Recently, a parent brought up a question about her seven year old daughter’s violin practice that I felt was worth responding to here.
Q. “How much involvement should I as a parent be having in my daughter’s at home practice?”
The reasons for playing violin are numerous and the rewards of hard work are a beautiful tone, an ability to express colors and emotions beyond the range of some other instruments, options to play many different styles of music from Classical to Jazz to Bluegrass, chances to play in group settings like chamber music and orchestras and the process of improving self discipline.
Once a student has played the violin for a long time, it becomes a tool of expression. When just starting out, it CAN feel like a tool of torture for both student and listener because it’s not easy to initially get a good sound.
Although I in no way want to devalue the challenge of playing the piano, when a child hits a piano key, a nice sound comes out. When a child places bow to strings, the resulting sound is often not so pleasant at first. There’s a lot of technique that goes into making beautiful tone.
Posture, bow hold, angle of the arms—both right and left, violin hold, vibrato, shifting, angle of fingers, pressure of the bow hand… these are all things that even a young violinist has to take into account when playing in order to improve. It’s a lot more like learning a language than riding a bike! With enough practice, these things become second nature and then it becomes more about expressing the music and learning the new songs than about the physical process of playing.
A good teacher has to balance the need for keeping the material mentally interesting and fresh while staying devoted to the numerous muscular and physical areas which must be trained and perfected.
This is also why it can be a slower process for a violinist to learn to read music than a pianist—he or she is concentrating so much on the actual playing that it doesn’t leave much room for thinking about remembering notes.
All of this to say that younger kids are probably going to need a lot more parental support in their at home practice than their piano or voice lesson counterparts.
Many parents are not themselves violinists or even musically trained so it can feel daunting to wonder “how can I assist when I don’t know how to do this thing myself?” A good teacher will highlight to the parents what to watch for at home and give some ideas for how to be of assistance to the child.
One of my favorite tools for home practice is to have parents ask the child to show them how to do a particular technique—maybe even put the instrument into the parent’s hands and have the young violinist correct “bad” posture etc.
Another tip on at home practice success is to carve out a consistent time for practice—maybe it can’t be the same time every day because of various other activities but the same time on a given day of the week—for example, Wednesdays after dinner, Thursdays before school, Saturday after cartoons. The practice time doesn’t have to happen all at once either—3 ten minute sessions in a day is going to produce just as strong a result as one 30 minute session! The key is regular, focused practice.
As the child becomes more advanced there will be less need for parents to be heavily involved in the practice time—the young student will have developed expectations and momentum with technique… so if you can hang in there and help lay a strong foundation, everyone will win!
To all the parents of violin students out there… thanks for allowing your kids to experience this amazing instrument. I hope that it will bring them as much joy and fun as it has brought me over the years. Good luck and practice hard!