Looking for good holiday gift ideas?

 Ideas that Shinichi Suzuki would approve!

If you are looking for a gift for the younger crowd that isn’t only about the latest cultural vacuum, here are some ideas.

This is a great CD to play in the car and a fun DVD set for the young ones: get the English version.  “Wunderkind Little Amadeus introduces classical music to children and their families, inspiring their musical creativity and encouraging them to become actively involved in music-making.”


Little Amadeus: Mozart for Children (CD)

 Little Amadeus: Season I (DVD)



Another good series is Beethoven’s Wig. Beethovenswig


These items can be purchased at a number of locations including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and naxosdirect.com.

Music is a moral law.  It gives soul to the universe….” Plato


Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin.

This is such a great book for the young crowd!  Teach them about the instruments of the orchestra with language that is rich in sound.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin. Young pretwinkle Suzuki students would enjoy this book.

With a mournful moan and silken tone,
itself alone comes ONE TROMBONE…

“Then a trumpet joins in to become a duet; add a French horn and voila! you have a trio — and on it goes until an entire orchestra is assembled on stage. Lloyd Moss’s irresistible rhymes and Marjorie Pricemans’s energetic illustrations make beautiful music together — a masterpiece that is the perfect introduction to musical instruments and musical groups, and a counting book that redefines the genre.”

“Music is a moral law…It gives wings to the mind….”  Plato

How does that triangle work?

The Suzuki Triangle

Suzuki coined the term Triangle which represents the relationship between child, teacher, and parent that makes it possible for a child to play the violin well.


In January of 2013, just before I began to teach violin lessons in Cusco, Peru, for 6 months, I taught and attended workshops at the XXVIII International Festival in Lima, Peru. I studied Books One and Two with the Suzuki Teacher Trainer from Minnesota, Nancy Lokken. The first thing Ms. Lokken did was to draw a triangle on the board like this:

simple triangle

The Suzuki Triangle


ages 3-6

Ages 3-6

The heavy black line of the initial stages of the Triangle, when the Child is very young, represents more communication, understanding, feedback, and dialogue between the parent and the teacher.

Even at home, when the teacher isn’t present, the parent is working with information and skills taught by the teacher. Yes, there is communication between the child and the parent, but there is not much independent thinking on the part of the child.



photo 1

Ages 7-10

Notice that there is a more even distribution of communication as the child ages between parent, teacher, and child. Even though these ages are approximate, it’s been my experience that children begin to take initiative and make decisions about their playing very early. However, the parent is still completely involved, still maintaining the dialogue with the teacher. The parent writes notes in class, asks questions at the end of a lesson, confides in practicing problems, shares in successes, and, of course, leads the home practice.




age 11 and up

Ages 11 and up

As the Child becomes more and more independent, the relationships begin to shift. The child and teacher eventually become the exclusive participants in lessons.

Some parents have a tough time at this stage, and I can understand. Unfortunately, if this shift doesn’t happen, the “young adult” doesn’t feel he or she is part of the process.  This age is tricky and so important.



Children around this age (each child is unique) must begin to take responsibility for what they like and don’t like about their playing. If they are to continue progressing meaningfully on the instrument, they must take more and more initiative and have more and more of an opinion about what they hear coming out of their instrument.

This means that the parent must not only refrain from interacting with the teacher or child during lessons, but parents should also “let a lot of things go” at the home practice. Things that they used to be charged with attending to, like playing in tune or using the correct bowings, might need to be ignored. Interfering with the child’s blossoming responsibility to listen to himself will slow his development as a musician, and frustration will ensue. In his book Helping Parents Practice, Edmund Sprunger addresses this stage at length and gives parents excellent ways to handle home practice.

 This really does happen!

To share an anecdote from an Atlanta area Suzuki teacher, Martha Yasuda: A 9-yr. old student asked her after a so-so performance at the student recital – “How do I get to sound better on the violin?  I just don’t think I sounded that great like some of the others did.”

Mrs. Yasuda answered, “You probably won’t like my answer, but here it is–you need to follow better directions when I tell you to do things in lessons.”  She reports they proceeded to fix all the posture problems  they had been working on, and the child transformed completely right before her eyes.  The child even commented: “I’m pretty sure my wrist is way too high.”

As Mrs. Yasuda says, “My most euphoric moment of maybe the  past decade or more!”

The triangle has matured!

“If you put it off until some other time, you will never get it done, because ‘some other time’ has its own tasks…” Shinichi Suzuki

Orchestras-They’re not just for adults!

Playing in an orchestra is like nothing else in the world

Richmond Family Magazine‘s (8/15/15) article describes the Richmond Symphony and its youth orchestra.

Doug Brown recalls his experience as a youth playing in an orchestra.  Brown states that “Playing in an orchestra is like nothing else in the world.” He has made that opportunity available to three of his six children.

Reacting to Brown’s comment about playing in an orchestra, the Symphony’s music director, Steven Smith, states that “Our world is filled with technologies and debates that divide us.  The arts bring us together.” It’s hard to disagree with that.

It takes commitment to be able to reach the level to play in a youth orchestra, but young, Yixuan Zhao, says it is worth it because playing in the group “feels like everything else is not real.  It’s an incredible feeling.”  This tenth grader says that when she plays, her mind is “completely concentrated on the music…I don’t get that from other things.”

Zhao also believes that studying music has helped her excel in academics.  She thinks that “knowing how to practice helps [her] study better and be more focused as a person in general.”

We have many opportunities for students in Northern Virginia to play in school orchestras and in youth symphony orchestras.  Help your child see what it would be like to do that.

Listening is valuable too!

Listening to good music is a keystone of the Suzuki Method. Aimee Halbruner, the director of education and community engagement for the Richmond Symphony, says she has been taking her son to the symphony starting at an early age.  She says that in the beginning he always brought a book with him and might have read during most of the concert, but still heard the music in the background.

This is So Suzuki!  Dr. Suzuki says to play good music for hours during the day, playing it softly in the background so the child will be immersed in beautiful sound and develop his ear.

Halbruner says that as her son grew older, he put down the book more and more frequently during the concert, pausing to listen fully, until he eventually left his book at home.

Here at Reston, parents can check the Lake Anne calendar and  Wolftrap for concerts.  Click here for my Resources page for links to other local performing groups.  The month of December is a great time to get out to concerts!

It’s not difficult to give our children the opportunities that are available–not just for an academic leg-up, but for the sheer love of music. We are hard-wired for it, you know! Click here to read my blog post, “Was Our Brain Wired First for Music or for Language?”

Photo credit: Derek Gleeson / Foter / CC BY-SA

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” Shinichi Suzuki

What do Circuit Training and Practicing the Violin have in common?

Why should students mix it up when practicing the violin?

Many adults have tried the gym’s circuit training section.  It consists of several different exercises, each done for a short period of time.  It’s a plan to help cut down on boredom and increase physical fitness.

Bass player Paul Robinson reports in Strings (August 1, 2015) that the same concept found in circuit training can be applied to practicing an instrument. He likes to get his students to mix it up when practicing a musical instrument.  He bases his ideas on brain research and maybe a little common sense:

~Bored brains don’t learn much.~


Robinson: “Keep It Random”

Robinson uses “out of the hat” exercises.  Students randomly draw cards requiring a three-to-five-minute focus on a particular skill or piece of music. Of course for a preschooler, drawing from the hat would be fun to do just to change-up the order of things since their practice sessions are so brief.

Older students can practice for longer periods.  But there is a benefit to varying activities and also breaking up the practice into shorter sessions.



Another idea from Robinson: Do not repeat the same exercise until it is perfect.  He suggests practicing a section you are trying to learn and then doing something different, then returning to the part you are trying to learn again.

This may be more difficult to do, but the brain has to stay on task and as a result doesn’t get bored. The idea of “desirable difficulties” is that making practice more difficult can actually increase long-term retention.


Why do musicians resist this way of practicing even though they may find that what they practiced yesterday to perfection seems to disappear overnight?  

People in sports use this approach, called “interleaving practice,” more than those in education or music have.

The question is why do students resist “interleaving practice,” or variable practice strategy?

Students feel, and it is true, that a block of practicing the same thing for a longer period of time has good results.  BUT the results are not as long-lasting as when people use the circuit approach‑‑interleaving practice.  The same concepts apply to academics as to music.

Long-term retention has been shown to be better when we “mix it up.”

You can learn even more about interleaving practice: Dr. Robert Bjork explains how he became interested in long term memory.


“Once [students] understand what leads to long-term retention, they dare to venture into the discomfort zone.” Christine Carter


Featured image credit