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Practice Charts for Little People

Updated: Jan 18

Being the teacher and the practice parent at the same time-

I was both of my daughters’ first cello teacher. They are now 20 and 15, but I still have their first practice charts saved in a binder. I keep them in my office so I can show them to my students and student parents. I like to show them to my student parents not because they are perfectly organized or fully filled out charts. They are mostly a lot of makeshift charts as we used to brainstorm together to decide what and how to practice when they were younger. 

Create a gentle start practice routine-

The one I am sharing here is one of the younger daughter's very first review charts when she was 4-years and 5-months old. She started cello with me sometime before she turned 4. Since my husband and I homeschooled our kids, we studied every subject with the amount of time, and the level of depth as they wished to explore. I am pretty sure that when I jotted down the items on this practice chart, we had talked about what should be on it. My second one was pretty head-strong about what to practice pretty much all the time at that stage. Discussing what items should be on a chart creates a common ground between us as we go onward. Listing items for a chart is crucial for a student to see what is expected and what is ahead of them to complete. 

I think the most important thing that a practice chart offers is to show students the start and the finish line of a practice session. This function helps them feel a sense of control and that is really important. A practice chart provides certainty. 

Use fun keyword to help your child focus on the techniques, not just the notes-

Around this time, Lightly Row seemed to be her most advanced song. Where it says "peanut butter", must be a reminder for her bow to remain "sticky" during the half notes in Lightly Row. 

Obviously from no. 1 to no. 6 are super reviews. Both no. 1: ski jump with both hands and no. 2 Rest Position are something I called the “super reviews”. These are the things she learned in her first lessons before she turned 4, so why should she still review them? It is actually quite a comforting way to start a daily practice with the “super reviews”, especially on a day that is packed with more activities or when it just doesn’t feel like a “practice day”. Super reviews give students assurance and clarity about what to expect. It also offers them some independence to start the practice session because the students already know what to do.

After the super reviews, we then move on to no. 3: “get ready to play”, which is placing the bow on the string with a whole arm motion and arm weight. Yes, just this simple step can be an item for your practice chart. No. 4 is “string plucking”, which is using both hands to pluck each string to help increase strength.

No. 5: Rain on all strings means playing a review song “Rain Rain Go Away” on each string. This is one of the pre-twinkle songs I teach, but transposing it on the lower strings is new at this stage.

No. 6: Set the Soft Thumb: It must be a reminder not to squeeze her thumb.

No. 7: is a very intriguing part of the practice chart. “4 00 1 0 space space 3 4” is to be played on the D string. Somehow she heard this melody for Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits somewhere (it could be watching her dad’s jazz band performances) and she insisted on playing this for a “intermission” or celebration during a practice session. 

After that we go on to our “regular” stuff: practice the current and review songs: No. 8: FFS means French Folk Song. No. 9: Twinkle. No. 10: Lightly Row, and No. 11 Flower Song. I guess I stuck another super review of Flower Song at the end of her practice session to make sure the session finished with a good note.

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