Dont Get Your Children to Practice

By: Christobel Llewellyn

From past experience, I know that if you cannot practice well between lessons it is almost better not to practice at all. Most children need an assistant in the form of an adoring adult in order to practice. A regular practice schedule is the best for small children. They grow to expect practice every day at the same time. Practice then takes on the quality of inevitability. It becomes part of the routine. I tell my students "Every day you brush your teeth, every day you practice." One little boy proudly confessed that he never brushes his teeth!

Children also need to repeat what they already know. Repetition is the only way to learn something thoroughly. We forget that children learn gradually. They cannot produce perfection as they learn. Current thinking among physiologists such as Wilson is that we begin to learn to make complicated moves rather laboriously - working out the details step by step, making corrections when we observe our own mistakes, and consciously and deliberately establishing patterns of movements that eventually become less tentative and finally become smooth and secure. Dr Suzuki was famous for his saying " Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill!" It is up to parents to continually find ways of making practice a joy. I found games with my own children worked and we counted repetitions until we got to 10,000. Needless to say this did not work as they got older and once they understood how a passage should be played and then played it well, couldn't see the necessity for repetitions. Not every day, but most days, we managed to keep up the repetitions. Just think of walking and how many times a baby has to try and try again before they get it right and keep walking long after they get it right.

A good teacher will have the responsibility of establishing goals for the student's lessons and these goals need to be specific and well understood by both the student and the parent. Goals that are specific , and reasonably hard but attainable, will produce much better performance than too easy goals or a general goal to do one's best. I remember when my eldest daughter Stephanie was learning Minuet 2 by Bach and she had difficulty at age 4 getting her little fingers to play the arpeggio section to begin with. Even though the piece is a page long, I got her to only play the first seven notes, 100 times. I then asked her to close her eyes and while holding her violin to put her fingers in the correct positions on the fingerboard. We played a game guessing if her finger positions were individually correct before she checked them by playing singular notes. This helped with her confidence. I have to say, I tried the same method on my youngest daughter Imogen and twenty minutes into the practice on a hot January morning she flung both the violin and bow at me. I managed to catch it just in time. It took me several days to recover by which time I had learned not to push! What works with one doesn't always work with another.

I think as a parent you need to know your children before you start an instrument with them. They are all different and they deserve your love first and foremost. Maria Montessori says " The adult's idea that freedom consists in minimizing duties and obligations must be rejected. The foundation of education must be based on the following facts: That the joy of the child is in accomplishing things great for his age; that the real satisfaction of the child is to give maximum effort to the task at hand; that happiness consists in well directed activity of body and mind in the way of excellence; and that true freedom has, as its objective, service to society and to mankind consistent with the progress and happiness of the individual. Emerson says " The secret of education Lies in respecting the student" and Shakespeare said " Love comforteth like sunshine after rain."

When my son Miles was three, I decided to start him on piano. I held his elbow and his fingers and taught him how to play 'twinkle twinkle little star'. I thought that if I teach him in the correct way by guiding his fingers to play each note "perfectly", since he had never done it incorrectly, he will never learn how to play "badly". From what I had read in all the teaching manuals, it seemed inevitable that he would fall into the pattern that I had established. By the way, psychologists cal this "external manipulation of the passive learner". How wrong I was......after several weeks of "perfect" practice I let him give a mini-concert to his grand-parents at their house. Left to his own devices, he tried every "bad" method of using his fingers on the keys possible. I have since discovered that what I had engaged him in was "passive" practice and when he performed he proved how passive his learning had really been. The truth is you cannot teach a passive learner. According to Holding, 1965, " Knowledge of the correct response is incomplete if there is no opportunity to define it against the alternatives. We cannot be said to understand "red" if we have never identified other colors." This is why I constantly tell parents to take their children to live music events. This is why I started KINDERJAZZ. You can check us out at http://www.kinderjazz.com Children learn with all their senses and music needs to be in 3D. Children miss out on basic cognitive development without this experience.

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