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!
I 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.
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:
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.
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?
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
- Time Management
- The Ability to Focus
- Problem Solving Skills
- The Ability to Take Instruction
- Realizing One’s Potential
- Self Esteem
- Mental Flexibility
- The Ability to Concentrate Deeply
- Social Skills
- The Ability to Work in Groups to Accomplish a Goal
- Self – Control
- Delayed Gratification
- Pursuit of Excellence
- Ability to Listen with Sensitivity
- Ability to Learn from One’s Mistakes
- Pleasure in Sharing the Gift of Music
- Work Ethic
- Sense of Purpose
- Self -Discipline
- Attention to Detail
- Ability to Feel Confident Speaking to a Group
- The Ability to Break Big Problems into Small Chunks
- The Ability to Think & Respond Quickly
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In fact, research shows that repetition plays a huge role in learning language, vocabulary, physical tasks and music.
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 . . .