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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer Daze


Summer hit with a vengeance here in Central Texas. We had record temperatures last weekend, topping off my Saturday evening with 108 degrees. Then a "cold" front thankfully breezed through at 69 degrees Sunday morning.

Summer hit the studio as well. I have had a busy June, so the studio has been open for one week in mid-June and now this week. I have noticed a trend among my studio families: the Summer Daze. Even my most regular families have been hit with this affliction.

There was a flurry of activity in the studio during May as my students and their families prepared for the studio recital that marked the end of the school year. Then students came to their lessons about two weeks later all fired up with new material learned. Now two weeks later, my students are dragging themselves into their lessons looking listless and unengaged. Sometimes the parents even forget that they had scheduled a lesson. Practice routines have fallen by the wayside, and practice goals have evaporated.

The Summer Daze is a slow down in commitment, routine, and action. The schedule is lighter than the school year and there are less demands on everyone's time. Unfortunately, if families spend the entire summer in the Daze, then the entire summer will pass by very quickly with little to show for it.

I am all for enjoying the free time and loose schedule. However, let us be very honest. Free time and a loose schedule does not mean that we should sit around on the couch and do nothing. Nor does it mean lolling around a swimming pool and soaking up sunshine. All of these activities are wonderful, but not all of the time, not if you want to have something to tell others about how you spent your summer vacation.

I have written a previous article about this subject with ideas about how to survive this time with a modicum of self respect. Click here if you want to review those suggestions. Today I will focus on commitment, routine, and action.

COMMITMENT

The summer is an excellent time to refocus our efforts. There are fewer competing interests for our time and attention. Why not use this time to think about the direction our next goal path will take? Let us recommit to our purpose of taking music lessons to raise children with fine abilities and noble hearts. Go back and read through some of the articles in the blog archives. I have probably written about every subject involved in music lessons, so search for a subject in the search box above and read an article a day to renew your enthusiasm and commitment.

ROUTINE

I stress the importance of routine in the summer, but we do not have to be rigid about this. A summer routine does not have to be as jam-packed as the schedule that families maintain during the school year. Rather than schedule every hour, as parents and schools typically do during the school year, why not schedule chunks of time that are designated for certain activities. For example, why not schedule a two-hour period first thing in the morning for breakfast, practice, and general cleaning chores (making beds, dusting, wiping counters). Then another two-hour block could be designated for major chores or errands (one major chore, such as vacuuming or laundry, or going to the library, bank, grocery store, or music lesson). Then there is a lunch period, and the afternoon could be longer periods devoted to sports activities or swimming at the local community pool. Evening time blocks could be devoted to family activities, visits with other families, making craft projects, or special events.

If families were able to maintain a block schedule of time periods, the families would be able to take advantage of the feeling of looseness in the summer scheduling and yet have some structure in which to feel a sense of purpose and routine. Children, who thrive on routine, would have a better ability to predict what happens next. Lessons and practice would be more productive and more predictable. Practicing is so much easier in general if it is a daily habit. My studio families will assure you that any deviation from the daily practice schedule often leads to practice problems: behavior issues, reluctance, and arguments. My studio families will agree that it is so much easier to maintain a regular and consistent practice schedule and routine.

ACTION

When we take action, something wonderful occurs. We overcome static inertia (the body's state of being at rest) and begin to build a new momentum (body in motion). Sometimes a small action, a baby step, will be enough to urge us forward through the doldrums. Like magic, even the smallest of gestures or activities may be enough to wake up our motion sensors and generate energy for further activity and accomplishment. So here are a list of a few smaller activities that you might consider adding to  your morning time blocks:

Clean out the music bag. You have probably accumulated a lot of things that no longer need to be kept. Throw away the trash and broken pencils and rosin pieces. If you have loose papers, visit the local office supply store in your errand time block and buy a notebook or two to store your lose papers. The process of cleaning out the book bag will energize your enthusiasm for making music again. Invite your child to assist you. Watch how distracted your child will be about each discovered treasure in the bag. As these items spark memories, your child will be likely to want to play the instrument.

Clean out your child's instrument case. Vacuum out all the rosin dust and other debris inside the case. Repair latches. Replace rubber bands and other worn out teaching aids. If your child plays the piano, have the child assist you in really cleaning the piano. Dust all the legs and the underside and back. Your child will not mind climbing underneath the piano, which will make the cleaning chore so much easier for the parent. You might consider polishing and cleaning the instrument too. Be sure to use the special polish that is made for this purpose; do not use regular furniture polish. This might also be a good time to change the strings on your child's instrument or to have the piano tuned. Enlist the help of your teacher in replacing the strings.

Schedule a lesson. Nothing helps momentum and activity to grow like a deadline. Call your child's teacher and set up a lesson. Even if you do not feel that you are ready for a good lesson, your child's teacher will help you to get back in touch with your momentum and enthusiasm for practice.

Plan an event. Schedule a music sleepover, a special house concert, or a pool party. There are many music-related possibilities for summer events:

  • Ice Cream Sunday: tie a performance with an ice cream party
  • Practice Picnic: tie practicing with a picnic party, even if it is in the backyard. Keep the instruments out of the sun though!
  • Summer Talent Show: invite your child's friends and their families to participate
  • Pool Party Play Down: a pool party that includes a group activity of playing the music lesson and group class repertoire from most advanced pieces to least advanced songs.
  • Fiddle Friday: invite your child's music friends to join together for a fiddling afternoon or evening. Parents or other friends who play guitar, mandolin, or banjo will enjoy making music together. Students could plan to learn a new fiddle song a week.
  • Backyard Bar-B-Q: tie in a special performance or friendly gathering along with a Bar-B-Q potluck event.
Summer Camp. Texas State University held its annual summer strings camp last week. There are other music camps available. Consider hosting your own music camp and invite your child's teacher to provide music theory, music reading, or other music-related activities.

These are a few ideas to get you going. Please write and let me know your special ideas to help you through the Summer Daze.

2 comments:

  1. We often have a hard time with summer. This year, I have a very loose structure, which is morning chore chorts, lunch, quiet time, and then something fun, like swimming, playing at the park, or going to a friend's house.

    I have finally succeeded in practicing with my 3 year old. I realized that 5 minutes at a time was plenty, so we do 3 things since she is 3. We vary what we work on at each practice session. It has been working really well. We are going to institute for the first time, with big brother as well (he is 8), so this is very motivating.

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    1. I have also found success by issuing special challenges. I will hand out incentive charts (with 25-30 boxes) and decree a special challenge. Maybe it will be to play through all of the Twinkle variations in order to check off a box. Maybe it will be to play a certain list of review songs. Once the student completes the entire chart (which may take 30 days or more), the student brings the completed chart to their lesson and receives a prize. I have a box of possible prizes that I pick up from the $1 section of the local Target store. I keep my eye open for such prizes throughout the year: crayons/markers, books, toys, etc.

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