Habits of Successful Suzuki Families

The following is an excerpt from the book Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families which officially comes out on Amazon Thursday June 22nd.  It is meant to be a resource for families looking to answer the question: “How do we make the Suzuki method work in our every day life?”

 

I was a Suzuki student, starting lessons at the age of two and a half. There are parts of being successful at the Suzuki method that I take for granted, because I’ve never known anything else.

As a teacher, though, I am often reminded that there are many parts of what make this method work that are new ideas to the families I work with.

Some of them require changing how a family plans their day, or how they interact when working with each other one-on-one.

It’s my job to explain how families can help their child be successful at studying their instrument through small, day-to-day changes and through shifting their mindset about their role in the process.

As a Suzuki parent, I struggled with all of this myself. So I want to do everything I can to make it easier for the families I work with.

That has caused me to spend the last eighteen years learning all that I can about what it is that makes families successful. The more I have learned about the topic, the more I am able to help the families in my studio. Learning an instrument is difficult. Without the right information and expectations, many people struggle or even give up, which is not the outcome I want as a teacher.

 

Book : Beyond the Music Lesson

Why This Message Needs to Be Heard

I end up having a lot of conversations, both online and in person with other teachers. We often talk about what books we ask parents to read to learn more about the method. Of course, many teachers ask families to read Nurtured by Love by Dr. Suzuki,

but what next?

What resource gives a good picture of how the Suzuki method looks today, here and now, and in our own lives?

To that question, there are many varying opinions but no consensus that I’ve ever heard.

Certain books are good for technique, and others give some good insights into part of the process.

But what resource addresses the question, “How does the Suzuki method look in modern times, in our lives today?”

That’s what I’ve been looking for.

Since I haven’t found a resource that does this well for me, over the past few years, I have written my own set of parent education materials for the families in my studio. I try to answer questions before they come up about practice, the environment we create for our children to practice in, why playing in a group or with other people is important, why repetition and review is going to be a big part of our work together, and other such subjects.

Giving out more detailed materials like these, I have seen a dramatic change in how new families approach lessons and how successful they are at navigating the process from beginner and beyond.

This book [Beyond the Music Lesson] combines those materials with interviews and success stories to help answer the question, “How do we make the Suzuki method work for our family today?”

I hope teachers will find this book a useful resource for sharing with the families in their studios and most of all, I hope parents will find it encouraging and helpful to set up successful Suzuki habits in their homes.


 

To read more you can find your copy of Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families  (ebook or print) over on Amazon by clicking HERE
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Not sure the book is for you? Read a great book review HERE

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Bonus Material: Order you book by August 1st and email the receipt to Christine@SuzukiTriangle.com to receive:
  • a pdf of parent discussion (or book club questions)
  • a printable infographic of the habits of successful families
  • an invitation to join a private facebook community where we will discuss the ideas in the book and have a book club this fall. Get your Copy Today! 

 

 

How Collaborating Helps us Thrive

This post contains an affiliate link. That means if you click to buy something it helps support this blog but does not cost you anything extra.

 

Sometimes private music teaching can be lonely. Unless a teacher is part of music school there are often many hours spent working alone, planning alone, and running events alone and it can be a bit isolating.

I taught in a music school for 10 years and then about 6 years ago left to start my own studio. There are many things I love about running my own program, but I do miss the people.

When I spend too much time teaching in isolation I find my creativity goes down. I find myself getting burnt out more easily.

I recently read Jeff Goins new book Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age (which officially comes out today – get your copy here!). As an aside I think that it should be called “Real Artists Don’t Have to Starve” but once I put aside arguing with the title in my head, it was a fantastic book about thriving while doing creative work, and I highly recommend it.

 

Collaborating

A few chapters of the book that stood out to me as a musician, writer and teacher but my favorite one was on the importance of collaboration.

Mostly because I have seen first-hand what a difference this makes.

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Working Productively With Parents

This article was originally given as a short presentation at the Suzuki Association of the America’s Leadership retreat last week. It was parent of  a series of short talks about working productively with parents. If you would like to share it please do!

 

How do we work productively with the parents in our studios? How do we help new parents understand what being a Suzuki parent involves? How do we help them be successful working with their child as they learn and grow?

I was trying to come up with the most useful thing I could share with other teachers on the topic of working with parents. So, I started to think about all of the things I do in my studio like conferences, parent education, and parent talks.

There are lots of things we can do as teachers to help parents be successful. However, I would like to ask teachers to think bigger picture than that.

Working Productively with parents

As a young violin teacher I heard a concept that blew my mind at the time. When you look at the beginner student in front of you – don’t think about what they need in order to learn to play twinkle. Think about what they need in order to play a Mozart Concerto and teach them with that in mind.

I believe we need to do the same thing with new Suzuki Parents.

  • What do the parents we work with need to know about the process of helping their child thrive in the Suzuki method?
  • What can we explain better from the start that will keep parents from struggling later?
  • What bad habits can families get into that might not matter for a beginning student but will cause big problems down the road?
  • How do we take parents – who probably don’t know what they are getting into when they get started with us and help them make the Suzuki method work in their everyday lives?
  • How do we help get them come on board and be willing work with us to help their child succeed?

When I think about the families that I work with the most productively I think about families that:

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From Itzhak Perlman to Rachel Barton Pine: Why Students Need Music Heroes

This post contains affiliate links – which means if you purchase anything at no extra cost to you it helps support the cost of running this blog. Thanks!

 

Who were your musical heroes growing up?

Mine was, hands down, Itzhak Perlman. The first time I saw him perform live was 1999, but I remember watching him at home often as a child. I watched him on Sesame Street (You can see one example here), in documentaries, and in recorded concerts on VHS tape.

I was totally entranced by his playing. It was my dream to be able to do what he was doing.

When I was six years old I came home upset from group class one day. Another student had teased me my facial expressions while playing.

I vividly remember my dad sitting me down in front of a video of Perlman playing. He told me “if he can make faces while playing, so can you!” I have never felt bad about my overly expressive face again. Add my dad to my list of musical heroes!

Music Heroes

Perlman was my model of a great violinist as a child. His playing was like a carrot on a string, dangling out there as something to work towards.

Listening to Suzuki recordings helped me learn my pieces and build my technique but listening to a great performer like this was a whole other level of inspiration.

One helped me learn my music; the other helped me learn the purpose for studying it in the first place.

Fast forward many years:

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Why Summer Lessons are So Important

Much research has been done on the effect of summer breaks and academic performance.

Research shows that when students are not filling their summers with educational and enriching activities (Here is an interesting study) they may lose months of progress compared to their peers who keep learning in an enriching environment (like education camps, reading books from the library, and other activities like this).

Some articles I’ve read suggest it taking at least four to six weeks to catch up again each fall, other suggested up to 2.8 months.

The same thing can happen if students “take a break” from lessons over the summer. We had a great discussion about this in the Suzuki Triangle Community. Teachers agreed that it takes 1-3 months, on average, to get a student back to where they were at the end of the school year if they don’t take summer lessons.

The first ten years or so that I taught I didn’t require summer lessons and I started to notice some trends beyond the amount of time it takes to playing skills back to their former level:

Frustration:

When something used to be easy is now a struggle (especially a struggle that students already had to go through once before) students feel frustrated.

I started to hear things like “I can’t” and “It’s too hard.” from students who certainly could just a few months before.

This really affects a students motivation to keep playing. I started to see a pattern of students not returning in the fall (because the idea of restarting after a long break was daunting). Sometimes those who did return had such a frustrating time that they didn’t stick with their instrument for long.

Motivation:

Playing an instrument is hard work. It’s motivating when we see progress and see our ability begin to grow and develop.

It is NOT Motivating if we lose those skills and have to relearn them.

While I don’t require students to take lessons each week in the summer I do require a level of attendance that I feel will help students maintain their playing skills over the summer months. I want them to be ready to spring ahead into new things when we get back into a fall routine.

Summer can Actually be a great time to make progress: 

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Why Parents Must Practice with the Big Picture in Mind

 

I’m excited to announce my new eBook What You Practice Today is Not Important: but who you become along the way is! 
A lot of work went into it’s creation and I am happy to finally share it with you! You can read a short excerpt from this new resource below and get your own free copy by joining the Suzuki Triangle Community (you unsubscribe at any time).
Click HERE to sign up and get your copy through email!

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An excerpt from What You Practice Today is Not Important: but who you become along the way is!

Practicing can feel like it’s all about the little details.

It can feel like it’s about perfection and doing everything right.

Sometimes practice feels like a list you can never accomplish.

It feels like there’s not enough time to do all of our assignments from our teacher each week. It can be a challenge to get everything done.

But it’s not really about all that–it’s not about what your child does today that is most important. It’s not about doing all the tasks perfectly, all of the time.

Practice INVOLVES a lot of little details and trying to get things right for your next lesson.

But practice is not ABOUT all of that.

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Why all Parents Should Build a Practice Toolkit

[This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on the link and purchase something it doesn’t cost you any extra but it does help support the cost of running the blog. Thanks for your support!]

 

In my last two blog posts I have been talking about how parents set the practice environment for students and a 3 minute system for parents to use before practice that will radically change your practice sessions.

This week we are going to talk about building an emergency toolkit for young students. I find that once we have set a good environment for practice and prepare ourselves as adults to have the best practice session possible (see the posts above for more information) the next step for productive practice sessions is to have some tools on hand that help keep young students engaged in the practice session. The younger the student is, the more helpful this is. I find the older students are and the longer they have been playing their instrument the less this type of toolkit is needed because student have learned how to practice and how to concentrate and focus more fully. However, even middle school students enjoy rolling dice for repetitions and using rhythm sticks to count out a difficult rhythm from time to time!

During my first 4 lessons with new parents in my studio I primarily focus on parent education and preparing the new family to be successful in the upcoming weeks and months. Each week I assign families a few tasks to do at home that will help them establish good practice habits (listening assignments, finding a practice time each day etc). One of week three’s at home assignments for new families (this is primarily for third grade students and younger, which is the age I typically start) is for them to make a home practice toolkit.

The practice toolkit is a group of items that will give you extra support during practice. Some days you won’t need this at all and practice will go smoothly and

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3 Minutes a Day to Radically Change Your Practice Sessions

Last week on the blog I wrote about how parents (not the physical space) are their children’s practice environment. You can read the article by clicking HERE.

This week I am going to share the 3 minute process that can radically change how productive and positive your practice sessions with your child are. I consider these few valuable minutes to be the most important thing you can do that will set up your practice environment for success. This is a practice I developed with my own children and I go through it mentally before each student that I teach as well.

It is tempting to think this is an unnecessary step,that we don’t have time, or that we’ll just make it as we go and get the same results but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Being intentional about how we run practice sessions as a parent sets our children up for success. It is 3 minutes a day (or less) that will save you hours of wasted time and save you tons of frustration.

I hope you’ll try it for a couple of weeks and let me know how it’s going!

Steps

1. Find a small notebook (your regular practice notebook works) or open a document on your phone to use on an ongoing basis.

2. Use the template below to jot down a few notes about the upcoming practice. You may choose to do this right before the practice session or right after a practice session for the next day (review the notes before you start the next practice).

3. Use your answers to the questions below to structure your practices, set the tone and stay focused on what is really important.

Practice Pre-planning Template

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You are Your Child’s Practice Environment

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein

 

I came across this quote the other day and was hit by how true this is of many Suzuki teachers I know and how they teach. We strive to really teach the children in front of us, not only to teach the instrument or song a child is learning.

The quote also got me thinking about the way parents practice with their children. Are the parents that I work with practicing with their children with this kind of attitude? Do they focusing on understanding how their child learns and then setting up practice to use that knowledge to help their student learn? Are we setting up a practice environment that helps them thrive?

In Suzuki ECE training we learn that we as adults are our children’s practice environment.

The tone we set . . .

The mood we bring . . .

The attitude we have . . .

Even beliefs we have about what & how children can learn.

All of these things work together to created the environment that your child is learning and practicing in all week long. Read more

Dispelling a Myth about Suzuki ECE

Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) is a big passion of mine. I am always excited to talk to other teachers and new parents about why I love it so much.

My background is in Early Childhood Education and I consider teaching young students my specialty. I have taught in other ECE music programs before and there are lots of great things about them. I don’t have anything negative to say about them and I think that having a young child in any Early Childhood Music class is a wonderful thing.

However,  I think there is an idea out there that Suzuki ECE classes are the same as all those other classes and that there is no reason to teach it over any other program.

Having experience teaching both, I have to say from the teacher’s perspective this couldn’t be further from the truth. When I first watched a Suzuki ECE class I was so excited to see what was happening (and how different it was) that I knew someday this was something I needed to do.

I noticed that the parts of teaching other ECE music classes that I found frustrating or counter- productive (like the chaotic environment that I felt didn’t prepare students well for the environment of music lessons) were not happening in this class – and that everything flowed in such a natural way. I just had to find out more about it.

Now that I have taken training and started teaching SECE classes I have been thinking about how to explain what it is that makes SECE so unique. Here are five things that stand out to me that set it apart from other programs:

1. Mastery : Unlike other programs where the music (both in class & listened to at home) rotates often: in SECE we always rotate between 2 set weeks of curriculum. The repertoire we use is built upon in layers and made more advanced for the students as they master it (much like instrumental playing and review pieces) but we keep coming back to the same curriculum we know in order to build mastery.

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