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How to prepare for a great lesson!

After a year of meaning to get around to it, I’ve been watching some of the Parents as Partners videos on the Suzuki Association’s website. I put them on while I’m folding laundry. After watching Teri Einfeldt’s lecture,  “Are You Inadvertently Sabotaging Your Child’s Lesson?” (Which I avoided at first, because of COURSE I couldn’t be sabotaging my own kids lessons…) I realized that I probably haven’t talked to the parents in my studio about lesson preparation since the pre-twinkle parent class three years ago, at which point no one was even practicing yet. I’d really recommend that you take 12 minutes of laundry folding time to listen to her lecture, but I’ll write up some things I’ve been thinking about since I watched it.

 

Preparation for your child’s lesson starts before the lesson. In order to have a successful lesson or practice, you need to start planning ahead. Have a healthy snack ready when your child comes home from school, or to give them in the car on the way to the lesson. In our studio, most people walk or bike to lessons, and I’ve noticed in Aya’s lessons, that when we walk there together, her lesson goes much more smoothly. Instead of zoning out in the car, she’s moved her body and gotten some fresh air! It seems to help her concentrate. So even though it works better with our schedule to drive to her lesson, I try to set it up so that she can come home from school and walk there with me. We have to drive to Aviva’s lessons, so we go early and get hot chocolate first (in the winter) or go to the playground (in the summer).

 

On the way to your lesson, try to not be stressed out and rushing, but leave plenty of time to get there and talk about the things you worked on in practice that week. What did you think went well? Is there anything you want to ask the teacher about? Even if you had a terrible practice week, try to focus on the good things. If you are in the car, you can do some listening from the Suzuki CD. Repeat the songs your child is working on and stop and talk about things you notice:

“did you hear how cleanly he played that hard spot?”

“Do you like how he plays that part staccato or do you prefer it legato?”

“let’s listen to where the dynamics are in this piece.”

“can you hear the circle bows?”

 

During the lesson. The only thing the parent really needs to say to the teacher in the beginning of the lesson is to tell me if you didn’t get a chance to practice something, so I know when we’re working on it if the student didn’t understand my instructions the previous week, or if they did, but didn’t get a chance to practice. Questions that come up during the lesson should ideally be saved for the end unless you think it would be really helpful to have them answered during the lesson. I can sometimes start chatting with parents while kids are getting their instruments out – don’t let me do it! This is your child’s time. It should be all about them. A little laugh or sigh of appreciation can take the focus of the child away from the teacher and back to the parent. Even positive sounds or gestures can distract. Talking on the phone or checking emails or texts is not acceptable during a lesson. It sends a message that whoever is on your phone is more important than your child at that time. Instead, send them the message that their lesson is the only thing that matters to you at this time, and you take it seriously. If you aren’t taking it seriously, neither will your child.

 

After the lesson, talk about the things you worked on. Ask your child to clarify things for you, even if you don’t need them to. Tell them how much you liked listening to them play something. Before the next practice, look over your notes together. Practices at home should ideally recreate what you did in the lesson. Usually we start with scales, then review, and end with the new piece and reading. Teri Einfeldt says “Review = vegetables, and new = dessert.” If you don’t have time for a full practice, spend your time on review, which is where you build and strengthen the skills you need for your new songs.

 

 

 

 

How to set up for a Zoom lesson

Posted by on Aug 15, 2020 in Practice | 0 comments

I have found that teaching remotely is very effective. When a student is set up well, I feel that the quality of the lesson is close to equal to an in person lesson. On the other hand, if the student is not set up well for the lesson, I don’t feel that they get the same quality lesson as someone who has taken the time to set up. Here is what you need to have a high quality remote lesson: -Use a computer that is not a Chromebook. Chromebooks do not support Zoom as well as a PC or Mac. iPads don’t have the same options for audio set up so they are also not ideal, and as far as I know you can’t connect a microphone to an iPad. (See note below re mic.) -Set up your lesson in the space in your house that is closest to the router. If that’s not a quiet space, I find that often the floor above or below the router is also good. You can use this website to test the speed of the internet in the room your lesson is in: https://www.speedtest.net/ -Place the computer on top of a table and maybe a stack of books to get it at the correct height for the size of the student. -TUNE your violin to a tuner before the lesson. Rosin your bow. -Be sure you have all music, pencil, metronome, etc ready. Place music on a MUSIC STAND. Do not prop it up on something else. If you don’t have a stand, you need to buy one. -An external microphone attached to the computer makes a HUGE difference in my ability to hear the student and give accurate feedback. You’re paying a lot for lessons. Invest in a microphone if at all possible! -Sign in a few minutes early and wait in the “waiting room” so I know you are ready for your...

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Getting back into a routine after the summer break

Posted by on Sep 16, 2013 in Blog, Practice | 0 comments

It’s September. This post is going to be more about my experiences practicing with my now 5 year old daughter, Aya. I have many students and parents who go through similar struggles to ours, and I’m hoping it will be helpful for you to read about the start of our second year. We took the summer off. In May, Aya had her first group concert, and was very very proud and happy. I was hoping it would motivate her to take more ownership over her practice. I hoped she would see where she was headed, and understand why she was doing all this work. That didn’t happen. She LOVED the concert. She still didn’t love practicing. At her last lesson of the semester, she was making her body all floppy and playing badly on purpose. Her teacher suggested we take a break. At first I didn’t want to. I was afraid that once we stopped, it would be too hard to start again. But then we did stop, and it was so easy to not practice! Have I mentioned that I was never the most enthusiastic practicer either? So, all summer we didn’t practice, but Aya still told lots of people that she played the violin, and had graduated Twinkle, and was working on Lightly Row (which she was not). When school started last week, we got back into a routine, and started practicing again. Not surprisingly (to me at least) she forgot how to play almost everything, and was really frustrated. I decided to start off small, and give her short practices, with things she could do. The first few practices were one bow exercise, one rhythm on an open string, and one time playing the Flower song. I’ve noticed that kids like to know in advance how much they have to practice, and how long it’s going to take. On the first day, she decided to make a list. Making the list took about 3 times as long as practicing… Since the 20 minute list making wasn’t realistic, I started looking around for other ideas. I discovered that if you look on Pintrest for “suzuki practice ideas”, there are SO MANY great ideas that parents and teachers are sharing. This is another great aspect of Suzuki: teachers don’t try to guard their secrets so that their students are the best. We are always happy to share ideas, so that other teachers can use something we have had success with. You can check out my Pintrest page to see what I’m talking about. These are just ideas that I’ve copied from other people. After being inspired by those ideas on Pintrest, I came up with my own idea: a practice scavenger hunt. We have been doing scavenger hunts all summer. When we had visitors at my parents summer house, I would set up a treasure hunt with clues leading the kids around our property, so they would get familiar with the space. When we went on a hike, my husband told the kids he was just going on a run, and set up clues along the way, ending with a treasure. I’m not really very organized and I always think up these ideas about 3 seconds before I plan to execute them. Setting up the practice scavenger hunt...

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Example of a group concert

Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Practice | 0 comments

Our Spring group concert is next weekend (May 18th at 9am) at Longy. It will be our last concert at Longy, and I encourage anyone who is interested in Suzuki method violin to come see it. The concert will be a typical example of a Suzuki concert, with all the kids in the program sitting on stage. We start with the most advanced piece of music, and as the pieces get easier, more kids stand up to join, until the end, where we play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star together. I’ll post a video of the concert next week, but here’s a video from last year. I’m actually not on stage because I was on maternity...

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Celtics game

Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Practice | 0 comments

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Master one activity instead of signing up for so many

Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Master one activity instead of signing up for so many

Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent A lot of people tell me they struggle with deciding which activities, and how many, to sign their kids up for. Before having kids, I couldn’t understand why people overbooked their 4 and 5 year olds, and had them driving around to so many activities that they couldn’t find a 30 minute break in the day to practice violin. Now I have a 5 year old and I have a better understanding. For one thing, as babies, we are with them ALL DAY LONG and the parents need social interaction, so we sign up for music class, go to the library story hour, tumbling class, art class, swim class, soccer, etc. I think these classes are as much for the parents as the kids. Once you have a school aged child who is is with his classmates at school all day, I think it’s time to focus on one or two activities. In our family, we’ve decided that it’s ok to sign up for one athletic type class (gymnastics) and one music class (violin). I believe it is better for kids to learn to do one thing really well, then to dabble in a bunch of classes for exposure. Occasionally I break that rule, for example I think it’s important to learn to swim, so I brought my kids to a short term swim class in addition to gymnastics. I recently read an article by a violinist, Nicola Benedetti, who had the same philosophy about learning one thing really well. She said: “A lot of the most privileged children face far too many choices,” said Benedetti. “It is almost paralysing for children. It can disorient them like a constantly faulty light, flicking on and off.” She added that for her, “the most crucial thing is consistency if you ever want a child to have that feeling of satisfaction in their stomach when they have made something work because they stuck at it.” You can read the full article here:...

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The first year practicing with my 4 year old

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Blog, Practice | 0 comments

The first year practicing with my 4 year old

Practicing with a four year old can be rewarding at some times and rough at others. I used to think I had all the answers for parents of four year olds. Then my own daughter started Suzuki violin a few months after her 4th birthday. At first I was validated. Aya seemed excited to be finally going to lessons, like she’d seen since she was born. She was happy to practice with me at home. I’ll never forget one of the first times we practiced and she told me afterwards “You’re the best mommy in the whole world.” I thought: this is great! It’s so special for her to have these 10 minutes where I turn off my phone, ignore all the chores, and tell her baby sister that I need to be focused on Aya. And I’m giving her the gift of music! So that was stage 1. Stage 2 was when she decided she actually already knew how to play the violin, and didn’t need me to help her. She would just grab it and start sawing away, creating bad habits by the handful while I watched it happen. In stage 3, I threw out all my convictions about how wrong it is to use bribes and rewards. And I went all out. Not only was I going to bribe her, but I was going to do it with FOOD. And that food would be CHOCOLATE. I put a chocolate chip on her bow hand, and told her if she could keep her wrist bent, and bring her bow up to her face without letting the chocolate chip fall off, she could eat it. Right there in her practice. We later found that chocolate chips fall off too easily and moved on to Annie’s fruit snacks, which stick to your hand and work really well. Stage 4: Aya has accepted that practice is part of her daily routine, and also seems to have forgotten that she really wants to play a song. When her sister goes down for her nap, the first thing Aya does is run to get her violin out and get ready to practice… Because she wants the fruit snacks. We go through all the things her teacher has asked us to do: clapping rhythms, practicing her bow hold, balancing the violin on her shoulder (with a fruit snack on it). Then we’re done and she’s on to other things. Stage 5: She starts playing on the string and we start arguing over if she’s doing what her teacher asked. She doesn’t seem to remember that her mother is a violin teacher. She tries to convince me that her teacher said to do things a different way. She tells me her legs hurt and starts acting like I’m torturing her. She melts to the floor and sobs that she can’t do it any longer. Stage 6: She starts actually learning to play and is feeling very proud of herself.  Somehow we ran out of fruit snacks and she seems to haveforgotten that my food reward was ever a part of practice. We still use games: often just picking a card from a stack we made with pictures of each rhythm. Ok stage 7: how many stages will there be? Maybe I will continue this until her first Twinkle recital....

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