On Practising

In “Emily’s Musical Musings”, a blog by a gifted teacher, Emily discusses what she calls “the practising myth”.

It’s the concept of parents backing their children not wanting to practice.  “I don’t want them to lose their love for music so I’m not going to push them.”

Yes, here and there I come across this in my studio, too.  Usually my rules take care of that:  “Students are expected to practise daily to ensure adequate progress.  Failure to do so may result in termination of lessons.”   People know where they stand.  Here and there I get a concerned mom voicing above (illogical, as I’ll prove in a moment) opinion; usually theirs are the children who go at it with such passion that they just fly ahead (ironically).  But occasionally I get a student who really is not going to practice…  and the predictable of course happens.

Let’s look at this whole thing.

It is a total unfairness not to make children used to practising.  Those who practise, progress.  A.k.a those who fail to practise, get stuck and then quit.

Children get used to routines.  They will eventually accept that bedtime is at 8h (or whenever you set it consistently), even in the holidays!  They will get used to that a meal without vegetables is not a meal and that you eat your veggies – or go to bed hungrier.  They even get used to washing up dishes and putting up laundry on the line without grumbling, if you make them do it consistently, repeatedly, and regularly.  These things are part of life (you wouldn’t let them get away without brushing their teeth, now would you?).

So a child who knows that it’s first half an hour’s violin practice, then it’s homework, and only then it’s playtime, every day, will not baulk at it because it’s pointless to resist.  (The prime reason I put violin practice ahead of schoolwork is that it’s a supreme way of waking up the brain, and the homework goes a lot faster after that.)

But if you expect your child to remember by themselves to practice, and you don’t help and encourage them over that initial resistance (which is really just inertia), you’re not being a supportive parent, and it is deeply unfair because your child’s initial impetus and love for the violin will fade with the weeks in which he fails to progress.

There is only so much we teachers can do.  We give the lessons, which could be compared to a road map towards the next milestone; but the student has to do the travelling to that milestone by themselves.  It is not our central nervous system being trained.  And while one can “drill” a theoretical subject, with a practical subject like the violin you’d have to pay us to supervise practising 7 times a week if you wanted to make progress our responsibility.

Having said all this:  Not every beginner on the violin will become the next David Garrett.  Such people are immensely rare, and – take note – self-driven practically without exception.  About half of the students in my studio are self-driven; they know that the name of the game is tenacity and that progress is up to them.  Those are my long-term students.  The others come and go.

Enough already.  I believe the point has been made.

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