Tips for Practicing

by Phyllis Freeman

There are 4 important ingredients in acheiving a basic level of mastery in regards to playing a musical instrument.  First, is the teacher who provides the knowledge and experience. Second, is the string shop that provides the tools.  Third, is the parent who supports the student and creates an environment in which the student can thrive.  Lastly, there is the student. 

Let’s start off by dispelling the “talent myth.”  Research (you can read more about a study done in the early 1990’s by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music in the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwellhas shown that putting in quality time on a regular basis is the primary factor in becoming a competent musician.  (You can also read an important excerpt from this book by clicking here.)

With that in mind, let’s go over a few tips for practicing.

  • Discuss with your teacher the amount of practice time it will take to master the assignments each week.   Once that amount of time has been determined, parent and child should sit down together and make a realistic plan regarding when practicing will occur each day.  Write this down and stick to it and make it a habit.


  • Parent and child should also discuss what circumstances would warrant missing a practice session.  (However, if exceptions are happening frequently, you might want to return to the previous point or examine whether or not the child might be overscheduled.) Circumstances that might prohibit practicing might include illness, child’s birthday or other important holiday.


  • Focus on achieving goals, not just putting in time.  If you don’t fully understand your assignment, it is doubtful that you can master the task at hand.  Take notes in your lesson and if you don’t fully understand the assignment, ask for clarification.  Also, time will seem to pass more quickly if you are task, rather than time oriented.


  • Designate a distraction free place to practice.  This space should have all your supplies (music stand, metronome, music, pencil, etc.) and have a safe place to open your case.


  • Get inspired.  Make watching a YouTube video of one of the great masters of violin, viola or cello (or whatever instrument you play)  a part of your practice routine.


  • External Reinforcement.  Yes, all students should want to practice for intrinsic reasons. Eventually (when they are teens) they usually will develop this discipline on their own. However, younger students are often motivated by putting stickers on a chart or getting some small reward at the end of each week of excellent practicing.  Even, small rewards (Jelly Bellies and pennies work well for this purpose) that are dispensed during a practice session for achieving desired goals can go a long way towards making practicing more enjoyable and even fun.


  • Provide an environment that is rich in classical music.  Parents should play classical music when their child(ren) are in the car or at night when the child is going to sleep.  Take them to concerts.  Most symphonies have programs throughout the year that are designed for even very young children.  (Don’t take a 5 year old to a 2 hour concert that features complex repertoire.)  There are lots of resources (books and CD’s) that have interesting stories about musicians.  Make sure your child has access to these resources.


Phyllis Freeman

Phyllis Freeman
    Ms. Freeman is very active as a performer, teacher and entrepreneur.  She created and directed a very successful Suzuki string program at the first charter school in the state of Maryland, the Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School, from 2004-2011.  She is also the director of the Maryland Talent Education Center which is located in Frederick and Mount Airy Maryland and a member of the violin/viola faculty at Peabody Institute in the Preparatory Division.  In addition to her administrative and teaching positions, she is the principal viola for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and a member of the National Philharmonic.  Ms. Freeman has had several articles published in the American Suzuki Journal.
    Ms. Freeman is also the founder and CEO of Molto Legato LLC,  a new media company for the classical music industry.   . Molto Legato has a video division that created a DVD series that violin students use at home to help with practice as well as documentaries like "What is a Suzuki Festival," "Suzuki Founders in the US" and an interview with Suzuki patriarch, John Kendall.  These documentaries and many masterclasses can be found exclusively on

Tags:   Advice for Parents    Motivation and Psychology    practice tips
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