Somehow, the word “discipline” has become synonymous with “punishment”. Corporate HR departments and public school administrations have “disciplinary procedures”: the process to follow when someone breaks the rules. A parent might be referred to as a “disciplinarian”, meaning they are the parent who punishes you when you disobey.
This isn’t particularly new. In fact, Merriam Webster says that in the 13th century, the term referred to religiously inspired punishment, such as self-flagellation. These are probably the same people who misunderstood the proverb “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” More on that in a minute.
In my opinion, all of this is a misunderstanding of the word. Just as “discipline” sometimes refers to a body of knowledge or field of study, the word originally referred to the activities of a student who is learning something or following a particular teacher. That student is a “disciple”.
Learning something well requires regular, consistent, persistent, and sometimes repetitive action. This is discipline, and it takes time. No punishment is needed, just motivation to do it, do it correctly, or at least do it better than the last time, and keep on doing it.
Few things in life require as much discipline as learning to play an instrument. This is one of the reasons why music students score higher on their SATs, do better in math and science classes, and are pursued by law schools and med schools. In order to succeed in learning an instrument and getting good at it (where the fun really begins) you have to have developed a capacity for discipline. Therefore, you are already used to the dedication needed to study law (so much reading!) or medicine (long, long hours) or any body of knowledge that takes concentration over a long period of time.
One of the hardest things I do as a violin teacher is teach my students how to practice. It isn’t consistent with our culture to stop playing with your friends, or turn off the video game, and go practice. Alone. Doing something that, at first, feels awkward and sounds terrible! And later, it sometimes feels like a journey that never ends. It's hard to notice improvement, which would be so encouraging if it were obvious!
I don’t believe in punishment for failure to practice, by the way. That “rod” that we’re not supposed to spare was originally referring to a shepherd’s crook. And a shepherd would never use his rod to hit his sheep! If he did, he would either damage them or chase them away. He might use the rod to hit or threaten a predator, but for the sheep, the rod was for guiding and keeping them on the path and moving in the right direction. This is what a good parent does.
Parents play an important role in helping their child to practice – not being there with them, though occasionally that is a good idea, but creating the conditions that make good, consistent practicing possible. Parents can help by setting aside a space that is relatively free from distractions (the TV isn’t on 20 feet away), setting a regular time every day that doesn’t conflict with other desirable activities (“We’re going to the park to play; you stay here and practice.”), reminding the student that it’s time to play violin, and not tolerating excuses.
Here are some ideas I have come across that might work for you:
I once heard discipline described visually in this way:
Water is the talent. The riverbanks are the discipline. If you have no riverbanks, you have a swamp full of stagnant, smelly, muddy water. But if you have good boundaries, the water flows – sometimes very rapidly – in one direction, eventually reaching its goal.
Quodlibet: A piece employing several well-known tunes from various sources, performed either simultaneously or in succession. (Schirmer Pocket Manual of Musical Terms)