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PARENTS PLEASE READ!!! Note To Parents Concerning The Suzuki Method

The ability to create a great work of art is limited to a few individuals; however, creation of a noble spirit in a human being is possible for all parents.  Fulfilling this possibility is a long and complex process requiring love, high ideals, understanding of the growth process, and a willingness to allow the child to mature according to his own inner timetable.  Parents sensitive to these facets of human development can create an environment in which the child, nurtured by love, can reach the full potential of physical, mental, and emotional growth.

The Joys and the Responsibilities: The Key to Success

The role parents play in the education of their children is of major and critical importance.  The joys are to be found in watching the child become a happier person who learns to set goals and achieve them, in seeing their development in the acquisition of a difficult and complex skill, and in hearing the child recreate music composed by some of the greatest minds of all ages, as well as express the emotion and the music that is deep inside of them.  The Suzuki program has two distinct parts: the child must be helped to develop an ear for music, and each step in the learning process must be mastered.  Helping the child achieve these goals is the responsibility of the parents. The teacher is a guide for reaching these goals in that they are an interpreter of the philosophy for the parents, and a source of inspiration to the child.  Being a Suzuki parent is time-consuming and you must understand that your help and attention is required until the child gains the maturity and proficiency which allow independent work.  Only with your support will your child make good and happy progress. The main purpose of this approach and the common goal of both parents and teacher, is the enrichment of the life of the child.

Expectations and Guidelines

~ It is recommended that in addition to attending the lessons, you bring a notebook for the purpose of writing the teacher's comments and suggestions so that you may be better equipped to help your child at home.  This is a different notebook than your child's assignment book that the teacher uses on the lesson.  This is a notebook for your reference. Writing things down helps to eliminate confusion between what the teacher actually said and what the student remembers.  It also helps you to recall the things that your child learned quickly, or how well they played a particular piece, as well as the things on which they need continued work.  It is important for the child to be reminded of accomplishments or victories, in addition to being reminded of the areas in which          improvement is needed.

~ The assignments must be executed at home as accurately as possible each day.  Make sure that you understand the techniques your child is expected to accomplish.  Feel free to ask questions during the lesson.  The piano lesson is the model for the practice time at home, so ask for clarification if the assignment is unclear.  There should be no doubt in your mind as to the assignment and the goal.  The more thoroughly you understand what is happening, the better you can help your child at home.

~ The role of the parent during the lesson is really that of an interested observer rather than a participant.  Please be aware that it is important that the flow of the lesson not be interrupted.  Please be willing to allow the teacher to handle the child in all situations unless the teacher requests help.  It is also important that there be no distractions during the lesson.  Siblings are permitted to come to the lessons only if they can amuse themselves quietly while the lesson is in progress.  The parent also is requested to please be sensitive concerning social conversations; as the lesson time is meant for the child.

~ Be sure to play the companion recordings as frequently as possible (background music during the day, in the car, bedtime, mealtime, playtime, etc.)! This trains the child's musical ear through imitation and repetition. It is not necessary for the child to sit and listen exclusively to the recordings. As long as it is audible, the child will be absorbing many things from the music.  Thanks to modern technology, portable devices for playing these recordings is also a very valuable teaching aid.  It is highly recommend that you purchase one and utilize it during vacations, family outings, and other situations where portability is necessary.

~ Parents should be careful not to cause anxiety before a lesson or performance by reminders of what to do.  Instead, the child should be reminded of their accomplishments during the week.  A parent must also avoid cramming too much into any practice session, particularly on the day before or the day of the lesson.  This will simply overwhelm the child and perhaps cause anxiety at the lesson.

~ A parent should not apologize for the child either before or during the lesson.  Discussing the child negatively in front of him or her is extremely damaging and should never be done.  Allow the teacher the experience of discovering for themselves what the student's playing sounds like that week, even if it is not up to "expectations".  The child may very well rise to the occasion and play well. 

~ Keep the piano that the child practices on in tune and in good repair.  The child will not be able to produce a good tone if the strings are out of tune and some of the notes will not sound.  Imagine trying to play tennis with a racquet that has broken strings or with balls that have little bounce left in them!  The piano must be tuned and maintained so that it will produce its best tone and the child will benefit from this consistent pitch level.  Many Suzuki students develop absolute pitch or pitch recognition, a trait envied by many adult musicians, but this can only be accomplished with in-tune pianos.  It will be frustrating and detrimental to their development as a musician if the instrument on which they practice is not properly maintained.  Likewise it is highly recommended that a student practice on a real piano and not a keyboard.  Even though a keyboard stays in tune, it does not have the same action or performance as a piano and the child's development can be stifled. 

~ Be quick to praise your child!  Rewards are very important, and our praise is probably the most valuable motivational tool we have.  Lavish it on!  Remember to praise them no matter how small the accomplishment may seem.  Even if they have not accomplished the goal yet, they should be praised for effort.  Your excitement and encouragement creates the desire for them to continue trying.  Praise does wonders for their development and building their self-confidence fosters their desire to learn.  As the child feels successful (because of the praise and encouragement) pride of accomplishment (self-esteem) is generally enough to maintain motivation.  You can also easily encourage your child to look forward to their teacher's delight on the next lesson when the teacher sees what the child has mastered!

Musical Environment: A Family Affair

Families are encouraged to make music a common interest.  We should think of and instill music around the child all day long.  Even very young children enjoy being taken to concerts if they do not have to stay too long.  It is possible to go for only a portion of the program and leave before the child tires of it.  Listening to recordings and classical radio programs creates a musical environment.  Mini-recitals at home during the week are a wonderful family experience.  Some families set aside a half an hour after dinner one night each week and the children play all the pieces they know for their parents.  Asking children to play for guests is also a positive experience.  Not only is it good practice for public performance, but it also builds the child's confidence and self-esteem.  Having parents or siblings select pieces to be played at home concerts is a good way to accomplish review and make   performing  fun.

Children learn at different rates

Because all children are different and each learns at his own individual rate, each lesson will be taught accordingly and with the teacher's discretion.  Everything will be learned eventually, but it must be paced according to the age, maturity, and coordinational development of the child.  Perhaps an ability can be learned in a few lessons, and perhaps it will take several months.  One should rejoice in one's own accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem and no matter how long they take.  Unpleasant competitiveness should also be discouraged.  One child may have begun to talk at nine months and another may not have spoken until three years of age,  however, as adults they can both communicate well and neither questions the other as to when the first words were uttered.  We should try to teach our children to rejoice in the accomplishments of others as well and to realize that those people have achieved their ability through diligence and work.  They deserve the credit and it is healthy and mature to rejoice in others' successes.  The child must also know that they personally are making progress in the proper direction, and with work and patience they will achieve the desired goal.  Always remember that it is the development of an ability that is the foremost objective, and not the amount of time it takes to get there. 

Concerning Practice

DAILY PRACTICE:  Practicing everyday is of the utmost importance.  And only correct practicing is beneficial.  A good saying to remember is: "Perfect practice makes perfect."  Make sure that what the child is repeatedly practicing is just as the teacher instructed, or there could be challenges later on.  This is not to discourage creativity.  If a child wants to experiment at the piano, there should be plenty of opportunity to do so.  The message the child is giving when that occurs is: "Piano, I like you and I want to play with you."  This is wonderful!  It should not, however, be a substitution for practicing. 

SET TIME FOR PRACTICE:  Establishing a regular time for practice every day is the best way to make sure that it is accomplished consistently. Children respond well to routine and if practicing can be a part of that routine, fewer problems and greater success will result.  If good practice habits can be established from day one, then it will help to carry the child through those inevitable plateaus that occur in the learning process.  If you wonder when to practice, then keep in mind what Dr. Suzuki would say to the children, "Only practice on days that you eat."

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT FOR PRACTICE:  Practicing should be a pleasurable and happy experience for the child.  All human beings do their best when they are doing things they enjoy most; consequently if the children enjoy practicing they will learn better.  Let the practicing be fun and that high spirit will carry them through to high accomplishment.  Children who practice well, play well, and the more they practice, the better they play. 

ENTHUSIASM IS EVERYTHING (almost):  Repetition is one of the most important elements in Suzuki education, and no matter how many times a child plays a piece, the parents must not show boredom.  It may be difficult to be enthusiastic every time a child plays a piece or after the recording has been heard hundreds of times, but that is what a parent must do.  Consistently praising your child is essential in their motivation to practice.  It is better to motivate a child to repeat a piece, or a segment of a piece, by saying that they are doing so well that you love hearing it over and over again, than just to say, "Play it again."  If negative attitudes, such as boredom, enter the home atmosphere, the student may balk at doing the many repetitions required for success.  You are setting the example for them so keep that enthusiasm going strong!

ONE THING AT A TIME:  During the practice time at home the parent should ask only for one thing at a time from the child.  This is important so that success is "built-in" and the child does not feel frustrated and associate negative feelings with learning the piano.  The child should have to only think about what is being requested.  If the child accomplishes the task, but displays weaknesses in other aspects of the performance, they should still be praised.  With daily correct practice, everything will soon fit together very easily.  (For example, perhaps a child can play a piece very well hands separately and is ready to play with both hands together.  During the first attempts to put them together the beautiful technique suffers.  This happens because the child's concentration is focused on putting hands together.  When this coordination becomes easy, the teacher and parent can simply remind the child of the proper techniques.  The piece will then be perfected easily.)  In other words, be patient and don't expect everything at once.  With continued correct practice success will come.

KNOW WHEN TO STOP:  Try to finish each practice session on a happy note.  In order to maintain the interest of the child, any learning session should stop before the child tires of it.  Then the child will be eager to begin another learning session on another day or at a later time.  In addition to stopping before the child tires, it is a good idea to end the session with something, perhaps a review piece, that the child can do very well.  That way they end in high spirits, proud of their accomplishments and feeling successful progress.

                                                                Conclusion

One of the greatest rewards of parenthood is the joy of seeing your child become a fine, independent, and accomplished adult— one who has learned to set goals and master them.  This ability carries over into all areas of life.  Helping a child to acquire the skills and to develop the abilities necessary to succeed is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give.  To discover truth, virtue, and happiness is a worthy goal for any human being, but to help your child find the means to these is a gesture of love in a most profound way.  Let the adventure begin!

 

portions adapted from "Studying Suzuki Piano: More Than Music" by Carole L. Bigler and Valery Lloyd-Watts. Alfred Publishing Co. 1979. 1998.



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