This page is a collection of materials taken from the DGA Handbook PDF
You are the single most important factor in
determining your child’s likelihood of success.
Though some percentage of children may go on to succeed with an instrument without significant parental involvement, such cases are relatively rare, and they do so in spite of, not because of, the parents’ limited level of commitment. We want every child to have in place all the supports necessary to succeed. Hence, before joining the program, we urge every parent to make the following commitments to his/her child.
My child will study the instrument for at least a year.
Every child has peaks and troughs in his/her level of enthusiasm. If we enter the process without a predefined commitment to stick with it, we’re setting the child up for failure. If on the other hand, we can get the child through that first year, there are two important outcomes:
First, students will have had ample opportunity to experience success with the instrument. Hence, even if they do quit, they won’t leave feeling as though they’ve failed.
Second, kids love to do what they’re good at. As a consequence, when they get to that one-year mark, they rarely want to quit. They see the results of their efforts, have developed a sense of community within the studio, and are willing to do whatever it takes to continue studying.
I will attend, and take copious notes, at all of my child’s lessons and group classes.
The teacher sees the child once or twice a week. You’ll be practicing with him/her almost every day. In order to be effective in your role as “home coach,” you must collect and organize all the information disseminated at lessons, and be able to feed that back to the child during practice sessions.
I will practice with my child at least five times a week.
You can’t learn Japanese by studying it once a week. Research has consistently shown that five short practice sessions are far better than two long ones. Success breeds success. If children consistently come to lessons prepared, they will feel successful. When they feel successful, lessons and practice sessions will be fun. When practice is fun, they practice more. When they practice more, they do better, etc., etc. Once this cycle is started, they quickly learn to love the study of music.
I will do everything I can to make home practice sessions fun and exciting.
Once again, the parent is the lynch pin. We’ll give you all the tools you’ll need to make practice something your child will look forward to. It’ll be up to you to put them to use.
I will work with my child to continually maintain, refine and polish review repertoire.
Repetition, repetition, repetition! Unlike the old adage, “We’re gonna do this ’til we get it right!” the Suzuki Method suggests that real practice doesn’t even begin until after we’ve already gotten it right. Think of the process in three discrete phases, each requiring a deeper level of understanding. They are: a) finding and memorizing the notes of a piece, b) mastery with the instrument, and c) mastering of the music. Shinichi Suzuki once said “Learn to play with a piece you already know.” In other words, in order to master the instrument, and music, you must constantly strive to perfect music you already know how to play.
My child will listen to the Suzuki Guitar CDs daily.
As with language, kids learn music best when they’re immersed in it. Hence, a cornerstone of the Method is that a child will listen to a quality recording of the music he/she is about to learn, many, many times before attempting to play it.
We will attend at least four group classes each quarter.
This commitment is not only important to your child’s musical development, it also has implications for the other kids in his/her group. Imagine the goalie on a youth soccer team only showing up for two of this season’s ten games. The goalie’s absences would not only affect the goalie, it would affect his/her team mates as well. The group classes are a centerpiece of the Suzuki Method. In them, kids learn to play music in a group, to lead and follow a leader, develop a social context for their music and play lots of games that make the study of an instrument fun. If only one or two kids show up for a class, many of the advantages of the group setting are lost.
The following has been taken from the Teaching from the Balance Point by Edward Kreitman.
One of the most important and least understood aspects of the Suzuki Method is review. Three stories will illustrate.
Story 1: The Interview
A father calls and wants his child to audition for my studio. And appointment is made for the boy and his father to come in and meet with me. I ask the student to tell me a little bit about his background with the violin. He started violin lessons in the fourth grade and has played in the school orchestra program. He is now in the eighth grade. I ask him if he has something that he can play for me.
The student replies, “I have been working on the Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor, but I don’t know all of it yet.”
“That’s OK. Play what you know for me, and if you need the music, we’ll put in on the stand.”
The student is barely able to get through the first page of the Vivaldi; there are lots of wrong notes, and the technique does not really support playing at this level. That’s OK; that’s why he is here, to improve his playing skills. I ask him what else he could play for me.
“Last spring I played Humoresque for solo and ensemble contest, but I haven’t played it since then.”
“What do you usually work on when you practice?”
“Well, this Vivaldi and my orchestra music, mostly.”
How sad, I am thinking to myself. This poor fellow has been playing the violin for four years, and today, he has nothing to show for it but a page of badly played Vivaldi concerto. We talk about what it will take for him to get his playing in shape, and I ask if he and his dad are ready to make that kind of commitment to his music. They agree, and we set a date for his first lesson.
Story 2: The Mother with an Agenda
My first student for the day comes into the studio. While I am tuning the violin, the mother explains that her daughter is anxious to play her working piece. “She has finally learned the last few measures of Gavotte from Mignon and wants to pass the piece so she can move on to something new.” Mother and daughter are “really tired” of working on the Gavotte.
The truth is, they have not “worked on” the Gavotte at all. They are still struggling to learn the notes. “Let’s warm up a bit first. How about f we start with a tonalization piece? How is your Chorus from Judas Maccabeus?”
The student looks at her mother, as if to say, “Which one is that?”
I play the first few notes to get the girl started. Oh yes, she remembers that tune. She plays through the first section, not very confidently, and for about the hundredth time, I have to remind her of the D sharp in the middle section. Meanwhile, Mom is rolling her eyes and thinking, “Why does he insist on asking her week after week to play these old tunes that are obviously rusty, when I have just explained that we have worked hard all week on finishing up the Gavotte from Mignon?”
“Pretty good. How about a little Bach Musette?”
The notes are fairly solid, but when it’s time to play the scale passages, the student gets them mixed up. Mom is rolling her eyes and looking annoyed.
“Let’s try the Long, Long Ago with the variation.”
“I don’t think she’s played that one in a while.” Mom interjects. “She really worked hard on the Gavotte from Mignon this week. Could she play that for you? She’s anxious to start on the Lully Gavotte so she can play it on the recital this spring.”
“Well, all right,” I reluctantly agree. “Let’s see how it goes. The Gavotte from Mignon starts pretty well, but the bow is slipping over the fingerboard on the sixteenth notes, and the rhythm isn’t quite right on the thirty-second notes in the second phrase. By the time we get to the section in B flat, the playing is so out of tune that I can’t listen anymore. In self-defense, I’m wondering what is in the freezer to defrost for dinner.
Story 3: The Model Student
The next student, a six-year-old, is going to have his first lesson on the Bach Bouree at the end of Book 3.
“What would you like to play first for me today?”
“Time needs to ply the Boccherini Minuet. He’s playing that for the solo recital in two weeks.”
He confidently performs the Minuet with beautiful posture and excellent tone and intonation. It is played at just the right tempo and has lots of musical expression.
“Oh that’s great. I think you’ll do a terrific job on the recital. Have you rehearsed with the accompanist yet?”
“No, but we have an appointment to get together before group class tomorrow.”
Mom replies as she consults her daily planner.
“Terrific. What would you like to play next?”
“Oh, I don’t know, anything from Book 2 or Book 3. I play through them all every day.” Tim is excited for me to know.
(And it shows! I am thinking.) “Well, how about the Becker Gavotte, and then you can show me how you are doing on the notes to your new piece.”
He flies through the Becker without a hitch. The up-bow staccato is perfectly executed, probably because he can play the Long, Long Ago variation and the Beethoven Minuet Trio, which prepare for this technique.
“OK, that’s great. Now let’s hear the Bach.” This is the first time I have heard this piece. He plays straight through. A few places are a little out of tune, and he misses a couple of bowings in the minor section. These small imperfections will be corrected in a week or two, and then we can really get to work on understanding and developing the musical aspects of this piece.
What a difference in these three students and their approaches to playing the violin! The first boy can’t do much of anything, but he seems eager to learn more about playing well. I’m sorry that we’ll have to start from scratch with technique, but then he’s never had the benefit of private lessons or understanding how to play by ear.
The second lesson is the one that really disturbs me. After the lackluster performance of the Gavotte from Mignon, both mother and daughter looked to me as if to say, “Well, did I pass?” I asked them both to sit down. I thought that wee needed to talk. “What is the point of learning the next piece? I can remember six months ago, when you were all excited to learn the Long, Long Ago. Today, you can’t remember it. If we follow that pattern, six months from now, you won’t be able to remember how to play the Lully Gavotte either, so why don’t we save ourselves the trouble and just skip it altogether?”
I tell these three stories to illuminate the profound difference between a student who uses the technique of review to build skill and one who does not. The first student has been studying in what we call a traditional method. His primary focus in lessons and practice has been on reading music and preparing a certain piece for a performance. After that performance of the piece, the music is collected, and he gets new music to work on. Earlier pieces are never seen or heard again. In this case, review is not even a though on the practice agenda.
In the second case, the student is supposedly studying the Suzuki Method, but, as you can see, she is no better off than the first student, because she doesn’t understand the importance of review. For this student, reviewing pieces is drudgery that she goes through periodically to get a few old pieces ready to play on a recital. Review is not a regular part of her daily practice regime, and she certainly doesn’t understand how reviewing the old pieces will actually make learning the new ones easier and faster.
The third case is an example for the model Suzuki parent and student who understand the review process and put their understanding into action.
From the SAA Journal “Dear Verna” column July 1987:
Dear Verna: How much should my child review?
Verna: There’s a true story about a 7 year old boy from Japanplaying in the 7th Suzuki violin book. While visiting theU.S. his mother was asked how long he practiced every day. Although hard to believe, the answer was 5 minutes.
“Impossible,” everyone thought, “a real Suzuki miracle. Please explain what he did in the five minutes.”
“Oh, he practices the one small point that Dr. Suzuki asked him to do. He repeats it correctly over and over for about 5 minutes. Then he plays all his songs – Book 6, Book 5, Book 4, Book 3, Book 2, and Book 1. But that is fun for him, we don’t think of it as practice,” the mother answered.
Message from Peggy Wise – Suzuki Teacher & Parent
“If your child is like every other child I’ve ever known, he or she will definitely learn to play the chosen instrument. Along the way, he or she will most certainly – at one time or another:”
Lie down on the floor when everyone else is standing
Stand when everyone else is lying down.
Interrupt a lesson with a rambling discourse – definitely not on music.
Seem more interested in the mechanics of the instrument than in playing it
Have times when they feel more sleepy, hungry, angry, or lazy than musical.
Have time when they’ll declare they hate the instrument (or you).
Resist and test your ideas about habit-building, especially concerning practice.
Get to a lesson and do absolutely nothing that has been worked on at home.
Make pronouncements to the teacher regarding your practice or lack thereof, listening or lack thereof, home life, family problems and secrets, etc.
Appear to you to be the only one out of step in the entire class.
Have a 5-to-10 minute attention span and sometimes only 5-to-10 seconds.
Deliberately do things backward or incorrectly.
“It’s funny, I can appreciate these actions and reactions in the other children in the class. As a matter of fact, I think they’re cute and funny, and well, just terrific to be making the progress they’re making. It’s exciting to watch learning happen. While with my own, sometimes I want to sit on my hands, bite my tongue, hide my face, duck my head, or maybe yell. However, I learned over the years that my kids sense it when I feel that way, and they become nervous and less confident. What they need most is:”
My interest – I’m here, I care.
My faith – I believe they can learn to play the guitar.
My enthusiasm – this is a neat thing to do!
My respect – For them, their very real efforts, concentration, and personhood; For their teacher and the teacher’s ideas, advice, interest, ability and training.
My enjoyment – of every step along the way.
My acceptance – indicated by a pleasant expression on my face at lesson, class, and practice.
My praise – of EVERY small success.
Raise Your Ability with a Piece You Can Play
By Shinichi Suzuki
Not only in music but in every area, the success or failure of education depends on whether or not you carry out the “principle of fostering ability.” Therefore, those who don’t know how to foster ability will be unable to raise children beautifully. And those who, not knowing how to foster ability, overlook the flaw in the traditional idea of ability as something “inborn,” never fail to ask, “Does every child grow in the same way?” If they understand the “law of ability”, such a strange question can never surface.
Babies in the Stone Age, without exception, all grew to have the heart, sensitivity, and ability of the Stone Age, despite differences in the environment of their growth. Whether in the heart, sensitivity, or ability, no one’s upbringing will be totally identical with another’s. Anyway, above all I would like you to know the “law of ability.” How ability can be acquired and fostered, and how it can fail to form, is the first principle one needs to know of education.
Ability is the problem of the physiology of the big brain. The right hand of a right-handed person has acquired far better sensitivity, power, and other abilities than the left hand. These abilities developed in the right hand in the course of repeated training in what it can do. Please clearly understand that repeated practice of what one is capable of doing is the principle of fostering outstanding ability. Take calligraphy for example. If you have written a character five times, can you say you are through with that character because you can already write it? In order to refine your hand, you must compare what you have written with the model from which you copied and write it many, many times. Thus, the ability to write well gradually grows. I think you can understand the method of fostering fine ability from this example.
After a student has learned to play a piece, I tell him during the lesson, “Now that your preparation is complete, let’s practice in order to build your ability.
The lesson is just the beginning.” I let him practice by comparing his performance with the record, or by playing along with the record. This serves to gradually foster musical rhythm, refined tonality, and beautiful deportment. This is the crux of my approach to fostering fine students. Only after the student has learned the piece, can the teacher begin to demonstrate his skill of fostering ability. Yet, some mothers who don’t know this key point of Suzuki education think that “going to the next piece means becoming more advanced.” All they want is to advance to a higher piece. Aiming at fostering fine ability, the teacher may try to zealously instruct according to the principle of “creating ability with a familiar piece the student can already play,” but some mothers seem unhappy that he “just won’t let us go forward.”
Create fine ability with an old piece – if this method is carried out correctly, every child will grow splendidly. I would very much like the mothers of talent education members to understand this. It’s like learning the mother tongue. A small child repeats what words he can say every day. He may seem slow at first, but he quickly increases his vocabulary by the time he is five or six and starts to jabber loquaciously. In the same way, while diligently working to enrich his ability using old pieces, a student will soon begin to display fine ability to go speedily ahead. The Suzuki method is the mother tongue method. We are practicing the same method as the education of the mother tongue, which never fails any child.
Please let your children listen well to the records, and work on creating inner ability at home. If a child does not listen to spoken Japanese, he will be a miserable speaker. “Listen and practice, listen and practice” – this is the same thing as “look at the model and practice, look at the model and practice” in calligraphy. In any case, please think this over for your child, so that fine ability will grow. In other words, theTalentEducationCenteris a center for studying how to foster fine children. Therefore, I beg you members to study eagerly.
Ten Good Ideas for Suzuki Parents:
I. There’s never enough sincere and honest praise!
II. Find something good in every attempt before constructively criticizing.
III. Don’t compare your child with other students.
IV. Communicate your successes, failures, and frustrations with your teachers.
V. Don’t talk with other parents during Group Class (remember it’s about the kids).
VI. Be content with every step (the smaller the better)
VII. Be content when your child would rather watch than participate.
VIII. Approach daily practice with passion and enthusiasm. Enjoy the ride.
IX. Do not compare other children with your child!
X. Listen to the Suzuki recordings!
The “No’s” of Learning
By Edmund Sprunger
Dr. Suzuki prefers to call his style of teaching “The Mother Tongue Method” rather than “Suzuki Method.” His whole approach to education is based on the idea that since all children learn their native language so well (an incredible feat when one examines the complexities of language) they possess incredible abilities, and it is up to adults to examine the process of mother tongue acquisition and apply the elements of this education to the child’s education in general.
An important part of mother tongue acquisition is the precepts and attitudes shared by the adults who surround children. These precepts and attitudes need to be applied if an experience in what we call “Suzuki Method” is to be rewarding and complete. Although Suzuki teachers joke that one of the basic rules of teaching is “don’t use negatives!” I have taken the liberty to call these precepts and attitudes of Mother Tongue learning “THE NO’S.”
Is there ever any doubt in the minds of parents that their normal, healthy baby will learn to speak? No! Our precept is that the child will learn. Have you ever heard a parent say of an infant “this one appears to have a talent for learning to speak”? No! My cousin and his wife just adopted an Indian baby, but there are no expectations that he will learn Hindi in northernIndiana. Parents don’t say “I think he may just learn English – you know, his aunt spoke English…” We don’t evaluate babies and say, “Well this one goes toItalyto learn Italian, this one will probably be good at Japanese, and – let’s see, send this one toRomania.” No! There is NO DOUBT that children will learn the language that is around them.
“He seems to show an interest in English, but I don’t know if it will work out or not. We’ll give it a try, and if it doesn’t seem to go right after a year or two, we’ll switch to German.” We don’t ask children, “Do you think you’d like to learn English?” No, there is no choice. (MH: I would add that they have some say as to the instrument, but learning to play and understand music is not a choice.)
We assume that it won’t be difficult for a child to learn his native tongue. But if you’ve ever tried to learn another person’s native language, or spoken with a foreigner trying to learn yours, even if that person is very intelligent, you notice that language is very complicated.
NO PRICE TOO SMALL
In other words, adults value learning language. My sister’s twin girls are babbling away at 15 months, and she says, “I can’t wait until I can understand what they’re talking about.” We feel sorry for foreigners who are around us and don’t know English. We value our language and the freedom it gives us to communicate.
Adults praise small steps. A small child learning to make sounds says “boyaboy-aboy” and everyone around her is charmed. What adult says “Is that ALL she can say?” There is a great tolerance of errors and fragments for children learning their native tongue.
Learning your native language is not difficult. There are thousands of words in your vocabulary. And you didn’t suffer memorizing them. There was no hardship. Parents correct the language mistakes of small children with great willingness.
We don’t learn our language at home and only use it there. We use it with our friends, on the street, etc.
“Well, now that you know words like ‘franchise,’ ‘equilibrium,’ and ‘metropolitan,’ go ahead and drop the simple baby words like ‘mom,’ ouch,’ and ‘love.’” Sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? We don’t throw away the words we first learned because they’re “baby” words. We keep them in our vocabulary and use them again and again. This is a point Dr. Suzuki continually comes back to: the importance of review.
When I was inJapan, Mrs. Kataoka told an American student, “there, now you’re playing with your ears. That’s how you learned English…and your English is marvelous.” Don’t underestimate the ear. It can teach a child English, Japanese, Finnish, Bach, Mozart, or Tchaikovsky.
Even the best linguists admit they can only describe a fragment of language. The majority of the grammar we use is correct only because it “feels right.” Native speakers know their language inside and out.
We are delighted with whatever small progress a child makes in learning his native language. It would be ridiculous to say “By next Thursday you should be able to pronounce your S’s perfectly.” If not we’ll switch to Chinese. We enjoy the process and are not attached to goals!
If a child is constantly exposed to her native tongue, we don’t think of her limits with the language. We don’t decide at age seven that someone isn’t going to ever be a public speaker. The actor/dancer/poet/author Maya Angelou was a mute for several years as a child.
Tips for Practice Sessions
(mostly) Compiled from Parent/Teacher discussions presented at the Colorado Suzuki Institute, Snowmass Village, Summer 2000
Most important aspect of practice is enjoyment!
Practice needs to be fun or your student won’t want to continue.
SMILE during practice! Children feed off of facial expressions.
Actual ability to play the guitar will be achieved over time. Be patient!
Student is not learning each piece of music but learning how to play the instrument.
Have a set practice time. It needs to be a routine; A part of life. A FUN part of who they are becoming.
Practice is NOT nag time.
Use step by step approach. Focus on one very small task at a time.
Repetition is unavoidable. Skills are acquired after countless repetitions. Make them fun.
“Twinkle” and variations lay the foundation. Suzuki could tell what book a student was in based upon how well “Twinkle” and its variations were played.
Focusing is the most important issue in the beginning. Everything needs to be done with INTENT. Have one focused activity a week.
Be crystal clear about the focus of the practice session.
Be active in lessons with teacher by knowing what to work on at home.
Do not impose adult time concepts on children when practicing. Don’t feel rushed. If you have 10 minutes, don’t try to do 25 minutes worth of practice.
Parent/Coach is the “teacher” six days a week! Think long term.
Use incentives. Nothing wrong with awarding hard work that is well done.
Some students like the competition and challenge. “I bet you can’t play that five times perfectly!”
Listen to the recordings! You may grow weary of them, your student won’t!
Record in a journal or sticky notes or however, the practice techniques that are successful. Praise non-musical skills like organizing time and recognizing weak spots!
NEVER practice when you are angry with your child.
End practice sessions on positive notes. If that means ending sooner than later that is fine! Short positive practice sessions are the best medicine!
Don’t let them quit, they’ll thank you one day!
How to Help Your Child at Home
- Practice regularly, every day—seven days a week—no matter how many other demands present themselves.
- Have a routine time that you practice. Ideally all you have to say is “Oh, look what time it is…” and your child knows it’s practice time.
- Do you have a format you follow when you practice? What is it? For example: Tonalization-Review-New Piece – Review
- Is your practice environment focused and calm? Younger siblings interrupting?
- Play the artist’s recording of the music being learned. Do this casually, several times a day without concern for whether the children are listening attentively.
- The age of your child will be a major factor in your approach to practice. If your child is a pre-schooler, keep the elements of a game in high priority since learning takes place best when an activity is fun.
- Let your child have some say about the schedule for daily practice. Make a chart showing the times that you have both agreed to and post it as a reminder.
- Be enthusiastic yourself about practice time!
- Find an interesting practice routine that will cover the tasks to be done. List the assignments for the week and decide in what order they will be practiced. This can be done by using a prepared chart, by drawing lottery cards, or by some other system.
- Precious moments between parent and child for making music and working together should not have to be shared with a younger sibling. Make special arrangements if necessary.
- Know (ask your teacher) what is reasonable to expect. Children learn at different rates, but excessive demands (or leniency) as a regular diet will create tensions and disinterest.
- Actively involve your child in determining specifically what is to be learned and how to go about it. Do not tell him what the teacher said—ask him.
- Learn how to work in very small steps –one note, two notes, a measure. Connect one small step to another and rejoice in the progress.
- Motivate your student by making a chart which shows his progress. Be creative!
- Tape your practice sessions. The child hears himself. You hear yourself. You both are sure to get some objective feedback.
- Learning the notes, fingering and other technicalities in the beginning of study for a musical piece. Only through mastery will it contribute to the building of permanent skills.
- Never begin work on a new piece unless your teacher has suggested or approved it.
- Be generous with encouraging remarks, even though a good effort may not have produced successful results. Treat ‘praise’ with caution, avoid verbalizing irritation, and reward your child with your love and appreciation.
- As you advance in the repertoire, spend more and more time reviewing and improving the pieces learned.
- Once or twice a week, give a home concert for the parent who does not usually supervise the practice sessions. Include bowing and applause.
- Sense when a practice session is over. It is more important to return to the instrument with joy and enthusiasm tomorrow than to force a few extra minutes today.
From an 1986 article in Ability Development by Lorraine Fink
(a publication no longer in print)
Expectations for Private Lessons
Attend all lessons and take detailed notes so as to be an effective home teacher. The parent who will be practicing with the child that week should be the one attending lessons.
Do not interfere with the lesson. However tempting it may be to remind your child of something you worked on at home but seems to be forgotten now, this can be humiliating for the child and can disrupt the flow of the lesson. I promise I have noticed the problem, but am waiting for an appropriate time to address it. If there is something that I’d like you to participate in I will ask.
Be positive, encouraging, excited about small achievements, never sarcastic or humiliating. Try to make a positive attitude one of the skills to practice for you and your child!
Arrive five minutes before the lesson so that your child can go to the bathroom, unpack, get a drink of water, etc., so that the lesson may begin on time.
Try to attend all student recital performances, whether or not your child will be performing. If your child is performing, please stay the duration of the recital to support your peers.
Attend lots of performances! Be exposed to great music!
Maintain instrument in good condition at all times and purchase/rent supplies promptly.
Cooperate with teacher and parent during lessons and home practice.
Wash hands, file nails, go to the bathroom, get a drink before daily practice time and lesson time.
Treat parents, teachers, and peers with respect.
Listen to recordings daily.
Bring all necessary materials to all lessons.
Be prepared for all assignments at all lessons. Your practice guidelines will be laid out for you in your lessons.
Show up on time and with all required materials for lessons, master classes and performances.
Be a role model for younger students in behavior, attitude, commitment and attire.
Expectations for Group Classes
Group lessons are a very important part of studying the Suzuki method. They are not only fun, they develop ensemble skills, social skills and an eagerness to learn. Students are exposed to many other students at many different levels. This is a powerful incentive to practice and improve without encouraging competitiveness. Students who regularly attend group lessons progress more quickly and are more consistent players.
Group lessons happen (bi) weekly except for recital weeks and are required of all students.
Please arrive five minutes prior to the beginning of the group lesson for tuning, removing shoes, bathroom visits, etc.
Parents should be attentive and focused on the tasks so to further aid their children at home.
Students should be aware of their behavior expectations. Young children should be told their expectations prior to each group lesson.
Expectations for Practice Sessions
Suzuki teachers always preach the virtues of regular practice, and with good reason. The process of learning music is not only an intellectual one, but physical as well. Musical concepts are not difficult for most children to understand; the real challenge is in acquiring muscle memory; that is, putting these concepts into action through the use of arms, hands, fingers and breath. It is this “brain-to-body” connection that needs to be forged through the daily repetition that we call practice. Practicing should be fun. Kids learn best when they are enjoying themselves, and they will always look forward to practicing if their teachers and parents take a creative approach to daily work through the use of motivational games and activities. First, some important words to live by, in regard to practice, that have become something of a mantra – both serious and good natured – in the Suzuki world:
You only have to practice on the days that you eat!
• Try to have a regular “Practice Time” each day; early mornings, right after school – whatever works best for your family.
• Be present during practice time; if you are not actively playing, listen attentively. Above all, do not engage in another activity while your child is practicing.
• Do not use practicing as a punishment – an obvious turn-off.
• Do not time practice; your child will become a clock-watcher and will not pay attention to the music. Focus instead on completing a given task – even if it only takes a minute or two.
• Offer praise for every effort your child makes – never be negative. Think of music as a language your child is learning, and remember how you taught your child to speak as a toddler – one thing at a time, lots of repetition, lots of praise and support.
• If your child, especially a young one, resists daily practice, allow him or her to take ownership of practice time by choosing special “Practice Days,” and then try your best to be consistent with this schedule.
• Despite our goal of daily practice, some children may benefit from an occasional day off.
We are interested in long-term gain and the ultimate development of your child as an excellent person, so we will not let one missed day of practice stop us.
• Be creative – use progress charts, rewards and motivational games to set short and long term goals for your child.
Practice Routines and Suggestions
The best thing you can spend on your children is your time. Consistent daily practice time(s) can work wonders: for example, after dinner but before dessert.
Make sure the child is neither tired nor hungry during practice time. Make sure you the “home coach” are in a good frame of mind. Make sure you are not in a hurry or in any way feeling pressured by time restraints or by the fact that you may have missed a few practices and therefore need to “make up for lost time.” An unhappy practice time is worse than no practice at all.
The development of ability in the child depends on the amount of review and repetition – so it is essential that the student and home coach learn to enjoy the process of endless repetition and review. Make use of repetition games. One might find that practice sessions often start with “I know Mom, every time I do a song, we get to…” Don’t forget that this is your time to have fun together.
Listening to the recordings at home is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL! Progress on the instrument depends on this listening.
Notes from Carol Bigler lecture:
It’s not how much you love your children; it’s also how much your children feel loved. Problems come not from our interactions, but from our reactions. Productive reactions are controlled reactions. There is no such thing as a negative child – the behavior is negative, the child is not. SO work on the premise that children are perfect – teachers are imperfect. If the student fails, there is something wrong with the system, not the student. Criticism promotes contrary behavior – to prove that the teacher is wrong. Don’t moralize or preach – this implies that you are perfect. Don’t give a sermon in a moment of crisis. Strive to generate an environment of calmness, one that is safe and confirming. Walk into practice sessions with the attitude that you are setting a precedent for future practice sessions. In this sense, the atmosphere generated is more important than what you actually accomplish. Quit before they’re through – don’t wait until they ask to be done. Have a specific requirement for the practice time – so the child is not subjected to an unending “just one more time.” Don’t “teach” your child; just be with him/her. Play the guitar not just to learn something but to have FUN!
Concerning the child’s receptivity: “you cannot teach the child if he doesn’t want to learn – period!” Appreciate the good qualities in your child and get used to looking for them. He is doing the best he can under the circumstances, and productivity is never consistent. “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become that which they are capable of being.”
“Parent’s Daily Dozen” Practice Chart
Stephanie Judy, September 2002
The Parent’s Daily Dozen” practice chart was developed in response to a discussion in 2001 on the Suzuki-Chat email list about what teachers can do to help parents gain better skills at being a “home coach”. After being revised it was tested at various Suzuki Institutes and in several teachers’ studios, with both teachers and parents reporting that it was useful. I would like to ask you to use this chart for 8 weeks. During the “parent time” in group class, we’ll discuss how it’s working for you.
Some general notes about practicing
For most children younger than about 12, taking music lessons and learning to play an instrument is primarily the parent’s commitment. Some children are enthusiastic, some are not. No child is aware of the challenges ahead. Every child needs the parent’s consistent, loving support to meet those challenges day after day.
The first year is the hardest. You may encounter some rocky times – you may even regret that you got started! Hang in there! If things get really rugged phone me or phone an experienced parent to get some ideas and encouragement. During the first year, we are not so much teaching the child how to play the guitar as we are teaching the parent to understand how your child learns…not how children in general learn, but how your child learns best.
In Suzuki guitar practice, the relationship of the parent to the child is very much like the parent/child relationship in learning to cross a street. At first, the parent has total responsibility, and the child has none- the child simply goes along for the ride, in arms, in a stroller, or in a backpack. Gradually however, the child begins assuming more and more “street-crossing” responsibility – first by holding the parent’s hand instead of being carried, and then by walking beside the parent without holding hands. At some point, the child learns to look for cars and helps decide when it’s safe to cross, and so forth. As the years go by, the parent very gradually relinquishes responsibility to the child.
Guitar practice is the same way. You will “carry” your child for a long time – maybe weeks, maybe months, maybe years. You will see to it that the practice happens and you will ensure that the environment is positive, (although you can certainly enlist your child’s help). If you and I do our jobs he or she will likely be practicing independently, and – I can promise you this – you will look back and feel that it was worth all the effort.
Some specific notes about the “Parent’s Daily Dozen”.
- Please let your child hear the Suzuki book level recording a minimum of three times each day (about an hour in total). Daily listening is the single factor that is most strongly correlated to a student’s success in a Suzuki program.
- Make practicing a routine event that happens at the same time every day. Pick a time when your child is reasonably alert but also calm. In most families, it’s best to set a practice time as early as possible during the day so that if it doesn’t happen, you still have time left in the day to do it. It’s also a good idea to tie practicing to another inevitable daily event – “after lunch, we practice.” The hardest part of practicing is get the guitar out of the case and getting it ready to play.
- Find a special corner of your house where you can keep the things you need – Guitar, Suzuki Notebook, music stand, tuner, metronome, etc. You will be spending a lot of time in this space, so make it inviting and special. Before the practice starts – earlier in the day, if you can – jot some notes about what you plan to accomplish. If it helps you to us a practice task chart (for you child) by all means do so.
- Children often dislike changing from one activity to another. A bit of warning helps smooth the way: “In 10 minutes, it will be time to practice. Find a stopping place in your book/game/puzzle.”
- If you aren’t in the habit of bowing to being and end your practices, it may feel awkward or unnatural the first few times. That’s OK. Do it anyway.
- A parent’s attention is a precious commodity for a child. Practicing together gives you an opportunity to offer undivided attention to your child every day. Your child will take cues from you about the value of practicing. IF you give it only a quarter of you attention, your child is not likely to develop much commitment to it either.
- The key word here is EFFORT! You are acknowledging effort – not achievement. (Achievement will come through effort and never without it). You can show appreciation non-verbally by smiling, nodding, giving a “thumbs up,” applauding, tapping your foot, anything to let them know you’re engaged.
- This is the real key to productive, contented practices. Your child is working hard and, at times, really struggling. He or she will get discouraged and frustrated from time to time. Your child has a limited understanding of the process; you are the adult, and are able to take a longer view. A “one-point practice” means that you focus on ONE THING AT A TIME. Avoid, for example, saying, “That was pretty good but your wrist was bent and the C# was too low and your pinky was straight and you’re supposed to use rest strokes and you forgot to play the repeat…” OVERLOAD! Instead, pick the one thing that will make the most difference in the child’s playing. This may well be something that was emphasized in the lesson.
- Many children get frustrated when they feel that they don’t have nay control over the situation. Give your child every choice that you reasonably can. She doesn’t get to choose whether or not to practice and whether or not to play F# in tune, but she can choose which review piece she wants to play first, and whether she’d like to do scales at the beginning or end of the practice.
- Any time you are focusing on tone – on the beauty of sound – you are practicing tonalization. I will usually assign a specific practice for tonalization.
- Book 1 students review every piece every day.
- As often as possible, end the practice when the child is happy and enthusiastic, or end it with something the child especially likes to do.
The last two items on the chart are for you and your child to summarize the day’s practice. You can use this space in any way you like. You might want to rate the practice on a scale from 1 to 10 or any suitable way. The space for your child’s comment is extra big, so that your child can draw a happy face, put on a sticker, or write a few words – whatever seems appropriate.
- Make a Snake: Start with putting an adhesive dot on a plain sheet of paper to represent one execution of a spot, piece, or technical exercise. Add a dot, putting them next to each other in a line, one for each repetition. Label the sheet for what is being practiced. Watch the path snake all over the page.
- Dominoes: The teacher sets up one or more dominoes for each repetition. Student gets to tip them over.
- Read a book: Read one page (paragraph, etc) for each successful song.
- Make a Meal: Using clay construct “something to eat” or item of your choosing for each repetition.
- Direct the Artist: During each repetition, color a portion of a page from a coloring book with a color chosen by the student.
- Five Times: For five repetitions, pull up one of the teacher’s fisted “reluctant” fingers for each correct repetition. Put fingers down for each unsuccessful repetition.
- Puzzle: One puzzle piece for each repetition.
- Make a Chain: Cut colored strips of paper, tape into a loop, and create a chain. One loop for each successful day of practice. Especially good around the holidays.
- Building Blocks: One block for each repetition. At the end of the session the blocks come tumbling down.
- Ball Bounce: After each rep stand up and bounce a beach ball back and forth without dropping.
- Match Game: Lay out cards face down, start with one card face up. After each rep both parent and student get to turn over one card. After you turn the card over, leave it face up. If you can make a pair, then you get to turn one more over. Who is going to get the most pairs? The same as the board game “Memory.”
- Matchstick Castle: Glue matchsticks for repetitions and build a house/castle. A long term project.
- Snowflakes: When the weather turns cold hand out pieces of colored paper. During the week the goal is to practice each review song 10(?) times. When the student reaches 10 repetitions of a song, fold up the colored paper and cut out a snowflake. At the end of the week bring the snowflakes to decorate the teacher’s studio.
- Pennies: Start out with two stacks of pennies, marbles, buttons, etc.: student’s stack and teacher’s stack. Pick a technical point to work on. After each execution, if the students remembered to watch what they were supposed to watch for they announce “I remembered” and take a penny from the teacher’s stack. If during a repetition the student doesn’t pay attention and lapses into incorrect playing, the teacher announces “I remembered” and takes one of the pennies. Object is for the student to get all the pennies.
- Popcorn: Student gets un-popped kernels of popcorn for each correct repetition. 15 reps a day will yield 100 kernels by the end of the week. Save them up (or if assigned by the teacher) bring them into group class to pop and eat.
- LEGOS!: Build a Lego structure one piece at a time for successful repetitions. Can be a long term project or a daily exercise.
- Fishbowl Game – Use a Magic Marker to write on 3×5 cards all of the activities and information the student needs to be practicing. One activity or piece of information per card. The cards are kept in a small box which can be decorated by the student. The student closes his eyes and gets to pick a card. Use a single simple short word, in lower case, the student will easily learn to recognize and read for himself. This is a great way to organize practice – if a practice session ends before all of the cards are played, pick up at the next session where you left off. Short, frequent sessions can be encouraged: “Let’s just do 5 cards.” As the number of cards increases, specific cards can be “retired” and kept separately for occasional reference. As the student increases his abilities there can be a few activities that are practiced at the beginning of every practice session, with the rest of the lesson taken up with the card game. A favorite variation of the card game is “skip it”. The student practices as many cards as he can do by memory, and then does the “fishbowl game.” When he gets to a card he has already done he gets to “Skip it.”
- Burn a candle while you practice – when it burns down, go get an ice-cream cone (or other reward).
- Split responsibilities: Have the less involved parent be in charge of a different activity, like flash cards.
- Keep track here of your own ideas and share them with other parents at group class!