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! 

 

 

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

This post contains affiliate links – which means if you purchase anything at no extra cost to you it helps support the cost of running this blog. Thanks!

 

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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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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Dispelling a Myth about Suzuki ECE

Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) is a big passion of mine. I am always excited to talk to other teachers and new parents about why I love it so much.

My background is in Early Childhood Education and I consider teaching young students my specialty. I have taught in other ECE music programs before and there are lots of great things about them. I don’t have anything negative to say about them and I think that having a young child in any Early Childhood Music class is a wonderful thing.

However,  I think there is an idea out there that Suzuki ECE classes are the same as all those other classes and that there is no reason to teach it over any other program.

Having experience teaching both, I have to say from the teacher’s perspective this couldn’t be further from the truth. When I first watched a Suzuki ECE class I was so excited to see what was happening (and how different it was) that I knew someday this was something I needed to do.

I noticed that the parts of teaching other ECE music classes that I found frustrating or counter- productive (like the chaotic environment that I felt didn’t prepare students well for the environment of music lessons) were not happening in this class – and that everything flowed in such a natural way. I just had to find out more about it.

Now that I have taken training and started teaching SECE classes I have been thinking about how to explain what it is that makes SECE so unique. Here are five things that stand out to me that set it apart from other programs:

1. Mastery : Unlike other programs where the music (both in class & listened to at home) rotates often: in SECE we always rotate between 2 set weeks of curriculum. The repertoire we use is built upon in layers and made more advanced for the students as they master it (much like instrumental playing and review pieces) but we keep coming back to the same curriculum we know in order to build mastery.

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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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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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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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