How to Practice Effectively All Summer Long
Often, students and parents begin summer break with the best intentions to practice daily. "We'll have so much time!" we say. But when the lazy days of summer finally arrive, a day or two away from practicing turns into three or four, and suddenly it becomes more and more difficult to get back to practicing. "They're children!" we say. "Aren't they supposed to have a unstructured, outdoor play??"
Here is my strategy to approach practicing so that summer days don't disappear as fast as your coffee on a Monday morning.
1. Sign up for a few summer lessons
Nothing makes us reach our goals more effectively than being held accountable. As parents, this means we don't want to waste our children's lessons by not preparing. Signing up for a even a few lessons over the summer can give everyone the motivation necessary to practice more regularly. (Shameless plug: you can request summer lessons at Upper Beaches Music School by filling out the form here. New students should request a trial lesson first by visiting this page.)
2. Get a Teacher-Approved Strategy.
Even if you're taking lessons over the summer, your child is probably going to go at least a week or two without a lesson. That is a looonng time to practice the same old spots in the same old pieces. This is an excellent time to do review practice and to start working out tricky passages on upcoming pieces. Have your teacher assign a few steps in advance so that you can work into new practice spots. This eliminates the temptation to work ahead mindlessly, without teacher approval and tools.
3. Make a new schedule
Part of the struggle to practice over the summer is that the daily routine is different and often less structured. Plan to practice at a set time every day as much as possible. After breakfast works really well for little ones, especially since they're not heading off to school. According to this article in Forbes Magazine, we are the most productive early in the day.
4. Use travel time to hone other musical skills
There are plenty of skills a musician needs to develop that can be done away from the instrument. From note-reading practice to listening to repertoire, many areas we often ignore can be done easily while on the road. Read this post for more ideas on how to make the best use of your travel time.
5. Be intentional with time off
There will inevitably be a days when practicing just isn't possible, due to family events, camps, etc. Have the discussion with your child that you won't be practicing on certain days as a planned break from the instrument, but that the rest of the time, it's business as usual. Approach this the same way that you would a healthy eating regime. It's okay to have a "cheat" day every now and then. There's no harm in taking a break, as long as it's intentional, and as long as it has a set ending.
6. Don't sweat the small stuff
Sometimes, practicing just isn't in the books. Either the family is traveling, or there are just too many things going on to make any real progress. In this case, still practice when it is possible, because it's better to maintain previous progress rather than lose it. And remember this: bad habits get forgotten with lack of practice just as much as good ones. When you do get to return to practicing with your child, take some time to reset some problem areas in your child's technique. You may be surprised how much a bow grip can improve with a little forgetfulness and a fresh start!
Rebecca Lane is the director, founder, and owner of Upper Beaches Music School. She teaches at the school on Saturdays, but most days you can find her chasing after her three young children, who all take lessons at UBMS.