Home Practice – Selecting Students to Build Your Vision

A key to successful practice at home rests right back at the moment you accept a parent and child into your violin program. There’s an important relationship between how you choose parents to suit your vision, the Big Picture, and its implications for great home practice.

entry gate

Choosing parents and students might seem a ‘no-brainer’. Parents bring their child to meet you, eager to start and willing to pay your term fees. Especially when you’re starting out, there’s a bit of pressure on you if students are needed to fill those empty places. This can be a somewhat precarious moment for your program. What to do?

I always return to questions such as, What do I believe in? What do I want to help create? What will best help parents and their children? It’s very important to envisage what you want your program to look like and to become. Clarifying the vision will help you attract the kind of parents and children that will suit you and what you are trying to do.

The questions you ask during the first contact with the parents of potential students help you to understand what they are looking for and just as importantly, help you identify whether they will be a good fit and active contributors to the program you want to build.

(Some parts of this topic are available in the Violin Studio Series: How to Set Up and Run a Successful Violin Studio.)

Selecting the Parents

Good violin practice starts at the point of selecting students to join your program. The way you conduct your selection process does two things. Firstly, it weeds out ‘hobby’ parents and secondly, it’s  where you set up expectations of the time and effort required by parents to work with their children.

In our case, we want parents who are happy and keen for violin to form a central part of their child’s learning and development. We know that some parents are looking for little tastes and experiences of various activities for their child. That’s fine of course, but usually it means they aren’t looking for a deeper educational engagement and are unlikely to be a good fit for what we are trying to create. For them, our program would feel too demanding and will ultimately be frustrating.

The Time Commitment 

There are also parents who simply don’t have enough time in their very busy schedules to work with their child at home, or can’t come to lessons and group classes. Despite being attracted to the vision of what we are doing, their children would be left to fend for themselves for home practice and lessons. This would make it too difficult for their child to make much progress or have a good experience.

A strong culture exists among parents in our city to drop children at extra-curricula activities and pick them up afterwards. This won’t work well for you or your program.

We’ve had an occasional parent slip through the net. They say they will definitely be able to meet the challenge of working with their child and are looking forward to it. Before too long they revert to a drop-off and pick-up strategy.

In one particular case the new student was very young. The parent, a very busy university professor, began to leave their child at group class by themselves, whereas every other student comes with at least one parent. It quickly became impossible for the child to keep up with the clear and simple practice goals set each week in the small groups of parents and students.

After a short time, we had to let the parent know that our program wasn’t for them. The parent wanted to continue after seeing the good results and fast progress the other families made. We explained that her child would have great difficulty achieving the same kind of happy progress and how it would be quite distressing for him.

Deeper Levels

Maybe you didn’t start your program with a big picture of what you want to achieve and are in the process of making improvements  incrementally. We probably all do it this way to some extent. Therefore it sometimes becomes necessary to bring in a deeper level of commitment than the one earlier parents and students were accustomed to.

On the few occasions we’ve announced a new level of attendance or required work it has meant more group classes and at another time, two practices a day.

As we go through the Home Practice series, we’ll clarify how to set up the two practices. For some newcomers to our site it may sound daunting, nonetheless it works well and surprisingly perhaps, results in fewer practice problems for both students and parents.

There may be some initial resistance to new upsteps in commitment and we help parents to rise to the new challenges bit by bit.

Over a period of time it may become obvious that a family doesn’t want to meet a new commitment and the moment arrives when you can see that they won’t be a good fit going forward. You will have to let them go. The end of the year is a good time to help people move on to another teacher.

Traditionally, violin has been treated the same as other school homework, where children are expected to just go off and do it by themselves. There is no way that learning violin will work like that. So right from the first contact we look for parents who will be able to come to lessons and group classes, and also have consistent time to enjoy helping their child at home.

In some ways we don’t demand huge amounts of practice hours. It’s more about being able to set daily times, stick to them and to develop an ongoing habit. This kind of consistency mirrors and strengthens children’s memorising patterns. Violin is a very challenging instrument and it amazes me how some parents think their child, a beginner, would be able to cope alone.

Parents Choose Themselves

The right kind of parent commitment to education and learning violin helps build a successful and happy program for everyone. Crucially for teachers, choosing committed parents and students enables you to build a powerful program with real impetus for incoming members, who are swept up into the energy and progress of the whole group from the start.

If you ask the right questions you can usually identify a family that might be a good fit for you, or not. If they sound like potential students, they are invited to a first meeting in person as part of a formal process. Each teacher or school will have different procedures and we find that our induction system works for us. It makes it clear to the parent we know what we are doing.

The initial phone call is the first part of the qualifying process.

On the telephone

The aim of the first phone conversation is to listen to their story and understand some of the their background.

An introductory statement might be: “I’d like to ask you a few questions so I can understand what you are looking for and determine if our institute is a good match for you and your son/daughter.”

Q1. Name and contact details. Record these on an excel file or notebook. (See Student Enquiry Form in Resources)

Q2. What area do you live in? Generally, it’s more difficult for a family to stay committed to attending all the group classes and lessons if they live far away. on the other hand, some families manage the long distances because they see the value of joining your program.

Q3. Why are you thinking about violin as the instrument for your child? Some parents may be already educated about Suzuki violin or the method you use, are clear about what they are looking for and want to join a good program.

Q4. What activities does your child already attend?

Listen to their story

Questions about their interests and background, where they live in and what got them interested in the violin can lead into more specific areas such as the activities they already do together.

From this conversation you begin to see how they work together and how many activities they are already committed to. What are the parents trying to do for their children by attending those activities?

Already busy with other activities?

Doing one skill based activity really well is at odds with the current fashion of children being dropped off for a variety of easier activities. As mentioned earlier, occasionally some of the parents we interview prove very attached to the drop off culture and don’t want to actually participate in lessons with their child.

Our lessons include parents, who are up and involved in the class, enjoying learning skills alongside their child. There’s no time to sit at the back of the class reading a magazine.

What kind of violin studies are you looking for?

This question helps to identify some of their expectations about learning to become a good musician, where they want to go with it, and raises the often misunderstood topic of inborn talent.

During the conversation, rather than trying to persuade or convince parents and students to join, our task is to discover and imagine if they will be happy in our school and enjoy working together with the other members and each other at Home Practice.

Cheers, Allie

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