5 Tips for Making Progress: Habits that Work for Families

Are you worried that your child isn’t making progress, or maybe that your child is starting to “hate” their instrument? Are you questioning why you’re even doing this? Violin lessons are expensive, time consuming and sometimes it feels like a never-ending to-do list with little to show for it. If you’re in a rut, here is a list of 5 habits I notice in families that make consistent progress.

  1. Routine Practice. Students in my studio who have a daily practice commitment make progress faster than students who lump practice into 1-2 longer sessions. You will accomplish much more 20 minutes every day than irregular, hour long practices. Plus, if your child is young they might not be able to focus that long. This is the #1 suggestion for making progress, you gotta do the work!

  2. Practice Chart. I make students a practice chart that will likely stay pretty much the same for weeks to months. Try your best to hit all the points on the chart each practice session, but if it’s too overwhelming you can try to find ways to split it up every other day. It’s best to discuss with your teacher which items on the to-do list should definitely be done every day. Remember that practice frequency is more important than quantity.

  3. Take Notes. For children under the age of 12 I recommend that parents take notes on a notepad, not their phone/laptop, during the lessons. This helps practice at home for many reasons: you’ll have a record of what to do and what has been done over weeks/months/years of lessons and if your child can read they have written proof that the teacher asked them to do such-and-such activity. I prefer a notebook because studies have shown that people retain information better when taking hand-written notes vs. typed notes. Also, it allows us to unplug and be in the analog world for a bit, one of the benefits of learning an acoustic instrument!

  4. Be a Cheerleader. Everyone is on their own journey and it is easy for parents to spin in a negative direction when they think other students are progressing faster than their child. It’s very possible your child is having a different kind of progress that isn’t measured in pieces or tone quality. If you feel like progress is slow, go back over the first 3 suggestions and maybe there is something missing. If not, just remember that learning is not always in a straight line–there are valleys and plateaus, but if we persevere we will eventually reach the top of the mountain. Turning your energy positive will help your child have a positive relationship to lessons, practice and their instrument, too.

  5. Community. Whether it be Group Class, recitals, youth orchestra, music theory workshops–we are social creatures and crave interacting with others. Music, especially the violin, is meant to be made with other people. For my youngest students I recommend attending Group Class regularly because it is fun and most likely the only age appropriate activity. Usually around 3rd grade students can join youth orchestras. While lessons can be a mixed bag of emotions, sometimes high and some low, it’s rare that a student doesn’t like playing music with other kids. It’s possible this community engagement is missing if your child feels caught in a rut, so seek out opportunities to play with others.

There are many unseen benefits to learning an instrument. Music is the only activity that activates all parts of our brain simultaneously. Behind the violin lesson students learn grit, appreciation for beauty, cooperation, public speaking, confidence, critical thinking, self-assessment, and the ability to overcome the impossible. While students may grow into an identity of a musician–that identity may change when they turn 18 and go off to college–but it will certainly inform the type of person they will become as an adult.