Encouraging the Musical Impulse

You have a child playing an instrument, they are already taking private lessons, maybe playing in orchestra at school, what other things can you do to encourage your child to go deeper into their journey with the violin or viola?

Here are three things that will encourage and develop the musical impulse in your child:

Listen, Listen, Listen!!!

There is no better way for your child to develop their sense of style and ear for tone than to listen to recordings or attend live performances.

Not having anyone to guide me, when I was young I purchased CDs with titles like "The Top Ten Pieces of the Baroque Era." These recordings weren't great, but they exposed me to many different composers and styles, leading me to discover the composers I liked, which led me to buy more CDs of my new favorite composer's music! Eventually I subscribed to a CD club and received a few CDs a month featuring artists like Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Yo-Yo Ma. Growing up in a place where artists of that caliber rarely visited, getting their sound in my ear was life-changing.

With YouTube there is now the opportunity to hear countless recordings of artists like this at any time, and yet many students don't take advantage of it. Here are two YouTube channels I created featuring some of my favorite violinists and violists

Make Daily, Organized Practice a Habit

Daily practice is the only route to mastery of an instrument and having a structure to your child's practice allows them to feel a clear sense of improvement and prevents aimless playing.

The Practice Habit

One of the most common questions I get is: How long should my child practice, and how frequently?  It is far better to practice 20-30 minutes each day (with a day off a week, and a week or two off at a time for vacations) than say 45 mins Monday, nothing on Tuesday or Wednesday, an hour on Thursday etc.

Let me stress that it's important to make practicing a habit.  Try and make practice time a regular part of the daily schedule, right before your child leaves from school, or after they finish their homework.  This will make it much easier to ensure that they practice regularly, and they will be encouraged by their progress. No matter how smart or talented your child, sporadic practicing will result in slow progress.

Organizing Practicing

Try to organize your child's practice time this way (based on 30 min session, should be scaled for longer sessions):

  • 10 Mins - Building Time - Scales, Etudes, Technical exercises (see saw, g/d/g)
  • 10 Mins - Polishing Time -  Practice current songs/repertoire (play through a few times, play problem areas, practice with methods below)
  • 10 Mins - Performance Practice Time -  Review old repertoire, sight read or improvise!

To encourage variety, mix up the order of these so that they don't get stale!

Practice Is More Than Playing the Instrument

There are SO many beneficial ways to practice without ever putting the bow on the string!

Here are a few:

1) Listen to recording of the piece and watch music
2) Sing the piece (with solfege if you can!)
3) Shadow bow
4) Finger the piece
5) Clap the rhythms
6) Say the pitch names or finger numbers aloud (in rhythm or without rhythm)
7) Write a story about the piece
8) Determine the form of the piece and its high/low points

These methods can be combined (singing will fingering, saying note names while shadow bowing) for an endless variety of practice methods!  This not only keeps practicing from getting stale it will also deepen your child's understanding and grasp of the piece.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful, and let me know in the comments if you have ideas of your own on how to encourage the beginning player on their journey!