Have you ever walked away from a practice session?  Avoided practicing because you knew the response from your child would be negative?  Have you ever sat in a lesson and thought, “Right.  You really think we can do this?”  Frustration can be expected when learning to play an instrument, but there are ways to avoid it or minimize its presence in lessons and practice sessions.  I read an article by Cheryl Cornell recently, from the collection, Winning Ways – Strategies for Suzuki Parents, that addressed the student with a low tolerance for frustration.

I think these suggestions are good ones for preventing frustration and will help bring practice sessions back to peaceful, enjoyable times for all sides of the Suzuki triangle.  Just choose one idea and see what a difference it makes!

  1.  Break each task into very small steps.  We can all be overwhelmed by a big, giant goal.  With smaller, more reachable goals, one can see progress sooner.
  2. Count attempts and then later count successful attempts.  Mark it down, move around a game board, stack Legos or pennies, or add items to a drawing. You and your child will see the goal and know when the task will end.  An added benefit is that, with repetition, the task will become easier.
  3. Be specific in your instructions.
  4. Take short breaks.  Say, “How fast can you run give Dad a hug and get back here?” or add “pet the dog” or “eat a grape” to your lesson list.
  5. Remove time pressure.  If you only have a few minutes to practice, choose an easy goal from your lesson notes.  Review a set number of pieces just to make music.
  6. Acknowledge that the task is hard.  When it is achieved, reflect on the accomplishment and celebrate!
  7. Track the progress with charts, stickers, etc.
  8. Stop when the goal is reached.  “I loved how you ended that phrase.  OK, we’re done for today. “
  9. Take a planned, short vacation from a spot that is frustrating.  Ask your teacher for ways to approach it when you get back to it.
  10. KEEP YOUR WORD.  If you tell your child that this is the last repetition, make it the last repetition.  It’s better to stop at a successful point than to push for another and end on a frustrated note.

The most important step in reducing frustration with practice is to speak with your teacher.  He or she will tailor the lesson and the assignment so that there are clear, small goals.  Take very careful notes so that you can replicate the assignment at home.

Have you ever experienced frustration with a task?  How did that feel? What were strategies that you used to work through the problem?

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