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.
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:
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!
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
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.
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?
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?”
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.
- 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.
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.
“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?
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