The #1 Gift You Can Give Your Child 

Child

Parenting is an all consuming job.

If you’re reading this then I’m willing to bet you’re a parent who takes that job seriously and tries to be the best parent you can be.

Being a Suzuki parent can be especially intense sometimes, because we’re asked to interact with our children so closely, to understand them well (when sometimes they do things no one can understand), and to help them play complicated instruments well.

Unless you also homeschool, this may the closest you work with your child on a daily basis.

Sometimes it’s not for the faint of heart.

Sometimes we need to take deep breaths and remind ourselves why we’re doing it.

And hopefully many times its also full of laughter, proud moments and exciting milestones that you helped your child arrive at.

As a grown up Suzuki kid myself –

I can tell you that all that intense interaction, when done in a healthy supportive way, creates a really close relationship between the student and practicing parent.

It teaches our children how to be goal setters and achievers.

It helps them learn to tackle other milestones coming their way.

In our culture

we tend to be in a hurry to teach independence. We want our kids to do it themselves as early as they can. We’re relieved when they can start to do things themselves.

And rightfully so!

But, I would challenge you

to keep engaging with your child as they practice.

When they’re a teenager they may shrug and say they don’t care if you listen to them or show up to their recital, but I realized with my own teens they really do care (they just may never tell us that). Even when they don’t “need” you to be there, your presence shows your support.

Long before those teen years as you practice with your child really be present with them. 

Put away cell phones, work and other distractions and give your child your full attention. It can be so hard to do this but there is really just a short window of time that your child wants and needs your full attention. Being fully present is the number one gift you can give them.

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“The greatest gift you can give your child is your presence.”

– Alice Joy Lewis

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I notice a big difference in families I work with who are really present in lessons 

I would bet they are equally engaged in practice sessions at home.

I see a high correlation between student progress and fully present parents.

Do they take more careful notes because they are so engaged in the lesson?

Maybe they have a better understanding of the way their child learns so they tailor what they are doing more closely to what their child needs?

They may have a different working relationship with their child because the child can see how engaged they are.

I don’t know the answer to why this is but I do see it in action in my studio all the time.

 

I recently came across a great article by Carrie Williams Howe, a mother working to be more present with her children and family (you can read it here). She admits that even though she knows the years go by fast and she should be more present with her children it is still a struggle.

She made a recommendation that I love which is to make a ritual out of connecting with your kids. Don’t just know you should do it, create habit or routine around it so it becomes more natural.

Her family made a ritual around the dinner table of no distractions and engaging with one another.

How can we do the same with practice?

Putting away work and devices and maybe making our favorite hot beverage can be a good start.

We can work to get into a routine, or habit that signals to our brain (and our children) that we are going to give our full attention to them our child and put other things aside for a few minutes.

Beginning with just 10 minutes of undivided attention to our children is a huge gift.

If your child is young and has short practice sessions this is a great time to start. You are really giving your child a huge gift when you can be there fully present with them. What do they need to enjoy learning? What do they need to begin to focus for longer stretches of time? What can you do to help them engage with the assignments from the teacher for the week?

What can you do so your child feels right there with them for those few minutes of practice and treasures the time alone with you?

Alice Joy Lewis goes on in her quote about being present to say: “It’s really a gift to you as well as your child. It’s a way of knowing someone that is pretty special. When parents are not distracted the opportunity for progress to occur is great.” 

It really is the #1 gift you can give your child!

All quotes are taken from Christine E Goodner’s book Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families. Click here to claim your copy!

Beyond the Music Lesson Book Cover

How Do I Know if My Child Will Like This?

How do I know if my Child will Like this?

Parents looking for lessons often ask me this question:

How do I know my child will like it?

Especially if your child isn’t sure which instrument they want to play

or are too young to really make that decision, you may struggle with this idea too.

You may know the research that having parents who are committed to their child playing an instrument long term is a huge factor in student success (you can read more about that HERE)

So, how do I know my child will like this?

Here is the honest answer . . .

There is no way to guarantee your child will like any activity you try long term.

Your child may become a professional musician, they may play through high school with music playing a huge role in their development, or they may study for a few years and develop other time consuming interests.

So what do we do if we’re not sure our child will love this?

I would argue the best way to ensure they do love it later is to treat it as if they already do.

What would you do now if you knew this was something your child would love and still be serious about in their high school years and beyond? 

Find the best teacher you can.

Get the best instrument you can afford.

Practice with them in a way that sets them up for success.

Keep them inspired by taking them to concerts and playing great music around the house and in the car.

Be an enthusiastic supporter of your child and provide them with the best instruction and equipment you can.

We wouldn’t give shoes that don’t fit and give callouses to a child trying out soccer for the first time. We wouldn’t let them skip going to practice when they didn’t feel like it. How will they love it if they never gain enough skills to make an educated decision about it?

Dr. Rebekah Hanson and I ran a parent talk at the Oregon Suzuki Institute last summer where we brought in a panel of teens to talk with parents. One of the questions we asked them was “at what point did you feel like you played your instrument well enough to really enjoy playing it?”

The panel of students was unanimous – it was around the book 4 or 5 level that they felt solid enough in their skills that they even knew if they liked playing. I think that’s fascinating!

So often students (and parents) give up before this point because it’s hard or they don’t like it. That would be like deciding you don’t like reading before you’re past the stage of haltingly sounding out words and before you can read a great story with ease.

The likelihood is that if you can get past the stages where everything feels challenging and start to make music with ease the love of playing will develop.

This is where you come in . . .

What would you do now if you knew your child would love this activity for the rest of their life?

Go ahead and do it.

It is never a waste to strive towards something and work towards developing our skills.

Those skills carry over into other things we will do in life and sometimes they carry us over from what we’re doing now as a beginner to a life long passion for something we love.

Act as if they will love it.

Put the time and resources into it as if it is something they love (or will love)

As a teacher I thank you for giving them that gift.

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

Working Productively With Parents

This article was originally given as a short presentation at the Suzuki Association of the America’s Leadership retreat last week. It was parent of  a series of short talks about working productively with parents. If you would like to share it please do!

 

How do we work productively with the parents in our studios? How do we help new parents understand what being a Suzuki parent involves? How do we help them be successful working with their child as they learn and grow?

I was trying to come up with the most useful thing I could share with other teachers on the topic of working with parents. So, I started to think about all of the things I do in my studio like conferences, parent education, and parent talks.

There are lots of things we can do as teachers to help parents be successful. However, I would like to ask teachers to think bigger picture than that.

Working Productively with parents

As a young violin teacher I heard a concept that blew my mind at the time. When you look at the beginner student in front of you – don’t think about what they need in order to learn to play twinkle. Think about what they need in order to play a Mozart Concerto and teach them with that in mind.

I believe we need to do the same thing with new Suzuki Parents.

  • What do the parents we work with need to know about the process of helping their child thrive in the Suzuki method?
  • What can we explain better from the start that will keep parents from struggling later?
  • What bad habits can families get into that might not matter for a beginning student but will cause big problems down the road?
  • How do we take parents – who probably don’t know what they are getting into when they get started with us and help them make the Suzuki method work in their everyday lives?
  • How do we help get them come on board and be willing work with us to help their child succeed?

When I think about the families that I work with the most productively I think about families that:

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3 Minutes a Day to Radically Change Your Practice Sessions

Last week on the blog I wrote about how parents (not the physical space) are their children’s practice environment. You can read the article by clicking HERE.

This week I am going to share the 3 minute process that can radically change how productive and positive your practice sessions with your child are. I consider these few valuable minutes to be the most important thing you can do that will set up your practice environment for success. This is a practice I developed with my own children and I go through it mentally before each student that I teach as well.

It is tempting to think this is an unnecessary step,that we don’t have time, or that we’ll just make it as we go and get the same results but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Being intentional about how we run practice sessions as a parent sets our children up for success. It is 3 minutes a day (or less) that will save you hours of wasted time and save you tons of frustration.

I hope you’ll try it for a couple of weeks and let me know how it’s going!

Steps

1. Find a small notebook (your regular practice notebook works) or open a document on your phone to use on an ongoing basis.

2. Use the template below to jot down a few notes about the upcoming practice. You may choose to do this right before the practice session or right after a practice session for the next day (review the notes before you start the next practice).

3. Use your answers to the questions below to structure your practices, set the tone and stay focused on what is really important.

Practice Pre-planning Template

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Attitude is Everything

I’ve finished most of the parent teacher conferences in my studio for the year (If you want to read more about my process you can read more HERE & HERE). The most common issue I heard (besides learning to practice well as students start to become more independent in practice – a theme that kept coming up for the middle school students) was that in a number of families the parents felt like it was a daily battle to get practice started.

Let’s be honest – it is not very motivating to keep taking your child to music lessons if you know it means daily squabbles with your kids over the practice. Many working parents have just a few quality time hours a day with their kids and spending part of that time fighting about something is not a fun idea.

This is why parent teacher conferences are so important – I don’t know what practice is like for families at home without these honest conversations and sometimes these situations can be turned around quite easily, as long as parents are willing to put in a little effort to change the tone for practice.

In each of the cases where this issue was brought up we decided that the number one priority for this student and family was not moving forward on the instrument – it was developing a positive attitude about practice.

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Why Conferences with Teens Are So Important

Last Week’s Blog post discussed why every studio should hold Parent-Teacher Conferences – you can read the article HERE.

This week I want to address the importance of holding conferences with teens. In my studio I use part of a lesson each spring (this is happening in the next couple of weeks in my studio) to have a conference with each teen student on their own to honestly talk about how things are going, what they are enjoying and struggling with, and how I can be more helpful.

I have a questionnaire I send teens home with the week before our conference and ask them to fill it out very honestly (the more honest they are – the more useful the conference will be).

The day of the conference teens come alone to lessons (if they don’t already) and we talk through the questions on the sheet. I also like to share how I’ve seen the student improve over the year and what my next goals for them would be. Sometimes I also give them something to read or have some sort of information to hand out to them that I think addresses something I think they (or all the teens in the studio) need to think about.

Depending on the student this usually takes about 20 minutes of a lesson. It helps so much to have each student feel like they are on the same team with me, as their teacher. They are being listened to, their opinion is being heard, and hopefully they see that I want them to succeed.

Last year was the first year I tried this (in addition to meeting with parents of younger students) and I found it really helped the teens with ownership over what are trying to accomplish and it helped our working relationship each week because they knew I found their opinions to be important.

I also found out a lot about what motivates the teens I work with . . . certain community performances we do each year (like playing in the lobby before Oregon Symphony concerts) and certain types of music we play in group class, for a couple of examples.

Do you hold conferences with the teens in your studio? Does your teacher hold them?

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?”

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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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