Over the past few weeks there has been a gradual decline in the effort Opie has put into practicing her oboe. It’s been a source of frustration for me and especially for Teacher. On some occasions she sounds lovely, on others she just isn’t trying.
I spent a while this week working out what is going on and how to change it.
I realized the biggest problem is that we have not upgraded her practice routine and expectations to match her increasing ability. We hadn’t transitioned from the days when the oboe was being so difficult that we were happy to have any playing, no matter what quality. I needed to tell her that she had to work harder AND get her to buy into it. At 10+ she’s very tween-y; taking suggestions from parents is not a priority. I had to work out a plan that would get through to her.
The run-up: I let her know that we were going to talk over the weekend about how oboe was going and make some plans for the coming year. I asked her to think about what her goals or desires would be.
The setting: We went to her favorite restaurant in the mid-afternoon. We don’t eat out often so this really got her attention, and in a good way. We ordered a couple appetizers and nibbled while we talked.
The preamble: I reviewed how much she had accomplished in the past year, how much effort she had put into it, how she had shown persistence and initiative, and how that made me proud. Her goal is to learn how to double tongue so she can play faster.
The spiel: She’s not a beginner any more, and she has to play to higher standards. She needs to be focusing more on good tone and accurate rhythm. I can’t force her to do anything but I can make sure our practicing incentives only reward correct behavior. (I used ‘good tone’ as a surrogate for better effort, to avoid arguments like “but I was trying hard” etc.) We’re also going to add a few minutes each day to address rhythm basics because this is an area of weakness.
The chart: Whether she is playing scales, arpeggios and songs, I’ll be looking for: reviewing instructions, using metronome, accurate rhythm, good tone, dynamics and/or addressing difficult sections. We also discussed what will happen if she yells or has a tantrum.
The carrot: The thing she wants most in the world right now is Minecraft PC. She’ll get a sticker for hitting all 5 expectations for a song. Many stickers later — three or four weeks worth — she’ll get Minecraft PC.
The contract: I wrote down what we talked about and Opie signed it at the bottom.
The hope: Three or four weeks of highly motivated attention to practicing will be enough to reboot her effort and bring it to a higher level.
The appetizers: were yummy!