Sunday, July 26, 2015

Making Practice Fun with Bonnie Slaughter

I'm Bonnie Slaughter, and I love Let’s Play Music!  I love helping children blossom into musicians.  I love the excitement on their faces when they discover how patterns they sang about in Red Balloons and Blue Bugs come to life at the keyboard and in notation.  Thank you creator, Shelle Soelberg, and the LPM team for all the research and work you continue to put into making this program really special!
I have been teaching piano for over 40 years and maintain a studio of around 90 students aged infant to older adult.   I would like to share with you a few of my favorite tools for encouraging practicing.

Practice Abacus

The first tool my piano parents love is the Practice Abacus.  We all know that
repetitions are essential to solid learning and muscle memory.  So how do we make it fun?  With a colorful, personalized, hands-on tool that children can make themselves! 

After many trials, I came up with a design that is easy, economical and sturdy.  You will need foam board, 3 pipe cleaners and 30 beads.  I start with a piece of foam board and cut the board into 5” x 6” pieces.   
  • Punch 6 holes down each short side about 5/8” from the edge.   
  • Push  pipe cleaners up through the hole on one side and add 5 beads.  
  • Put the end down through the hole on the opposite side.  Bend to go up into the next hole, add beads, and push down into the hole on the opposite end.  So one pipe cleaner makes 2 rows.  (I know that is pretty confusing instructions, so I show you how to make one on my You Tube channel.)  
You could make an abacus with your child as a gift at the beginning of Green Turtles.  What a special way to bond and get excited about the new semester! If you'd rather buy one, they can be purchased.

Practice Incentive Games 
I also created a packet of Practice Incentive Gameboards for you.  These seven creative games help make practicing fun!  You use them at home with any instrument (or chore!).  

When children color these themselves, it increases their ownership in the project, so I highly recommend planning a fun, special 'date' to make a game with your child.  Laminate it to make it super-special.  You can use the time together to talk up the excitement of the upcoming semester and plan how exciting it will be to use the games.

The student's set includes Musical Land, Football Fun, Practice Piggy, Majestic Music Mountain, Staccato Slalom Maze and Hanging Ornaments.  

You and your child are going to make up your own rules about how to move on the game and what the reward will be when they have finished.  Rewards might be a date night with Mom or Dad, an ice cream cone, or money. Decide together, and choose whatever is tickling that child’s fancy that month.  (I also
have large-sized gameboards for teachers to use in their studios.)

Amazing Parents
The most critical tool for student success is parent education and involvment.  Nothing your teacher does can replace the role of parents in empowering and motivating your own children! No one knows your children better than you do! 

I so wish I had known back when my kids were young what I know now.  I have been refining interactions with my piano students over the last few years and have had incredible experiences in making a difference in their lives.  It's hard to sum up every tip, but here are some I find important:

  • Parents, start with identifying why you want your children to study music. Remind yourself regularly. Share it with your children.  It will help you stick to your guns. Music study isn't always easy! Don't give up!
  • Communicate with your child. Demanding that they practice is confusing and contentious, but joyfully sharing your vision with them as you encourage them to practice is fun. Be compassionate about the hard things and the scary things they try. Be excited with them when they succeed.
  • Remember, LPM is Let’s PLAY music.  Play WITH your child.  Sing, dance, enjoy the journey. Your attitude during the journey is important. Model it.
  • One of the most powerful and motivating statements is, “I love hearing you play!”  Stop.  Just enjoy where they are right now and love them!
Empowering Students
All of my students have Declarations: a set of positive affirmations that they created and recite every day at home and at lessons.   As part of introducing themselves at our studio recital this last spring, each student stood and firmly stated their Declarations.  Many parents commented on how extra-special this recital was.  

We all know that when you are waiting for your turn, your mind is focused on what you are going to do next.  Imagine the difference between “Oh no, it is almost my turn, and I going to blow it? Will I be able to remember my piece?  What if I forget? Will they like it?”  compared to “I am an amazing pianist.  My family loves to hear me play.  I bring joy to people’s lives.”

Our thoughts and words have great power.  An inspiring writer I turn to, Dr. Masaru Emoto, has done fascinating research on the power of our words.  His book Hidden Messages in Water is a must-read for parents and teachers.

I have found such continuing drive for helping parents that I recorded an audio CD set called Surviving the Music Lesson Rollercoaster: Tools to Help Your Child Excel at Their Instrument and Life.  I have a CD for parents and one for teachers.  I am currently working on one for students which will feature first hand stories from my students.  I am also writing a music camp manual that includes some of these tools along with Magic Formulas for learning.  Developing formulas to encourage learning in fun, engaging ways is my way of teaching my students to fish, rather than simply giving them a fish.

For more information on the abacus, practice incentive games or Music Lesson Rollercoaster CDs, check out my website at: or email me at

More about Bonnie
BONNIE SLAUGHTER, NCTM is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music. She is member of the Idaho and Utah Music Teachers Associations. She has served as President of the Bridgerland and Ogden UMTA Chapters. She has also served on the Utah MTA State Board.

She has published 5 books, including music camps, which she enjoys sharing with music teachers across the country.  She has also created Theory Strips, a series of music theory workbooks to help students better understand and apply theory.

She is a member of the Music Educators Marketplace and Music Teacher Store which are internet sites dedicated to products for music teachers.

Bonnie is the founder and director of the Northern Cache Valley Performing Arts Festival which is held in Preston, Idaho each spring for solos and ensembles. The mission of the Festival is to provide adjudication and performance opportunities for students of all musical genres and abilities.

She is now offering classes and personal mentoring to parents and music teachers where they learn tools to empower and motivate their children and students. She is married and has five children and 19 grandchildren. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Bonnie! You are amazing, and you inspire me to do more!! I feel privileged to know you!