How to Focus on the Big Picture During Music Practice

Now more than ever, it’s critical to focus on the big picture when we work with our children during music practice.

It’s easy to get distracted and frustrated by the details that aren’t going the way we want, but if we can step back and focus on what will be important years from now, we can keep perspective and keep music practice going along productively.

So how do we keep the big picture in mind during music practice?

How to focus on the big picture during practice

Here is a simple approach:

Have clear goals:

What do you want your child to gain from learning music?

Who do you want them to become during the process?

Keep the details of what to practice in mind, but don’t let them derail you.

You don’t want to focus on the details at the expense of your bigger goals.

Take a few minutes before each practice & remind yourself:

What should we focus on today?

What are our goals?

Remember why your family is committed to music.

This shift in perspective makes all the difference!

Interested in this topic as a parent or teacher? Jodie St Clair and I are offering a FREE one-day event on June 6th, 2020, called the Big Picture Parenting Summit. This event is for any parent, although we are going to talk about a big picture perspective as parents through the lens of learning and practicing music. We’d love you to join us!

You can find out more details HERE.

Games for Preschool Students

Recently I asked readers to let me know what kinds of resources they were looking for during this unusual time of online lessons. I got a great response and plan to address many of these topics in upcoming articles.

Today I am tackling the topic of games for preschool students. 

Here are some things I have found that help with lessons with preschoolers as I learn what works (and doesn’t work) with my students: 

Lesson Format & Technology

Option One: Turn off the video of the student during their lesson so they can only see their teacher (but are still visible to the other participant) is a big help. Here is a tutorial about how to do that in zoom.


Send videos back and forth between student and teacher twice a week rather than meeting on video for a formal “lesson.”

You could also arrange to have two shorter lessons during the week. 

Have a routine that signals the start to the lesson. Many teachers start with a bow, but I also have a rest and play position song that begin with each lesson & I find that when it’s hard to get started hearing me start this song often helps students settle in.

Games to use during practice or lessons: 

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SECE during COVID-19

Jodie St Clair & Christine E Goodner

As we navigate through this unprecedented time, it’s natural that we want to connect with our SECE families. Families with young children often feel isolated in normal circumstances, and we want to find ways to connect with them when everyone is experiencing isolation. We understand that many of you have found success in offering video SECE lessons. That is great! If you, like us, have some reservations about it and are looking for alternate ideas, we hope this article gives you some food for thought and actionable ideas.

The important thing is to find what works well for your studio, and hopefully, through that, you continue to connect with your families and find meaningful relationships through music.

After teaching online in our own programs for a few weeks, we have both decided not to offer SECE classes through the video format on an ongoing basis. While parents want to have something to do with their child to give a sense of routine and to feel less isolated, we think there are other ways to better offer them that opportunity than trying to provide the full class online. We want to both support parents and help them continue musical activities and the connections and bonding with their child that this class is so great at providing. We want to provide support and connection but not lose the sense that this is a calm, focused class when we meet in person again in the future. 

Here’s what made us pause and re-evaluate our own teaching plans: 

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Teaching The Child in Front of Us During Covid-19

You can find last week’s article for parents about keeping music going at home HERE.

This is an unusual time.

In my studio all lessons, and even early childhood music classes, have moved online for everyone’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I love the way the Suzuki community is rallying together to help each other figure out technology so we can keep making music and keep connecting with the students and families we work with.

As we all settle into to a new, for now, normal I keep thinking about how we work with our students right now, and I don’t mean just the technology.

We are not just teaching online; we are teaching during a pandemic and out of necessity happen to be doing it online.

Teaching the Child in Front of us during COVID-19

I think it is important to remember some of the following.

We (and the families we work with) may not have the ideal equipment right now or love the way the different platforms we are using transmit sound.

We should do everything we can to work with what we have & make the experience the best we can. Maybe we can upgrade or ask families to, but for some this isn’t an option.

Keeping perspective is super important. If we are teaching in an unusual short term situation, please do the best with what you have and don’t feel bad.

Different families are dealing with varying levels of stress – let’s be aware of teaching the individual student and working with the individual family.

A parent may be out of work or trying to figure out their work at home with kids underfoot.

Others may have a wide-open schedule and no such constraints or worries.

A parent may be on the front lines in a medical capacity, and there is stress about the health and well being of everyone at home. Or, may be separated from their family to keep everyone safe.

Others may have no such worry.

A family member or parent may get sick taking a lot of emotional energy and resources from the family.

Others may be simply keeping their distance at home and may even have extra time and energy to practice right now.

Please – let’s teach the student and family in front of us.

What do they need?

Plenty of assignments to keep them occupied with lots of time on their hands?

To find a way to connect with music for enjoyment or stress relief?

To have a simple plan?

Or maybe a more detailed robust one?

What does that family – looking through the device at you or sending videos back and forth with you need to make this work?

How can we help them along to the best of their ability while supporting what they need and how music can help rather than overwhelm them right now.

Yes, teach online in the highest quality way you can right now.

Invest in equipment if you can and want to.

But investing in the students and the families we work with and meeting them where they are with equal amounts of empathy, understanding, and inspiration is the thing that is truly what is needed right now.

A note to parents: if you see yourself in any of the descriptions above please have an open conversation with your teacher. I personally would want to know how I can support my students and families through this time, and sometimes we just don’t know what everyone’s personal situation is.

How Parents of Music Students Can Help Keep the Music Going at Home

This has been a challenging week.

Many of us are facing school closures, and thinking about how to balance working, and parenting from home. All while we’re also very aware of wanting to keep those around us healthy and safe from the spread of the COVID-19 virus in our communities. How do we keep the music going at home during this unusual time?

Wonderful online communities are springing up about how teachers can move their teaching online.

Our own Suzuki Triangle Community will, I hope, become a place for parents of music students and teachers to share ideas to keep the music going and a sense of normalcy in our children’s lives. 

Keep the Music Going at Home

Here are a few suggestions I would love to share with parents: 

These next few weeks may be a time when your child can actually practice MORE because we are all at home with extra time on our hands.

Depending on their age, some of this time can be unstructured time with their instrument, just playing for the fun of it. Music can be so comforting during uncertain times. If others in the family play music, playing together would be wonderful too.

Because of technology, we can often carry on with seeing our teachers through online lessons.

Having this technology available is so fantastic for continuing on with music lessons, as well as a sense of normalcy in our children’s lives.

Many teachers are learning how to do this for the first time.

Please be patient with us as we work to learn the technology and support our students in this way. I think once we all get the hang of it, it will be an excellent way to connect with each other and keep the music going in our lives. 

Set up a music playdate, or a mentoring session online with a buddy or older student from the studio.

It can be lonely not to see our music friends in person. Practicing with or for others can really help with feelings of isolation and with motivation to practice. 

Here are some other quick tips: 

Find something your child LOVES to play

It may be a tune from a movie they figure out by ear. A sight-reading piece they find online somewhere like or something your teacher has assigned or recommends. 

Work on note reading!

You can use assigned materials from your teacher, apps like Staff Wars, or make your own flashcards at home. 

Watch or Listen to Inspiring Musicians

This is a great time to watch or listen to musician’s who are inspiring to your child, or to find some. The list of potential performers is endless but here are a few to get you started:

Rachel Barton Pine

Ray Chen

Hilary Hahn

Regina Carter

Black Violin

Watching or listening to beautiful music often inspires me to want to practice and it can be a calming activity to do at home as well. Maybe your younger child could draw a picture while listening or older students could learn more about the artist.

I will close with part of my email sent out parents this weekend in my program: 

Suzuki created this method of instruction during a time in world history with lots of turmoil and uncertainty — as a way for children to focus on beauty and creativity and hope. I am glad technology lets us keep things going and providing a bit of normalcy right now. 

Wishing you all peace & good health and hope you’ll join the conversation and help keep the music going in your own way!

My Favorite Books of 2019

Well, the year isn’t quite over yet, but I want to share some of my favorite books of 2019. Specifically this list applies to teachers and parents who are part of the Suzuki Triangle Community. I also read a lot of fiction (one of my favorite ways to relax), but I wanted to share some of my favorite books that I think you might enjoy too.

Whether you go out and buy your copy (the amazon links here are affiliate links FYI) or request from your local library – I hope you’ll check a couple out and let me know what you think!

Here are a few favorites from this year I want to share with you:

Kids Aren’t Lazy: Developing Motivation and Talent Through Music by Lauren Haley

This book has some great perspectives for music parents and teachers alike. While I didn’t agree with everything written in this book, it provided some great ideas and useful perspectives that I plan to share and recommend to parents. It’s definitely worth the read!

Compassionate Music Teaching: A Framework for Motivation and Engagement in the 21st Century by Karin Hendricks

I am just finishing this book up, but it is a fabulous read for teachers. This book emphasizes how to teach in our modern, more diverse teaching environments. It is packed with so much research and so many great case studies: It feels researched like a textbook but reads like an engaging nonfiction book.

College Prep for Musicians: A Comprehensive Guide for Students, Teachers & Counselors By Annie Bosler, Don Greene, & Kathleen Tesar

I read this book to get some current perspectives to share when I talk to parents of teens. There is so much valuable information here. This would be a great resource to point parents to. It would also be great to have in the studio, or music school, as a resource for parents. Much of the information feels familiar to teachers, but its laid out in a well-researched way and gives some authority to what we want to share with parents.

The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington

I read this book in my mastermind group this year and loved it. It’s a way to break down goals into small chunks and map out your time to accomplish more. I am going to tweak how I put it into action this next year but highly recommend it if you are looking to get more done in 2020

You Must Write a Book: Boost Your Brand, Get More Business, and Become the Go-To Expert by Honoree Corder

This book was one I first read when writing my first book Beyond the Music Lesson, and one I re-read this year as I went through the authors online workshop. It is packed with great information. If you’ve ever thought of writing and publishing a book, Honoree Corder is the person to learn from.

Because by Mo Willems

This book starts with the phrase “Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful Music . . . ” Because takes you through a series of events that keeps new people being inspired by the way other share their music. This excellent book is a children’s picture book that I read and absolutely loved this year! I love how this book told the story of how the love of music gets passed on from one person to the next. It made me tear up for sure when I read it.

So those are some of my favorites for the year . . . I’d love to hear what your favorite book, or books, from 2019 were in the comments below!

Practice: Why Habits are More Effective Than Willpower

A topic I have been thinking a lot about over the past few months is the importance of making practice a habit and not something we make happen through our willpower. 

Families who practice daily and have a long-term commitment to learning an instrument often learn this through experience. 

Why Habits are more Important than Willpower

When I conducted research with over 100 practice parents (read more about it here), I asked what the one thing was that made this all work in their family.

56% of participants said being consistent, and having a routine is what made it work for them. 

Here is some of why I think that is:

Habits are automatic:  

  • We do them (or at least start them) without much struggle.
  • It feels weird if we miss a day. 
  • They are part of our life and our daily routine. 

Willpower is finite: 

  • We run out of it as the day goes on. 
  • We may have the best of intentions but may not have any left to make ourselves practice or practice well.
  • It implies we are putting a tremendous amount of effort into getting started and making it happen every single day. 

Benjamin Hardy, in his book Willpower Doesn’t Work, talks about the fact that we need to:  

“Create conditions that make success inevitable.” 

That is what we want to work on. 

It’s up to our children, or students, to do the actual work of practice. Ultimately they have to put in the effort to improve and practice well. 

BUT as parents, we are the practice environment (not the room or what is hanging on the walls) 

We are in charge of creating the environment and conditions in which they are most likely to succeed. 

We are in charge of helping our children create the habit of practice. 

We can encourage developing a practice habit, much like we help our children develop the habit of brushing their teeth or buckling their seat belts. 

Maybe we have to help make it fun or enjoyable so they can be consistent enough to make it a habit. 

Maybe we have to ensure practice happens even when they (or we) don’t feel like it. That way, they are consistent enough to make it a habit. 

And then, eventually, we have a solid habit where we resist getting started less, and we ease into the daily work more comfortably. 

This becomes even more important during times when things are busy, and we have more activities to juggle and manage on a day-to-day basis.

In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits (one of my favorite books from the last year) he says 

“You do not rise to the level or your goals; you fall to the level of your systems.” 

Our habits are the baseline of what we will do when things get busy or hard. 

The best thing we can do is to set up systems or habits that help us accomplish our goals – just having the goal is not enough. 

Specifically, our number one goal is to get into the habit of daily practice. Long-term progress depends on it. Don’t rely on your willpower to make it happen! 

How can you take steps to establish daily practice as a habit this week?

Teens & Motivation: A Research Project & How You Can Help

The topic of teens and motivation is one that I thought a lot about when my children were in this age group & one I think about all the time as a teacher.

  • What motivates our teens to keep practicing and keep improving?
  • How can we, as educators, and parents, help?
  • What do the teens we work with need more of so that they stay engaged and interested in improving?
  • What keeps them motivated to continue playing through the teen years?
Teens & Motivation - a research project

These are questions my colleague Dr. Rebekah Hanson and I are currently researching on teens & motivation and we need your help!

We are currently in the process of collecting answers directly from 100+ teenagers who play a musical instrument.

We’d love your students, or child(ren), to be a part of it.

The goal is to get responses from students from many different areas and programs to help give a clearer picture of what motivates teens we work with.

Our results will be presented at the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) conference in March 2020. We plan to also share our research at the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) conference next May.

I will also be sharing an article with you here about what we find out so you can learn from this research too.

Please help us by sharing the links below – I can’t wait to share what we learn about teens and motivation with you.

~ Christine

Students can fill out our anonymous survey here:

Link for Suzuki Teens & Motivation:

Link for Traditional (non-Suzuki) Teens:

10 Questions to Get Discussion Started at Your Parent Meeting

Parent Discussion

One of the best things I’ve started doing in my studio is connecting with parents to help them feel empowered to help their children be successful through the process of learning to play a musical instrument.

Holding a regular parent meeting to share information about the studio and give parents time to connect is a great way to do this.

Research shows that the parent’s commitment to the process of learning music has a huge impact on their child’s long-term success (see Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code) & I would argue that the teacher’s commitment to supporting parents is equally important.

One of my favorite things to do to support parents is to get them together to talk, share ideas and experiences and to feel less alone in their journey supporting their child(ren).

I can’t recommend this enough!

If you feel unsure how to get started or worry what you will ask them that won’t result in silence or blank stares I am sharing 10 questions below that have really helped me get conversation started.

Two quick pro-tips before you start:

First, if you have more than 5 people attending, have them break into small groups of 2-4 to talk first and then report back to the group.

Second, ask an experienced parent or two to speak up first to get things going. Just ask them before things get started if they’d be willing to share when you ask the question. This will help people feel more comfortable.

With that in mind, here are 10 questions to get discussion started at your Parent Meeting!

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What do you hope your child gains by learning an instrument?

Fall is a great time to set goals for the school year. As a teacher, I always find myself finding ways to think intentionally about how I want to structure things in my studio and what I want to work on with my students as a group.
It can also be an excellent time for students and their families to set goals for the year ahead. For students:

What do we want to learn this year? What skills do we want to improve?

For families:

How can we support our student this year? What can we do to help provide an environment for them to excel in?

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