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.

Its a funny story now, because that daughter is now a 20 year old and she puts her (self admitted) head-strong ways into working towards productive goals, like graduating college a year early which she is scheduled to do after this year.  I as a parent, have learned how to pick battles and how to focus on the long term outcomes I want as a parent vs. focusing on the little things being done just so. Our days of practice showdowns are far behind us & her musical story turned out well in the end too.

This daughter spent her school years a musician:  after a not too successful attempt at Suzuki violin with me, she studied cello for a while with a member of the Oregon symphony and then the flute, which she played in the band through most of high school. And then mid-high school she found her real musical love… Singing. Specifically musical theater and she spent all of high school singing and dancing on the high school stage.

Really our story is one of success – I raised a musician: one that understands hard work, discipline, working in cooperation with others, and loves music. But, still I often wish I could go back to those early days of practicing together, knowing what I know now.  I think we would have an easier time of it,  we would understand each other more, and I know I would feel so much more confident that I knew what I was doing. I often wonder if she would have stayed with the violin if I could have done it differently.

And while I do wish it was different for us, through our struggles I have developed a passion to help other parents avoid our mistakes and be more successful. I have made it my passion to help Suzuki families really focus on working well together and not giving up.

If you are struggling through practice with your child – you are not alone.

If I could go back and say something to that young, idealistic and frustrated parent that I was I would say: talk to other parents so you know you’re not alone , read everything you can on the subject, look online for practice games and ideas (if pinterest had existed back then, it would have been an amazing resource), and remember to focus on the kind of human being you are raising rather than getting bogged down in doing everything perfect during every practice.

It will be ok!


Here are a few resources I would recommend:

Life Lens: Seeing your Children in Color  A great resource for understanding the personality of your child and how to work with them successfully in practice.  You can read my interview with Author Michele Monahan Horner Here

I also love this post about being a more patient Suzuki Parent by Alan Duncan on his great blog The Suzuki Experience  How to be a more Patient Suzuki Parent 

A book that I read often as a parent that really helped me (and that I recommend to parents in my studio a lot) is Kids, Parents & Power Struggles by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Have you found any resources that really help you or the families you work with who are struggling with practice? Please share them below!





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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Developing Ownership in Practice

Ownership in Practice


I am in the midst of expanding my parent education materials, for the new families in my studio, this year and the second week of materials will focus on what I think are the most important things to keep in mind about practice.

I narrowed it down to 7 items (I am sure there are more but these will get people started on the right foot in my experience).

They Include:

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Will Rewards for Practice Keep it From Becoming a Habit?

Rewards and Practice


Rewards can be powerful motivation! There are a lot of opinions about whether rewards really help or hurt motivation and that has gotten me thinking lately about how I use rewards with my students.

As a music teacher I’d like my students to be motivated by making great music. While I think that’s a reasonable goal for older students, very young students may need some additional outside motivation to keep them going (at least that’s what I’ve found).

I’ve gone through many phases as a teacher – some where I give out a lot of stickers and little prizes to students & some where I give ideas to parents and let them implement what they think will work with their children at home. Other times I haven’t really done much at all.

Lately I’ve been doing a few practice challenges in my studio and have been re-thinking how much rewards are helping vs hurting students. I read an interesting perspective on this from Gretchen Rubin who studies how people make and keep habits & her research has helped me clarify how I want to go about reward giving going forward. . .

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Easy Ideas for Making Practice Convenient

Suzuki Practice & Convenience

When my daughters were young and it was time to practice, for some un-explainable reason the hardest part was getting the instrument out of the case. It really took about 2 minutes but some days it would seem like such a daunting task! We learned that keeping the instrument out of the case (and also out of reach so it stayed safe) made it more convenient to get started right away.

There are many little things like this that we can do to make it easier to get practice and listening done.

It’s human nature to do what is convenient and avoid what is inconvenient and it’s a great idea to look at our practice routines and to see if there is any way to make them more convenient so we’re more likely to follow through.

“People often ask me, “What surprised you most about habits?” One thing that continually astonished me is the degree to which we’re influenced by sheer convenience. The amount of effort, time, or decision making required by an action has a huge influence on habit formation. To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not.”

~ Gretchen Rubin Better than Before

This is 2nd in a series about Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before, a fantastic book about making and break habits. It gives great insights, on habit formation, that can be used when studying & teaching music as well as forming any other type of habit.

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A new school year & Gretchen Rubin’s Strategy of the Clean Slate

One of my favorite podcasters, and experts on making new habits, is Gretchen Rubin ( Her book Better than Before explains how to make new habits and how to understand how you approach the process. It is full of useful tips – I highly recommend it.

As I have been planning my fall studio schedule and answering some questions from new parents about whether or not lessons will start the first week of school, I realized that one of the points in Gretchen Rubin’s book was my main argument for starting right away. The strategy of the clean slate . . .

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Helping Students Get to Institute

Suzuki Institute

This summer I have spent a week at both the Oregon Suzuki Institute and American Suzuki Institute (Steven’s Point)  and they were amazing weeks of music, connecting with colleagues and fun! I want to encourage my students to attend next year and have been thinking about how to help make it a part of my studio’s culture that a group of us always go.

When my calendar of events goes out to families this fall I plan to put the week of Institute on the studio schedule with a note that a group of us will attend. I understand that a lot goes into making something like this work and I want to help make it as easy as possible

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