Our Fun Practice Ideas

Updated: May 5, 2021

I'm so excited for May because the theme for this month's Parents Can Coach content is making practice fun!

We have had a pretty heavy run-up to Term 2, starting with goals and aspirations, creating an environment for practice, discussing success and expectations, and practice strategies.

Whew! Who is looking forward to this welcomed break from the serious stuff? I am! With the onset (and onslaught) of the mid-year examinations for some of our studio families, the last thing that we need is for music practice to create more stress for both parent and child. More so than ever, practice needs to be positive, encouraging and efficient.

Plus, most of us are still in our first month of the 100 Days of Practice Challenge with 2 plus more months to go, so we will need some tricks to pull out of our sleeves on those tough days.

Before we UNLEASH THE FUN (*fanfare and confetti*), some of you may be thinking "Am I a fun parent? Can I be a fun parent?" I had originally intended for this week's blog post to address this question before launching into our suite of fun practice ideas. But I got carried away with plonking ideas down on this page before they escaped my brain - and before I knew it, I had created a list.

So here we are. I promise that I will get down to sharing about being a fun parent (or not) in my next article. For now, just follow Amy Cuddy's advice and fake it till you make it.

1. Create code names for your pieces

This is giggle-worthy and a test of how well your child knows his current repertoire. I got the idea from a teacher who told her students that she dropped her Suzuki music book and all the piece titles got jumbled up. She asked for their help to decode the scrambled titles and it created a major giggle-fest in her lesson.

Here are some samples from our family's library of code names. Have a go at guessing which pieces these are:

From Suzuki Piano Book 1

Tune Sung by Small People from France

Girl with a Small Sheep

Not So Recently

Small Friends

Farewell Cold Season

Things Not Said on 25th December

Dance of the Cows

Carrier of Sweet Stuff

A Way to Cross River Thames

Speak to Mum's Sister

From Suzuki Cello Book 1

Draw Near, Tiny People

Tune of the Fifth Month

Always Moving in D Major

Never Stopping in G Major

The Jolly Rancher

Gently Paddle

Breezy Tune

I read about a parent levelling it up by making it Opposite Day and reversing the descriptions. For example, 'The Unhappy Guy Who Lives in the City' ('The Happy Farmer').

Oooh, one can never get bored when there is music and a thesaurus involved!

Giving your child autonomy to make his own choices is key to building self-drive and motivation. Trick him (in a nice way) by presenting him a mash-up of two song titles and invite him to choose one to play. Try these:

London Lamb (mmm, sounds tasty. Maybe because it reminds me of London Duck?)

Goodbye to London

Little Secrets

Go Tell Mary

Song of Aunt Rhody

O Come, Little Wind

2. Draw your piece and place it in front of you when playing

This is doubly fun and effective on many levels, especially when your child is working on polishing a piece for graduation to bring it to an even higher level of playing.

A picture map helps with learning and remembering new parts. Credit for this idea goes to Teacher Dale. I merely continued from where he left off in the lesson and repeatedly use it at home. Remembering which notes to play can be dry and tedious for little ones. Make a picture map and have them progressively commit it to memory ("We need to store more of the map in our brain!") before it gradually disappears (you erase it bit by bit.) And watch practice get EXCITING.

After seeing Teacher Dale and mummy draw picture maps, this child was making the initiative to map new sections of her learning piece on her own!

The picture map idea can also be applied to learning new fingering and putting together different rhythms on the right and left hands:

These drawings explain that having one hand hold a note while the other hand plays 2 shorter notes is like 1 person walking 2 dogs. The numbers refers to the fingers to use.

We have also used pictures to illustrate the mood, character, tempo and articulation of a piece or of a specific section within a piece:

Illustrating a NatGeo moment of a cheetah chasing a gazelle to convey the excitement of this section.

Combine drawings with toys. This is our version of Good Guys vs Bad Guys. (Never heard of this practice game? Join us at Parents Circle on 21 May for a recap!)

You could just use a toy and a story if drawing is really not your game.

Helping the baby giraffe grow into a tall giraffe by having our pinky finger stand tall while playing. (No drawing required.)

Invite your child to imagine the piece as a character, draw it out and channel the character while playing. I find this more effective than nagging at the child to "Be expressive, emote, don't look so bored!"

Coco's impression of La Cinquantaine as a coquettish lady flirtatiously swaying her hips and swinging her purse...

3. Dress up and /or dance to music

The younger girls' cheeky, coquettish side dancing-act to their sister's performance of a flirtatious La Cinquantaine on the cello had us almost bring the roof down with our laughter. If dancing is not your game, invite your child to dress up. It could be a theme like Silly Hat Day, Rainbow, Mix & Match Patterns or Crazy Socks... ANYTHING!

That's a (working!) lamp playing the cello and a red hot chilli crab at the piano!

4. Perform for an audience

ANYBODY (or anything) can be in the audience - human or otherwise. I've read of children getting their 10 repetitions in by going around the house or gathering 10 toys to perform each repetition for.

Lights, Camera, ACTION! She absolutely adored being the star of the show and even insisted on implementing security checks and queue lines for fan photos.

Find special occasions to play at. Even better, have your child plan and organise a recital for their toys or family members. Invite them to design the guest invitations, event posters and select their performance pieces. Then practice, practice and practice in the lead-up to the special day. How about planning a celebration recital on your child's 100th Day of Practice and inviting grandma and grandpa to be the Guests-of-Honour to present him with a 100DOPC award?

5. Layer on sound effects and lyrics

Sound effects not only make a piece fun to play, they can be a tool for non-verbal feedback or reminders. Does she get annoyed whenever you remind her to keep her Elbow-Wrist-Pinky up while she's playing? Agree beforehand to use a "moo" (yes, like a cow) to signal that her elbow is drooping instead. It is sure to elicit a giggle rather than a frown.

Sometimes, sound effects have no purpose other than to make practising fun. My girls' delight in joining Dad in peppering 'Gavotte' with exuberant "HEE-HAWs!" (Sorry, neighbours!) It has become the routine for the piece. The cellist makes sure that her farmer, I mean her father, doesn't forget his part by announcing "Hey Daddy, it's time for Gavotte!" before playing her piece.

Put words to the tune of your child's current piece. Making it a song that you both can sing helps him to learn and remember it more easily. After all, ECE (aka the Baby Music Class) has been a good training ground for many of us. Remember "Right, left, right, right, left..." and its variations involving scrambled eggs, dinosaurs, traffic lights and Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse?

If you can, match the words to the specific note, motion or direction that your child is learning within a section. This was our attempt at penning in words to a tricky left-hand part:

After this, the child was inspired to sing words to her next piece. Such a precious learning strategy and skill to impart to our children to help them learn effectively and independently.

At times, a brainwave hits and the whole family gets into the flow of contributing words to a tune that is familiar to us all. Creating a family composition not only makes a practice session fun, it creates a precious keepsake for your child: a positive practice experience and treasured childhood memory of him or her enjoying making music together with loved ones.

Sing along to some of our compositions - and share yours with us too!

Judas MaccaDonalds (a Duet) (from Suzuki Cello Book 2, Judas Maccabaeus)

Welcome to Macca's

May I have your order please?

I would like 2 hot cheeseburgers

Plain with only cheese.

Would you like to make it a meal?

Add a Coke or Sprite?

I would like to pay to upsize

For seaweed shaker fries.

Would that be all, Miss?

If you add a dollar more,

You could get a cone of ice-cream

Free toppings galore!

Parents' Chorus (from Suzuki Cello Book 2, Hunters' Chorus)

I said "Children, go to bed!"

It's now way past way past way past 10 o'clock!

I said "Children, go to bed!"

Oh my gosh, are your ears blocked?

It's late, go to bed, have you all brushed your teeth?

Please pack up your toys, what is that lying on the floor?

There's a wet towel on the bed,

Please take the headphones off your head!

Oh please

Could you please

Could you please

Could you please

Could you

Please, go to bed! Could you

Go to bed

Go to bed

Go to bed

Go to bed!


Switch off the lights

Switch off the lights

Switch off the lights

Right NOW!

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