7 Tips for Returning to Practice after a Break
In an ideal world, every Suzuki family would be able to keep a consistent daily practice routine. In reality, I find that both my studio families and my own family sometimes take breaks from practicing. Maybe the violin couldn’t come along on a vacation. Maybe the family had to move and it took a while to find a new teacher. Perhaps there has been illness, loss, or an overwhelming season in the family’s life. Maybe we just took a break, either intentionally or unintentionally. Whatever the reason, if there has been a break of more than a few days, it can feel difficult to get physically, mentally, and emotionally back into practice. Here are some ideas to make it easier.
Value the long-term positive practicing relationship over “catching up.” As the practice parent, it is easy to feel the pressure of all the time you’ve missed and want to make up for lost time. If you let that pressure spill over onto your child when you return, your student will resist practicing. As the parent, try to accept that your child's playing level will start lower than it was when you began your break, especially if it was an extended break. You will probably need a little remedial work. Shift your focus from “catching up” or “forging ahead” to creating a sustainable, happy practice routine.
Change the environment if needed. If there were any negative elements to your practice routine before the break, now is the time to make the change. It is easier to reset attitudes and create a more focused practice environment when you resume practice, rather than to trying to change those attitudes or habits once they have taken over again.
Stop while you’re ahead! The author of the children’s books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, Roald Dahl, gave this great advice for writers that can easily be adapted to practicing. If you stop when everything is going well, “You can’t wait to get back, because you know what you’re going to say next. And that’s lovely. And you have to try and do that every time, every day, all the way through the year.” Stop while both of you are feeling good about the work you’re doing together. This will help you be ready to come back to practice next time!
Divide your practice into a few shorter sessions. Playing the violin requires stamina and fine muscle control which may have decreased during your break. If it’s possible, complete a few shorter practice sessions throughout the day rather than expecting hard, focused work for longer periods of time. Your child will feel better about practicing, and you’ll find that you are able to get more done. For the first week or so, be satisfied with short but positive practice segments. Once the positive attitude is firmly established and your student’s stamina has returned, you can increase the length and intensity of the practice as needed.
You don’t have to get to everything every day! Create a system that works for you to track what you’ve done and what you need to do. A successful practice session may mean that your child plays through a few pieces and works on drill spots for a few other pieces. You can silently track what tomorrow's drill spots need to be. Keeping track will help you make sure you got to each scale, review piece, or assignment between lessons, while keeping each practice segment a reasonable length.
Keep your feedback positive and focused! Of course, this is always a practice goal, but positive, focused encouragement is particularly vital as your student is returning to practice after a break. They’re aware that playing is harder and they don’t sound as good as they used to. This isn’t the time to voice all the things that aren't going well. Pick a focus for each part of your practice, and make sure you stick to it. If you told your child that the focus on “Hunter’s Chorus” was keeping a good bowhold, you can silently notice that you need to review bowings and add that to the list for tomorrow, or notice that intonation needs work and make intonation the focus for the next piece, but feedback you relay to your student needs to be about their bowhold. Praise them for their efforts even if some corrections were necessary.
Commit to consistent daily practice, and set a measurable goal. Knowing that you’ll practice every day removes the struggle about whether or not to practice that day. You’ll encounter much less resistance from your student if they are working toward a goal. When my girls and I returned to focused practice after a few sporadic weeks while traveling this summer, we committed to a 100-day (consecutive) practice challenge and chose our treat to celebrate reaching our goal. I don’t have to fight them to practice each day, and the pressure I feel to catch up is reduced, since I know we’ll have consistent chances each day.
Breaks happen. They can either completely derail you, or be just a blip on the radar. If you make sure to re-start well, you can enjoy the positive time of rest that the break provided and emerge with even better practice habits.