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New Year, New You - No More Excuses! :)

Is consistent practice in the age of COVID, virtual learning, topsy turvy scheduling, and snow days even possible?

I would argue that it's more possible now than ever before! In recent months our schedules have been pruned of so many unnecessary commitments. Of course, many of us miss some of what we were doing before, but for many of us, simply stepping away from some commitments for a bit has been clarifying in unexpected ways. We don't miss the extra practices, late nights, or earlier mornings that we had become accustomed to. This new slower pace allows us more time to absorb the nutrients of what we are focusing on and gives us more time to spend on the things that are truly important.

Violinist practicing

That all being said, there are some practical things we can do to ensure that our music practice remains effective and regular. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Small consistent actions move mountains. Focus on what you can do each and every day to push your goals forward in achievable ways. Rather than overwhelming yourself with trying to play through an entire piece 12 times in a day, focus on 10 or 15 measures, or the first page at a steady tempo. Start slow and build on your progress every day. Don't compare your day 2 to someone else's day 200. Additionally, if you only get through 4 of the 5 things you were supposed to do on Tuesday, start with that 5th thing on Wednesday and keep going. Shaming yourself or your child won't get you the results you're looking for.

2. Maintain your vision. While you don't want to compare yourself and your musical progress to a musical artist you admire who's been at it for many more years, it can be helpful to keep a vision of where you'd like to be (or where you'd like your child to be). An example of a healthy vision for a young pianist would be to develop sensitivity and nuance in their playing, strong problem solving skills, tenacity, and natural curiosity. I think we can all agree that that is different from expecting a 4 year old to play like your favorite classical artist.

3. Take notes and use them. Whatever your instructor tells you during your music lesson, write it down and use these relevant notes to guide your practice sessions at home. The more closely you can use the techniques your music teacher shows you, the quicker you can master them and move to the next level. Seeing this kind of progress in yourself or in your children is incredibly rewarding! If the technique is something that your teacher uses lesson time for, chances are s/he means for you to use this at home and develop these skills.

4. Make a plan and hold yourself or your child accountable. This can look like a few different things. You could make a grid or calendar and put an X on the days that practice happened. When so many X's happen in a week (ideally 5-6), perhaps a small reward can be given. This reward doesn't have to be expensive. It can be something like getting to pick the movie or game for family night. It can be an extra hour of screen time on Saturday. Use your imagination, but the important thing is to find a way to keep it consistent.

When children know the rewards in advance, they're much more likely to put in the effort to achieve them. Don't forget that these rewards can change as their preferences shift. You're probably well aware that stickers might be a really cool incentive for your 7 year old, but an extra hour of screen time might be more enticing for your 12 year old.

Woman practicing piano with guitar and records in background

For this last bit, I want to share a bit from the recent American Suzuki Journal. Cellist Brittany Platt Gardener asks if parents are willing to grow too, alongside their young music student children.

"When talking with music parents, I like to ask them why it is that they have enrolled their children in music lessons. The variety of motivations is fascinating to me: I love seeing different perspectives. Parents seek all kinds of thing, from mastery of a skill, a community for their family, discipline, love, to a chance to practice relationships and continue tradition.

"Take a moment to ask yourself why it is you've enrolled your child in lessons. What is it that you hope to they get out of the experience? Now, turn that question around and ask yourself if you are willing to grow in the same way.

"Parents often focus so much on compelling their children to grow, that we often miss the opportunity for our own personal growth. And I'll tell you, if you can focus on being teachable, this example of openness and growth mindset from the parent goes further in fostering similar openness in children than any other technique or approach. As Dr. Suzuki said, 'Children learn to smile from their parents.' If you'd like your child to find joy and curiosity and consistency in their practice, then take the risk to exercise these qualities yourself."

If you'd like to get started with piano or guitar lessons, contact us today for your first free lesson!

September planner with dates crossed off

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