Using puppets during practice

When people ask me about whether ViolinGirl complains about having to practice, I tell them “Not really; but it took us a long time to get to that point.” Maybe it’s a matter of her realizing that “resistance is futile”, or that it’s just become an engrained habit, or a little of both. Of course doing practice and being involved in practice are different levels of quality. And that’s what I’ve begun to notice. With auditions, recitals, and group classes done for the summer, practice has begun to feel a little “bland.” I can always tell by the posture and her expression whether we have to do something to enliven things during practice. This was one of those weeks. We needed a new “trick.”

The idea that we decided to try came from a Parents as Partners online video made by Glenna Theurer and her daughter. Mrs. Theurer is a Suzuki violin teacher who talked about using puppets and stuffed animals to participate in practice with young children because it brings levity and enjoyment into practice and because it’s easier to deliver advice and critique with a more neutral third party. Mind you, with a 6 year-old, the mystery about what is animating the puppet is gone. But there is still something different about the emotional distance that comes from using a puppet.

The results have been interesting. When the puppets[1] say that they want to observe a particular technique, ViolinGirl does it beautifully. We stuck with simple items like maintaining a consistent contact point or bow hold. Now they can start to make some more complicated demands. What I wasn’t prepared for, but should have been, was how it affected our practice efficiency. ViolinGirl is an imaginative person who likes to embellish stories. For example, when she was working on “Witches’ Dance” last year, her teacher used the word “pineapple” for the triplet rhythm (pine-a-pple). Somehow, over the next days and weeks, ViolinGirl has constructed some sort of narrative about witches cooking pineapple soup! She was so excited to add onto the story that it eventually became a slight distraction during practice and lessons.[2] The same thing is happening with the puppets. Not only do they make requests and observations; but she interacts with them. If they come up with a little game, she embellishes it. But she’s enthusiastic as she always is when creating something.

Practice may be a little less efficient now with the puppets. But it’s more lively; and she’s able to play with more focused technique when they are watching.

  1. We didn't really have any puppets around the house; so I purchased some by a company called Folkmanis. There are two that participate in practce, an ostrich and a rabbit.

  2. One of the learning points for me has been about letting go of the need to control the use of our practice time too much. When she begins to digress into stories, I can start to feel my anxiety level rising. Overall, I've learned to be more patient with her and recognize that "going with the flow" is ultimately going to lead to more pleasant practice. And the more pleasant the experience of practice, the more likely that she'll continue to progress and love music. I'm trying to change my own internal self-talk about these digressions. Instead of "Oh no, there she goes again; and we have so much to do...", I'm learning to say: "Hmmm. I wonder how I can use this to bring her back to the practice." Some days are better for me than others.