The Commitment to Practise

I found the article below very helpful (which I found on the Bristol Suzuki group Spring Newsletter 2013).  I have seen it happen again and again where young pupils don’t carry on with the violin simply because of lack of practise which leads to lack of progress and therefore lack of interest.

I have also now seen with my own children how much progress they can make with regular practise over a long period of time and I am always staggered by how quickly their progress slows, halts or, horror of horrors, goes backwards when we don’t manage practise every day.

So let’s celebrate the fact that we can give our children this amazing gift of ability in music, and accept that it is our perseverance, commitment and dedication, more than theirs, that will make that happen.


Dr Suzuki called his method of education’Ability Development’. In order to develop ability, you have to listen and practice every day. If you miss a day, you lose about half what you achieved the day before. If you miss two, you lose 75-80%. It’s kind of like your take home pay, there’s gross and there’s net.

It takes at least 200 repetitions for an average four-year-old to achieve conscious competence over making a bowhold.

Billy is four. He and his mum practise every day. At the second lesson, the teacher showed them how to make a bowhold correctly. Billy and his mum do fifteen bowholds everyday and by next lesson he’s making a pretty good bowhold, with help. One week later he can do it all by himself. Two weeks later he has achieved unconscious competence holding and moving the boy and has moved on to playing rhythms on open strings.

Susie and her mom practise twice a week. They do fifteen bowholds each practice, but because the skill was not reinforced the next day, it is as if they accomplished only five each practice. At this rate, it will take Susie 20 weeks to acquire a reliable bowhold. After two weeks, Susie’s mom has trouble getting her to practice. Susie reasons that it doesn’t happen every day, so shy does it have to happen THIS day? When she does practice she finds it difficult to focus, because that skill has not had enough repetition either. After three weeks, Susie is getting frustrated because it seems no matter how she tries, she can’t manage to make that darned bowhold right. After all,she’s made 90 of them, but it’s like she’s only every made 30. Her mum is getting frustrated because Susie can’t seem to focus well on the task at hand. After six weeks (60 net repetitions) Susie’s mum goes to the teacher and tells her that Susie is getting bored, it is time now for her to advance. Two weeks later (80 net repetitions) Susie’s mum again urges the teacher to let her advance. Against her better judgement, the teacher allows Susie to play rhythms on open strings, even though she still can’t reliably make a bowhold. Now Susie has two skills to build simultaneously. Susie eagerly plays open strings, but can’t make the bow go straight because a) she still can’t reliably achieve an ergonomically efficient bowhold, and b) she doesn’t get enough repetitions to build this skill either. This skill seems even more difficult that the last one. Another six weeks go by and Susie’s mum urges the teacher to let Susie begin using her fingers.

By Christmas, Billy is balancing the violin beautifully, has a good bowhold, can play Twinkle variation 1 through and is working on variation 2. Susie is still trying to build basic skills like focus, holding her violin up, holding the bow correctly, and keeping her bow straight. By June, Billy is playing Allegro with lovely tone, good intonation, no mistakes and balanced posture. Part way through the next year, he starts Book Two. It takes Susie four years to finish Book One. Her pieces are full of mistakes, she can’t manage to make a reliably good sound and her mum and her teacher are still harping on about making a nice bowhold. She doesn’t enjoy her music but her mum says she has to do it. She has adopted a coping strategy of shutting down and has come to the conclusion that Billy is ‘exceptional’. She and Susie continue because Dr Suzuki says that ‘every child can learn music.’

The teacher swears to herself that she will never let this happen again. The next September, Johnny and Melinda begin lessons. Johnny’s Dad can only practice with him twice a week. Melinda and her mum practise for ten minutes every day after breakfast. You finish the story.

As you can see, this is no small commitment. If any of the ingredients of success are omitted, the method will not work as it is intended. It is not fair to expect a young child to advance without sufficient input from a grownup. While missing a day once in a while when your regular routine is disturbed won’t impede your child’s success, lack of consistent, dedicated application will. Lack of consistent listening and practice means lack of success, which in turn means lack of motivation, then to lack of ability and eventually to lack of self-esteem. it is important for your child’s future happiness that music not be connected to a feeling of failure. If you simply can’t manage to ever get to Group Classes, if practising routinely with your child is impossible, if you don’t have time to devote to creating and maintaining the musical environment, you will either have to change something in order to make it happen, or possibly wait until the child is old enough to take responsibility for their music by themselves.

Suzuki Method requires dedication, discipline, love, and perseverance. It is rewarding though and you and your child develop a deeper understanding and mutual respect through musical study. The Suzuki community is there to help you along your way.

It helps to assess your daily schedule (and your child’s) and plan an appropriate time for practice. The ideal time would be when your child is not too tired and another adult is available to look after siblings. This ideal situation will not be possible every single day but planning ahead will make it much more likely to happen, and also help the practice go more smoothly. Make sure you have ‘instrument time’ every day, even if you only sit and listen to the CD. If practice is seen as an optional activity you will have arguments!