What does Midori say about practice?


A short interview about practice with Midori Goto, violinist.

What I like about Midori’s answers about practicing is that they can be applied to our students, not just to the protégé.

“The more I did, the better I felt.”

“The more work you put into it—you can feel the results, you can see the results.”

“A few technical things that I have been working on…and finally I get it.”

While it would be nice to tell students that for each book they are in they should practice so many minutes, Midori reminds us that “it’s not so much about the number of minutes.”  We talk in our studio about practicing with intention.  Not just putting in the time.

Her comment that, “It’s the buildup of skills that is very exciting, and fun, and motivating” reminded me of what Suzuki wanted for students—skills.  The Suzuki Method is not about moving ahead in books!  It’s like Midori says—it’s  about the buildup of skills which will allow our students to progress comfortably into the next book, playing in tune.

SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY-  Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


Happy Memorial Day!

Memorial Day Tribute from Taylor Davis

Taylor plays the Star Spangled Banner and, using backtracks, pays tribute to each of  the service branches.  She says that she created this video at the suggestion of one of her YouTube subscribers.

Before you enjoy this video, know that Taylor says she played the military tribute part all by ear.

Taylor Davis is a classically trained violinist who became interested in video game music while in high school.  According to her website, she is the fastest rising star in the digital world.  In addition to being a violinist, she is a composer and an arranger.  She has released 5 albums, has over 100 million views on her YouTube channel, and has performed live on stage in both the United States and the United Kingdom.  Click here for her second YouTube channel called Behind the Scenes.

Looks like some practice and hard work went into Taylor’s career.

 I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. Thomas Jefferson

What does Bobby McFerrin teach us about our brain?

Fascinating view into how our brain is wired for music!

“In this fun, 3-min performance from the World Science Festival, musician Bobby McFerrin uses the pentatonic scale to reveal one surprising result of the way our brains are wired.”


♫ We use Music Mind Games in the studio to learn theory.

♫ The children have just as much fun as the audience does in this video!

Musicians may be able to solve problems more effectively and creatively… Anita Collins, Neuroscientist


A mistake is not a mistake is not a…

Why do children get upset when they make mistakes? Babies don’t!  They have to make mistakes all the time to learn new things. They aren’t afraid to try to repeat words they hear and say them wrong. They aren’t afraid to explore.

As a matter of fact we have to watch them carefully, or they will keep repeating the same mistake and might get hurt.  At what age do children begin to have negative feelings about making mistakes?

This post on mistakes is worth the read because it will help parents understand how to coach their child about mistakes during practice—and during life.

A Growth Mindset

A recent post on the Mindset Works website is about mistakes. Eduardo Briceno, CEO of Mindset Works, says that we want students to be aware of mistakes but not afraid of them. With a “growth mindset,” mistakes are not a bad thing.

Teach your child to look at a mistake and reflect on it. Mistakes will definitely happen in every area of life. Teaching young people how to react when they make a mistake is what parents can do through Suzuki violin practice. The lessons the children learn from the parent about mistakes will be used forever.

4 Types of Mistakes

As you read about Briceno’s mistake categories, think about how that can apply in terms of learning to play the violin.

  • Stretch mistakes
  • Aha! moment mistakes
  • Sloppy mistakes
  • High-stakes mistakes

Stretch Mistakes

These may happen when your child is trying to stretch beyond his or her capabilities.  Students have to challenge themselves to grow.  If we don’t allow our children (or ourselves) to make stretch mistakes, we limit growth.  Students can’t avoid making mistakes when challenging themselves. If your child keeps making the same stretch mistake over and over:

  • he may be “mindlessly going through the motions” rather than trying to focus on how to play accurately.
  • or she may be using a strategy that isn’t working and needs to change.  Sometimes going back to your notes taken during the lesson will reveal just the right thing to do to correct the stretch mistake.
  • or the child may be going beyond his skill and needs instead to back up and review.  It may be better to return to the new skill or song in a few days.  Remember the violin is a demanding instrument.  And your child should be commended for each effort.

Another way of talking about stretch mistakes is in the area called the zone of proximal development which is that place slightly beyond what we already can do without help.  See my blog post on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. The zone is the perfect place where learning takes place.  It’s the “sweet spot” of challenging your child or yourself.  It takes careful observation to determine where the zone falls for your child’s skills.

When your child is in that zone, and makes a mistake, help your child to:

  • identify what the mistake is.
  • or where it is.
  • Figure out what is going wrong,
  • and adjust the approach.

You may need to look again at the notes from class or even the video (good reason to video class).  The exciting part about making stretch mistakes is that you figure out the mistake, fix it, and then look for another challenge.  That’s a very nice characteristic to teach to your child.

Aha! Moment Mistakes

Briceno describes aha mistakes in this way: we make a mistake but discover that we did so because we lacked some bit of knowledge or insight.  These are very common.  An example of one aha mistake is a grease fire on the cooktop and throwing water on it.  (Aha–water makes a grease fire worse.)  When we make aha mistakes, it isn’t because we  haven’t pushed ourselves to learn something new; we discovered  something accidentally.  The questions you ask yourself or guide your child to ask are very helpful. Briceno says reflection is the key:

  • What was unexpected?
  • Why did that result occur?
  • What went well and what didn’t?
  • Is there anything I could try differently next time?”

These same types of questions are useful for students in school to ask about a test that they didn’t do well on (instead of crumpling up the test and throwing it away or hiding it from you).  They could use these types of questions to assess their study strategies.  After practicing the violin that a parent has videoed, a child could ask these same questions. So much growth could come out of this type of interaction with your child.

Sloppy Mistakes

These types of mistakes happen when we lose focus.  However, if your child makes too many sloppy mistakes, you can lead your child to reflect on why. Maybe your child is tired, and you still pushed forward with the practice.  You can turn these sloppy mistakes into aha-moments if you reflect and learn something.  You can agree with your child that practicing too late in the evening isn’t a great idea.  Or that breaking the practice sessions into smaller chunks of time is a better approach.

High-stakes Mistakes

Putting your best foot forward is an example of opening yourself to high-stakes mistakes.  Training for a recital puts a child in the position of learning how to “minimize mistakes and maximize performance,” learning how to perform as best as he or she can. It’s useful to help your child reflect after a recital or public performance to:

  • discuss how things went,
  • what he or she might do differently next time,
  • and how to better prepare for a future recital.

One take-away

It isn’t hard to visualize how these types of self-reflection are useful skills for children to learn for academic as well as life experiences outside of violin playing.  Help your child to assess the progress that he has made up to this point. It’s nice to save some of your earlier videos of your child playing the violin so that he can have actual proof of the progress that he or she has made.

If there is one thing we can count on when learning to play the violin, it is that there will be plenty of mistakes. Let’s make good use of them and teach our children something about life along the way.


If you aren’t making mistakes, then you aren’t doing anything.


Listen up!

Would you believe that by simply listening to a piece you can improve your performance?

If you are a Suzuki parent, you know that when your child listens to the pieces he or she is working on, it is a very good thing. But is there any research that can support that idea?

A study to find out about value of listening.

In Bulletproof Musician, Dr. Noa Kageyama writes about the value of listening in order to learn a piece even when you may not be able to increase your hands-on practice time. She reports on a fascinating study by Amir Lahav which actually demonstrates the impact that listening to a piece has on ability to learn that piece.

  • The research indicates that activating the auditory part of the brain affects the motor part.
  • When you listen to music–even if the music is merely in the background–the brain responds by affecting the part of the brain that controls movement.

The genius of Suzuki:

Once again, we see the genius of Shinichi Suzuki who instructed students to listen to the pieces they were learning when he was creating his Talent Education Method of teaching violin to children. He said to listen to the music often.

The takeaway:

The takeaway from this study is to put on the recordings when you are driving to and from school, lessons, or the mall. Listen to recordings when the child is playing. This study shows that playing the music in the background can be as useful for learning as listening actively. Be creative about giving your child every opportunity to practice, even if it doesn’t always involve moving fingers on the violin.

Description of the study:

Participants in the study were non-musicians and were taught how to play a 15 note musical piece, simply by ear (listening), on the keyboard. They practiced until they didn’t make any mistakes. By listening, they learned how to play the piece until they knew it well, and, for most, it took only 30 minutes.

The participants were divided into three groups.

  • 1st group: During the “test week,” one group listened with no distractions (passively) for three 20 minute sessions.
  • 2nd group: This group listened while working on a jigsaw puzzle for three 20 minute sessions–what they called listening “with distractions.”
  • 3rd group: This control group listened to nature sounds, not to the piece they had studied, for three 20 minute sessions.

The results of the study:

One week after the participants had begun the study, they were instructed to play the learned piece to the best of their ability.

  • Those who were given the opportunity to listen to the piece during the week outperformed the control group in pitch, rhythm, and dynamics.
  • What is even more significant for our purposes as a parent or teacher working with a child to learn to play the violin is that there was no difference in rhythm or dynamics in performance between the group that listened passively and the group that listened with distractions.
  • In only pitch accuracy was there a notably better performance in the group that was not distracted while listening.

Isn’t this almost a guarantee that it is helpful to your child to listen to the pieces they are learning many times a day even if it is playing softly in the background?

Suzuki knew learning theory!

The most important thing to do is really listen.  Itzhak Perlman


Happy Mother’s Day Suzuki Moms!


I probably do not say it often enough:

Suzuki moms are at the heart of violin lessons!


♥ You share the beauty of good music with your daughter or son.

♥ You create the enjoyable learning environment.

♥ You attend each private lesson and group class where you can be seen feverishly taking notes and taking note.

♥ You are the home teacher for a musical instrument known as one of the most difficult to play.

♥ You cheer successes and know just the right words when your child is on the verge of mastering a skill, but not quite there yet.

♥ Within your child’s earshot, you share with me what went well with your child during the week so he can feel good about it.

♥ With a smile, you sit through daily practice because you have the vision!

♥ And you see the benefits of your child working to achieve something bigger than him or herself, something that others without your vision, insight, and understanding might look at and label boring.

Click here to read the inspiring story from a mom who enrolled her kindergartener in Suzuki violin lessons.

He was born prematurely and struggled with speech and fine motor skills.  This is a mom with determination and vision, just like you.

Notes from a Suzuki Mom: The ‘Twinkle’ Year” by Aparna Asthana.

I guarantee you will laugh when she says:

My son stalled many violin practices with a need to document and scratch every mosquito bite.

He sometimes dropped to the ground in stubborn defiance and lay there for minutes listening to “Come Little Children” and “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”….

He played “Twinkles” for well over a year, slowly learning to focus for more than two minutes at a time….[with] a right hand that clutched the violin bow in a death grip.

I was busy composing my mental resignation letter to Dr. Suzuki for the 100th time.

And you will be deeply touched at his delight in making music.

 Happy Mother’s Day!

Itzhak Perlman: violin bow hold


Itzhak Perlman demonstrates in this video how to use the Franco Belgian bow hold.  He is a virtuoso, yet he can explain something simply and clearly.  He uses simple terms and demonstrations to make learning how to hold the violin bow easier.

Perlman reminds us that using a good bow grip helps produce a good sound.  He also points out that the wrist should be very flexible as you play. After all, your wrist has a joint in it. Use it!

Working with beginners to get the correct violin bow hold is time well spent.  Once the beginning steps are learned and reinforced through practice, the violin will have beautiful sound and tone.

I spend a lot of time forming the shape of the student’s bow hand and teaching the parent how to do the same thing at home.

Training the muscles of the hand and fingers to learn the hold takes time and patience.  I don’t  rush in early steps. This is time well spent with a big payoff.

Undoing bad habits is more difficult than learning correctly at the start.  Sometimes muscle memory is difficult for you to change. You can watch me form the bow hold on Pretwinklers on my YouTube channel.

Do not hurry. This is a fundamental rule. If you hurry and collapse or tumble down, nothing is achieved.  Shinichi Suzuki

Brian Lewis & Suzuki Rap

The Suzuki Association of the Greater Washington Area is lucky to have Brian Lewis as the violin clinician at the 2015 SAGWA String Festival which will be held at the Bullis School, Potomac, Maryland, on Saturday May 16.

On Sunday May 17, the concert will be held at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland,

From the Strathmore Website: Three hundred young violinists and cellists will perform works by Bach, Beethoven, Paganini, Suk, and others, led by guest clinician and international soloist, Brian Lewis.

Come and hear the artists of tomorrow and enjoy this lively and unique concert at the Music Center at Strathmore! Tickets can be purchased online at www.sagwa.org. Click on “events” and then: 45th Annual SAGWA String Festival – Tickets Only.



Click here for a PDF of the words to Brian Lewis’s Suzuki Rap from Violinist.com.  Laurel Niles has a great article about how Brian and a good friend came to came to compose the rap.

Click here for more information on the workshop and concert.

For more information on the Suzuki Method, click here.

If you want your baby to have a real shot in life, there’d better be a violin in her hands before she is three.  Jessica Love, Psycholinguist