3 Winter Break Practice Ideas

3 Winter Break Practice Ideas

In many studios, there is a week or two around the holidays with no formal lessons. It is always discouraging to come back at the start of the year and feel like progress has been lost and we have to spend a few weeks catching back up to where we were again after winter break. Don’t let this happen to you!

In an ideal world you can see this break from lessons as a time to share music with visiting family members, listen (and maybe even practice) more with the break from school and many activities, and a chance to have extra time to make progress on material you have been working on with lessons.

Sometimes a little extra motivation to get the instrument out daily is really helpful. The following ideas are geared to those who need a little extra motivation or dose of fun during these weeks off from classes.

3 Fun Practice Ideas for Winter Break:

1. Paper Chain Practice

There have been a few years when I handed out colorful strips of paper to students to take home over the break. Each day of practice they would add one link to the chain. Then everyone brought their paper chains to hang in the studio in January.

You can do your own version of this at home and even keep the paper chain going through the month of January!

2. Review or Listening Project

Winter break can be a great time to make the skills we already have easier. It’s a great time to make sure your review pieces are all easy without having to juggle new assignments from the teacher.

Make a goal to play each review song a certain number of times over the break. Make it a goal to watch youtube videos of 10 great performers on your instrument.

Choose some ideas for review from this list of 20 ways to review your pieces.

3. Winter Break Bingo

This is something I have done the last couple winter breaks. The bingo squares are a mix of listening activities, informal performances, and ways to practice specific assignments.

I have a few versions to address different ability & skill levels.

The Beginner version includes things like: have a 100% happy practice, make 10 bow holds, watch a video of Rachel Barton Pine playing Happy Birthday on Youtube. 

Make a goal with your students, or your own children, about how many Bingos you want to get over break. Two, Three, Blackout? This may depend on your travel schedule and other factors but, I have found almost everyone can get one bingo and it keeps them thinking about their music over the weeks off.

You can download my bingo cards or use a blank template to make your own.

When I first started doing this the squares were hand written and over time I have typed them up to look more professional.

I love hearing the fun and creative ways students have been able to do the activities over break. I have also gotten thank you’s from parents because this activity has made it easier to motivate their young child over the break.

Here is one place you can download your own blank bingo card to start building your own ideas: BlankBingo (1)

You can also get a copy of the bingo cards I am using this year sent to your email by requesting it here >> Suzuki Triangle Bingo Cards 

That gives you a few ideas of how you might keep practice going over the winter break. I would love to hear what your family or studio does in the comments below.

For some additional ideas about practice during this busy time of year you can read the article 5 Creative Ways to Keep Practice Going During December

Rules for the Practice Room

Practice is a daily activity for musicians and music students everywhere.

Practice Rules

What spoken and unspoken rules for practice do you have in place to make sure it goes smoothly at your house?

Thanks to readers in the Suzuki Triangle Community for sharing your ideas and helping this list take shape! See which rule didn’t make the cut at the end of the list!

Read more

20 Skills Developed Through Suzuki ECE

20 Skills Developed through Suzuki ECE

The longer I teach Suzuki ECE classes the more amazed I am by all that children ages 0-3 (and their parents) are learning from week to week.

There are so many amazing moments of seeing a children grasp a new concepts during each class!  Below are some of the most striking examples of skills children are developing in SECE classes. You can read them below and also I’ve made a word art printable of them that you can get by email HERE.

 

The ability to keep a steady beat

Pre-Literacy Skills

Counting

Social Skills

Ability to focus & concentrate

Musical Timing

Turn taking

Pitch

Awareness of the musical scale

Creativity

Interacting and cooperating with a teacher

Bonding with parent/Caregiver through working together in class

Sharing with classmates

Sensitivity

Beginning Group/ensemble skills

Vocabulary & language skills

Confidence

Singing on pitch

Crossing the mid-line of the body

Fine motor control

Suzuki ECE

Special Note:

Sometimes people think that all ECE classes are the same. After teaching others I disagree . . . you can read my article about what makes Suzuki ECE unique HERE.

I think that others have the perception that  SECE classes are just a lot of singing and tapping a steady beat, and wonder if teacher training is needed to really teach the class well.

As Suzuki instrumental teachers we tend to bristle when people say they are Suzuki teachers and also: “I use the books but have never taken any training.” If this is you, please don’t be offended, but it’s just that Suzuki teacher training is about so so much more than the music in the books.

In the same way, SECE is so much more than a list of activities done in class each week. Trained SECE teachers use these activities in a complex way that weaves together their in-depth knowledge of: child development, musical development, parent education strategies, and activities to develop social-linguistic skills.

To watch a class in action is wonderful and as someone who had a degree in Early Childhood Education, and years of teaching experience (both instrumental and in other ECE music programs) when I watched my first SECE class,  I knew right away that this class had something way beyond what I had seen or experienced before in classes like it.

I can’t recommend getting training enough. And, if you’re a parent I can’t recommend finding and joining a Suzuki ECE class enough if there is one in your area.

I’d love to hear in the comments what you would add to my list of skills above and if you’d like to download a printable PDF of the word art used in this post you can do so here:

4 Books that Should be in Every Suzuki Parent’s Library

4 books every Suzuki parent should own

Practicing with our children can be a challenge.

Understanding how they learn and what we can do as parents to best help them isn’t always easy to figure out.

Suzuki parents have a big job. I would argue that they also have a wonderful opportunity.

I know that my dad and I have a special relationship because he was my primary Suzuki parent and got to know me so well during all those hours of practice.

Even though I really struggled as a Suzuki parent (you can read more about that HERE) I also feel like working so closely with my children gave us a special bond and helped me to understand them so much better.

One of my habits as a Suzuki parent was to read everything I could about child development, the Suzuki method, and parenting. It helped me realize how much of our struggles were just part of deal and totally normal and also when there were things I could do as a parent to better help my kids learn and develop.

One of these days I will do a huge post of all the books that have helped me as a parent and teacher. It would be a long list for sure.

For today, I am recommending four books that I think every Suzuki parent should own, read, and have on hand to refer back to.

I’m also going to share one bonus recommendation at the end of the article that I used all the time as a parent – especially as a parent with a very strong willed child.

Nurtured By Love: 

was written by Dr. Suzuki himself and is a must read for Suzuki teachers and families alike. You can read Suzuki’s personal story, how the Suzuki Method was developed and the philosophy behind it. The book is not long but I think it helps everyone who reads it have a new appreciation for what the Suzuki method is really all about.

I think this book gives an important perspective of what talent education is and also emphasizes Suzuki’s focus on developing students as people and building their character as well as developing musicians.

Helping Parents Practice

is by Suzuki teacher trainer Ed Sprunger. It has short easily digestible chapters that are extremely helpful on topics ranging from teaching rhythm to the psychology behind parent-child practicing relationships. Parents who have read this book years ago refer back to it all the time as a useful resource. One year I read a short chapter before each day of lessons and it really helped me focus my teaching well – the same could be done before each practice session as a parent for sure.

One of the most helpful sections is about why a child may be happy to do practice tasks with their teacher in the lesson but may totally melt down at home when practicing the same thing with their parent. It helped me as a parent and I am always handing the book to parents in the lesson when this comes up and recommending they read it and buy the book.

Life Lens: Seeing Your Children in Color

is written by Suzuki teacher Michele Monahan Horner and is a great resource for helping understand how to work with your students or with your child in practice. It gives great insight into different personalities of children we work with and then specific advice about how to practice with them on their instrument. I know that I and many of my colleagues have really gained new insight from this book and I recommend it to parents all the time.

Just in the past few weeks I used this resource to help a parent find tactics to work with her child in practice and putting Michele’s recommendations into the practice sessions totally turned things around. I really recommend picking up a copy. You can read my interview with the author to learn more HERE

Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families

Yes, I had to add my own book to this list! Beyond the Music lesson was written specifically as a how to guide for helping Suzuki parents learn what it takes for their child to thrive and succeed. It’s what I wish I had had as a Suzuki parent many years ago and it’s what I wished was out there to hand to parents in my program when they started lessons or encountered a struggle.

In the words of Levar Burton “you don’t have to take my word for it .  .  . Here is a 5 start review from a verified purchaser on Amazon: “I’m thrilled to have this new book in my library and to recommend to my parents. I found myself wanting to bookmark every page because it’s full of pertinent information. Parents will learn how to have a great Suzuki experience. This book is good for those starting out or already in the process. I highly recommend it.”

and Here is my bonus recommendation

Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles: Winning for a Lifetime

This book has lots of dog eared pages from my Suzuki parenting days. It has great insights on how to work with strong willed children, how to deal with power struggles and tantrums and most of all it taught me to look at the big picture and pick my battles. And, how to do so in a way that set my child up to do well in life. I really recommend reading it if this is a struggle in your house.

So there you have it! Books every Suzuki parent (and teacher) should read and own.

I would love to hear what you would add to the list!

15 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Music Lessons

Help Your Child Succeed at Music Lessons

Do one of of these descriptions sound like you?

You signed your child up for music lessons because they have begging you for years to play an instrument.

Or, you play(ed) and instrument and couldn’t wait to get your own child started too.

Maybe, you always wished you could have taken lessons as a child and are excited to provide the opportunity to your children.

then reality sets in . . .

After the honeymoon phase is over, you realize that this is hard .

Making time to do anything everyday with our kids can be a challenge. When my kids were young, brushing teeth and combing hair could sometimes become an epic battle (who knew these things were such torture!?)

Developing the discipline to play an instrument? That is a whole other level.

We are choosing to do something hard everyday –  in order to achieve an end goal that children can’t really grasp. It certainly seems less important to their well being than teeth brushing and that makes it easier to quit when the going gets tough.

When everything is going well studying music is invigorating, exciting and a fun process to be involved in.

When things get tough what can we do as parents to help our children be successful in music lessons?

Here are 15 Ways you can help your child succeed:

 

  1. Make a long term commitment. Studies show this is more important than any other factor in music students long term success.
  2. Believe they CAN do it.  Suzuki teacher Alice Joy Lewis says that families she sees be successful are the ones that believe their child absolutely CAN learn to play well.
  3. Find the best teacher you can. A good teacher will help coach you through the rough patches and has the tools to help you turn things around when it’s feeling hard.
  4. Buy or rent the best instrument you can afford. Playing on a bad instrument is like trying to run in bad shoes. If it’s really hard to make a beautiful sound, playing the instrument is not that motivating!
  5. Find out what motivates your child and do that thing. When your child gains more skills on the instrument the music they learn will be their motivation. At first they need help to want to practice. Figure out what motivates them and do that thing a lot
  6. Be Encouraging. Don’t point out the 10 things your child is doing wrong. They likely know they are not Joshua Bell yet, encourage them with something they are doing well. Even if that thing is simply how hard they are working or concentrating. Children do more of what we praise – use that to your advantage.
  7. Help Build ownership. If practice = an adult tells me what to do, children tend to dislike it. Coach them through practice while also letting them feel like they are making some decisions. Ask questions. Give them two acceptable choices of what to practice next. Let practice become something that is for them.
  8. Find time in each day’s schedule for your child to practice. Children are not good at time management. They will need your help to find time to practice.
  9. Don’t give up! Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes our kids fight us on practice. Don’t give up. This is really normal. Your child can do it (see #2)
  10. Go to live concerts. Seeing performers play music live is so motivating! Many communities have free or inexpensive events to attend if you seek them out. Ask your teacher for recommendations.
  11. Connect your child to a social outlet for their music. Working on something hard, alone in a practice room is not the point of music. Play with and for other students. Join an orchestra when your child is ready. Attend a group class or simply invite a friend over who plays an instrument for a musical play date.
  12. Be your child’s biggest fan. We cheer when toddlers learn to walk (even though they hobble around and fall all the time). Cheer on any and all progress. Make sure your child knows you are their biggest fan no matter what.
  13. Make listening to music part of your family culture. When children are surrounded by music in their lives they are much more successful. Just like when we are learning a language immersion is the best way to pick it up quickly.
  14. Connect to other parents. Whether it’s in online groups, other parents in your studio or a friend whose child also studies music – connecting with other parents on the same journey can make us feel less alone and we can learn from each other what works best.
  15. Do something every day. Literally everyday. Play something, listen to music. What we do daily becomes part of who we are. What we do once in a while can be hard to follow through on. A daily habit is makes a huge difference.

What would you add to this list that has helped you or your child succeed in music lessons?

Here are some other articles on practice you might enjoy reading:

3 Minutes a day to radically change your practice sessions

You are Your Child’s Practice Environment

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

For In depth reading on the subject get your copy of 

Beyond the Music lesson here: 

Beyond the Music Lesson Book Cover

3 Suzuki Podcasts Everyone Should Subscribe to

Listening to Podcasts is one of my favorite ways to learn new things and get inspired. Especially while exercising, cleaning or driving.

I listen to a variety of podcasts including shows about writing, creativity, business, books, and of course Suzuki teaching and parenting.

Today I wanted to share a few of my favorite Suzuki podcasts. They are great resources for parents and for teachers looking to fresh ideas and new perspectives about teaching and the Suzuki philosophy.

Suzuki Podcasts

I am not getting any perks for sharing these resources, although I do know a few of the podcasters who make them. My goal is to share great resources with readers of the blog. I also hope to hear from you (in the comments below) what podcasts you would recommend!

Here is a list of my favorites:

 

Building Noble Hearts  is a podcast produced by the Suzuki Association of the Americas. The production quality of this podcast is amazing. Each episode includes great stories about Suzuki himself and amazing Suzuki teachers in our community. My favorite episode is the one about Suzuki ECE. The episode includes the history of this program and how it benefits families –you can find that episode Here.

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The Teach Suzuki Podcast is another great resource and is produced by Suzuki teacher and blogger Paula Bird. I love the information the podcast shares for parents to use in order to work with their children effectively in practice and to better understand the Suzuki method. In each episode Paula shares her wisdom and many useful resources for parents and teachers alike. Here is a great episode about how to beat burnout – click here to listen.  

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 Chili Dog Strings podcast is another great resource. This podcast is actually hosted on the Suzuki teacher duo’s Youtube Channel where you can find all sorts of teaching and Suzuki parenting inspiration. I really enjoy Neil and Rachel’s style and their love of teaching shines through everything they do. I had the pleasure of being interviewed on one of their podcast episodes – you can listen to that episode here. 

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Another podcast worth checking out is Rachel Barton Pine’s Podcast Violin Adventures. The most recent episodes are from 2013 but you can still find all 80+ episodes online. They are really good! You don’t have to be a violinist, or be the parent of a violinist, to enjoy this podcast. It’s worth checking out.

What podcasts (Suzuki or related) do you listen to regularly? I hope you’ll share your recommendations in the comments below!

Solving Interesting Problems and Learning to Lead 

I am currently in Stevens Point at the American Suzuki Institute and while driving around Wisconsin this week I heard a great podcast episode with Seth Godin. 

In it he talked about the fact that what kids need to learn, in order to be successful in our new economy, is not compliance but rather to learn how to lead and how to solve interesting problems. 

As I was listening to the episode,  it made me think of what I am learning this week in my practicum course. 


On the first day, everyone in the class started off by sharing with one another “why” we teach.

 I think for everyone in the class the “why” was some version of: teaching so that we impact the lives of our students and are part of the process of watching them grow and develop as people in addition to develop their instrumental skills. 

I couldn’t help but think that part of what makes our jobs as Suzuki teachers (and Suzuki parents) so interesting and exciting is that we are engaged in this very type of innovate thinking about children that Seth Godin talks about. 

We are asking our children and students to solve interesting problems musically and on their instruments in ways that give them unique problem solving skills. 

We are teaching them to lead – in group classes, in the studio, at home with siblings, and in ensembles. 

Music study has a unique way of helping develop successful students who are also leaders. 

What the world needs are people who can think and people who can lead.

 How lucky we all are to be able to work on developing this in our students and children every single day through music. 

It is exciting work!

(Listen to the podcast I heard here)

Habits of Successful Suzuki Families

The following is an excerpt from the book Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families which officially comes out on Amazon Thursday June 22nd.  It is meant to be a resource for families looking to answer the question: “How do we make the Suzuki method work in our every day life?”

 

I was a Suzuki student, starting lessons at the age of two and a half. There are parts of being successful at the Suzuki method that I take for granted, because I’ve never known anything else.

As a teacher, though, I am often reminded that there are many parts of what make this method work that are new ideas to the families I work with.

Some of them require changing how a family plans their day, or how they interact when working with each other one-on-one.

It’s my job to explain how families can help their child be successful at studying their instrument through small, day-to-day changes and through shifting their mindset about their role in the process.

As a Suzuki parent, I struggled with all of this myself. So I want to do everything I can to make it easier for the families I work with.

That has caused me to spend the last eighteen years learning all that I can about what it is that makes families successful. The more I have learned about the topic, the more I am able to help the families in my studio. Learning an instrument is difficult. Without the right information and expectations, many people struggle or even give up, which is not the outcome I want as a teacher.

 

Book : Beyond the Music Lesson

Why This Message Needs to Be Heard

I end up having a lot of conversations, both online and in person with other teachers. We often talk about what books we ask parents to read to learn more about the method. Of course, many teachers ask families to read Nurtured by Love by Dr. Suzuki,

but what next?

What resource gives a good picture of how the Suzuki method looks today, here and now, and in our own lives?

To that question, there are many varying opinions but no consensus that I’ve ever heard.

Certain books are good for technique, and others give some good insights into part of the process.

But what resource addresses the question, “How does the Suzuki method look in modern times, in our lives today?”

That’s what I’ve been looking for.

Since I haven’t found a resource that does this well for me, over the past few years, I have written my own set of parent education materials for the families in my studio. I try to answer questions before they come up about practice, the environment we create for our children to practice in, why playing in a group or with other people is important, why repetition and review is going to be a big part of our work together, and other such subjects.

Giving out more detailed materials like these, I have seen a dramatic change in how new families approach lessons and how successful they are at navigating the process from beginner and beyond.

This book [Beyond the Music Lesson] combines those materials with interviews and success stories to help answer the question, “How do we make the Suzuki method work for our family today?”

I hope teachers will find this book a useful resource for sharing with the families in their studios and most of all, I hope parents will find it encouraging and helpful to set up successful Suzuki habits in their homes.


 

To read more you can find your copy of Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families  (ebook or print) over on Amazon by clicking HERE
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Not sure the book is for you? Read a great book review HERE

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Bonus Material: Order you book by August 1st and email the receipt to Christine@SuzukiTriangle.com to receive:
  • a pdf of parent discussion (or book club questions)
  • a printable infographic of the habits of successful families
  • an invitation to join a private facebook community where we will discuss the ideas in the book and have a book club this fall. Get your Copy Today! 

 

 

Why Summer Lessons are So Important

Much research has been done on the effect of summer breaks and academic performance.

Research shows that when students are not filling their summers with educational and enriching activities (Here is an interesting study) they may lose months of progress compared to their peers who keep learning in an enriching environment (like education camps, reading books from the library, and other activities like this).

Some articles I’ve read suggest it taking at least four to six weeks to catch up again each fall, other suggested up to 2.8 months.

The same thing can happen if students “take a break” from lessons over the summer. We had a great discussion about this in the Suzuki Triangle Community. Teachers agreed that it takes 1-3 months, on average, to get a student back to where they were at the end of the school year if they don’t take summer lessons.

The first ten years or so that I taught I didn’t require summer lessons and I started to notice some trends beyond the amount of time it takes to playing skills back to their former level:

Frustration:

When something used to be easy is now a struggle (especially a struggle that students already had to go through once before) students feel frustrated.

I started to hear things like “I can’t” and “It’s too hard.” from students who certainly could just a few months before.

This really affects a students motivation to keep playing. I started to see a pattern of students not returning in the fall (because the idea of restarting after a long break was daunting). Sometimes those who did return had such a frustrating time that they didn’t stick with their instrument for long.

Motivation:

Playing an instrument is hard work. It’s motivating when we see progress and see our ability begin to grow and develop.

It is NOT Motivating if we lose those skills and have to relearn them.

While I don’t require students to take lessons each week in the summer I do require a level of attendance that I feel will help students maintain their playing skills over the summer months. I want them to be ready to spring ahead into new things when we get back into a fall routine.

Summer can Actually be a great time to make progress: 

Read more

Why Parents Must Practice with the Big Picture in Mind

 

I’m excited to announce my new eBook What You Practice Today is Not Important: but who you become along the way is! 
A lot of work went into it’s creation and I am happy to finally share it with you! You can read a short excerpt from this new resource below and get your own free copy by joining the Suzuki Triangle Community (you unsubscribe at any time).
Click HERE to sign up and get your copy through email!

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An excerpt from What You Practice Today is Not Important: but who you become along the way is!

Practicing can feel like it’s all about the little details.

It can feel like it’s about perfection and doing everything right.

Sometimes practice feels like a list you can never accomplish.

It feels like there’s not enough time to do all of our assignments from our teacher each week. It can be a challenge to get everything done.

But it’s not really about all that–it’s not about what your child does today that is most important. It’s not about doing all the tasks perfectly, all of the time.

Practice INVOLVES a lot of little details and trying to get things right for your next lesson.

But practice is not ABOUT all of that.

Read more