Missed lessons policy

If I am unable to meet a student for a lesson, I will make up the lesson.  However, if a student cancels a lesson, I will not be able to make it up. But there are some very good reasons for this that I hope you will consider. The best treatment of this missed lessons policy is on page 93 of Edmund Sprunger’s book, Building Violin Skills.

     I’m not sure I can give a better explanation than he does, but it goes something like this.

Parents are busy, and many have several children all trying to make it to skating class, taekwondo, and indoor wall climbing lessons. Teachers get this. But what some parents don’t understand is that the slim remaining time worked into a schedule for dinner is essential to the teacher’s health and ability to teach at his best. So even though there is a perfect slot from 6:00 to 6:30 on Wednesday, the teacher needs a break in a long day of teaching to be at his best.

So why don’t we give a credit to be made up at a later time? Well, then the teacher is just given an unpaid vacation. He would rather have an entire week of a scheduled vacation in the summer, but now he is making up a lesson and getting a half hour or 45 minute “vacation” in February that he never planned for and can’t really do much with.

As for myself, I have noticed that the best, most effective teachers never make up lessons. I have worked with schools which had liberal make up polices and, frankly, I believe some parents took advantage of this. Further, it is not easy to take out an agenda constantly  to fit in lessons outside of the schedule that the teacher has become used to.  A liberal make up policy is a recipe for misunderstandings and further missed lessons.

It’s just not professional. Think of it this way, too. Try to see the year and tuition as one big chunk. A missed lesson here and there is not going to effect the overall growth of your child (as missed practice or a parent not taking notes would), and your teacher needs to make a living. He counts on a steady income, and this allows him to be the best he can be and help your child achieve excellence on the fiddle.

Listening

Why Listening?

Listening is the foundation of the Suzuki Method. Listening is our ear training that we will be using to match our playing to. It permits and strengthens the internal song that we try to copy on our instruments. Listening also allows students to eventually (as the teacher Ed Kreitman says) choose and discover the notes for themselves, so the teacher can concentrate on the physical challenges that constitute the real difficulties of playing the violin.

Nancy Lokken, a teacher trainer from Minneapolis, suggests that we do our listening first thing in the morning. This way, if something comes up later, and you cannot practice that day, you have at least done your listening. I recommend the same thing.  Why not play the music in the background during breakfast?  After all, listening can be passive. You can listen while doing homework, driving, preparing and eating dinner, or during any other routine in your and your child’s day.

Make a new CD or playlist to match what is going on in lessons.


Pre-twinkle Listening

For the beginning period, the pre-twinkle period, I recommend that parents and students listen to the following from the Book 1 Violin CD:

Twinkle Variation A (track 1) 10x
Twinkle Theme (track 6) 10x
Lightly Row (track 7) 1x
Song of the Wind (track 8) 1x
GO Tell Aunt Rody (track 9) 1x
Oh, Come Little Children (track 10) 1x

Make a CD or playlist of the above.

10 times for the Twinkle songs

1 time each for the others.

It should take about 18 minutes to complete.

The above routine gives the children the fundamentals of the song that will occupy them for about a year– Twinkle variation A (Mississippi Hot Dog). Listening to the other songs on that list shows them, that if they work patiently and diligently for a year, they will be playing those other songs– no problem!  Listening to the other songs gives them a taste of what is to come and prepares them to play those songs.

I might change this as the months go on, but this is the foundational idea for pre-twinkle listening.

While you may tire of listening to Book 1, your child will not.  Children love repetition.  Do not let on to your child that you have tired of the music in Book 1.  However, if you want variation, listen to Book 4 CD on occasion. It is full of professional music. The Vivaldi Concertos are wonderful and the Bach Double Concerto is unmatched in compositional skill. Listening to it is a music lesson in itself. Always keep in mind that you will return to the pre-twinkle listening list.


 

After Pre-twinkle

As we add the skills necessary to play the first few songs, and as we go further into Book 1 and Books 2 and 3, we can adopt a different listening routine.

I recommend about 20 minutes. I follow a 5 -10 -5 formula:

1) 5 minutes. The piece you are “polishing.” A polishing piece is the piece for which the notes are learned but which the student is continuing to make easy by conscientious repetition. Repeat this song on the CD or Playlist for about 5 minutes. Depending on which Book you are in, this might mean 5 repetitions or 2 repetitions.

2) 10 minutes: The next song on the playlist is the current piece for which we are learning new skills. This is the big one. Listen to it for 10 minutes. Again, if you are in Book 3, this might be 2 or 3 repetitions. If you are in Book 1, it might mean 10 repetitions.

3) 5 minutes: The final song is the one you are not on yet. You are creating a mental picture of it so you will be ready when we start it. Listen to it for 5 minutes.

 

A good place to get the recordings is Violinist.com.

Daily Practice

There is something special that happens when students dedicate themselves to a positive habit everyday such as practicing the violin. We are not made for this. Frankly, it’s unnatural. What is more natural for us is to adopt the easy habits. Habits that are not so great for us. But by dedicating ourselves to something positive come hell or high water, I think we set something in our souls moving in the direction of the good. The good for us and the good for others.

Committing to daily practice and sticking to it is a pronouncement. We seem to say, “I trust in this process, and I know I can succeed.” Even when students feel they are not going anywhere, they go to bed knowing tomorrow is a new day. They endure. They have grit. The commitment remains, if the feeling of mastery does not.

Practice is never a waste, but even if a parent or student is sure that it was, determination, or grit, in continuing the battle is what will ensure success. Keep in mind that even though what YOU think may be a bad practice, your brain, your body may have learned something you are not aware of. You don’t have the ability to monitor every improvement.

My general idea of my practice expectations is as follows:

  1. Listen to the reference recordings every day. See my “listening” post for more specifics of listening.
  2. For children between the ages of 3 and 7, practices could be as short as 1 minute or as long as 30 minutes.  It all depends on the maturity of the child and the amount of material known by the student.
  3. As a general but not fixed rule, from the age of 8 on up, the amount of practice time can follow the length of the lesson. That is, a 30 minute lesson should be matched by a 30 minute practice, etc.
  4. For children over the age of 11, an hour of practice is recommended. My preferred method is to have several sessions of practice that don’t exceed 20 minutes. Or, if that is not possible, a quick 3-5 minute break every 20 minutes, adding up to an hour. So, practice in three 20 minute blocks.

I like to work with parents and students to always maximize efficiency. It may be that an 8 year old can practice 1 hour a day, and that an 11 year old can practice 3 hours. Our goals, maturity level and other commitments all shape our practice routines.

The simple fact is this: The violin requires time to master. Don’t be fooled by young players who play brilliantly. They put in the minutes and the hours.

Commitment

The violin takes For this studio, the minimum commitment a family needs to make is:

1) Weekly Lessons attended by the practicing parent.
2) 3 group classes a month which take place on the first 3 Thursdays of the month.
3) Daily practice and listening to the reference recordings.
4) Attend  recitals or other types of performances several times a year.

 

Group Class

Suzuki teachers have a wide variety of practices when it comes to group class. I’ve seen teachers who offer none, some only hold a few a year, some once, twice, three times a month and some have one every week. I’m a group class teacher and hold 3 groups a month. Here is why:

Social

As a youth, I was passionate about music. However, traveling from a lesson to home, with no other outlet for music-making turned lessons, practicing, and the whole thing into a grind. The social aspect of group class and its different goals are a welcome break from a child standing before a teacher at a lesson or before a parent at home practice. Music making need not be done in isolation. Some of my students have become best friends with friends they met in group class. Although, I hope it’s not the only reason, some children’s favorite part of taking lessons is group class.

Parent Community

Taking on the commitment to violin lessons can be isolating for some parents. It is helpful to know that there are others who are on the same path and still others who have been down it for many years.

Additional instruction/Ensemble instruction

Skills learned in lessons are further reinforced in group along with the skill of ensemble playing, i.e. the skill of playing well together.

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