A new anti-dawdling tactic

Monday: I decided to try a new approach to minimizing the dawdling (and the nagging it inspires). It goes like this:

  • I announce the base time for practicing — today, 15 minutes in the am, and 10 minutes in the pm.
  • Every time M does something I ask immediately, I shave 1 minute off practice. So, for instance, I say, “Get your guitar and bow.” She does a good job. I say, “Great, that’s minus one.”
  • Every time M dawdles or acts uncooperative, I add 1 minute of practice. So, for instance, I say, “Get into ready position for With Steady Hands.” She looks aroud. I say, “Plus one.”

The morning was better than the evening, though I thought each session went fairly well. M started crying during each practice at what she perceived as unfair plus-1s, but each time she cried became an occasion for her to learn to calm herself down.

In the morning, we practiced for about 20 minutes. She had -4 (good) and +2 (bad), which you’d think would have meant a 13-minute practice, but it was hard to keep track of time. We did only two things:

  • M played the bass notes (As) for With Steady Hands while I played melody. She didn’t pay great attention.
  • I played the bass notes while M played the melody with a crescendo. Toward the 4th or 5th repetition, she did pretty well.

In the evening we practiced for 14 minutes. (I kept a stopwatch running except during relatively long, peaceful, chatty interruptions.) She had -5 (good) and +9 (bad), which added 4 minutes on net to my 10-minute base. She got into a few negative cascades that caused negatives to pile up. But she did a good job calming herself down, and we ended on a nice note. We did 2 things:

  • M played the Bach Tanz with Noteflight. The first time through, she played A-B-C (not A-B-A etc.), then she stopped in frustration and sat out the whole song, looking grumpily at me. I sat there and just said, “plus 1” at the end. She got upset, but I explained that she should have played through her mistake. The second time through (and I immediately gave her -1 for starting right away, which balanced the +1 I had just given her), she did a much better job. She missed some notes, but she remembered the structure, including the tosto shifts.
  • M played the B1 melody of With Steady Hands with a crescendo while I played the bass notes. This was rough—M was fussing with her clothes and was not paying attention to where she was placing her hands. But she did a great job on her 5th repetition, and I surprised her by ending then. (She had asked me earlier when we would be done and I refused to answer, telling her it was time to practice, not to talk about when we’d be done.)

Am I a heartless bastard? Bastard, maybe. Heartless? No.

We’ll have to see if this tactic keeps working and how it will be compatible with longer practices. But for now, I’d rather have better, shorter practices than worse, longer ones.

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