As the back-to-school season approaches, my thoughts have turned to the new students starting in September. I think it’s natural to make every teaching year better than the last. I learn something new from every student, because sooner or later, every student asks me a question I’d never heard before and never thought to ask!
But some things never go out of style. I’m a big fan of practice schedules. I’ve been using them myself and it’s a good way to keep on track with goals. Here’s a way to make them fun for kids!
Trivial Pursuit – Violin Style
Everyone has played the game of Trivial Pursuit. Basically, each player gets a pie-shaped token and you need a wedge of each of six colours to win the game. What’s frustrating is when you need the blue wedge, but you’ve landed on the green square 3 times in a row!
I’ve designed a game around violin practice that works in much the same way. From the very first lesson, my students get a practice schedule with 6 things they need to work on this week. Each one is a bite-size task that should take no more than 30 seconds to a minute. Here’s an example:
The first practice, the student starts their practice by rolling a die. They complete the exercise for that number (1-6). Once they’ve done an exercise once, they can mark it off in the first column by colouring it in or with a sticker. Then they roll again, and complete another exercise, and so on. However, if they roll the same number a second time, they have to do that exercise again. This goes on until they’ve done each exercise at least once.
Doing an exercise more than once doesn’t mean you can colour the next one in! Each column is for a different day. Just like in trivial pursuit, you don’t get an extra wedge for the next game even if you correctly answer 3 science questions in a row.
By the end of the week, the student should have a fully coloured in schedule, not to mention that they’ll have done at least 10 minutes of good-quality technique practice every day!
Once students have basic violin skills, they can use this practice schedule to work on technique before they get to practice repertoire. Everyone loves to play their pieces, so let’s make it a reward for having worked hard on technique first!
Names in a Hat
Another exercise I like to use for older students is “Names in a Hat”. When a student has mastered most of the scales and double stops required for that level, I have them write each one down on a small square of paper and put them in a hat (or jar, or whatever). Then they have to pick a certain number of slips out of the hat every day. This is especially good in the weeks leading up to an exam to keep those skills fresh.
For instance, for level 8 there are 44 separate scales (if you count each key, major, minor melodic and harmonic, etc. individually). That means that each week, you should be able to pick 6 or 7 out of the hat every day, and by the end of the week you will have practiced all the scales for the exam.
Or just put in the 7 scales that you have the most difficulty with and practice those every day. The important thing is to keep things varied so we don’t get bored while still working on our technique a little every day.
Have fun practicing!