From Itzhak Perlman to Rachel Barton Pine: Why Students Need Music Heroes

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Who were your musical heroes growing up?

Mine was, hands down, Itzhak Perlman. The first time I saw him perform live was 1999, but I remember watching him at home often as a child. I watched him on Sesame Street (You can see one example here), in documentaries, and in recorded concerts on VHS tape.

I was totally entranced by his playing. It was my dream to be able to do what he was doing.

When I was six years old I came home upset from group class one day. Another student had teased me my facial expressions while playing.

I vividly remember my dad sitting me down in front of a video of Perlman playing. He told me “if he can make faces while playing, so can you!” I have never felt bad about my overly expressive face again. Add my dad to my list of musical heroes!

Music Heroes

Perlman was my model of a great violinist as a child. His playing was like a carrot on a string, dangling out there as something to work towards.

Listening to Suzuki recordings helped me learn my pieces and build my technique but listening to a great performer like this was a whole other level of inspiration.

One helped me learn my music; the other helped me learn the purpose for studying it in the first place.

Fast forward many years:

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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 Parents.com (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.

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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.

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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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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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