Tracy Helming's Violin Studio



Daily practice is essential to mastering an instrument.  When I confront the job of practicing with my own children, or of inspiring my own students to practice, I always begin with the big picture in mind.  Why do I put  priority on learning an instrument?  What do I hope my children will take with them throughout their lives as a result of these invested hours?  Music has added a richness to my own life, an opportunity to connect with different people around the world through a common artistic medium.  Playing music is a means of concentrating and expressing feelings for which I can not find words.  My violin has been my soul sister and constant companion in life, and my ticket to life's best adventures. 

The great Suzuki pioneer, Yuko Honda,captured perfectly the essestial reasons I both teach and find time and energy to practice with my own children. For her memorial program she wrote:


Not because I expect you to become a musician.
Not because you want to play the violin all your life.
Not so you can relax or have fun.

So you will recognize beauty
So you will be sensitive
So you will understand more love and compassion
So you will be close to an infinite beyond this world.

I want you to learn
Never to give up when you encounter difficulty.
And I want you to know
Music you produce is one of a kind
Because you are very special person.

My children
When you are ready
Go out into the world and embrace your dreams!


Everyone needs a fresh burst of energy to jump start practice form time to time.  Following are a list of ideas I have used successfully to add a little sparkle and pizazz to practice with my children.

Board game:  draw a board game with the names of pieces from the repertoire on it.  Student chooses a coin as his playing piece.  Roll a dice to see how far you progress.  Each piece or practice spot you land on you play, then place a penny on that piece to show you played it.  At the end of the game you keep the coins on the game board.  OR, have two race cars be the playing pieces.  If the student plays the piece or spot better than their parent, their car advances to that spot and they get to roll again.   If not, the parent advances to the spot and rolls the dice.

Egg Hunt:  Place the name of different pieces in 10 different plastic eggs and let student go on an egg hunt.  They get to find another egg each time they play the piece inside.

            Flower Art:  Parent draws and decorates a fancy flower (or bird, or dog, or whatever the student is most recently fascinated by) while student is playing a piece.

                        How many flowers can you collect by the end of a practice session? Or, what did the sound of your music look like to the parent?

Name Toss:  Write the names of the pieces you are playing on a piece of felt and tack it to the wall.  Adhere velcro to a ping pong ball and let student throw it at the felt to determine which piece they’ll play

            Ice Cream:  draw pieces and practice focus points on colored paper scoops of ice cream  – let student build their own ice cream cone.

            Pass the bow:  how many good bow holds can the parent make (on a marker if there is no second bow) while a student plays a piece?

            Cards:  play the corresponding piece to the number on a card drawn from a deck

            Secret Suzuki:  Student bows piece on open string until parent guesses piece, then student plays the entire piece


            Color the dynamics on a copy of the music (student chooses a color for piano, for forte, etc.) (thank you, Gail Acosta!)

100 day studio practice challenge: Anyone wanting to participate pays $20.  Anyone who practices every day stays in the challenge, with a daily average minimum of 20 minutes (or more…) being met..  If you miss a day of practice, you drop out of the race challenge.  Those who meet the challenge at the end split the money made from the entry fees.  All who participate get a free ice cream at a local ice cream parlor, and a celebration concert is given.

            Blow bubbles when student plays a piece with no extra notes, or with dynamics, etc.

            Polished stone, rough stone:  buy some beautiful polished stones.  Student can collect some rocks from outside.  Exchange the polished stones for the rocks for each piece that reaches the practice goal.

            CD projects: have student record a piece as soon as it is polished with no extra notes, lots of juicy dynamics, and beautiful tone.  At end of book, student has their own CD!

            Instructional DVD: have student make an instructional DVD demonstrating practice spots and techniques for each piece.  You can film it at home, or choose different locations from around your town, state, etc.

            Calendar:  hang up a calendar with nothing in it except pieces you learned, and pieces you have played 100 times

            Create a choreography to go with your polished piece. 

            Practice sheets:  check off squares with a different colored marker each day.

Emotion Signs:  hold up a variety of signs with emotions written on them (chirpy, forlorn, wistful, excited, frightened, furious, radiant, etc.) Have a student play a spot or piece in a way that makes you guess the emotion.

            Read a joke after each piece

Hot Spot practice picture: color a compartment of a picture for each spot you practice 5X

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