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I received this message from a fellow string teacher recently. It’s the BIG question isn’t it!?

In my experience, it’s worth taking some time to ask questions about the student’s day to day schedule and practice set-up at home. Sometimes it’s something as simple as they are literally over scheduled. Other times they don’t have a practice area at home set up. And sometimes they need to find ways to make practicing a part of daily life, such as practicing right after dinner, or first thing in the morning.

Beyond that, here are my top five ideas, in no particular order:

  1. Working towards a specific goal with a specific date for performance, audition, or competition does wonders for regular practicing at any age and ability level. If the student is a beginner, a scheduled date to play with others in a less formal environment (or even just watch a Suzuki group class or fiddle jam) can help inspire them to practice up to the next level.
  2. Mixing up the repertoire, paying attention to what types of sounds, flavors, and moods spark their interest, and maybe even throwing in a fiddle tune if it's been purely classical, or vice versa. Students have innate preferences and pleasures and while teaching a methodical repertoire is very important, some wiggle room for pieces they are especially interested in can help ease them through tough practice patches. By the way, Lindsey Stirling music has done wonders for some of my student’s scales, shifting and arpeggios. I don’t know if I could have got them interested otherwise!
  3. Attending live performances frequently! This always re-inspires me. I often go home and try to practice quietly to avoid waking the neighbors.
  4. Making sure that students keep a practice journal and understand what is expected of them. Deliberate, improvement oriented practice methods should be practiced during the lessons.
  5. Making sure the violin or viola is accessible when there's time to practice or inspiration strikes. I always remember one concerned mother coming to me years ago, wondering why her daughter wasn't practicing much. I went through my list of questions and found out the mother was placing the violin in its case on a high bookshelf where only herself or the father could reach it. She was afraid the younger sibling or the dog would get it otherwise. Unfortunately, out of sight, out of mind for the student. That was never going to inspire practice! I’ve found that even having the instrument in the case when not being played can be a huge deterrent, especially when smart phones and TVs are just a click away. One student started practicing every day rather than only a couple days a week simply because the parents hung the violin on a hanger (within reach) on the wall of the living room. Problem solved.

I hope this helps! Feel free to email me at if you have any questions or further ideas. I am also available for violin, viola, fiddle, and cello lessons in person or online via Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom, and would be happy to help you or your child improve their practice habits and approach.

Please email me at if you have a violin, viola, fiddle, music biz, or practice related question you’d like answered in the blog or on a podcast, have a story or insight to share, or if you’d like to inquire about violin, viola, or fiddle lessons with me, in-person or online via Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom.

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Laurel Thomsen

Violin, Viola, Vocals
Performance, Instruction, Recording

Based in Santa Cruz, California

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