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?”

This takes longer than just telling students what to do, but it’s worth it. These are the things we want students to ask themselves when they start to practice independently. These are the things I ask myself if I am playing . . . what do I want to do better? what can I try to make that happen?

Ask more questions. Develop thinking skills. Eventually we want to work ourselves out of a job as practice parents so our children can practice well on their own.


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 (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.

Read more

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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My 2016 Favorites

I love looking back at the end of the year to reflect on what my year was like and how I want to approach the new year. I thought as part of that process this year I would share my favorite things of 2016 related to teaching. I hope you will share your your favorites in the comments.

Suzuki Experience – Written by Suzuki parent Alan Duncan, this is a great blog about Suzuki from the parent perspective. I find myself sharing posts from this blog with the parents in my studio all the time.

The Plucky Violin Teacher This blog is a fantastic resource for parents and teachers alike. Written by Suzuki violin teacher Brecklyn Ferrin this blog has great ideas and resources about teaching and practicing. I highly recommend it. Breckyn’s blog was one of the first Suzuki blogs I started following regularly and is a big inspiration to me.

Teach Suzuki is written by Suzuki teacher Paula Bird, who also created the Teach Suzuki Podcast which can be found HERE on itunes. I started reading Paula’s blog a number of years ago and have found great information on it about teaching, running my studio, and even making goals for the new year. I had the pleasure of meeting Paula in person this year as she visited Oregon which was very fun!

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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.

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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:

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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 . . .