Why Short-Term Commitments to Music Don’t Work

why-short-term-comittments-to-music-dont-workI get many calls for prospective violin & viola students from parents requesting more information. I always explain my program and direct them to my website for more information.

A phrase I hear some parents use when they describe why they want to start lessons is: my child seems interested in music (or the violin) and we want to try it out to see if they will like it.

As a parent I completely understand that this is the approach we take for many things we sign our children up for. We often sign them up for many different types of activities in order to expose them to a wide variety of things and to see what they enjoy.

A word of caution though.

While there are many activities that we can sign our children up for to try it out for a few months and decide how much they like it – taking Suzuki lessons is not like that.

The whole premise of the method, and what makes it work so well, is that your child will be learning an instrument the way a young child learns language. They need to be immersed in hearing it, see others doing it, practice daily, and they will gradually learn to “speak” the language themselves.

Imagine you want your child to be bi-lingual. What kind of commitment would that take? It would certainly be different than exposing them to gymnastics class.

The Suzuki Method is about immersing our children in music, not exposing them to it.

The Suzuki Method is about immersing our children in music, not exposing them to it. In order to do this, you don’t have to commit to your child playing their instrument until they are 30. We never know what our children will be doing 10 years from now. However, if we just try out music lessons it lowers the chances that they will still be playing their instrument that far in the future.

Research shows that when students start lessons with a long-term commitment their ability to play the instrument years later is dramatically higher than those who begin with a short-term commitment in mind.

Daniel Coyle describes this in depth in his book The Talent Code. I would highly recommend reading it to read about this study in more detail.

This quote from the book, by researcher Gary McPherson (about his study following students and their outcomes on their instrument from about age 8 through high school) stood out to me: “With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term commitment group by 400 percent.”

How can that be?

I would argue that a short-term commitment is not enough to motivate us to adopt the habits and mindset that lead to success on our instruments.

There are many different aspects of making this method work. It takes an approach to learning that is all in, rather than dipping our toes in the water to try it out.

Before we get into the details of starting lessons, this is a big concept to wrap our brains around as parents. Do we want our children to learn to play an instrument to the best of their ability? Do we want them to make and appreciate beautiful music? Do we want our children to develop character qualities that will help them succeed later in life, whatever they choose to do?

If the answer to those questions is yes, then this process is worth committing to!

Whatever path your child takes with music and in their lives, what they learn through studying music (and what we learn as parents supporting them) will serve them well.

Make a commitment to view this as a long-term process and you have already taken one step towards being successful!

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on the mindset of successful Suzuki families. Please subscribe to the blog to see the latest posts, and to read updates about the book as it gets closer to being published.

If you are trying to decide if the Suzuki method is the right one for your child (and family) and are looking for detailed information about what the Suzuki Method is and how it started I would recommend reading Nutured by Love by Shinichi Suzuki and visiting www.Suzukiassociation.org to learn more about it.

 

3 Ways Students Can Learn To Give Through Music

3 Ways Students Can Learn to Give Through Music

 

It’s the time of year when many people are focused on the holidays and on giving. When this season is at it’s best, there is a big focus on acts of service and spreading joy. It is also a great time to teach our children and students about giving. Music can be a great way to do this!

Sharing music with family, friends and the community can be a great way to learn the power of giving. It’s an important value I want my own children and my students to adopt, this time of year, and all year long.

Here are some ways you can think about helping your students or children give the gift of music this season:

1. Go to a local nursing or retirement home and give a performance

You can put on a performance of review pieces, have each student play their most recent recital piece, or learn some holiday music as a studio. Any combination of these types of music would be wonderful for your audience. The website www.8notes.com has great free music to download. You can also order arrangements of Christmas melodies for strings through Martha Yasuda’s website. If you have a favorite book or source for holiday music please leave it the comments!

My grandma lives in a memory care unit that is always open to small groups coming in to perform music for the residents – it really brightens their day, especially to hear familiar music that they know. You only need to get a couple of musician’s together to make something like this happen!

2. Learn a family member’s favorite holiday tune, and play it for them as a gift

Many of my students enjoy learning Happy Birthday to surprise a family member with on their birthday. Maybe a family member of yours has a favorite holiday song, or any song they love,  that your child can learn and present to them either in person, by skype, or by video as a gift this season.

I have also had students present a small performance at family gatherings (as their gift to everyone). If your child is involved in the process of picking the music to play, and even making programs for everyone as a project, it can be fun a fun experience for everyone.

3. Play music out in the Community

A favorite activity in my studio last year was playing in small groups at our local Fred Meyer (a grocery store) while ringing the Salvation Army bell, in December. We learned holiday tunes and played for shoppers inside the front doors of the store.

It was really rewarding for the students to see all the smiles from shoppers and to get compliments from complete strangers as they walked by.

I have heard comments all year, from students who participated, that this was one of their favorite memories of performing last year.

I recently heard from the volunteer coordinator, as we made arrangements to come back this year, about how much seeing children making music together touched the shoppers and other volunteers as well.

There are many different ways to perform in the community beyond this one example. I recommend looking into opportunities in your area and finding a way to get involved. Activities like these benefit the musicians and the audience members alike.

It can be a busy time of year and without a focus to our practice it is easy to have it take a back seat to other activities going on.

In my experience, having a way to use music in order to give back and brighten another person’s day is a great way to motivate practice, learn fun music, and keep the excitement and energy high for our children and students.

What is your favorite way to use music to give during the holidays?

3 Ways to Focus on the Big Picture in Practice

 

3 ways to focus on the Big Picture

 

One thing I’ve noticed about students and families that are successful in the Suzuki Method, is their ability to stay focused on the big picture.

There are endless details to keep in mind when learning a musical instrument, and it’s easy to get over focused on some of them and forget what is really important.

As a teacher I like to think of three basic ways for students and families to focus on the big picture: Tone, Technique, and Character.

 

Big Picture Focus: Tone

If you are working on a piece in practice and you are unsure of what to work on next, Tone is always a good answer.

Tone is defined (by the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary) as “the quality of sound produced by a musical instrument or singing voice.” It goes beyond playing in tune. How warm is the sound? Does it having a ringing quality or harsh quality to it?

Beautiful tone is hard to describe, but we tend to know it when we hear it. It is the kind of sound that makes music pleasing to the ear and helps communicate emotion and feeling. Very simply, you can think of it as playing with a beautiful sound.

Depending on your instrument, the techniques and exercises you will use to develop beautiful tone will vary. But focusing on tone as part of the big picture will be important whatever you play.

 

Big Picture Focus: Technique

Another part of the big picture is that as a Suzuki student, you are learning the technique to play your instrument well. That may seem like a very obvious statement, but it is easy to get so focused on learning new songs and music that we forget to use those songs to build up our ability to play well.

It is very typical for students to get really excited about anything new and that’s great if it motivates them to practice more. But, whether you’re practicing a new piece, or a review piece, how you play it and how you’re using the music to develop your skills on the instrument should be a main focus.

Play close attention to posture, hand positions and the other little details about playing that your teacher talks about in lessons each week. This is what will support your ability to play more advanced music later!

 

Big Picture Focus: Character

It’s important to step back and look at the character traits we are developing while studying music too. Your child may be struggling to learn something, or you may feel stuck and frustrated, but sticking with it and overcoming challenges like this is how students develop perseverance.

You may wish your child was in a different level group class or orchestra, but sometimes being the most advanced in a group is what allows a student to develop confidence and leadership skills.

Your child may not feel like practicing today, even though there is plenty of time to do so. But, following through and doing at least some kind of practice teaches them commitment to their goals and discipline.

Sometimes there isn’t a clear music answer about what to do, but there is a clear answer for developing good character in our children or students. It’s an important part of the big picture to keep in mind. For a list of character qualities developed through music lesson you can read my post here.

Focusing on the big picture isn’t always easy to do, but it’s so important for keeping focused on our bigger goals. What else do you think needs to be included when talking about the big picture with your child or your students?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments . . .

 

The Importance of Empathy

What does a Suzuki blogger write about after such a dramatic election in America last week? Honestly I have been a little stuck, concerned for our country and how divided it is, concerned for people in my life who feel unsafe and scared for their futures. It feels a little meaningless to write about other things.

I have long admired Seth Godin’s blog but today it’s a great one: Empathy is a bridge

 

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“I see you. I’m sorry for what you’re feeling. How can I help?” is a message a lot of people need to hear right now.

How can we help? That I don’t know.

I do know that the families and children we work with (our students or our children) need us more than ever to say I see you, I believe in you, I am here for you.

I spend my days teaching children and families to listen with sensitivity, to recognize beauty, and to work together. I spend my days seeing the best in each student that stands in front of me and trying to help them see it, and to rise to it. I spend my time being an encourager, a motivator and a listener.

Sometimes it falls on deaf ears. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m making a difference. Sometimes I get the privilege of seeing that in some way I have made someone’s life better.

So I am going to keep on – keep writing, keep listening, keep seeing and striving for the best in people. I think that’s what our world needs more of and I hope I can make a difference in my little corner of it. I encourage you to do the same.

 

*I am not going to approve any divisive or political comments on this post*

50 Character Qualities Developed in Music Students

Character Qualities

 

I have been asking a lot of my friends and colleagues lately to weigh in on what they consider to be “success” within the Suzuki method.

Certainly a lot of answers include elements of learning to play the instrument well, but most everyone also agrees that who students develop into, as human beings, is just as important.

What exactly are we developing when we practice with our children everyday? or work with our students each week in lessons? Below are 50 character qualities that I have seen students develop, or have developed myself, through studying music.  What would you add to the list?

 

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart ”  

~ Shinichi Suzuki

 

 

  1. Time Management
  2. The Ability to Focus
  3. Problem Solving Skills
  4. The Ability to Take Instruction
  5. Realizing One’s Potential
  6. Tolerance
  7. Tenacity
  8. Determination
  9. Perseverance
  10. Self Esteem
  11. Responsibility
  12. Leadership
  13. Cooperation
  14. Creativity
  15. Responsibility
  16. Mental Flexibility
  17. The Ability to Concentrate Deeply
  18. Confidence
  19. Social Skills
  20. The Ability to Work in Groups to Accomplish a Goal
  21. Self – Control
  22. Delayed Gratification
  23. Pursuit of Excellence
  24. Consistency
  25. Poise
  26. Discipline
  27. Self-Expression
  28. Ability to Listen with Sensitivity
  29. Ability to Learn from One’s Mistakes
  30. Respect
  31. Pleasure in Sharing the Gift of Music
  32. Courage
  33. Sensitivity
  34. Precision
  35. Dedication
  36. Work Ethic
  37. Maturity
  38. Organization
  39. Patience
  40. Sense of Purpose
  41. Adaptability
  42. Reliability
  43. Self -Discipline
  44. Attention to Detail
  45. Enthusiasm
  46. Accountability
  47. Ability to Feel Confident Speaking to a Group
  48. The Ability to Break Big Problems into Small Chunks
  49. Independence
  50. The Ability to Think & Respond Quickly

I’d love to have you join us in the Suzuki Triangle Facebook Community to add your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Suzuki Parent . . .

Confessions of a Suzuki parent

 

I’d like to sit behind my computer screen and present a perfect image of myself as a Suzuki teacher and parent. But I have to be honest – the reason I’m so passionate about writing on the topic of Suzuki parenting and trying to be help parents be successful is that I was far from perfect as a Suzuki parent.

I have read and learned everything I can on the subject to help the families I work with, because I could have really used that help myself.

I had my kids while I was in college so I was a younger mom. In fact, I was just starting out as a Suzuki teacher myself, when my oldest was four years old and we started the violin together . .  . the same instrument I happened to teach . Some people do this beautifully and if this is you, you have much respect from me – I know it works really well for some people. But, it did not work well for us.

I’m not sure there is a way to accurately describe the struggle between a very opinionated and headstrong four your old and a very inexperienced and idealistic mom/teacher.

We struggled!

There were some epic showdowns where you could practically see the standoff happening like in an old Western movie, with the tumbleweed rolling by, as we sat in suspense about who would win the battle of wills this time. I so wanted to do it “just right” and she so wanted to avoid how hard it felt and most likely the pressure she felt from me.

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Running a Studio Challenge

While this post is geared more towards Suzuki teachers, I think parents can take some of these ideas and modify them to create a “family challenge” based on the same ideas.

 

I have found lately that having studio practice challenges, where the whole studio is working on something at the same time, helps students feel like they are part of something exciting that is happening. It makes them want to keep up and practice.

I’ve had parents thank me for organizing them because it means less nagging by the parent to get started on practice – which I think is great. That kind of feedback motivates me to keep coming up with ideas and and doing a few challenges each year of various kinds.

Over the summer we had a practice club – students earned different levels by the number of days practiced during summer term.  Their names went up in the studio for each level earned and I gave out certificates at group class in September. Overall, there was a lot more consistent practice over the summer and especially the younger students seemed to find it fun and motivating.

This fall we are doing a Bow Hold Challenge. 

If you teach an instrument that doesn’t have a bow I am sure you can come up with your own technique to plug in and modify this idea to fit your instrument.

I wanted to share the elements of running this challenge on the blog so it would be easy for anyone to replicate.

Bow Hold Challenge

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Effective Practice Routines

Effective Suzuki Practice

I have seen many different approaches to practice that work. Families in my studio find what works for them and helps them be successful. One size does not fit all and the way practice is done often needs to be modified depending on the child and practice parent.

That being said I have found there are certain strategies that effective practice sessions have in common, especially for young students. How they are done, is much less important than the fact that they are done.

I used to try to sprinkle information about how to practice effectively into my lessons on an ongoing basis but I’ve found over the years that this approach often left families in my studio surprised about my expectations a year or two into lessons.

Clearly I was not giving out this information as well as I thought I was. I have recently re-vamped my approach with new materials that explain what to expect, and how to be successful, in a much more clear and organized way.

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Repetition = Mastery

We all know the definition people throw around about insanity . . . doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  I think this is how many adults feel in general about repeating something over and over again – no matter what the results.  It can be a little crazy making.

It’s important to remember as parents (and communicate well as teachers) that not only does repetition feel totally different to young students and play an important role in the way they learn, but often they actually enjoy it. Can you think of that book or song that your child wanted (or currently wants) to hear over and over again?

When my own children were young they had a few favorite books that came out every night to be read & I dare not skip a page or two in the interest of time – they always noticed.

Repetition was something they craved – and it wasn’t only books. Certain Raffi songs and movies were requested over and over again as well. The repetition might have made my skin crawl at times, but they ate it up and it was exactly what they needed.

Repetition = Mastery

In fact, research shows that repetition plays a huge role in learning language, vocabulary, physical tasks and music.

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20 Ways to Review Your Suzuki Pieces

20 ways to Suzuki Review

 

Review is such an important part of the Suzuki Method.

It sets the foundation on which more advanced pieces can be built, allows us to play with other people easily & helps make our technical skills easier because we revisit them over and over.

Sometimes the review process can get a little stale and it’s good to find new ways to keep it fresh and interesting.

Younger students may be more motivated by games & dice or drawing cards where teens (at least in my studio) tend to be more motivated by social situations or using review to accomplish something. That being said some of these ideas will appeal to all ages.

Leave your favorite review ideas in the comments!

Here are 20 different ways to review to get us started . . .

 

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