It’s that time of year: exams, research papers, projects, and quizzes abound.
How does one continue with practice in light of all that stuff?
Try combining your efforts!
- If your teacher has asked for 10 repetitions of a “blob,” or small part of a piece, alternate each repetition with spelling a spelling word, ask a question from a study guide, or repeat a math fact.
- Play those repetitions and then read a paragraph from an assignment, do a math problem, repeat a vocabulary word definition.
- Do you have a review list? Play five review pieces in between two homework assignments.
These strategies breaks up the inactivity that sets in when sitting and studying for long periods of time. Combining music (right brain) and homework (left brain) gives your brain a workout, too!
What are some strategies for coming homework and practicing that have worked for you?
Before I became a Suzuki teacher and studied Dr Suzuki’s philosophy in depth, I thought that Suzuki lessons were just for kids. After all, he did say, “Every child can learn.”
When I look more closely at his stories and experiences surrounding this concept, I see adults! The teacher becomes familiar with the child and the family and learns to sense when concepts are being understood and skills are accomplished. The practice partner learns about the student, recognizes when there is success or frustration, and figures out how best to handle the situation. Teachers learn from other teachers! Practice partners share and learn with other practice partners!
What happens, though, as the child grows up? Does the Suzuki philosophy still apply? Take a moment to think about your child’s Suzuki teacher. He or she has pretty high teaching standards. She participates in music conferences and observes other teachers. He plays with other professional musicians and is active in the Suzuki Associaion of the Americas. The Suzuki teacher embodies the philosophies of Shinichi Suzuki. The teacher does not turn off “Suzuki” as his or her students mature as musicians. It is always there.
As a Suzuki student grows up, she continues to receive the same high quality teaching from her teacher. The Suzuki teaching technique of breaking a complicated passage into sections and working on it in small steps still applies when the student graduates from the Suzuki books and begins to work on even more advanced material. The maturing student has internalized these ways of learning so that the process of tackling a hard task is easy.
When do Suzuki lessons end? They don’t!
Have you ever walked away from a practice session? Avoided practicing because you knew the response from your child would be negative? Have you ever sat in a lesson and thought, “Right. You really think we can do this?” Frustration can be expected when learning to play an instrument, but there are ways to avoid it or minimize its presence in lessons and practice sessions. I read an article by Cheryl Cornell recently, from the collection, Winning Ways – Strategies for Suzuki Parents, that addressed the student with a low tolerance for frustration.
I think these suggestions are good ones for preventing frustration and will help bring practice sessions back to peaceful, enjoyable times for all sides of the Suzuki triangle. Just choose one idea and see what a difference it makes!
- Break each task into very small steps. We can all be overwhelmed by a big, giant goal. With smaller, more reachable goals, one can see progress sooner.
- Count attempts and then later count successful attempts. Mark it down, move around a game board, stack Legos or pennies, or add items to a drawing. You and your child will see the goal and know when the task will end. An added benefit is that, with repetition, the task will become easier.
- Be specific in your instructions.
- Take short breaks. Say, “How fast can you run give Dad a hug and get back here?” or add “pet the dog” or “eat a grape” to your lesson list.
- Remove time pressure. If you only have a few minutes to practice, choose an easy goal from your lesson notes. Review a set number of pieces just to make music.
- Acknowledge that the task is hard. When it is achieved, reflect on the accomplishment and celebrate!
- Track the progress with charts, stickers, etc.
- Stop when the goal is reached. “I loved how you ended that phrase. OK, we’re done for today. “
- Take a planned, short vacation from a spot that is frustrating. Ask your teacher for ways to approach it when you get back to it.
- KEEP YOUR WORD. If you tell your child that this is the last repetition, make it the last repetition. It’s better to stop at a successful point than to push for another and end on a frustrated note.
The most important step in reducing frustration with practice is to speak with your teacher. He or she will tailor the lesson and the assignment so that there are clear, small goals. Take very careful notes so that you can replicate the assignment at home.
Have you ever experienced frustration with a task? How did that feel? What were strategies that you used to work through the problem?
I am enjoying a week at the Chicago Suzuki Institute taking more piano teacher training. (My families know that I will have new things to show them next week!)
Suzuki Institutes are wonderful places. Where else can you share a week of lessons, group classes, parent lectures, and cafeteria food with like-minded Suzuki families?
Some are just beginning the journey while others are well on their way. The young learn from the old. The old share their experiences. And, oh the music! Children arrive with polished pieces and master teachers show the children and their practice partners how to take those pieces to an even higher level of musicality with great encouragement and love.
The Denison Suzuki Winter Festival is a weekend version of an Institute and isn’t it a lot of fun?
My family went to the Columbus Suzuki Institute for 11 summers and the kids are still in contact with friends whom they met there.
Has your family been to an Insitute? Please share your experiences with us!
A practice partner shared a success with me the other day. His daughter had been working on some tough spelling words and was getting pretty frustrated. Knowing that practicing was next on the to-do list, he could see that her frustration would likely spill over. As they got started, the signs appeared. He asked her to put her instrument down and he gave her a big, long hug. He asked if she were frustrated with the spelling words and she said that they were really hard. He agreed. They sat that way a while and then eventually went back to a shorter, less intense practice session.
There are many benefits to a hug between student and practice partner. It enables us to share so many feelings: happiness, sadness, acceptance, encouragement, and joy. It helps to build trust and a sense of safety, which help us make open and honest communication. Hugs instantly boost oxytocin and serotonin levels, which make us feel less lonely, isolated, or angry. They help us build self-esteem because they show us that we are loved and special. Hugs teach us how to give and to receive, and that love flows both ways.
I have a rule in my studio that while I am adjusting the foot stool and bench, my student must hug his practice partner. Wimpy, one arm hugs are not accepted and he will be required to redo the hug until I am satisfied that it has been done properly. (I always look for the practice partner’s bulging eyes to be sure!) Some of my students receive a hug from me after the ending bow, and they scold and remind me if I forget this tradition. Some students don’t like hugs, and that’s OK with me. I ask if they want one and, if not, I suggest a substitute, like a hand shake or a pat on the shoulder. Although those are less satisfying for me, I always defer to the comfort level of my students.
In what situations would adding hugs benefit your practice time?
Have you registered for summer lessons? It only takes a few minutes!
I enjoy teaching summer lessons for many reasons. First on my list is that parking in front of Burton Hall is SO easy after spring semester is over!!
I like to focus on one part of the whole lesson experience during the summer. I’ve had music reading summers, scale summers, the summer of review, and duet summers. This summer, the focus is sight reading.
Sight reading is when a kind choir director, orchestra director, or music teacher hands you a piece of music you’ve never seen before and says, “Here, play this.” My memories of sight reading are sketchy. I don’t remember doing it in lessons, but I remember having to do it at competitions and festivals. I was so concerned about it that I often flipped clefs in my mind and forgot where notes were on the piano! Here’s a great plan for sight-reading practice that I wish I had known back then:
- Tap and count the rhythm out loud (this gives you a chance to look through the piece and to be ready for the rhythm patterns).
- Touch the keys or strings as you look through the music again.
- Play at a speed less than the performance tempo and count out loud.
- Don’t stop and fix anything. Just keep going.
What do you enjoy about summer lessons?