Inspired by Expanding Horizons by Mark Bjork
As children grow, they become more independent, and start wanting to do things by themselves.
It’s important to establish a feeling of ownership in their Suzuki journey before this point, so that they feel like their instrument is “their thing”, rather than something that was chosen for them. This will help them continue to enjoy their instrument throughout their teenage years.
A great way to start establishing a sense of ownership in playing is by offering your child age-appropriate choices during practice time. For example, a small child may decide which review piece to start with, or whether they’d like to practice now or after dinner. It’s important that the choices you offer don’t give an opening for a negative response, since this can lead to practice time strife. An older student should be gradually given more and more control over practice time, to reflect their growing ability and knowledge. To help children feel more “in charge” at practice time, students should be encouraged to start analyzing their playing. This helps prepare them for independent studies. For example, after your child plays a song, ask them how they think it went, and which spots need work. At first, give them direction for how to work on things, but eventually this should also become self-lead. If they’re not sure, ask how their teacher would tell them to work on the technique. Have them decide how many times to repeat it, then check back in on the section and see how they’ve improved. Throughout this process, be sensitive to your child’s needs, so that when they tire of the extra responsibility you can take over guiding the practice.
Lessons are another place where it’s important to facilitate independence. Allow the teacher to work directly with your child, so that they feel like they know what’s expected of them in practice. The responsibility of taking lesson notes should also switch from parent to student around middle school age.
To prepare them for this change, around the age of 10, students should take a set of duplicate notes in lessons. The parent takes notes as normal, and the student writes separately what they believe they should be working on. The teacher will check in on these notes at the end of the lesson. This way, the teacher can discuss any details the child may have missed, and the parent will still have all the necessary information to make sure the child has a successful practice week. Gradually, the student’s notes will become more detailed and precise, and parents will find their notes less necessary.
It is best to start adding these new responsibilities into settled parts of practice first, rather than having them work on their new piece alone. Have them take over responsibility for working on review, or practice spots on a polish piece. Eventually, change to helping and guiding only at the request of your child, or just checking in on the work the child has done.
Practice in a methodical way, so that children can learn the format more easily. A format I like to use with my students is:
By sticking to this framework, your child will be more able to recreate a successful practice session on their own.
A gradual transfer of responsibility is the best way to go about helping your tween or teen become an independent musician. It builds security and confidence in their abilities as a musician and as a learner. Supporting your child through this potentially rebellious time will help empower them, and build the control and confidence they’ll need to realize their full potential as musicians and adults.
- Shannon Jansma, published in the May 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter