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.

Children’s brains are wired to learn by repetition like this and we certainly want parents to understand the power of repetition & review and the impact it has on their child. In this class they can really see this in action. Mastery of the curriculum allows children the freedom to know the music inside and out & to be able to focus on other things like adding dynamics and musical timing and the many other concepts that are a part of class. I think it beautifully prepares everyone for the mastery we focus on through review in the Suzuki Method.

2. Character Development as a Goal of the Class: “Character First , then Ability” was a focus of Dr. Suzuki and that is also a focus of this class which is certainly unique. Waiting to take turns, sharing with each other by rolling the ball to a friend in class, and helping put instruments away with care are some of the examples of how we do this.

We hear stories about toddlers who go home and very gently pet the family dog and sing “Bow Wow Wow” to it (rather chasing it around like toddlers tend to do) and see very young children who learn to patiently wait their turn because they know a turn is coming their way.

Developing wonderful human beings, not just wonderful musicians, is at the heart of the Suzuki method and this class does it like no other Early Childhood Class I have seen.

3. Suzuki Parent Education: Since I started a good parent education system in my studio it has made a world of difference in how successful new families are and it has made my job as the teacher so much easier. This is even more true if a family comes to the studio from the Suzuki Early Childhood Class because so many parts of being a Suzuki parent are emphasized during the class as a natural part of attending.

Parents journal at the end of class and learn to notice tiny increments of progress that their child is making. They learn to ask questions and get encouragement and feedback from the teachers through these journals.

Parents learn to observe their children closely, how their child might approach learning new things, and that they are a critical piece of their child’s success.

4. The Power of at Home Listening: During SECE classes parents also see the impact of listening to the recording at home and how it affects the way their child participates in class and learns the music from class.The impact of repetition, to gain confidence and mastery over skills from the class, leaves a lasting impression about the power of review.

Some parts of the Suzuki method that are the most unique and need the most explaining when we start lessons are just a given and taken for granted when students start in an SECE class first.  Teacher trainer Sharon Jones calls it a “3 year parent education program.”

5. Focus & Calm: There is a striking difference in the feeling of class between SECE classes and other types of Early Childhood Music programs that I have seen and worked in. SECE classes have a feeling of focus and calm. Parents of older children who have been in other programs tell us they notice it too. While there are times in class to be expressive and dance all around the room, most of the class is very focused in nature.

When children are calm they can learn more easily and from the start of class with the ball rolling, to the smooth changes between songs, the environment is one that promotes learning for each child. This is also a huge factor in helping students prepare for private instrument study. If students come into my studio having experienced and developed this focus and calm then we are ready to start making progress right away!

I hope this article helps clear up the myth that Suzuki ECE classes are just like all other music classes for children out there. In my experience it the best way to prepare students to move easily into instrumental lessons and to prepare parents for what the Suzuki method will require of them as well.

What questions do you have about Suzuki ECE? What would you add to this list?

 

Attitude is Everything

I’ve finished most of the parent teacher conferences in my studio for the year (If you want to read more about my process you can read more HERE & HERE). The most common issue I heard (besides learning to practice well as students start to become more independent in practice – a theme that kept coming up for the middle school students) was that in a number of families the parents felt like it was a daily battle to get practice started.

Let’s be honest – it is not very motivating to keep taking your child to music lessons if you know it means daily squabbles with your kids over the practice. Many working parents have just a few quality time hours a day with their kids and spending part of that time fighting about something is not a fun idea.

This is why parent teacher conferences are so important – I don’t know what practice is like for families at home without these honest conversations and sometimes these situations can be turned around quite easily, as long as parents are willing to put in a little effort to change the tone for practice.

In each of the cases where this issue was brought up we decided that the number one priority for this student and family was not moving forward on the instrument – it was developing a positive attitude about practice.

In two families when I saw them less than a week later there had already been a huge turn around in practice and attitude with just a few small changes.

Sometimes the bad attitude at the start of lessons is just a habit – we say “time to practice!” and the groaning and complaining starts because it’s just the automatic response without even thinking first. Here are a few ideas that have been working for the families in my studio:

  • Reward good attitudes at the start (or during) practice. You can add stickers to a chart for the week and reward a week of good attitude or even start with a tiny reward each day at first if strong motivation is needed. Letting your child know that a good attitude is the main goal, and working on it together, can go a long way to improving things. Don’t get stuck in a rut of fighting with your child during practice – that is no fun for anyone!
  • Keep practice fresh with new ideas. Research some practice games (or new checklists for your child to follow if that is more motivating to them). Saying “Oh I have something new we’re going to try today when we practice!” is more exciting and can make starting feel less like a chore. Sometimes as parents we have to look at what attitude we are bringing to practice – if we have some interesting ideas to try our more engaged attitude can rub off on our children as we practice with them.
  • Try to figure out what motivates your child to practice. Some student in my studio began playing duets with siblings or a parent to add a little variety into practice. The time spent playing together was an added element of fun that is helping keep practice motivating and interesting.

If you are struggling with bad attitudes during practice in your house I would try to address it right away. Students don’t have to feel excited to get started practicing each day but they can create a habit of starting their practices with a good attitude and this, over time, can develop into feeling just fine about practice and even enjoying part of the process.

Let’s encourage our students and children to develop a good attitude by rewarding and praising those times when we can see improvement in this area.

Have you tried anything that significantly improved the attitude of your child during practice sessions? Please share it in the comments below!

 

Why Conferences with Teens Are So Important

Last Week’s Blog post discussed why every studio should hold Parent-Teacher Conferences – you can read the article HERE.

This week I want to address the importance of holding conferences with teens. In my studio I use part of a lesson each spring (this is happening in the next couple of weeks in my studio) to have a conference with each teen student on their own to honestly talk about how things are going, what they are enjoying and struggling with, and how I can be more helpful.

I have a questionnaire I send teens home with the week before our conference and ask them to fill it out very honestly (the more honest they are – the more useful the conference will be).

The day of the conference teens come alone to lessons (if they don’t already) and we talk through the questions on the sheet. I also like to share how I’ve seen the student improve over the year and what my next goals for them would be. Sometimes I also give them something to read or have some sort of information to hand out to them that I think addresses something I think they (or all the teens in the studio) need to think about.

Depending on the student this usually takes about 20 minutes of a lesson. It helps so much to have each student feel like they are on the same team with me, as their teacher. They are being listened to, their opinion is being heard, and hopefully they see that I want them to succeed.

Last year was the first year I tried this (in addition to meeting with parents of younger students) and I found it really helped the teens with ownership over what are trying to accomplish and it helped our working relationship each week because they knew I found their opinions to be important.

I also found out a lot about what motivates the teens I work with . . . certain community performances we do each year (like playing in the lobby before Oregon Symphony concerts) and certain types of music we play in group class, for a couple of examples.

Do you hold conferences with the teens in your studio? Does your teacher hold them?

Why Every Studio Needs Parent Teacher Conferences

For the past three years I have been doing parent teacher conferences in my studio. I had thought about doing this for years but kept putting it off.

Partly I was a little nervous about the process. I also didn’t know where to start. I wondered if the parents in my studio and find it valuable.

Then a few years ago I heard Alice Joy Lewis give a talk to teachers up in Ellensburg, Washington. During the talk she emphasized how valuable these conferences are to her and even shared a few resources with us to get us started. I believe a few of my colleagues and I left that day excited to start conferences in our studios.

A few months later I held my first round of conferences and I so wish I had started doing them earlier. I can’t say enough about how valuable they have been.

Here are a few ways they have helped in my studio:

Conferences get parents and teachers on the same page – by the end of each conference, if they are done well, we come away with a plan to help the student be more successful and it’s clear to both the parent and I that we are both working towards the best interest of the student. This lays the foundation for future conversations and emails throughout the year because we both trust each other to be working with the students success in mind. I have noticed far better (and more open) communication with parents all year long. 

Honest conversations can be had without the student present – without the student at the conference both parent and teacher can address any difficult issues that might hurt a child’s feelings or embarrass them and shouldn’t be brought up in the lesson. Sometimes I hear about a medical issue that the family is facing or a behavior issue that is going on at home or at school and affecting things. This information really helps me teach better with the whole child in mind – but often there isn’t any other time it would come up. [ side note: I do have conferences in person with my high school students – more on that next week]

We are able to talk through frustrations and big picture topics that there isn’t time for in a lesson – One example of this is that I want my families with students in late grade school to know that I recommend they find some sort of orchestra or chamber group for their student sometime in the middle school years. I have found students who have this type of peer group are far more likely to keep playing their instrument through the teen years. Bringing this up as something to keep in mind for the future has been a big topic at conferences so far this year.

Sometimes I find out I could be doing something better suited to a child’s style of learning or we can talk through ways to practice that fit with a student’s personality style. It’s a great time to have honest conversations and problem solve together. 

Goal setting for the coming months and year: I always like to hear what the parents goals are for their students over the next year and what goals the students have (if any). We also discuss any goals I have for the student over the next year. The first year I did conferences I got a lot of responses like “Oh, I’ve never thought of that before!” Having goals is a great way to stay focused throughout the year and I think this is an important piece for everyone involved. Now, three years later I notice everyone has a goal for their child – which is great!

How have you incorporated conferences into your studio? Or, How does your teacher do them?

If you don’t have them, I would suggest starting my making goals for the next year – you might be able to ask your teacher if they would be open to having a conference with you in place of a lesson.

I am happy to share the form I use for parent conferences if you are just getting started with this idea- just send me an email at Christine@SuzukiTriangle.com and I will send it off to you! I would love to hear from you if you get started with conferences in your studio . . . I think it’s an amazing way to positively impact the whole studio.

 

 

Ask More Questions

If practice is always a student playing something, an adult telling them what needs to be fixed and then student playing again and looking to the adult to tell them if it is good enough something is lacking.

Progress might be made but the student is not learning how to practice, how to self-analyze, or how to think critically.

Especially as students get older it is much more effective to ask questions than give the answers.

 

“How did that sound to you?”

“What do you think we should try to do better/improve?”

“Did you remember _______ (insert the teacher’s assignment/focus point here) for the whole song/section?”

“Did you think about what you were playing the whole time?”

“How do you think we should practice that?”

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What Every Parent Should Know About The Power of Words

It’s easy to point out mistakes and what is wrong. It’s easy to see when things aren’t good. It’s easy to talk about what is hard or get frustrated because we know our kids are capable of more.

But how do we turn things like this around and build on what is going well in order to make progress towards our goals  – especially when it seems there is a long way to go?

 

It’s important as parents (and teachers) to realize the powerful impact our words have.

We can point out the negative or we can look for the positive (no matter how small) and point that out instead.

It takes effort, it takes paying careful attention and it can be the thing that spurs our children on to try hard, see that they have the ability within them to work hard on something, and to keep from giving up. It’s human nature to do more of the thing we get compliments or praise for.
I have found that it is very powerful to say “I see this thing about you that is great – do that more!”
Instead of “That’s out of tune” you might say say
“You have a great ear – let’s use it to work on getting right in tune.”
Instead of “That doesn’t sound right” you might say
“You can make a beautiful sound, let’s work on doing that this time through.”
I have said such things to students and seen them stand a up little straighter and really work at something afterwards. Sometimes a single comment like this totally changes a student’s attitude.
Parenting can be hard, staying patient can be hard, waiting to see the payoff years from now from little things we are doing today can be hard. We so want what is best for our children and for them to work hard and to do well. The words we say when we’re coaching them through the hard spots or just the not-so-exciting day to day spots have a huge impact.
In my experience, what students and children need is less criticism and more adults pointing to the things they can do well, and encouraging them to strive for that.
I’m not talking about false and empty praise but someone saying “I see you – I see great things that you are capable of – let’s do this task with that in mind.”
When my oldest daughter was young I would get frustrated with her bossiness and her need to get her sister to do things her way. But, then she kept getting leadership awards in dance class and I started to look at it in a new light. She didn’t need me to point out when she was being bossy and tell her it was wrong, she needed me to teach her to consider the feelings of others and be a kind leader 🙂
We can look at many character qualities from two sides. We can point out the negative about certain qualities or we can see the potential in them when they are channeled productively.

I certainly don’t do this perfectly but I hope I choose the later most often and I hope my kids and students stand a little taller and feel a little more sense of purpose because of it. I hope you’ll join me in trying to do the same.

 

 

5 Ways to Help Your Child Enjoy The Process of Learning Music

This post is the last in a series about inspiring and motivating students through lessons and practice. You can read the other posts here: Overview, Seeing Progress & Feeling Capable.

Learning to enjoy the process is a critical part of helping our children and students stay motivated and inspired. Of any of the aspects of motivation we have discussed in this series, it has the most long-lasting effects on them as people and musicians. It is easy to get too focused on outcomes and results and kill the joy of learning in the process. Let’s find ways to help both students and ourselves (as teachers and parents) enjoy this process together!

 

If learning something new is a daunting and dreaded task then why would anyone want to keep doing it?

I often tell parents that games and rewards can be very useful for very young students until they start to see learning music (and enjoying that process) as the reward. How do we develop this in our children and students?

Below are 5 great ways to help students develop the ability to enjoy the process of learning music. I was inspired for this post by a great article on the website Parents.com (click here to read) . The points in the article really echo what I see in my teaching and I expanded on some of them to fit our experiences as Suzuki parents and teachers.

  1. Understand how your child learns  – Young students learn very differently from teens (or how we learn as adults). Within each age group there are variations in the style of learning that works best for each individual student as well.

Does your child learn best by seeing something done? If so ask your teacher if you can take a video of a new concept being learned in the lesson.

Does your child learn best by hearing something played? Listen to the piece you are working on as part of practice in addition to your regular listening habit.

Does your child learn best by physically doing something? Practice motions in the air without the instrument to get a feel for what muscles will be doing.

Once you start to understand what helps your child learn best use it to make practice more productive and make sure as your child gets older that they understand it too.

Understanding how we learn and using that understand to get great results is an important part of learning to enjoy the process. 

2. Build on your child’s natural interests – If your child loves a particular animal, activity or movie you can use that to help make practice motivating.

For example: You can make up lyrics to your newest Suzuki piece that incorporates your child’s favorite animal to help them feel more connected to the song. A regular blog reader says her child loves dinosaurs so they use them like this all the time in practice to keep things engaging.

Perhaps there is a particular movie that your child would love to learn a song from on their instrument – this can be good motivation to keep practicing and improve playing skills enough to be able to learn it.

Your child may be interested in totally different things – great! Figure out what that is and leave a comment below if you’d like help thinking of how to incorporate that into practice.

3. Let your child make mistakes and figure things out independently. There is a sense of pride and ownership in figuring out something through our own efforts that just isn’t the same if someone whispers the answer to us.

Sometimes as adults we want to rescue students and offer them the answer – especially when there is a long uncomfortable pause as they process how to figure something out.

Give them time to think and to make mistakes. If you’re tempted to jump in consider asking questions like this first:

“Would you like help with remembering how that goes?” “Are you still thinking, or would you like me to tell you?”

Jumping in with the answer or with instructions can take the joy out of learning and actually may make students stop trying to figure things out on their own.

We all mean well but a little struggle to figure things out is a good thing – as long as they are working at it, let them try.

4. Ask lots of questions – this is related to the last point. Enjoying the process for children often involves them having the freedom to think for themselves and also the ability to take ownership over what they are doing.

“What do you think we should practice first on this piece?” you might say after your child plays it in practice.

“How do you think you did focusing on __?” (whatever your teacher is having you focus on). “What do you think we can do to make it easier?”

I know as a parent and teacher that this kind of approach is less efficient at getting through practice quickly.

It is MORE efficient, though, at developing an independent thinker who enjoys the process of learning. It’s important to keep this bigger picture in mind. Over time our children will know to ask themselves these questions because of the time you spend doing this now.

5. Focus on the Process as the Teacher & Practice Parent – we cannot expect our children and students to enjoy the process if we make it obvious that we don’t enjoy it.

If we are impatient to move ahead and become overly results focused, it will be hard for students to not develop the same attitude.Try to enjoy figuring out how your child learns and how to incorporate their interests into practice.

Celebrate their efforts to develop critical thinking skills and learn to work hard and gain competence at something. If you can find ways to enjoy the process, even if they are more about your child than the music, you can teach your child to enjoy the process as well.

To sum up: being efficient can sometimes be the enemy of learning to enjoy the process. The above suggestions do take being thoughtful about practice and they do take extra time and effort. Remember that we are planting the seeds for young adults who love the process of learning and can practice well independently. If they can develop these things over time it is worth the extra time and effort.

Thanks for reading this series on Motivation – in my next bi-weekly newsletter I will be sending out a resource sheet about motivation that can be used as a quick reference guide for parents and teachers. Join my email list below to receive your copy when it comes out!

 

Motivation: The Importance of Feeling Capable

This Post is third in a series on keeping students inspired and motivated. You can read the first two posts here: Overview, Why Students Need Help Seeing Progress. 

 

“I can’t do this!” “It’s too hard!” “I’ll never get it!”

Comments like these (or trying to avoid practicing a specific practice task) are strong indications that a student does not feel they are capable of something we are asking them to do.

Some students may not even be able to verbalize these thoughts and simply act out or seem to lose interest in studying their instrument.

To keep our students motivated it’s important to to address these feelings. Feeling capable and seeing that it is possible to accomplish something plays a huge role in staying motivated.

I’d like to suggest 4 ways to help students feel capable & would love to hear what you think works the best for your children or students.

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Motivation: Why Students Need Help Seeing Progress

Last week I started a new blog series about keeping students inspired and motivated. You can read the first post in the series HERE.

In that article I outlined three things students need to stay motivated and inspired including seeing progress, feeling capable, and finding joy in the process.

Today I want expand on the idea that one of the ways students stay engaged & motivated in the process of learning their instrument is by being able to see that they are, in fact, making progress.

Practicing is hard. It takes a huge amount of concentration, discipline, and persistence to get it done everyday. It’s just human nature to feel like it is not worth it if we can’t see some kind of tangible progress along the way.

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3 Ways to Keep Students Motivated & Inspired

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

-William Butler Yeats

Happy New Year! I love the feeling of a fresh start that the new year brings. I am coming back from a couple weeks off feeling refreshed and with a renewed commitment to help keep my students motivated and inspired this year.

 As a teacher I feel strongly that my job goes beyond teaching the mechanics of playing the violin or viola. If all my students get from me is some technical knowledge about their instrument then I don’t think I’ve really done my job.

One of my first jobs as a teacher is to instill a love of music in my students, once that has been established it is much easier to expect them to work hard. Working hard at something we love is a totally different feeling than working hard on something someone else loves. How do we get this to happen?

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