One of the main differences between Suzuki and traditional lessons is the idea of the parent being the “home teacher”. The parent and teacher are both partners in the child’s education. Since the teacher only sees your child for a short time each week, much of the responsibility of daily practicing, and therefore your child’s progress, rests on you, the parent. Here are some ideas for how to talk to your child before and during practice time!
Ask open-ended questions. Instead of saying “do you want to practice now?”, say “would you like to practice now or before dinner?”. Be sure to follow through with your child’s choice, even if they aren’t agreeable to it when the time comes. Remind them that they chose this time. You want to demonstrate that they really do have control. If you run into resistance about the choices offered, then you make the decision for them. Sometimes with my students, I’ll say they have a count of 10 to decide before I pick, so they have a chance to cooperate but not enough time to stall and derail things. Once your child knows exactly what the boundaries are, and that they never change, they’ll cooperate more readily. If, instead, you were to always offer them alternate choices, they would never stop asking to change things - after all, it worked!
Don’t offer a choice that they don’t have. If you ask if they want to practice now and they say “no”, that somewhat ends the discussion. At this point you either must wait to ask them again later, or disregard the choice that they’ve made. Having to wait and ask again is annoying and means that you must remember to do so, and disregarding your child’s choice shows them that the choice was an illusion - it teaches them to distrust you when you ask them something.
Announce things, rather than asking. The trick with this one is to use a happy, excited tone of voice. Think of the way you say “it’s time for dinner”; dinner is inevitable, and even if your child says no, you would probably say yes and plop them down at the table anyway. You can also use this mid-practice if your child’s mind begins to wander. In lessons, my students bow at the beginning and end of lessons, and in between bows they must only ask or talk about violin things. This could be a good rule to implement in daily practice as well! Here’s some examples of what I will say when something off-topic comes up: “That’s a great question for after the lesson!”, “We’re focusing on violin right now”, “It’s violin time right now, but we can talk about that afterwards”. After practice time, be sure to follow through and ask your child what they’d wanted to talk about earlier. It’s okay if they don’t remember, doing this is more to demonstrate that you will keep your word, on the off chance that they really did need to talk about something.
Use collaborative language. Rather than “you need to focus”, say “we need to focus”. This helps your child feel less called out or attacked when you have to tell them to adjust their behavior. Another good option is making “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Instead of “you need to focus on violin right now”, say “I think you might be a little distracted right now, let’s focus on violin!”.
Avoid statements like “that note was wrong”, “no, try again”, or “that sounded bad”. When you have to tell your child that they’ve played something incorrectly, say instead “your 2nd finger was a little low” or “be a little more gentle with the bow here”, or simply “Something sounds off about the notes in this section, let’s play it through slowly and figure out what to change”. If your child responds poorly to even gentle criticism, it’s likely that their feelings stem from insecurity. Reassure them that you are proud of their playing ability, and that this one incorrect thing doesn’t negate all the things that they’re doing so well with.
Although none of these ideas will be the “magic bullet” that makes your child immediately do as you ask, I’ve found them all helpful in working with my students. They set up a more collaborative environment, and help your child see you as a member of their team. Happy practicing!
Start the new year off right with some wonderful suggestions for parents from the book Beyond the Music Lesson by Christine Goodner!
Be present. Mentally and physically, it’s easier to work with your child when you know what motivates them, how they learn, and exactly what they should be working on each week. When you are fully paying attention to your child during practice, you’re demonstrating a couple of really important things. First, that their work matters. You care, and are paying attention and listening to all the effort they’re putting into their playing. Secondly, you are demonstrating that playing an instrument well is a worthwhile skill that you’d like them to gain. Thirdly, by paying close attention, you are showing them that both of you are facing this together. You’re available to help them with whatever challenge they may face during this practice.
Practice daily. We aim to practice daily, not because it’s important whether or not your child touched their instrument on a specific day, but to show them the value of the grit and perseverance that practicing daily demonstrates. Students will also progress more quickly when they practice regularly, since physical skills take time and repetition to grow.
Listening leads to success. With a foreign language, students who haven’t been exposed to how it sounds will often have trouble with pronunciation. Likewise, with music, listening is the best path toward a fluent performance. If we expect children to create beautiful music, they must also hear beautiful music! Regular listening helps create a mental recording of the piece, and when students fully know how something should sound it’s much easier for them to recreate it.
Create a positive and supportive practice environment. You’ll have a much easier time getting your child to practice with you if they expect to receive praise, support, and encouragement throughout the interaction. Learning how to work with your child is important; practice will be much more successful if you can figure out how your child learns, and how they approach challenges. Once you know these things, you can support your child in a way that helps them succeed in any difficult situation, not just ones involving their instrument!
Be part of the Suzuki Community. Group classes and concerts, master classes, summer institutes - there are many ways to get involved. When your child is around other children who are growing and improving on their instrument, it provides them a huge motivation to practice and improve their own skills!
Focus on mastery, not speed. Successful families will make sure students are mastering their music and technical skills rather than rushing on to the next new piece. New things are fun and exciting, but real progress toward long-term goals comes from refining music we already know, making each piece more beautiful and polished. The number of songs in your child’s repertoire is not as important as how well they play them, so never skimp on review! Make sure your child truly knows all their pieces; this will develop their playing far more than half-knowing more songs.
Keep these ideals in mind as you and your child work toward a successful 2019!
- Shannon Jansma, published in the January 2019 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter
What is the parent’s role in a child’s Suzuki studies? The parent must bring the child to the lesson, but that’s not all there is to it! The lessons are only the first step in the learning process.
When you bring your child to the lesson, your teacher will introduce new techniques or new sections of the piece, and it’s so important that you feel confident about how to work on them at home. Never hesitate to ask questions or for clarification about anything introduced in lessons! After all, the teacher is there to help you and your child learn this information. It may also be a good idea to write down an outline of any new things your child is learning this week, so you’ll be sure to remember all the details after a long day at work, a sleepless night, or any of the other hundreds of challenges families face.
Speaking of challenges, practice time can be a big one! Whether the challenge is finding the time, getting your child to practice, or remembering all the little details of the perfect bow hold, practice is hard. Whenever you have troubles with practicing, make sure to bring your teacher into the loop. We have years of experience and many tested strategies for dealing with whatever issues your family or child is facing. It’s so important for parents to address any practice problems right away, before the issue becomes a habit.
Be sure to treat practice time like a necessity, rather than an extra - practice should be close to the same necessity level as homework, rather than being grouped with video games or other ways your child spends their free time. Keep practice positive! One really creative way parents in my studio have come up with to keep practice positive is wildly cheering after every correct repetition, but you may find other things that work better. Find what encourages your child to do their best.
The parent’s biggest job is to be on their child’s team, as a partner and coach, through the struggles and joys that come with the immense task of learning to play an instrument. Approaching challenges in this way will build and grow the bond between parent and child. Taking on this task is a big commitment, but with the parent, teacher, and child all working toward the same goal, every child can learn to excel at their instrument!
Pulling out a game is a great way to make a repetitive task more enjoyable! You can use them for any technique your child must repeat many times - a practice spot, a correct bow hold, good finger placement, et cetera. Whenever your child needs a little extra motivational push is the perfect time to bring a game into practice.
Why use games at all? They’re certainly not a requirement, and you may not need a game every practice, but especially for beginning students there are a few marked benefits. The first is that games can bring fun into a practice session where your child is struggling to focus, or struggling with the difficulties of their instrument. Practice can at times become tedious, and a game will help your child work through that feeling. The other big benefit to using a game is that it ensures a more complete repetition, including postural set up. Some children will try to rush through repetitions, playing quickly and without focus. This is less beneficial, as they aren’t thinking through the new technique completely each time they play it. Games can force children to slow down and internalize new techniques more completely, so that each repetition leads them to a bigger improvement!
What makes a good practice game? There are a few important considerations. First, pick a game that’s easy to set up, both to save time and to help your child stay focused. If your child must sit and wait during a lengthy set up, their mind may begin to wander. Games that don’t take a lot of room are also ideal for places with limited space. Another consideration is how long each turn will take - you don’t want to end up spending half the practice on complex moves, so games like Connect 4 or Tic Tac Toe are better than Monopoly or Scrabble. Other fun simple games are matching games like Memory or Spot It, or spacial games like Jenga or Cat Stacks. That being said, some children may dawdle with even the quickest games, while others can manage longer or more complex games. Whatever game you choose, there is one requirement that must always be met - that your child enjoys it!
Inspired by Teaching from the Balance Point by Ed Kreitman.
Whether your child is a young beginner or a veteran player, we always want to make sure that they form and maintain only the best habits while playing. However, this is much more easily said than done. Without proper care, your child’s playing could be adversely affected for years to come, so let’s make sure it’s right from the start!
The first thing to remember about habits is that wrong ones and right ones are formed with the same ease. After all, a habit is merely something we’re used to doing. A beginner who forms the right habits will have a much easier time progressing and learning, but even those with habits that need adjusting can change them with time.
Kreitman likens habits to a thick, braided rope. Trying to change a habit by brute force would be like trying to sever this rope, and would seem like quite a daunting task. However, if you look at this rope very carefully, you’ll begin to see that it’s woven from tiny fibers. Each fiber is wound together with others to form strings, and those strings are then woven together to form the thick rope. If we first unwind the main rope into strings, and then unwind the strings into fibers, the rope becomes much easier to cut through or break!
Similarly, Kreitman says, we cannot change a wrong habit overnight. In order to change a habit, we must make hundreds of tiny adjustments. Each revision is like breaking a fiber from one of the strings that make up our rope. This cannot be done overnight! It requires persistence, dedication, and patience. Although it is difficult, when we put this work in, a beautiful thing begins to happen. Not only is the old habit unravelled, but we weave a new, strong piece of rope with the correct habit to replace it.
What does this mean for us? Firstly, each time your child learns a new technique, be sure that they have thoroughly mastered each detail. If they know all the aspects of the new idea, they are more likely to keep the right habit as they progress. For habits that need changing, remember the rope! Rather than trying to hack through the old habit by changing every part of it at once, focus on small adjustments and bits of progress. Be sure to celebrate every small change your child makes! It may feel slow, but your child’s progress will be happier and more comprehensive.
Sometimes, practicing can be a struggle. Either it’s difficult to motivate your child to begin to play, or it’s hard to keep your child on task. Here’s some ideas on how to make practice run more smoothly:
If your child has trouble at the beginning of practice:
Give ten minute notification that practice time is approaching! Often, children need a bit of time to change gears mentally. If they have a chance to anticipate practicing, they will be more likely to go into practice time thinking of their instrument, rather than what they were doing before. Some families like to put on the CD right before practice time, to give kids a heads-up that practice time is approaching. This is a gentle way to let your child know it’s almost time to practice, and it gets your child’s brain thinking about their repertoire!
It is also important to give age appropriate choices in practice. This helps kids feel more connected with what they’re learning, and they may be more eager to begin playing if they know they’ll get to begin with a favorite song or activity. However, make sure that the choices reflect your child’s developmental level! Just as you wouldn’t let a child pick between ice cream and soup for dinner, it is important to curate your child’s choices to their age level. Younger children can pick from a limited list of practice games, or choose what order to do assignments in. Older children can begin to take a more active role in their learning, by picking techniques to focus on in review or finding their own practice spots in polish pieces.
If your child has trouble staying on task:
Make sure you have a good outline of what your child is working on, and that you or your child know where all their practice materials are located! If the flow of the practice is broken up by having to search for music or lesson notes, your child’s focus will be broken.
Games! Often, families will not make time for games in home practice. It feels more efficient to simply do the assigned pieces and techniques, rather than taking those extra minutes to play around. This may work wonderfully for some students, but others will benefit from that little extra motivation of getting to play Candyland, Tic Tac Toe, or whatever activities they prefer. For children who tend to stall out on taking turns, it’s important to choose a “fast” game, like Tic Tac Toe, rather than something more involved such as a puzzle. In the long term, it’s much more efficient to reinforce the idea that practice is enjoyable, even though it may take some extra time right now.
These are just a few options to help practice time run smoothly at home! Remember to speak with your individual teacher for more ideas!
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
When you think of the benefits of taking Suzuki lessons, what comes to mind first? Many families consider the music benefits, but the everyday benefits are sometimes overlooked. Dr. Suzuki famously said that his goal was not to create great musicians, but to create great people.
Here are just a few of the wonderful life skills your child develops in Suzuki lessons:
Suzuki lessons are a wonderful way to give your child the gift of music. In addition to learning how to play an instrument, they learn many skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives!
- Shannon Jansma, published in the April 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter
Ideally, every practice time would be a joy, not a chore. You’d call your child over and they’d come willingly, feeling excited to work on their assignments. They’d stay focused through the entire practice session, with no tangents or distractions. Although this situation isn’t attainable every practice time, I hope that with these suggestions, it can become closer to reality!
To help your child come willingly to practice, it’s important to prepare them mentally. It’s ideal to set up a predictable practice routine so your child knows what to expect. Give your child a tenand five-minute heads up that practice time is approaching, and help them start finishing up whatever they are doing. Make sure all their needs are met beforehand - offer water, a bathroom run, and perhaps a snack before beginning.
To help your child be excited to work on their assignments, use games and incentives! These will help keep your child engaged until they are experienced enough to see the intrinsic value in practicing. Some great games that I like to use in lessons are Jenga, Connect 4, and Cat Stacks. Other fun ideas are: trying to throw small pom poms into your case after each correct repetition, making an audience out of stuffed animals by adding a new “audience member” after each correct repetition, or doing jumping jacks. Incentives like earning stickers, small prizes, or treats can also help your child be more motivated to practice.
To help your child remain focused through the whole practice session, work within their abilities.
Remember that focus grows! Give your child time to adjust to this more organized way of learning. At first, practice may seem very inefficient, as your child needs hugs or chat breaks every few seconds. Give them a chance to get it out of their system, and then gently redirect their focus back to the task at hand. Gradually, you’ll see an improvement in the amount of time your child can spend on a task. Keeping the practice area neat, quiet, and calm will also help your child stay concentrated.
As you and your child work together more, and try these suggestions, I hope you’ll find a comfortable, balanced routine during practice time.
- Shannon Jansma, published in the March 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter
- Shannon Jansma, published in the February 2018 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter