Thoughtless Repetition -bad & ugly!

Repetition is fundamental, but bad and ugly?

One of my favorite Suzuki violin podcasts is the Teach Suzuki Podcast by Paula Bird.  Dr. Bird is an accomplished professional violinist and pianist, a college professor, and a private Suzuki teacher in Texas. The episode, “Reflections-Repeatedy Aiming for Better Things” discusses “the importance of perfect repetition in order to build good habits and to avoid the unwelcome process of unlearning incorrect habits.”  Bird agrees with Dr. Suzuki’s words of warning that “mere repetition is not enough.  Only bad and ugly things develop from thoughtless repetition.

Practice doesn’t make perfect–practice makes permanent.

Our brains are very good at learning through repetition.  Students and parents alike know that repetition is the way to master a piece or a certain part they are learning. However, Bird reminds parents to take care with repetitions. She says it’s the type of repetition that matters the most.  Practice doesn’t make perfect–practice makes permanent.

Uh Oh.

Bird describes what happens in the brain as the same thing that happens when we take a shortcut through a hedge to get to the other side faster.  We cut through the hedge one day, and the next, and the next.  Within a fairly short time, the path is very noticeable and more than likely permanent.  If you have seen someone put up a barrier to keep people from the path, how long did it take for the “hedge” to grow back?  Probably much longer than the original path took, if ever.

repetition

Path through hedge is like the neural pathway in our brain.

It happens the same way in our brain. If students play a piece incorrectly, however many times they were supposed to practice it, their brain gleefully learns the piece, although it is incorrect. And since our brains are very good at learning through repetition, the student has learned the lesson very well.

Oh no!

Now he has to unlearn the lesson.  The path in the brain is ingrained just like the path through the hedge.  The brain is very satisfied with itself. It will not be too easy to pry that learning from the grips of its gray matter.

Even worse…

Now the brain has to unlearn and relearn.  That’s almost too much to ask.  It can be done, but the student finds it daunting because of so many factors including the neural pathway created and the muscle memory established and the discouragement that the student spent so much time on it and did it wrong.

Good repetition

Bird’s warning to parents is to teach your child careful practicing, to watch your child practice so that the practice is perfect.  She offers advice to help,  recommending that the parent make a list of incorrect playing habits that your child’s teacher is typically addressing during lessons. Then check on those points at home.

In my studio, I urge parents to take complete notes.  And don’t be shy about asking your teacher to look over your notes to see if you got everything down correctly and completely.

I also encourage parents to take videos at certain times in the lesson with their phone or tablet as a way to be sure to get that lesson concept/skill correctly understood.  I will often ask a parent to take a video at a specific point in the lesson.  We have all been in the situation where we were sure we knew something only to realize an hour later that we couldn’t remember exactly how to do it.

Parents models of good habits

Finally, Bird says that parents should model good habits at home.  She warns that if what you do at home you do in a sloppy way, then the child sees that it is OK to have sloppy habits.  Don’t model sloppy habits in anything.

Bird’s podcasts are easy to listen to on your commute or in the car. She has many short (4 minute) recordings that will give you reinforcement of the Suzuki Method.


“Mere repetition is not enough.  Only bad and ugly things develop from thoughtless repetition.” Shinichi Suzuki


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How long should I practice a piece?

Practice the violin: Rewire your brain.

What do Circuit Training and practicing the violin have in common? 

Suzuki Love!

Our studio supports and uses the Suzuki Method for teaching violin! For so many reasons, it works. Because of this method, very young children learn to play one of the most capricious and difficult instruments.  How can this be?  It is because Dr. Shinichi Suzuki analyzed how to play the violin and how young children learn their native language, and then synthesized the results to create his Method. We benefit from his dedication.

Basic Elements of the Suzuki Method

The International Suzuki Association lists the basic elements:

  • An early start (aged 3-4 is normal in most countries)
  • The importance of listening to music
  • Learning to play before learning to read
  • The involvement of the parent
  • A nurturing and positive learning environment
  • A high standard of teaching by trained teachers
  • The importance of producing a good sound in a balanced and natural way
  • Core repertoire, used by Suzuki students across the world
  • Social interaction with other children: Suzuki students from all over the world can communicate through the language of music

Now for the Suzuki Love!

Violinist Ray Chen signed autographs including children’s Suzuki Violin Books while in Japan.  The children were elated. On a recent Facebook post, he writes that he

“loved doing Suzuki Method as a kid…I think for beginners it brings out the confidence especially in kids and the socializing aspect of the group is so much fun. I owe my enjoyment of music to my former Suzuki years! Thank you Japan! ありがとうございました!”

The Facebook comments reacting to this post revealed how popular and meaningful the Suzuki Method is to families.  Below are 6 comments from the many Facebook exchanges.

“I’m a violinist who learned traditionally, but my children are enrolled with a Suzuki studio. We all love it! It’s amazing how much motivation my children get from playing in group lessons! Everything is so well-organized with so many resources. I’m so glad we took the Suzuki route!”

“I totally agree with you [Ray Chen]!  When I was small, playing in a violin group lesson gave me confidence and made me feel like I had power! Also, learning with Suzuki Method gave me perfect pitch. That helps me a lot when I work now as a piano accompanist….”

“As a Suzuki parent, I must say: ‘how many Twinkle variations are there and how long do I have to listen to them?!!'”

Response from Dr. Paula Bird:  “They [Twinkle Variations] are different every time you listen. Perhaps Dr. Suzuki would say that how you listen and with what part of you (heart, ears, mind, soul) will yield a different sound each time.”

“I did individual lessons on Suzuki …never had a chance on being in a group. Sounds fun! :’)”[Group class in key to the Suzuki Method. That’s why the Davenport studio holds Group Class almost every week.]

“Suzuki love!”

Suzuki love closer to home

Suzuki love & busking

On one summer day we were busking for the Knights of Columbus fund raiser for people with Intellectual Disabilities outside a Food Lion in Reston. Afterwards, a mother wrote that her son was at home playing with a friend when mom reminded him of the event.

“Although he said he wanted to stay with his friend, once he saw you playing violin, he jumped out the car, grabbed the violin and rushed to you. After playing, he said, ‘I love violin.’ That was great to hear for me.  Thank you sooooo much for this opportunity and all the effort for [my son].”

Other parents see how valuable the Suzuki elements are:

“It has been wonderful experiences for myself as well learning music basics and meeting great families of other pupils. I truly feel my son and I am a part of Suzuki community.

“Eric also does fun things like Halloween performance which students play violin with their favorite costume. We also had picnic party at the park which was fun too.”

“When my then 4 and half years old boy said he wanted to learn how to play violin, I was quite skeptical. Although he was a bright boy, he was also a very rambunctious boy…His positive feedback works always with my boy because it is genuine and the energy is almost visible. “

Suzuki Love Hyatt

Suzuki Love Violin

In our studio, we embrace all of the basics of the Suzuki Method. Children learn at their own pace. The program individualizes the teaching for each child. They are not isolated as they learn this difficult instrument, the violin.  The group classes reinforce skills and the social aspects of music making. Frequent opportunities to play in public, to play for each other, gives each child confidence.

 

Suzuki love

As one early 4 year-old said in response to her preschool teacher’s question: What makes you special?   “I play the violin.” 


“I am mentally preparing myself for the five-year-old mind. I want to come down to their physical limitations and up to their sense of wonder and awe.”  Shinichi Suzuki


You may enjoy my other posts on a similar topic.

Suzuki Violin: The Dog Days of Summer~

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Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

Let’s Celebrate 51 Years of Suzuki in N. America

The Gift

What gift?  The gift that helps your child develop intellectually:  learning how to play a musical instrument. One of the most capricious instruments is the violin. Yet children, even young ones, can learn.  Here are some points to keep in mind to make sure your child reaps the full benefits of Suzuki music lessons.

Practice

Practice every day!  Students won’t make good progress if they skip days.  Just make it a habit.  Parents, treat practice like homework.  “This is what we do in our house.

You can’t make up for missed days of practice. For example, if you forgot to give your child his medicine for two days, would you then give him 3 days’ worth tomorrow to make up for that? You’d say that’s ridiculous.  It’s the same with practice.

Listening

Listening

Listening…Click on the photo to see the video.

Listening is the means to internalize a musical piece. Just like a baby learns to speak first by listening intently, then by trying out the words over and over, so too do Suzuki students learn to play an instrument.  First they listen to the pieces they will play in the future.  They internalize the pieces, even singing along with them.  Learning the pieces automatically makes it so much easier to play later.

If you have older children, you may have observed them as they learned the reading process.  When a child is learning to read, he has to learn the sound and letter relationships until they become automatic.  He has to internalize the structure of the written word.  Then he becomes a fluent reader. Another example is children learning the “times tables”.  That takes a lot of practice, but once the child internalizes them after practice, the facts are permanent.

Kerstin Wartberg wrote a short article for parents based on Dr. Suzuki’s advice to his teachers. In her article, she includes daily practice, review, and listening. She says about listening:

“The parents must assume responsibility for the daily listening of selected musical pieces; this is exclusively a matter of parental vigilance.”

She says parents often resist this idea thinking that musical talent is inherited.  But she disagrees with that belief.  Wartberg goes on to say that some parents “simply cannot accept the fact that it is largely their responsibility to awaken and build an ear for music in their children.

“Review” pieces

And after they learn a piece, review it every day.  Each day they will be polishing the piece they have already learned.  It makes perfect common sense.

Keep doing that with each added new piece.  Only when there are many pieces in the repertoire will you need to stop reviewing some of them.

A big payoff for this continual review– the Suzuki violinist will always have a piece at the ready to play should someone spontaneously say, “Hey, how about playing something for us on your violin?”

A gift to your child!

Wartberg believes that “the deliberate shaping of a child’s environment is a special and invaluable gift from parents to their children…Only that which is cultivated can also develop!”

Providing for an excellent musical experience is a gift. That experience could include music lessons and if you take the Suzuki Method, the effort to make sure the Suzuki pieces are playing in the background at home or in the car. Remember, you and your child can even hum along or sing to the pieces.  Take advantage of the opportunity to give your child lasting skills, those which enhance their intellectual abilities.


“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort…difficulty….”  Theodore Roosevelt


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Brain Power from a Challenge

Parents Need to Know

I Love to Practice!