Practice affirmation cards

Prompts for thinking about attitudes and behaviours in practice.

The attitudes that we bring to practice can have an enormous influence on the results. Practice should be a positive experience for both us and our children. Yet, it doesn’t always work out that way. Fatigue, frustration, hunger, and distractions can all take their toll. We can’t always prevent these detractors; so what else can we do to stack the deck on the side of positivity?

One of the things that we’ve done is to write affirmation cards. These are just laminated cards with affirmations written on the front and the back. On one side is an affirmation that my daughter reads. On the other side is an affirmation that I read. Both of us read aloud our affirmation - essentially a promise about how we will conduct ourselves in practice.

What do we affirm to one another? We recognize that learning an instrument is hard, that there are frustrations, that beauty is our goal, and that we can get there by being focused and positive. Although we only have a handful of cards now, here’s what we have:

Child Parent
Today, I won’t raise my voice during practice because I know that all of us are doing the best we can. I love beautiful music and I want to play well. Today I will not raise my voice during practice for I know that playing the violin is difficult. But becoming angry is not the way to play music beautifully. Please remind me if I forget.
Today I will try my best to focus during practice. When I focus on my work, my playing becomes more beautiful and we have a happier practice. Today I will be patient and kind because I admire your efforts and I know that learning to play the violin is difficult.
Today I will use my time wisely during practice because I know that great progress is possible when we fill our practice time with quality work. Today I will remember that children work at their own pace and that they are full of ideas. I will do my best to be patient and kind during practice.
Yelling makes me fell bad. I will try hard not to yell or scream during practice. A peaceful happy practice is the best way to learn to play beautifully. Today I will remind myself not to raise my voice during practice. The best way for you to learn is for me to be a good example. We will make music together in a joyful way.
Today I will work very hard on my posture - the way my instrument is perched high on my shoulder, the way my left hand is shaped, and my bow hold. Please remind me kindly if I forget because there is so much to remember. Today I will watch how beautiful your posture can be. I will remind myself that playing the violin is hard and there are many things to think about. I will be patient, kind and respectful as I remind you.
Today I will remind myself that Mom and Dad care very deeply for me and want me to play as beautifully as I know I can. Because no one is perfect, I will be kind to myself and others. Today I will strive to remember all the hard work you do. Playing the violin is a unique and wonderful thing. We learn best when we’re happy and respectful.

To make the cards, we purchased brightly colored index cards to hand-write the text, then laminated them for durability. I can’t say that reading a card before practice makes everything go perfectly. But it helps to have a reference point if things unravel - “Remember our promise to one another?” From a research point of view, too, we know that this is an example of a framing action. By talking about practice positively beforehand, we set up an expectation for positive practice; and that expectation is likely to be fulfilled.

Written by:

Alan is the main practice partner and accompanist for a young violinist.