There’s something about the summer that begs you to rejuvenate.
Maybe it has something to do with crossing the half-way mark in the year.
But after a long school year of commitments and classes, your child’s going to need a break before taking on the new school term.
Ever notice how that first day of school always creeps up on you before you’re ready?
Well, I’ve got some ways to savor your long summer days and re-introduce new life in your child’s practice routine.
Because you know what’s a heck of a lot more important than the way they’re playing their musical pieces?
Actually having fun.
It’s the main reason we do anything really, isn’t it?
When someone’s not guilting us, or pressuring us to do something we absolutely HAVE to do, we only go back to the things that give us pleasure in our lives.
It’s not just kids who do this – we do it, too. (Isn’t Facebook more fun when you’re avoiding your work at the office?)
So I challenge you to change the way you do things this summer: change your practice routine, go outside, make a practice play date, listen to different types of music, take more breaks, and dream up some new dreams together. Give yourself the chance to make music fun again.
And above all, don’t take life (or music) too seriously.
Summer’s a great reminder that great things can happen when we just relax and play all day, doing something we love to do.
1. Start a 100 day practice challenge
You’d be amazed at how much progress you can make when you practice 100 days.
Honestly, you’d be amazed at how much progress you’d make doing anything for a straight 7 days, but we’re dreaming big today.
The 100 day practice calendar is a sheet that keeps track of practicing 100 days in a row.
It sounds like a lot doesn’t it? But it’s not as hard as you think it is.
The kids who do this on the regular don’t all have perfect practice days. They just put in the effort to practice each day.
Even a few minutes a day makes a difference. The point is to get in the habit of practicing regulary. Some days are good and some days are not so good. Some days you practice more than others. That doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is getting in the habit of practicing daily. Because that’s what makes the difference in the end.
Wanna get started? Here’s a post from Sue Hunt over at her blog Music in Practice. Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, also has a post about this challenge. I love the idea of filling in the image of the violin with each practice.
2. Practice play dates
Kids love to play. You know this.
But have you ever implemented it when it comes to practicing?
Instead of practicing alone, ask one of their friends over who takes music lessons along with them. This goes over better if they’re on the same level, or around the same level of musical expertise.
- Encourage them to play review pieces together. Make a game out of it and see how long they can go.
- Play the entire book together.
- Put on a timer and see if they can play through every piece, side by side, beat by beat.
- OR, they can switch off songs. One can play the first song in the book and the other child plays the second song in the book. This goes on and on until the book is finished.
The point of this practice play date? To practice together and have fun.
Sometimes kids like to do their own thing, so don’t worry if they stray from the practice play date arrangement. You don’t have to manage the entire practice session so much. Kids make their own games together, challenging each other in different ways.
Depending on how young they are, they’ll need some guidance and structure. But other than that, just sit back and watch them play. It’s sort of fascinating to observe what they when they’re left alone to practice together without adults heading the session.
3. Focus on skills
The summer is a great time to hone in on some tough skills. The kind that take forever and ever to perfect during the school year.
For example, say your child is having a really rough time with their bow hold. Perfecting this will not only look better once it’s mastered, but it will make them sound worlds better when they play more difficult pieces later on in the year. And it’ll be easier to practice and perfect pieces when recital time comes along.
- Ask them to take a second to pause between their song and inspect their bow hold. They can pause after each line or two of music and inspect their bowhold, readjusting as needed. Before practicing the next piece, they should adjust their bowhold again.
- Did it move formation during the song? That’s completely normal if it did! Just adjust as needed and ask them to keep their bowhold in mind when they play again.
- Do this everyday until the skill is so refined they don’t even have to think about it.
Tip to keep in mind: When your child is focusing on honing a specific skill, it’s better to play very easy songs. I’m talking “Twinkle Twinkle” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb” easy. The kind they can play in their sleep. Stay away from the difficult ones for now. One thing at a time.
The lazy days of summer call for lounging around and long road trips.
Instead of going all summer break putting off those listening sessions, why not embrace them in a fun way?
- If you’re hanging out at home, turn on their music pieces in the background. It doesn’t have to be blasting to be heard! It just needs to be audible while they play around the house.
- Have a road trip coming up? Put your child’s musical pieces in the playlist. This doesn’t have to be for the entire trip, but aim for at least fifteen minutes or more.
P.S. If you want to pump up their progress this year, go for 30 minutes to an hour. That’s a daily listening requirement for most music kids who improve their music skills really quickly.
5. Take a break
For most kids (and parents), it’s been a looooooong academic school year. And they’re exhausted.
The last thing you want to do is burnout during the summer, right before the school year begins.
If you’ve had a jam-packed year and you want to take a break before jumping in the musical year again, take that much-needed break.
But wait – this doesn’t mean don’t practice at all. It means change the way you practice.
Instead of holding on to a schedule that fills stiff, rigid and long, give you and your child permission to:
- practice something completely different
- cut the practice a little short once in while
- give you and your child time to stop and breathe when practices feels too tense
If you’re being too serious and rigid is your regular routine, take a breath and stop it right now! You don’t have to adhere to a practice routine that doesn’t work for you and your child anymore.
There’s but so long you can keep that song and dance up without feeling overwhelmed and overworked. Figuring out how to practice together takes time, and you don’t want to derail their progress because of the pent-up frustration that comes with working together.
6. Change up your practice time
Do you feel like you’re in a rut when it comes to practicing? Are you and your child practicing regularly?
Usually, parents and kids only tend to think about changing up their practice routine after it’s way too late.
The annoyance and exhaustion happens somewhere in that phase between “barely practicing at all” and “this-is-NOT-working-out-maybe-we-should-JUST-QUIT”.
Don’t let it get to that point. It’s not pretty.
Think about how the past year has gone in the practice department.
- Do morning practices still make sense?
- Do practices at night never end well?
- Do you have infrequent spurts of long practices followed by a week or two of no practice at all?
Chances are, something needs to change soon. This is the case for most families and music students.
Your child’s probably not the same student they were a year ago. You might not be the same parent.
Circumstances change, schedules change, and people change. You’ve learned a lot this past year. Summer is a great time to reflect on your experiences and try something different.
Start doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
This may take some time. That’s ok. Try out different ways to practice, different times of the day to practice, different ways to warm-up for practice. They won’t all be winners. But if you find new ways to start practicing regularly now, it won’t be as hard to keep up the good habits when the school projects flare up and the extracurriculars fill up your calendar.
7. Play something new
The same old, same old pieces can get played out (pun intended).
And if your child is starting to get serious about music, this is definitely the case for your young musician.
Sometimes a young musicians needs a refreshing piece of music that’s completely different to remember why they love playing.
Ask your teacher to recommend a new piece to listen to or play. If your child is interested in fiddling, ask them for a book to get started with or an artist to check out online. Listen to a jazz quartet. Break out some musicals and listen to the way the voices and instruments come together with the storyline.
There’s plenty of music around you. And there are tons of benefits to listening and playing different styles of music, from developing a better ear when they’re listening, to learning how to develop unique styles. Great musicians know when to switch up their play list.
8. Buff up on music theory and sight reading
Music theory and sight-reading are entirely different animals compared to learning by ear. They take time, attention, and practice.
Sure, that’s no different than the usual music practice, but it’s unlike most practice sessions – especially if you’re a Suzuki kid.
Some teachers like to introduce music theory and sight reading along the way, during the student’s musical journey. Others like to batch it together for a later time. They go full throttle into learning the nuts and bolts of what makes music so beautiful and at times, so complex.
The summer is a great time to try out some sight reading and music theory. There’s more time to go through flash cards and take a look at a sight reading book together.
Ask your teacher for recommendations, too. They may be easing into these skills with your child next year and even have a few ideas on simple introductory material you can do at home.
9. Dream and scheme for the new year
A new academic year will be here soon. Before it comes up too quickly (as it always seems to do) why not think about what you and your child want the year to look like. Ask them some questions that make them think…
- Do you want to try out for the orchestra this year?
- Would you want to play for a family or friend’s wedding?
- What about a school talent show?
- Any interest in joining a chamber group?
- Would you want to play in a competition?
- Would you like to visit the symphony more?
- Want to start learning a song now that could be next year’s recital piece?
- Want to go to a workshop, camp, or institute?
Ask your teacher about opportunities to get out there and play music outside of the practice room.
One of our parents here told me his daughter joined the orchestra this year and she’s become more passionate about playing the violin than ever before. I’m calling that a win.
Wherever you are, I encourage you to soak up the sun and keep the music practice fun.
Steady, moving, focused – but ultimately, enjoyable.
How are you going to use the summer to set the reset button?
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