March is National Reading Month

Get ready now for March 2, 2015!

Read to someone you love.

toddler reading1

Some ideas for celebrating National Reading Month:

  • You can have your child read aloud to you for 15 minutes every day in March.
  • YOU can read to your child for 15 minutes every day in March.
  • You and your child can set aside time to read your own books silently side-by-side this month.
  • Visit your public library with your children this month.
  • You and & child make a chart to fill in each book he or she completed during March.
  • Invite a friend over for a quiet afternoon of reading good books.  Your friend can bring some favorites.
  • If your child knows how to read, have the child read to an older person this month.
  • If your child doesn’t yet read, have the child “read” to an older person this month.
  • Children can draw pictures of favorite characters; post them on the fridge or in his or her room.
  • Your child can make a book of his or her family.  You can write the words if the child isn’t ready to.
  • Your child can read to a relative, friend, or neighbor’s younger child: makes the child feel grown up.
  • Maybe your child will change some other child’s life through reading.

You may already say you do many of these things. Well, choose a new one and celebrate the great gift of books. Click here  and here to see books for children I recommended in previous posts.

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.” NEA

March 2, 2015 is NEA’s Read Across America Day.

Follow NEA on Facebook.

From the Top: Oscar hits

An enjoyable medley of the best Oscar and Academy Award winning songs, from 1939 “Over the Rainbow” to “A Whole New World” to “Jai Ho” and OH NO!– 2013, “Let It Go.” Can you name the films the songs were in?

Suzuki Playdown at Ashby Ponds!

Congratulations to the students who played at the Suzuki Playdown on Sunday at the Ashby Ponds Retirement Community!  Suzuki violin students from four Suzuki studios came together.  The studios of Eric Davenport, Nicole Fainsan, Bonnie Hudson, and Nancy Jin joined together in true Suzuki fashion.

The Ashby Ponds residents spoke glowingly about all of the students and were very appreciative that the young people wanted to share their talents with them.  Who doesn’t like to see young people taking a risk to perform publicly?  Everyone knows how much courage each of the students has as well as how much practice goes into each performance.

Playing with an accompanist, the students enjoyed the opportunity to entertain the residents, meet new friends and other Suzuki families, and show off their violin playing.  That’s what Suzuki is all about!

The Suzuki violin repertoire is what makes these types of events possible. All Suzuki students follow the steps through the same 10 books allowing them to join any Suzuki group and play music together. Just like we played together on Sunday, a Suzuki student can attend a Suzuki Institute where every student knows and can play the same pieces at his or her skill level.

Thank you to the parents and to the violin studios who came together after a big snowstorm on Saturday to make this event happen. Thank you to the students who practice every day to make public performances possible and who took time to play together on Sunday.

This is an example of true Suzuki spirit—children from several studios meeting each other and playing together. This is the genius of Shinichi Suzuki.  Plans are in the making for the next Suzuki Playdown!

Parents: Find the Sweet Spot!


“Find the sweet spot” is said so often that we might overlook its use. A bit of trivia is that the term, “sweet spot,” might have first been used for baseball. The sweet spot of a baseball bat is the spot where the batter aims for on his bat because he thinks he will have the best control at that spot. In Suzuki violin lessons, we have a “sweet spot” also. We use it to refer to part of a theory of learning proposed by Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, during the 20th century.

He called that special place of learning the Zone of Proximal Development. It is the place where instruction is most beneficial. This Zone is right beyond the child’s independent level. The Zone for violin practice is where the child needs a little help from parents at home. The Zone is the place where, for a while, the child needs a little help and then moves on to mastering that skill and can do it alone.

There are three places skills fall:

  • I can’t do it yet.
  • I can do it with help. [The Zone of Proximal Development]
  • I can do it alone!

The Zone is a key concept in understanding where your child is with practice. It is the place where the skill the student is practicing is not too easy, and not too difficult. But a little challenging. Your child is stretching him or herself a bit. It takes parents to listen and watch carefully. If you do too much for the child, he or she won’t learn independence. If you pull away to let him or her struggle too much, you run the risk of frustration.

Understanding the Zone of Proximal Development may be the key to keeping the child interested in and excited about practice.

  • For one thing, you are learning your own child better than you could have ever hoped to by your careful observations of her nuances of behavior. That alone should be reward enough.
  • But then the other reward is that your child will learn to trust your help and your intentions as being understanding and supportive. You aren’t unintentionally simply going through the motions. You are really tuned into your child. The significance of this won’t escape you as your child grows into a teen.  Nor will it escape him.

Turning back to Vygotsky and his theory, we are told that he felt that instruction at or below the child’s skill level “would not be challenging enough to promote further development.” And instruction beyond the child’s level would be “ineffective for stimulating learning.”

In my experience, ineffective is a mild choice of words. It can be downright frustrating for the child. So the parent searches for the “sweet spot,” a little above the “I can do this alone” but yet below the place of frustration where the child just can’t do it alone yet. That’s where learning takes place. That’s where the astute parents locate the perfect skill to work on in the assignment.

What the child is able to do in collaboration today,
he will be able to do independently tomorrow.

It doesn’t stop there, however. Parents also know that the child needs instruction and feedback.  You want to stimulate their thinking and motivate them.

Perhaps comments like these would work:

Here is how to do it. Now you.

That’s right. But could you move your bow this way a little?

Now comes the brilliant relationship between Suzuki and Vygotsky’s thinking:

  • Vygotsky said that outside practicing a skill alone, social interactions enable learning.
  • Suzuki included group classes in his Method, just such places where students could learn from each other rather than always in the isolation of their lesson or home.
  • Vygotsky thought that students learned as a valued member of a collaborative group.
  • Suzuki’s Method includes a collaborative group class.

We have moved from the sweet spot of practice, the Zone of Proximal Development, to the benefits of social learning, the Suzuki group class. It’s very possible that Suzuki studied Vygotsky’s theories of learning because the men were contemporaries. Even though Vygotsky wrote in Russian and died at the young age of 38, his writings were eventually translated into many languages including Japanese.

Perhaps it is not serendipitous that Suzuki appears to have incorporated into his pedagogy the Zone of Proximal Development and other Vygotsky learning theories. Nevertheless, violin students reap the benefits of the “collaboration” of the thinking of the two men.



Wonderful Wednesday: Sister Practice!

“We are sisters, and we like to play together!”

At the time this video was made and posted on December 1, 2014, the Marckx sisters were 12 and 15: Charlotte and Olivia. The sisters play together as the Sempre Sisters: Olivia, the cellist, and Charlotte, the violinist.  In this video from the “From the Top series on NPR, the girls and their mother tell their story.

Some developmental challenges

Ms. Marckx tells the story of how it came to be that Olivia began to take cello lessons at about age 5 ½.  She was concerned because Olivia reached some developmental stages at a later date than expected. For example, she didn’t talk until she was almost three. Also, during those early years, her gross motor skills were evaluated. The advice given was to get young Olivia to learn to do something different with each hand at the same time.  Therefore, she started to take cello lessons before she was 5 ½.

Mrs. Marckx tells a story about Charlotte which happened a few years later.  The three of them were in a toy store.  There was a piano at the store which she didn’t pay any attention to when they first came in.

All of a sudden Mom heard someone playing the piano in the store, and she recognized the song, “French Folk Song,” as the one that Olivia had been playing at home on her cello.  She turned to Olivia and said, “That’s weird…that’s your piece.”  Wait, where’s Charlotte? Charlotte came around the corner and Mom found out it was young Charlotte who was “somehow playing” Olivia’s piece which she had been hearing at home! (Good evidence to support the benefit of listening to Suzuki recordings!)

In the interview with the sisters, cellist Olivia says it’s fun to play the accompaniment.  It’s her favorite part of fiddling because you have to be “in tune to what people (the other players) want.  She also says with accompaniment, you get a lot of control over what the piece does.

Charlotte chimes in and says the big part of fiddling is the arrangement which she says is the accompaniment.  Charlotte says you can do small things with melody and that she loves playing the melody. And she loves writing as well.

How do you come up with what you are going to write?

Olivia pipes up, “We do all the arranging ourselves.  I watch the keys and the time signature.  We do all the countermelody ourselves.”  And Charlotte says that Olivia is the countermelody genius.  Olivia responds: “It’s a ton of fun to do this. You can be so creative with it.”

What is the advantage to having a practice partner?

Charlotte says that she thinks she is totally focused while practicing, but “when mom or dad are practicing with me, they can pretty much make me aware that I’m not thinking right.”

You need an outside ear because when you are playing, it’s like you are in the experience, and you can’t totally hear if a note’s out of tune.  But if a person is sitting there they can hear what the audience hears.

What are some tips for practicing?

Mom says that the most important thing is for them to establish a habit. So when they were really little she didn’t care so much how much they practiced, “but it helps so much to get to the instrument every day.”  It is important to find a way to get to the instrument every day.

Olivia says if you can’t get someone to practice with you, the next best thing is to tape yourself.  Get a recorder on your phone, on your laptop, whatever. Stick it somewhere. Push the button.  Play for it. Then listen back.

Charlotte says, “You can hear your sound.  You can hear your pitch.” And Olivia adds, “In ways you can’t hear when you are actually doing it.”

Enjoy this sister duo play beautiful music!  They are “a ton of fun” to watch!

Stop & Start! Suzuki Violins Play Together.

Shinichi Suzuki leads his violin students in the Bach A Minor Concerto 3rd Movement,  Book 7.  These children must have started at a very young age to be able to play in Book 7 by the age they are in this video.

Watch Suzuki clap his hands!  And the students stop playing their violins. Then they listen to the recorded music and join in exactly where the piece is. They are “playing the song in their heads” and automatically know where they are in the piece.  This takes listening to a piece many times:  in the car, while eating dinner, in the background.  The music doesn’t have to be played loudly, but the children must listen many times each day.

Group rehearsals / classes are opportunities for Suzuki violin students to learn to play together with the same note, at the same time, and with the same tempo.  In Group children build social relationships because they have a common goal.  What fun it must be for them to play a game of stopping their play simultaneously, then starting up again as if with one voice.


Practice the violin to see progress.

At the Davenport Suzuki Violin School, we are always looking for ways to engage the students to practice effectively and daily.  If students practice without intent, that is they don’t understand what they are trying to accomplish that day, then the practice won’t be as effective.  There are many different tools that students can use to help keep them motivated over the bumpy times.  One tool that I came across is The Cube Timer 5, 10, 20, 45.

“Break your practice sessions into 5 minute, 10 minute, 20 minute, and 45 minute segments.  Set the number side up for the time of your choice.  There is an on/off button on the bottom as well as a digital timer that shows the countdown time left.  These are so easy for children to use and they are fun to have around to help guide your practicing!”

I like this timer because it is useful for short bursts of time if a student needs that– 5 minutes on a special place that a student is trying to learn or to master.  It can be used to break an hour of practice into 3 manageable segments.  I think the Cube Timer would be a great asset when a student has a marathon practice day!

Go Suzuki kids! Practice makes progress!

If you practice, you get better…

Suzuki Violin: Watch Suzuki Teach !

The Suzuki Violin Method in Action

The American Suzuki Institute

at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Dr. Suzuki teaching at Steven's Point

The Suzuki Violin Method in Action

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki visits the University of Wisconsin at Steven’s Point

and teaches teachers, parents, and students.

This video is a montage of Suzuki teaching in different settings.


Directions to watch this video (and others at the Arts Collections at the University of Wisconsin). A PDF of directions is at the end of the post.

  1. Click here to be taken to the Arts Collection Page of Suzuki’s teaching
  2. The video does not load automatically.   AND in my experience the links work with Firefox and not with Explorer.
  3. When you get to the Arts Collection Page, look for the FIRST title, “A lecture and demonstration lesson on bowing techniques given by Shinichi Suzuki at the American Suzuki Institute, Steven’s Point, WI, August 1976.”
  4. AND click on this  image on the page in Firefox:       video image
  5. The video should open with RealPlayer.


In this video, Suzuki shows techniques to use to ensure good tone from the start.

When you watch this video, look for:

  • Suzuki demonstrating what to do, as well as what not to do
  • How Suzuki demonstrates the misuse of the INDEX finger in the bow hold.
  • How to place the thumb until the child has developed strong tone and good control.
  • Suzuki shows that beginners should play with small bows, gradually increasing the length as they gain ability–LATER use the long bow.
  • How mother’s should hand the bow to the child so that he or she has the correct bow hold.
  • How he places the bow on the string and balances it before starting each note.  It is like opening the door before entering the room.

For many years, teachers and students have been attending Suzuki Institutes like those at Steven’s Point for study and certification:

The American Suzuki Institute is held on the University of Wisconsin-Steven’s Point campus each August. It is the oldest and largest institute outside of Japan. It has been the model after which other institutes have developed, both home and abroad.

For information on the student institute at Steven’s Point, click here.

For other Suzuki institutes in the local area as well as throughout the country, click here.

If you would like more information about the Davenport Suzuki Violin School, please contact Eric Davenport at or call 1-703-282-8837.


PDF file of the directions to access this video.


Executive Function or ADHD?

A Suzuki violin studio includes children of great variety. Some are focused and organized.  And some are not.  Too often, adults become frustrated with children who are forgetful, always lose things, and cause their parents to be late.  These types of difficulties are often attributed to ADHD. But sometimes that diagnose is not the correct one. Furthermore, a child can have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADD/ADHD, with or without Executive Function Disorder, EFD.  And EFD can be the only challenge a child has.

I have 2 goals for parents in this post:

  1.  Recognizing the difference between ADHD and EFD.
  2. Some simple strategies to support the child with EFD.

The ADHD child who is hyperactive is easy to recognize by outward actions.

Usually ADHD symptoms that are also easy to recognize include difficulties with:

  1. getting and staying focused
  2. modulating attention
  3. controlling impulsivity
  4. self-managing behavior

However, the child who is  inattentive not only has difficulty staying on task and daydreaming,  but also may have difficulty doing required daily tasks. In my earlier blog on executive function, I described what the weaknesses in EFD might look like in a child.

The following is a list of executive functions:

  1. Analyze a task.
  2. Plan how to carry out the task.
  3. Organized the steps.
  4. Figure out how long it will take to complete the task.
  5. Change the steps of the task along the way when necessary.
  6. Complete the task by the time it is expected to be done.
  7. Keep track of materials along the way.
  8. Remember to submit the completed project.

Someone with problems with those areas will have problems independently doing required tasks on time, or at all.

In  Dr. Larry Silver’s  article in Attitude Magazine, he explains what good executive functions look like in a middle school child.

The middle school student learns that a book report is assigned with the due date written on the chalkboard. He or she decides which book to read, where to get that book, and about how long it will take to read it. As the student reads the book, the student will take notes, keeping in mind the required format for the book report. After the book has been read, the student has to write a rough draft, seek help if necessary, and write the final draft. All this has to be done by the due date. If the executive function skills are good, the book report will be completed and submitted on time. If executive function skills are weak, this assignment can be quite challenging for the student and probably for the person at home who supervises the young person’s homework.

Dr. Silver stresses the signs of EFD. Children and adults may have problems organizing materials and setting schedules. They misplace papers, reports, and other materials. They might have similar problems with their personal items and keeping bedrooms organized. They are frustrated with themselves, because no matter how hard they try, and no matter how many systems they put in place, they can’t seem to stay organized.

Patience with children with EFD is important, but helping them (and parents) with simple organizational strategies will benefit them not only with violin lessons, but also with school. The key word is simple. Complicated organizational systems that work for you will fall apart within the first week for a child with EFD.

Executive function strategies for the Suzuki violin student:

  1. Practice routine recorded clearly in a brief chart with spaces to check off what is done.
  2. A designated place for the violin and bow at home. They are returned there after each lesson and practice session.
  3. A designated place for the lesson assignment, kept near the violin and bow.
  4. A specified time to practice each day—preferably the same time each day.
  5. A clock that shows time passing. Time timer.

If the Suzuki violin teacher is knowledgeable about EFD, the child with that challenge can experience success with Suzuki violin lessons and also learn strategies by taking lessons, strategies that will be useful in school now and into adulthood.