Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to Encourage and Praise During Musical Instrument Practice

We all need a little encouragement and support from our family as we work through challenging projects. Imagine you just spent the weekend repainting the living room. Which comment from your spouse would be more likely spur you on to tackle the next paint job?

Response A: "Nice job, hon!"

Response B: "Wow, what an improvement! I love how you coordinated the wall and trim colors. I noticed you've come a long way with your painting technique... not a single drip!"

Get it? Right. The more thoughtful and specific your feedback to your child's practice, the better they will respond. Take time to listen carefully and find things that you can make positive (but honest) comments on, even if other aspects of the playing were weak. If you are part of a Suzuki program and practice daily with your child, consider this YOUR practice time to master the art of positive reinforcement.

Imagine your child just finished playing "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" on the violin and there was a SERIOUS problem with her second finger placement so that every C# sounded flat. You may sigh to yourself, "Arggh, didn't we just spend the entire focus of her lesson on this very issue? Can't she hear how out of tune it sounds? We need to fix this before her next lesson or the teacher is going to think we didn't practice at all!"

Which response do you think would be more likely to encourage your child to work on her second finger placement?

Response A: "Meghan, that was good, but your finger number 2 needs to be higher. Don't you remember working on this in your lesson? Are you focusing?"

Response B: "I noticed you kept your posture really tall for the whole song. You worked so hard on that last month with Lightly Row and now you're already doing it on a new song! I could tell you were thinking about your bowing too. Good for you. Your teacher wants you to work this week on getting finger two on the tape. Let's play a game. You get a point for every C# that is in tune, and you can pick out a sticker for every 5 points you get."

Your child loves it when you notice what they do really well during practice. In fact, students will often give you MORE of what you praise in their playing! They are also much more open to working on another aspects of playing after being acknowledged for their efforts.

Have you tried "Response B"? Let us know how it works for you. We love your feedback, questions and comments.

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  1. Francine,

    Thank you for leading me to your website. This was already very helpful. I will be checking this pretty regularly - BEFORE we practice together :)

    Cecile (Suzuki Parent)

  2. One practice and already improvement - thanks! Crusoe has only just started violin, and is a little resistant to practice. When I was more mindful of my words with him, I could see his head held higher, his focus improve, and the best - his eyes light up.

  3. Thank you very much for your valuable advice. I will surely use positive reinforcement for my child's lessons.

  4. I know you've said it, but I would like to re-emphasise four words in your article wrt ' encouragement & praise' :
    " thoughtful, specific, positive ...honest ."
    I'd like to add a further aspect for consideration: that the praise - the pointing out to the student of the 'positives' that have just occurred - be delivered in a calm and considered manner with eye contact between teacher and student. I have experienced teachers who just gush praise constantly - mindlessly, the same words - like a form of background static. My hunch is that this variety of praising loses its 'punch' pretty quickly. It's not that these teachers are being dishonest with their praising, but that they 'over do' the treat, which then loses its specialness and impact. On the other hand, 'each to their own'. It has been said, probably by Dr Suzuki,( to paraphrase), ' it is not the technique of the teacher that teaches, but the nature and quality of the RELATIONSHIP between student and teacher and the PERSONALITY of the teacher that is important'. ( A bit like so called 'psychotherapy' eh ? )

  5. Fascinating blog! Your depiction is attention-grabbing. Thanks for sharing your valued vision.

  6. I am really impressed with the information you provided in this article. I have different ideas but your suggestion have changed my thinking.

  7. I couldn't agree more! Kids respond more positively to positive reinforcement. You'll enjoy doing it too once you see how proud they are of their achievements.

  8. Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life. This is the way we do it at my studio, anyway​

    1. Great, thoughtful comment! Sounds like you are very "in tune" with your students and maintain a positive vibe in the studio - two things that I always respect. Cheers,jb


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