The first year practicing with my 4 year old

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Blog, Practice | 0 comments

The first year practicing with my 4 year old

Practicing with a four year old can be rewarding at some times and rough at others. I used to think I had all the answers for parents of four year olds. Then my own daughter started Suzuki violin a few months after her 4th birthday. At first I was validated. Aya seemed excited to be finally going to lessons, like she’d seen since she was born. She was happy to practice with me at home. I’ll never forget one of the first times we practiced and she told me afterwards “You’re the best mommy in the whole world.” I thought: this is great! It’s so special for her to have these 10 minutes where I turn off my phone, ignore all the chores, and tell her baby sister that I need to be focused on Aya. And I’m giving her the gift of music! So that was stage 1.

Stage 2 was when she decided she actually already knew how to play the violin, and didn’t need me to help her. She would just grab it and start sawing away, creating bad habits by the handful while I watched it happen.

In stage 3, I threw out all my convictions about how wrong it is to use bribes and rewards. And I went all out. Not only was I going to bribe her, but I was going to do it with FOOD. And that food would be CHOCOLATE. I put a chocolate chip on her bow hand, and told her if she could keep her wrist bent, and bring her bow up to her face without letting the chocolate chip fall off, she could eat it. Right there in her practice.

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We later found that chocolate chips fall off too easily and moved on to Annie’s fruit snacks, which stick to your hand and work really well.

Stage 4: Aya has accepted that practice is part of her daily routine, and also seems to have forgotten that she really wants to play a song. When her sister goes down for her nap, the first thing Aya does is run to get her violin out and get ready to practice… Because she wants the fruit snacks. We go through all the things her teacher has asked us to do: clapping rhythms, practicing her bow hold, balancing the violin on her shoulder (with a fruit snack on it). Then we’re done and she’s on to other things.

Stage 5:

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She starts playing on the string and we start arguing over if she’s doing what her teacher asked. She doesn’t seem to remember that her mother is a violin teacher. She tries to convince me that her teacher said to do things a different way.

She tells me her legs hurt and starts acting like I’m torturing her. She melts to the floor and sobs that she can’t do it any longer.

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Stage 6: She starts actually learning to play and is feeling very proud of herself.  Somehow we ran out of fruit snacks and she seems to haveforgotten that my food reward was ever a part of practice. We still use games: often just picking a card from a stack we made with pictures of each rhythm.

Ok stage 7: how many stages will there be? Maybe I will continue this until her first Twinkle recital. One full year. That’s coming up, so I’m hoping that there will be a stage 8 where everything is going well again. Stage 7 is that she only wants to play things she learned in the beginning. (“Review songs”) One thing we tried was a “7 minute practice” where I set a timer and when 7 minutes is up we are done, even if we were in the middle of a song when it goes off. Yesterday she refused to practice anything her teacher had asked us to practice, and defiantly told me she would only play the “flower song” (the Flower Song is a relatively easy song with 4 notes, 3 of which are open strings.) She furiously played the Flower Song over and over and over for seven minutes straight. She must have played it 50 times. I’m sure she thought “I’m showing her! I will NOT do what I’m supposed to!” but actually I was really amazed that she could play, with good posture and great tone, for 7 minutes in a row. When it was over I pointed out to her that 3 months ago she could barely even play the Flower Song and now she just played it 50 times in a row. So actually that practice was ok, but for the past week it has been a struggle to get her to practice what we’re supposed to be practicing.

practicing outside on a warm Spring day

Practicing outside on a warm spring day

And on we go. The moral of this post is, with a 4 year old, there are ups and downs. This is why I require students to commit to a semester at a time. At that 6 week mark, you may be ready to throw in the towel, but if you get past those humps, there is a lot of fun and music making to be had. And one more thing. When Aya is learning new things, she already is making the connection that she can learn anything, and be good at anything, and the way to do it is practice a little bit every day.

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