Focus. An act of concentrating interest or activity on something.
We want this in the lessons and at home during practice and often ask our children and students to do this. However, there are some flaws to using the word ‘focus’.
When we ask students to ‘focus’, ‘pay attention’ or ‘concentrate’ during lessons or home practice, we are asking them to pay particular attention to some aspect of their playing. However, when we simply say ‘focus’ – “I need you focus right now” – it’s just too vague and children don’t know what they are supposed to do. This usually leads to further frustration when asking children to focus is intended to mitigate frustration. Which we were trying to avoid in the first place!
Instead, first imagine what you see your child doing when they are focusing. Then ask for that specific action or behavior. This usually requires giving the child something to focus on. Draw their attention to something very specific: “watch the bow hairs where they touch the string”, “listen to your sound”, “keep your thumb bent”.
Next, increase the endurance for focus by increasing the amount of focusing required. Start small – “keep your thumb bent for 4 Mississippi Stop Stops” or “watch your bow for the first part of French Folk Song”. Then do it several times before adding the next part – “watch your bow for two parts in French Folk Song”. Your child won’t be able to focus for the entire duration of a lesson or practice at first. But overtime, with diligent practice, your child will develop the ability to focus for longer periods of time. Learning to focus is a skill, a practicable skill.
We want the student to focus but simply asking for focus won’t yield results. Clear and specific directions of what to focus on in addition to consciously developing focus and the endurance to focus. This will help the child learn to focus which applies to millions of things outside of practicing the cello.