeping.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t practicing every day and my daughter had every right to call that out. If I ask her to practice every morning no matter what, why shouldn’t she ask the same of me? I wanted to be the example so I set out to practice 100 days in a row starting on New Year’s Day.
The great thing about this challenge was I learned so much more about my practice relationship with my daughter than I expected. The following are the lessons I learned while practicing with my daughter and completing my own 100 days.
ROUTINE IS EVERYTHING
Early on in the first 100 days with my daughter I discovered that routine was everything. At first we would practice in the afternoon or evening and never at a set time. There was a lot of frustration and begging on my part to get the practice completed. After my daughter suggested we try morning practices things seemed to smooth out very quickly. Each morning our schedule goes: TV & breakfast and then practice before she goes to school. If we have a tough morning and miss something in our routine then we get to it in the afternoon after school before she is allowed her treat or second TV time of the day.
I also found that routine worked great for me as well. In the beginning of practicing, I set the alarm clock for 6:45 am and practiced until it was time to begin violin practice with my daughter. This provided her a chance to know that I was sticking to my routine as well.
Routine in time was the first step to successful mornings. We also set a routine to how she practiced. We first would play rhythms, easier songs that worked on bows, finger exercises that helped with the twinkles, then her set songs that she has learned, and ended with more finger exercises. This routine proved to be invaluable when on the rare occasion I couldn’t practice with her and my husband would stand in. She knew the routine and would still go through it to complete a successful practice.
It is also important to remember to be flexible when the routine doesn’t work anymore. Once daylight savings time happened, I found the 6:45 am practice time to be too early. I had a tougher time getting out of bed and having my own successful practice day. Nowadays I either come home to practice on my lunch break or when I get home from work. Once I adjusted the time to afternoons, I fell into a better rhythm and was able to get better results from my own practice times. The same was also true with my daughter. Once she started playing the full twinkles, she wanted to start her practice with that first. This was she could get “the hard stuff done first.” I learned from my 100 days that it was important to listen to my own self when needing a change and the same with my daughter.
BAD DAYS HAPPEN FOR EVERYONE
As a teacher, my classroom is a safe zone where mistakes can and will happen and that’s OK. At home as a parent, I struggled with my child when she would remember her Twinkles on Tuesday and forget a part on Wednesday. This was the biggest connection I made while practicing my own 100 days. Bad days happen for everyone. I had a morning where I couldn’t get my fingers to cooperate with my brain and my bow. It was a long morning and a very slow practice day. The next day my daughter experienced the same thing and I was able to remind myself that it happened to me, it happens at my own lessons, and sure enough it will happen at home too. Instead of struggling, I was able to say, “happens to all of us.” We then shook it off and came back to it a little later to find that she could remember the part again.
Bad days are not just about the mind not matching the fingers. Sometimes we’re tired and cranky and don’t even want to think about picking up a bow. On these days, I wouldn’t call it bribing, I would call it incentive. We sometimes have the cranky days where she’ll hide under a chair with her special blanket pretending to be invisible. I try to find the thing she would really like and use that as incentive for practice. A small hot chocolate, maybe a marshmallow, or even extra TV time in the afternoon. Once we get over the initial crankiness she falls right into her routine and the practice progress without any big problems.
Once again, as a teacher I don’t judge student to student. What I’m judging is progress made and where I need to help them most for their own improvement. As a parent, I know this can be an especially tough one not to do. We’re in a Suzuki program that has many talented kids around the same age as my daughter. Some days it’s hard to be in group practice and not think, “why isn’t my daughter further ahead or playing that specific song?” Many factors can play into why or why not a kid is at a certain point. For example, I have learned over the last two years that I have little knowledge on how to play a violin. From how the “gate” opens (that’s referring to her bowing arm) to finger blocks (basses do, violin sometimes) to even how much rosin is used on a bow (basses every time, violin once a week). We were using rosin so much that we ran out of our initial amount, and when I mentioned this to my daughter’s violin teacher she laughed and said that it normally takes her years to go through that amount of rosin. Lesson learned. However, I like to think my daughter has had more practice person user error moments than most in our program since I was working off string bass knowledge. As the teacher, I know each student has something they do really well and I celebrate that with them. I have taken this and started applying it to my parent side of my brain. I see every child in group and think, “Wow, Johnny has an awesome gate. His parents must be super proud”. This approach has helped me with my own daughter who likes to do interpretive dance during group classes. Now I think “Wow, she stood still to play the whole song!” By taking out the judging, it also has made practice easier at home. I can sit back and enjoy her awesome moments and celebrate them with her. Which in turn makes practice easier and more fun. Sure, we work on the difficult parts but I’ve let the “Johnny” comparison at the door.
The biggest question I get is “how do you travel and practice”? I find traveling with the violin very easy. It’s small and can fit under a plane seat. When we were in Disney it was an easy sell to my daughter on practice. “Want to see the princesses? Let’s practice first.” The same in Denver, “Want to see the dinosaurs? Let’s practice first.” I’m still a little surprised that someone at the hotels hasn’t complained about the violin going at 8 am. For string bass and other larger instruments, practice and travel can be tough. For my students, I tell them to load up the iPod with their bass book songs and grab a pencil. You can listen to your music while note reading and practicing bowing on your leg. It’s a simple solution to travel that keeps you practicing. I use my daughter’s old fake bow (with no hair) and use this same technique. I have learned that by taking away the bass, I was actually able to detect some things I was practicing wrong and was able to fix once I got the bass back in my hands.
THE DREADED MISSED DAY
The dreaded missed day hasn’t happened for my daughter yet. She’s well over 364 days of practice now. However, it has happened to me at day 166. After a busy day of summer activities and then work, I missed my practice time. Around 11:30 pm I woke up to realize that I forgot to practice and thought, “is it too late to get out the fake bow”? Alas, it was and I had to start back over at Day 1. It was a good lesson to learn not to be disappointed. Sure, I was very disappointed that I missed but it gave me the challenge of trying again. In all honestly, I was shocked I made it 166 days. Between travel, summer activities, and life, I was able to carve out time to help myself become a better player and parent in the process. When I was a kid, practice was that dreaded time of the day. Now it’s something I crave and helps me center myself like nothing else.
Practicing 100 days in a row has taught me many things but the best thing to come out of it was I felt like a better parent when practicing with my own kid. Everyday might not be perfect with her practice and we still have cranky days but at the end of the day, we spent 20-30 minutes together playing music. I hope that one day she looks back on her practicing as a time of joy and love because I can think of nothing better than the gift of music.
Previously printed in American Suzuki Journal 43.4. Copyright © 2015 Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc.