Practice: 10 Points

Practice: 10 Points

The Importance of Mom or Dad!

Why is practice so important? You meet with the teacher twice a week, once for private Suzuki violin lessons and once for group class. But the rest of the week, students skills improve when they practice Suzuki violin.  That’s why you are so important.

Enid Wood wrote an article in the American Suzuki Journal, Summer 2007, entitled, “On Structuring Practice at Home: Ten Points to Ponder.” Which of these 10 do you find most intriguing, most important, least likely to be done when you practice Suzuki violin?

PRACTICE more often than not.

I might add, Just Do It!

  • If you establish a daily practice routine, there is no discussion of “should we.”
  • You may want to (read that “Have To”) be clever and creative.
  • One clever parent called practice, Violin Club.
  • Stickers are motivational for some children.  They can earn one each day from a box and when the outside is full of stickers, they get to see what is in the box!

practice Suzuki violi


LISTEN to the recorded music.

  • Wood makes the point that if the child is struggling to remember the sequence of notes, s/he won’t be able to work on technique or interpretation.
  • Playing the pieces softly in the background gives the brain the opportunity to learn.  You don’t have to blast the music so that it becomes like fingernails on a chalkboard. (I can’t visualize Dr. Suzuki ever suggesting that.)
  • Listen to review pieces and the pieces from the next book.
  • With today’s technology, it’s easy to have the music in the car, in the play area, and in the bedroom.
  • Listening WILL help children “learn tricky music without giving up.”

practice suzuki violin

REVIEW the repertoire.

  • “Review pieces are like an ever-increasing vocabulary. We add new pieces; we don’t replace the old ones.”
  • Here’s where clever and creative are rewarded.
  • “Surf & Turf” —”Productive practice includes a balance between playing through pieces in their entirety and isolating small sections in order to dig out the beauty in them.”
  • “Twice as much review as new”—” a wise plan for some families because it builds confidence and reinforces skill.”
  • Christine Goodner has clever ideas in 20 Ways to Review Your Suzuki Pieces

GROUP Activities

  • Attend your studio’s group classes routinely to develop the social skills of playing together.
  • Join orchestra when offered.
  • Invite a Suzuki friend or 2 to your place to practice!

MASTER each step before going on.

  • Suzuki teaches to mastery.  No hit or miss here.
  • Wood says “thorough mastery of each small step leads to excellence for all.”
  • Get creative with a chart: done, memorized, fluent, beautiful tone.


  • Practice makes permanent. Be sure your child is practicing correctly.
  • Repeat until no mistakes are made several times in a row.
  • Be sure to have a creative way to keep track of the repetitions. Wood suggests lining up dominoes and knocking them down.  A line of stuffed animals disappears after each repeat. There are lots of creative use for Legos during practice.

Beautiful TONE at the Beginning & End

  • Begin & end each practice with a beautiful sound.
  • Experiment how tone is changed depending on body movements while playing.
  • Listening can help with tone.  If the child hears the intonation in their head, they are more likely to replicate it.

practice Suzuki violin

POSTURE is important.

  • Pay attention to posture, balance, and release of tension.
  • It’s ok to make mistakes in practice and in class.  We don’t want stress and tension.
  • Turn technique into a game. Flip a coin to concentrate on the right or left hand.

PARENTAL participation

  • Want a great advantage?  Be sure to be there for your violin child.
  • Unless you are in the stage of giving more independence, parents must supervise daily practice in order to see progress.
  • Listen to your child as s/he plays.


  • Choose reachable goals.
  • Quit while you’re ahead.
  • Steps:  1. Praise cooperation and completion of a task. 2. Notice beauty and individuality. 3. Only after those two steps can you make suggestions for changes in playing.
  • Back up and do something fun, easy.  A review piece.
  • Don’t expect perfection from your child.  S/he is only a kid once.
  • Don’t expect perfection from yourself.

“Nothing improves hearing more than praise.”  Shinichi Suzuki

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The Suzuki Method: It’s Real Violin Instruction

Why the Suzuki Method works for all ages & levels

The Suzuki Method of violin instruction is brilliant for starting new players of all ages as well as for teaching advanced players. Often people think of Suzuki as if it’s only for youngsters because it is a system that works brilliantly for those who are preschool age!  But the brilliance of this method is that the skills built early on are continuously developed through the advanced pieces.

Suzuki teachers who instruct advanced students have studied how advanced books and supplementary materials complement each other.   They know how and what their student needs to advance their skills.  At the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point, for example, the advanced students have developed high level skills solely through their Suzuki instruction.


Suzuki violin Suzuki instruction

Early start to violin instruction

In traditional violin instruction, parents often are told that their children should not begin learning the violin until age 10.  Starting much earlier was Suzuki’s revolutionary idea.  This idea was not new. After all, Jascha Heifetz started violin at age two! But certainly Suzuki made the idea much more mainstream. We have strategies for working with some children as young as 2.  These same sequential strategies work for older students including adults. Everything we learn in Suzuki builds flawlessly on previous skills.

Talent can be learned

In the past many traditional studios required students to pass a “talent test” to join their studio.  However, Suzuki said that anyone who wished to play violin could join his studio. He encouraged other teachers to do the same. “Suzuki famously believed that every child has innate ability that can be — and should be — cultivated with a nurturing and music-rich environment.”  It is often easier to mold a malleable brain of a young child.  However, everything depends on the motivation and persistence with older students.

Persistence counts!

Another old-fashioned idea that also doesn’t hold up is that you can tell when a student walks in your studio for the first lesson, whether or not he or she will be a good student. Most Suzuki teachers would not agree with that, nor would anyone who has taught for a long period of time.

Many students who seem to lack talent at their first lessons will work hard and turn into fine musicians. And those who seem talented in the beginning will grow only with practice and persistence. Sometimes they aren’t inclined to do the necessary work and see little progress.


Suzuki violin instruction

Children don’t need “childish music” to learn to play the violin

Traditional violin instruction used to be based on musical pieces that were manufactured specifically to learn to play violin.  The Suzuki Method uses real music pieces with high artistic merit.  Professor of violin and violin pedagogy, Mark Bjork said his childhood teacher told him he was not ready to play “real music.”  Suzuki wanted children to play real music, the same type of music he wanted them to listen to.

He used folk music, Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi and other composers to reach that goal. The music is organized in a way that helped students learn skills which were key to each piece. He didn’t want to use cute kids’ music, only music which had artistic or cultural merit. Kids can tell the difference.  There is a popular movement today in many traditional methods to use music that lacks artistic merit. It is manufactured to appeal to children. Suzuki believes children like to play real artistic pieces.

Since Suzuki teachers use real music for all students, there is no music that doesn’t fit the age they are at right now.  We don’t have to search for appropriate teen or adult pieces.  You can study the Suzuki repertoire at any age!

Listening to recordings

Suzuki was a man ahead of his time! He said listen to the recording before you try to play the piece. Bjork says, “These days nearly every method book sold to schools comes with a recording. Why? Because it works.” Listening to what the piece should sound like will not hinder the ability to play the piece.

Many and diverse artists have emerged from the Suzuki methodLeila Josefowicz, Hilary Hahn, Anne Akiko Meyers, Regina Carter, Lara St. John, Jennifer Koh, Nicola Benedetti, Ray Chen, Frank Almond, Brian Lewis, and Martin Chalifour, to name just a few. They are a testament to the fact that they did not turn out to be “robots” because they listened to the repertoire!

Listening is a strategy to use when you need to learn a piece.  It only makes common sense that you would listen to recordings to hear what the piece sounds like before you begin to sight-read.

What is the Mother Tongue Approach?

Perhaps the most unusual Suzuki idea was his Mother Tongue  approach.  He said that since all children learn to speak their native language, they can gain musical fluency in that same way. “All his ideas — start early, repeat things, do things as a group, listen before learning — stemmed from [the Mother Tongue] approach.”

I can attest that we observe how learning takes place in our Suzuki Early Childhood Education class for babies and toddlers.  We repeat, have a group, encourage good listening skills, and start the youngest babies as soon as mom can get to a class.  Yet even advanced violin students must listen to the recording, practice over and over, and play with others to hone their skills.

Suzuki violin instruction

Finishing the Suzuki repertoire

The Mother Tongue idea applies to more than beginners; it also applies to students who have moved beyond the Suzuki books.  Some people have the mistaken idea that Suzuki is only for beginners. However, the Suzuki program is based on analyzing pieces.  You study the piece for skills you have learned in the past, always building on previously learned skills.

Bjork has written a book on the more advanced student called Expanding Horizons: The Suzuki-Trained Violinist Grows Up.  He explains how the Suzuki Method is expanded to use with more advanced players:  “Children’s early efforts at speaking involve a great deal of ‘parroting’ what they hear from the people around them. ‘But then the individuality and thought processes start to develop.’  Just as adolescents and young adults learn to speak their own ideas through their acquired language, so does the violinist discover his or her own expressive capacities on the violin.”

When the Suzuki Triangle is no longer needed

Suzuki violin lessons baby toddler class

The Suzuki teacher who relied on the Suzuki triangle (teacher, child, parent) early on gives the child more and more independence. The parent does the same. When is a good time for parents to give steps of independence to their child?  Perhaps it starts with the student practicing by herself for part of her practice time.  The parent checks in for the other half.  Perhaps the student will ask to attend lessons without the parent.  That’s the time to see if it’s appropriate to let go of the earlier need for that strong Suzuki triangle which led to the child’s success.

In our studio, I begin a process of developing an independent attitude very early.  Children and parents have to believe that they have the ability to work together. They have the teacher at only one private lesson a week and one group class once a week. The parent-child team carries most of the burden of learning.

Furthermore, I teach young children the steps to lead a group and to lead in front of an audience.  They learn to play outside the Suzuki environment such as a retirement home without my presence (Obviously the parent has to make the physical arrangements, but once there, the student takes over.)

Although Suzuki’s original fame was for violin instruction with the very young, he never indicated that this method was no longer useful after a certain level of achievement.  The method he designed is strategically planned and used by trained Suzuki teachers with students who play at the highest level of competency.


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Suzuki Violin Lessons: Persistence and Diligence

 Persistence and Diligence!

Suzuki 3 year old

Suzuki violin lessons paid off for Emma!  She started violin lessons when she was 4, and now she is going into the 2nd grade this fall. She found out she will be placed in the Advanced Academic Program at her elementary school as a result of her academic scores.  Mom feels that Emma’s academic skills were bolstered by her Suzuki violin lessons.  Emma is not only persistent and diligent, she is also a great leader.

Suzuki violin baby toddler music class lessons

Emma is also a great leader.

Since Emma was very young, she was given opportunities to lead her peers in our Suzuki Group Class and at our recitals.  Emma (leading at a recital above with her back to the camera) has always maintained a special decorum which demands respect and attention.  And let’s not forget, we are talking about a child younger than a first grader!  We are grateful to have Emma in our Suzuki program.  We all benefit from her presence, and we are so proud she was rewarded for her efforts.

This quote from Shinichi Suzuki about violin lessons fits Emma.

Anything you think of doing, however insignificant, should be done immediately. Spur yourself on and carry it through without becoming discouraged. If this becomes an ingrained habit, things you thought were impossible will become possible, and closed doors will open, as you will discover in many ways.

Finally, we cannot forget the role of the Suzuki mother or father.  Emma’s mother has been at Emma’s side, taking notes at violin lessons, teaching Emma how to practice at home, and bringing her to our weekly group classes.  Her mom saw the benefit of Suzuki violin lessons when Emma was 4.  And she did not waver throughout the several years to see Emma developing fine violin playing skills.  Thanks, Mom!

“Oh the places you’ll go.”  Dr. Seuss

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What is the Suzuki environment?

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Did you surprise yourself?

Suzuki violin

“Did you surprise yourself?”

My colleague Brecklyn Smith Ferrin, a Suzuki violin teacher and SECE teacher in Utah as well as a Suzuki mom, recently posted about her almost 5 year-old son who was at the beginning of his Suzuki violin journey with his teacher. He was frustrated and exclaimed words we all have heard, “I can’t do it.  I don’t know how.”

His teacher gently encouraged him, giving him her full confidence that he could.  When he successfully completed the task, holding the violin under his chin with his head—no hands—he was elated! “It was magic,” his mom says watching the delight on her young son’s face.  What did he learn that day?  He learned he could!  He learned that if he puts his mind to it and tries, he can accomplish things that are hard, things he doesn’t think he knows how to do.  In the safety of his Suzuki violin lessons, he is building resilience.  With the safety and skill of his violin teacher, he will build his character and even a beautiful heart.

Such are Suzuki violin lessons!  Develop a fine musician and, if given a chance, fine character.

Building fine Suzuki violinists

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki is the creator of the method that allows even very young children to play the violin very well.

The Suzuki Method relies on exposing children to good music from an early age. Children develop advanced listening skills as well as a memory for pieces they will play. He believed they would then be able to “translate that listening ‘environment’  to a beautiful sound on an instrument.”

His revolutionary method took violin teachers in the US by surprise and delight. Violin pedagogue John Kendall arranged for Suzuki to come to the US in 1964 with 10 Japanese children, ages five to 13, for a concert tour.  The tour included New York and 18 other cities, dazzling parents, educators and members of the news media.  Seeing and hearing the young children play helped the method gain a permanent foothold in the US.

Nothing is hit or miss.

Violin teacher, Louise Wear switched from traditional teaching methods to Suzuki in 1966, shortly after Dr. Suzuki’s tour. She taught her daughter, Linda Fiore who later studied in Japan with Dr. Suzuki for 18 months and became an accomplished violinist and Suzuki teacher.  Louise Wear who began training teachers in the Suzuki Method, says ”The main points of the Suzuki method are start early, parent involvement, lots of listening, lots of repetition, and take one step at a timeNothing is hit or miss.

By 1983, Mrs. Evelyn Rubenstein, piano teacher and on the faculty of the U. of St. Louis said  “I am impressed with the [Suzuki] method because I have seen the results.”  Very young children (and older ones too) performed very well.  If playing well means having good tone, then listening is the method.  When a child listens  frequently to the piece s/he will eventually play, by the time the child is ready to play the piece, s/he can sing it in her head and hear and even correct her own mistakes.

While listening to the same pieces repeatedly might seem tedious, Wear says that she doesn’t mind listening over and over to ”Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (the first Suzuki piece). ”I’m not listening to the piece of music – I am listening to the child’s development,” she says.

Rubenstein said Suzuki students “learn to play the violin correctlyTheir ear is attuned. They can accomplish more because they don’t have to spend time at the beginning learning to sight-read.  They can play beautiful things.”  The Suzuki Method is excellent for young children.  Suzuki-trained musicians who start at a young age seem better equipped and more successful at performing.  Their ear-to-hand coordination is developed very well. “They have a sense of pitch and tone that some students using other methods never attain.”

Every child has 2 types of Suzuki lessons

A private Suzuki violin lesson is structured with the teacher, child and parent (sometimes with a baby in tow). The parent watches carefully and take notes for what and how to practice at home.  Without notes, parents may not remember the finer details for the week.  And the real learning takes place during the practice.

Group class is another reason for success with the Suzuki Method.  It’s a lot more fun to play together in groups than to practice alone.  We hold weekly group classes in our studio, which our students look forward to.

They know they can!

The past president of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Doris Preucil says the proof is in the pudding. ”Of the next generation of young musicians, many have come from Suzuki programs. You see the quality of the playing, and this cannot be denied. And you see the happiness of the children in what they are doing.” They know they can!  Brecklyn’s son’s delight in himself is proof of this.


“They use me only for switching trains in the yard. I have never been over the mountain…I think I can.” The Little Blue Engine

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What is the Suzuki environment?

What did Dr. Suzuki mean by environment?

When Dr. Suzuki first began to develop a system for teaching children to play the violin, he came to the conclusion that every child had the ability to play the violin.  That was really a shock to most people who had felt only certain children were born with the talent to play. His attitude is very positive and inclusive.

Every child can learn to play the violin.  All they need are 3 things:
a proper environment
a lot of positive support
good teaching.

When he explained his ideas about teaching children how to play the violin,  Suzuki spoke about 9 important elements essential to a child learning to play such a complicated musical instrument.  One of the 9 elements is “a nurturing and positive learning environment.”  That environment would help ensure a positive experience with the violin, an opportunity for the youngster to grow in musicianship.

What exactly does he mean by “environment”?

If we think about what environment means, we would include the space we live in, our neighborhood, and probably the school our children attend.  For adults, we include the environment at work; is it friendly, competitive, hostile?

We can visualize how we would react in each of those work environments with either stress or enjoyment. Even for adults, an environment that nurtures growth of skills is important. It is even more important for children.

The environment for the child to learn to play a musical instrument includes the physical space and the attitudes of those around.  It would be nice to have an area of a room where the violin could be kept safely in its case.

A place where there won’t be a lot of distractions which might pull the child away from the goal to practice. Ideally, it wouldn’t be a noisy space.   It would be a space the child could think of as being his or her practice  space just like you provide a space for children to associate with doing homework.

However, above all else, the environment for your child to be successful for mastering the violin (or anything else in life) is you.  You are the key to a positive nurturing environment. You are it!

Parents are the best model.

As Christine Goodner explains in her book, Beyond the Music Lesson, you, mom and/or dad, are the practice environment.  Your support and involvement in your child’s life is the most important piece of the child’s environment.  Your belief that your child will absolutely learn to play the violin through whatever it takes is the environment in which this “miracle” will happen.

Your belief that your child will learn to play the violin will influence how you approach daily practice.  And daily practice is where it is at.  The violin lesson happens one day a week.  Group class is one day.  But the other days belong to you!

Providing lots of praise during practice so that it is always a positive experience is the environment that makes learning happen. Parents always talk about the violin with positive terms.  Parents won’t allow siblings to criticize the attempts during the early learning stages.

Parents always boost the child’s confidence reassuring them that while this might be a difficult challenge, they will be able to do it.  Suzuki knew that each child develops at his or her own pace.  But they will develop. Children learn that the hard work will result in a skill that not many other children possess.  And that is where the payoff is.  They have achieved something great!

We give our daughter violin lessons because we don’t want to deprive her from working hard to reach a goal.

Suzuki wanted to develop character first, then ability.  Parents are the key figures in creating that environment for character first.

By playing a musical instrument, the child would gain the satisfaction that comes from the ability to do something well.   Suzuki’s aim was not “to produce professional musicians but to expand children’s sensitivities, self-esteem, discipline, determination, and cooperation “ thereby making noble human beings” of all children.”

And that’s the simple Suzuki explanation of  environment.

The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents. Dr. Suzuki


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Happy 4th of July 2017!

Happy Birthday, USA!

4th Suzuki violin

A Capitol Fourth, July 4th, 2017, is always a good website for information and links to the events in DC.

Suzuki students know the benefits of listening to music.  Why not add John Philip Sousa to your list?

Listen to John Philip Sousa’s Patriotic Marches. He wrote 135 marches.  “Stars and Stripes Forever” top the list on this page.

4 Reasons: The violin, great choice for first instrument

Taking music lessons helps children in many ways such as improving math, comprehension, and problem solving skills.  When parents are thinking of starting their child on a musical instrument, which one should they think about? Out of all the musical instruments to choose from, why choose the violin?

Here are 4 reasons why the violin is a very good choice for a first instrument.

1. Increased brain activity: You must use both physical and mental abilities when you are learning to play the violin. For example, physically, violinists stand while they play the violin.  Their feet must be in a certain position as must their left and right arms. An extra advantage to standing is that active children may like the  opportunity to be able to move while playing.   Mental abilities are challenged with the violin as well. It is quite the complicated instrument to learn to play.  But even very young children can learn to play well.

2. Auditor training:  Learning to play a stringed instrument promotes better auditor training. For example, to play the piano, you merely press down on the key and you are playing in tune.   A violinist must carefully listen for pitch and make adjustments as he plays. This gives the violin student opportunity for auditory training. We can teach a child from a very early age to hear herself play and adjust.

Suzuki love & busking

Playing at a fund-raiser.

3. Playing with others: Because playing the violin provides lots of opportunities to play with others such as in orchestras or chamber groups, violinists develop ensemble skills early. Further, it’s just fun to play with other students. Children who are part of a Suzuki studio will develop opportunities for amateur performances, practice sessions, and even fund-raising events.  Little ones can play along with the older ones.  An active, vibrant Suzuki violin studio holds many events at which children can play together and for others.


4. Portable instrument: The size of violins makes them easily fit in any house or apartment compared to a piano, for instance. Further, a violin is compact enough to travel with you, making it possible to keep up a practice schedule or to play for Gramma during visits to her house.  You can even put violins in the car and play at the Herndon Depot on a nice day!

Violin lessons are a lot of fun with many benefits!

Some of the information above comes from the String Ovation website.

“Learning violin… builds the life skills you need to succeed.” String Ovation

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Kids don’t like to be ordered around: what to do about it.

Suzuki violin lessons

I can’t speak for you, but many adults don’t like to be ordered around either. If you try to look at the world from a child’s point of view, you find they are ordered around all day long—most of it for good reason. We have to keep them safe and healthy, teach them life skills such as cleanliness and social skills that will help them get along with others.

Yet, if we see “keep off the grass signs” or a rope strung between two posts which we know indicates we should not take that shortcut, we might do it anyway—just this one time!  Drive on the interstate and watch who follows the speed limits—as if it is a speed suggestion. Look at a stop sign that people think says, “Stop if you think you have to, but if you think it is safe keep rolling on through.” Many adults may be squirming in their seats right now.

Kids, too,  find demands just a bit tempting. Maybe it’s human nature. But regardless of what it is, let’s figure out how to get what we need to get from children between the ages of 2 and 7. And most of all how to enjoy them at any age no matter how tired we feel.

In the book, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, authors Johanna Faber and Julie King offer many creative ideas and anecdotes abut ways to get kids to do what we want without constant battles.

I don’t like to be threatened.

And neither do you.  And neither does a child.  Some parents ask then, what is the difference between a threat and a consequence?  If we can’t tell a small unruly child what to do, what is left?

Let’s dissect a threat.  Faber and King explain that what children hear is not always what we say. For example, when you say:  “If you throw sand one more time,  we’re going straight home.”  What the child hears is “Throw sand…one more time.” Your words become an irresistible challenge.

And the authors warn NOT to think you are softening your request with “please.”  You don’t really mean to accept a “No, thank you,” to your hidden demand—”Please get in the car now.” What would you do if your child says, “No, thank you.”

OK, so I can’t demand. Now what do I do with “the smart, illogical, unruly creature known as a human child”?

Here are 6 ideas from How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen.


1. Get the teddy bear to talk!

Or any inanimate object.  For the seven and under crowd, making an inanimate object talk is a fun way to get their attention and maybe get what you want too. For example, say, “The lonely shoe is whining—I feel cold and empty. Won’t someone put a warm foot in me?”

The cups can screech, “Don’t leave me out here by myself. I gotta get in the sink with my buddies!”

2. Boring, boring!

Turn a boring task into a challenge or a game.

I know when I have to clean up the studio or my car, I don’t really feel like doing it. But it needs to get done, and I can put on ear buds, play music that I love, even set a timer to see how quickly I can accomplish the task, and get to work.

We can teach young children this same mindset. They will always and forever have tasks that are ~boring~ but that have to be done. This is the time and place to start a positive attitude toward boring tasks and training for a useful strategy that they can use until the day they are trying to get their own children to do things.

So, instead of saying to the children, “Look at this mess. You know you are supposed to clean up your room before you can….do this or that…”

Turn the task into a game or challenge: “How many seconds do you think it will take to toss all your dirty clothes into this basket? 20? I don’t think so. That’s way too short a time but it’s worth a try.”

“Instead of saying get in the car NOW.” Instead try, “We have to get all the way from the house to the car. Let’s try hopping!”

Instead of demanding they leave a friend’s house, think of “avoiding alligators as you leave.”

Or when you need to settle them down, ask them to “be as quiet as a little mouse hiding in the grass from a cat” rather than saying “be still” or “be quiet.”

Why do all this:  

Takes less energy to make it a game or a fun time than dealing with whining and resistance.

Sets a nice tone.

Makes people feel more loving and cooperative.

Teaches children how to turn a tedious task into a pleasant activity.

3. Oh boy, give them a choice!

Both choices have to be pleasant! Not a choice as to whether they want to get in the car or not…but would you want to “take giant steps to the car or to skip to the car.”  “Do you want your bath with bubbles or boats?”

“Would you like to get your practice over with or would you rather have a snack first. Do you want to practice in the kitchen or in your room? Do you want to practice in the hall or out on the porch? On Skype for Gramma or in front of your Anna doll? “

4. Who’s in charge here?

“I want to be in control!’ grumbles every toddler ever. But of course they can’t be in charge.  But ask yourself, which one of us doesn’t like to feel they have some control.

Faber and King give an example if your child won’t wear a jacket: If you don’t want to argue every day about whether your child wears a jacket or not, make a weather chart with a real thermometer attached and drawings for proper clothing at appropriate temperatures on the thermometer. Hang it outside and Voilà! Then ask the child what the weather is like and ask them what you should wear. Brilliant! Now who’s in charge, eh?

Suzuki lessons

How about for when they have to stop something they enjoy doing? The Time Timer is a great tool. It shows red for how long is left so children can begin to understand predicting lengths of time. This skill is underappreciated because as children grow older, they will have to predict how long homework or any task will take. Those who can’t predict time  are often the ones who are late with homework or doing that term paper the night before.

Image source:


5. Give information not demands!

Rather than saying: “Get in your car seat “or “put your seatbelt on now! Or else you aren’t going to …”

Instead say: “The policemen insist everyone buckle children in car seats” or that “everyone must wear a seatbelt.” I am not going to pretend that some children some of the time won’t argue anyway. But remember, redirect and distract as much as possible.

6. Use 1 word!

What does Charlie Brown hear from his teacher?


Some children don’t process long explanations or demands. It’s all just words. Children aren’t being rude; they just don’t process all those words. Further, we are not training them to discern what is important in those long demands: “Put your toys away in the box like I told you before. There isn’t a maid who comes through each day to clean up after you. You know what I told you before about this.”

Train the children by saying in a pleasant voiceToys!  Just as Charlie Brown doesn’t hear a word his teacher says, neither does your child after a while.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: a new 2017 edition includes a chapter for working with children who have autism or sensory processing issues.

“Any child can be developed. It depends on how you do it.” Shinichi Suzuki

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It’s easy to raise musical kids!

Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents, Robert Cutietta

Cutietta believes that NOW is a time when it’s easier to raise musical kids than ever before.

He talks about “the challenges, joys and importance of getting the best possible music education for children.” From the many ideas in his book, two stand out: listening to good music and keeping children motivated.

 Listening to good music

Suzuki parents know all about the listening requirement in order to learn pieces about to be played.  He also encouraged playing good music from the day of birth.  Cutietta calls this “bathing your homes in music.”  He explains that music is made up of “rhythm patterns, pitch patterns, and timbre,” unique to each style of music from country to classical to Chinese. Your child’s brain will recognize the patterns by repeated listening. Playing the music in the background is an unconscious music lesson, according to Cutietta.  Since the book was written in 2001, we have even easier ways to bathe our homes in music; bluetooth permits us to have wireless speakers all over the house run by a cell phone.

In addition to the Suzuki pieces that your child will be playing, other good listening can come from his suggested listening library in Appendix D.  Some are listed here–

  • Adagio for Strings, Barber
  • Annie, Broadway Show
  • Appalachian Spring, Copland
  • Mother Goose, Prokofiev
  • Bolero, Ravel
  • Brandenburg Concertos (1-6), Bach
  • Canon in D, Pachelbel
  • Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Mozart
  • Fantasia, Disney
  • Nutcracker Suite, Tchaikovsky
  • Symphony No. 5 and 6, Beethoven
  • Symphony No. 40, Mozart
  • Water Music, Handel

Keeping children motivated

Among the topics in his book is keeping the child motivated.  Children have not yet developed the sense that perseverance is a major characteristic to their well-being in life.  It is completely up to the parents to keep their child motivated through the hard work that practice takes.  We don’t want our children to be “afraid of a little hard work” because that is what develops perseverance.

Starting early with expectations will create an atmosphere at home that “this is what we do in our house.”  I knew a 17 year-old who said, “She [his mother] never would have considered the idea of his quitting violin lessons. It just wasn’t going to happen.”  His was a mother who knew what she was doing and why. As he grew up, he played baseball and played the violin.  “The boys on the team just knew me as the tall, lanky kid who also played the violin.”  Young Suzuki Violinist

In that same light, the Suzuki Association of the Americas has many suggestions on its Suzuki Forum for parents who are a key part of the Suzuki Triangle.   In the Discussion section—General Suzuki Forum, a parent submitted a common question:

~ “How do I keep my child interested in polishing teacher-assigned spots when she wants to move on to other pieces regardless of her tone, fingering, and posture.” ~

Motivation using two types of rewards: Intrinsic and Extrinsic

To develop intrinsic motivation, you can use such ideas as: 1) offer your child a choice as to what  he will do first, next, etc. 2) show how to break larger tasks into manageable parts. 3) help develop an internal locus of control. An example of the latter is teaching children that their grades in school, for example, are a result of what they did.  The teacher didn’t randomly assign grades. It’s the same with violin playing; the better you practice, the better you will play.

Another type of reward is extrinsic because children acquire the concept of intrinsic rewards at a later time. Adults can relate to extrinsic rewards.  Who among us wants to work without receiving a paycheck (our extrinsic reward)?  We may love our job, but we also want to be compensated for our time.

Here is the way to organize a plan for extrinsic rewards.

  • Think of practice as a “to do” list.
  • So, instead of practicing for so many minutes, practice a certain skill or in a specific passage of a piece.
  • For example: play Scherzo with correct 2nd position fingerings 3 times this week or  play measure X with perfect intonation 10 times this week)

Ideas that work for both Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Rewards

  • I often use the iOS apps “Spinny Wheel” or “Decide Now” for making customized “game wheels” in classes or private lessons.
  • Child uses a game spinner to choose what he will play and what reward he will get at the end of the lesson.
  • Or you could write to do’s and rewards on slips of paper and put them in a bag or box.
  • You could draw items out of a jar.

Set rewards

favorite dinner

screen time

choice of a snack

later bedtime


invite a friend

song on iTunes

Unexpected rewards

What child doesn’t like spontaneity? In addition to “earning” rewards, you can plan to give “unexpected” or “unreliable” rewards (unexpected to your child—not to you).

These migyoung Suzuki violinistht even work better than earned rewards (Earn—think getting a monthly paycheck for a job which doesn’t always give you joy. Unexpected—think buying a raffle ticket which may or may not yield a reward).

For example, if you catch your child doing something well (you should decide ahead of time what this thing is, and sometimes it could be on the task list for the week, other times it may be from last week’s task list, or it could be something completely different). If it happens, you might say (apparently spontaneously as far as your child is concerned), “you did X! I think that’s worth a reward right now.”

Then you’d either have the child “spin” for a new reward, or you’d have one pre-picked and ready to give, or perhaps you might have something ready that’s not on the rewards list at all but that you know your child will enjoy, such as a favorite chocolate bar, a high-quality new cake of rosin, or a new cleaning cloth (if needed), etc.

Spontaneous rewards should not cancel out the expected ones…

Of course this is more work for YOU, but it could be a temporary way to help motivate your child until the internal, intrinsic rewards of playing music well start to kick in.

For the older more advanced student, rewards could also be pieces of music that your child is interested in that are easy and which won’t be “worked at” in the lesson, such as pop music, sheet music and backing tracks for fiddle tunes, melodies from a favorite movie, etc.

Cutietta has a unique perspective in his book: as professional musician, a music teacher, a researcher, and a parent. It’s an interesting read. Good printed interview on PBS with Cutietta.

“Creating desire in your child’s heart is the parent’s duty.”  Shinichi Suzuki

You might want to check out some of my other posts on related topics.

Five year-old excited to reach a goal!

Can music help treat children with ADHD?

Suzuki Violin: 10 Keys



A Process for Practice

Musicians and teachers are keenly aware of the importance of practice without which the best intentioned student or parent will see little progress.  In her book,  Rosindust, Cornelia Watkins begins by reporting a conversation with a frustrated student about her practice.

When Watkins asked the student what she thinks about while she practices, the student responded, “Nothing, I guess.”

Suzuki violin practiceWatkins admits that “there is almost no need for students to pay attention to their own playing when we tell them everything.” Teachers may jump in too quickly at lessons with their professional observations about what they see and hear during the lesson.

Teachers don’t want their students simply to go through the motions, to put in the time, to check off boxes.  So, among the many other ideas in her book, here are a few to do as a thinking student during practice. For younger students, parents can use these ideas to teach their child how to become more aware of their playing using age appropriate words.

The Basic Components for Practice

No matter what practice technique you choose, use this procedure for best practicing.

Focus on one technical aspect at a time. Try to remove the distraction of other issues whenever possible – or choose to ignore another problem for a while.

Make the practice goal specific and stated in the positive. The brain registers messages in positive terms, so say what you will do, not what you hope you won’t do. (For instance, a statement like, “Don’t change to an up-bow on the G this time” registers in the brain as “…change to an up-bow on the G….” Saying “Keep the down-bow through the G, up-bow on the A” is more likely to produce desired results.)

Choose a practice section that is no longer than necessary, with a clear starting and stopping place. Don’t wander on down the page – stay focused on one section until the practice goal is accomplished.

Start slowly enough that the practice goal is immediately attainable. Remember that you’re teaching your brain what you really want it to know, so every successful repetition counts, no matter how slow.

Keep the practice goal conscious during repetitions. State the goal aloud before each repetition if necessary – and be able to observe if the goal was met after each attempt. It’s easy to get distracted, especially after several tries, so be diligent about keeping your focus.

Reintegrate the newly mastered section by gradually expanding the practice section to include measures before and after the original practice section.

Cornelia Watkins is a Lecturer at The Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.

A form of this post was published in February 2014.

“All technique exists to serve the music.” Cornelia Watkins

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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.


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

You may also enjoy my posts on similar topics.

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~

Suzuki Alumni Project: Suzuki Kids as Pros

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 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…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!

Suzuki Alumni Project: Suzuki Kids as Pros

A Celebration of the Suzuki Method

Professional musicians from around the world want to share the pride of their roots through The Suzuki Alumni Project.

The project is the brainchild of siblings Yumi and Nick Kendall. Their grandfather, John Kendall, was a pioneer of The Suzuki Method in the United States.

Nick Kendall said that his sister, Yumi, and he “realized there are so many people out there who want to rejoice over this common bond… It all has to do with how powerful the method was in shaping who we are today.”

Yumi Kendall, a cellist, says they celebrate The Method’s influence on their lives. They credit the philosophy and teaching approaches offered by Shinichi Suzuki for establishing in them the foundations of discipline and joy in music-making and, for many, in other pursuits as well.

“Now, as a world- wide family, our shared experiences inspire us to celebrate the global reach and personal influence of Suzuki education through dedicated performances by its alumni.”

Featured Alumni

Just a few examples of those who started early:

Michi Wiancko started lessons at age three.

Dara Morales was a Suzuki violin student of Carolyn Moyer in Lancaster, PA for eight years. She spent many summers as a child at the Ithaca Summer Suzuki Institute.

Nathan Cole reports, “When I was four years old, my mom took me to a class called Suzuki, where about ten of us got “violins”! That’s in quotes because they weren’t really violins. They were boxes of Cracker Jack wrapped in brown paper!”

Burchard Tang, a native of Maryland began his musical studies on violin at the age of 3. He started with the Suzuki method at Peabody Prep in Baltimore with Lucille Rouse.

Wendy Warner began studying piano at the age of four and began studying the cello at age six, under the tutelage of Nell Novak.

Timothy Chooi began his studies at the Victoria Conservatory of Music at age 3.


The Dryden Quartet at Potter’s in DC area -past performance
Jupiter String Quartet in Chicago -past performance
Jasper String Quartet with Yumi Kendall in Philadelphia -past performance
Claremont Trio in Merkin Hall at the Kaufman Music Center, New York City, January 29, 2017

Our Student with Nick Kendall

Suzuki Violinists

One of our students was selected to play with other students at Potters. On October 9,  he was with Nick Kendall of the Dryden Quartet. The group appeared for the dedication of the John Kendall Concert Hall at Potters. What a fun afternoon for the students.

Nick and Yumi Kendall share their story.

Further reading: Professional Musicians Celebrate Their Squeaky Suzuki Origins

“In 1959, I began the adventure that undoubtedly changed the course of my life…” John Kendall said about his experience in Japan.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

Who Was John Kendall?

Take Care of Your Violin This Winter

My favorite tips from The Little Book of Talent~

The Little Book of Talent

Written by Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, The Little Book of Talent is a quick read. Even though the back cover says it is a book for “building a faster brain and a better you,” words that sound too promising to be true, the book has some good ideas.

The book claims to have field-tested methods to improve skills. There are conveniently 52 Tips for you to read, perhaps one a day over a year?  Or all in one sitting.

4 Favorite Tips

Tip #27

Close your eyes while you practice. Coyle even attributes this tip to musicians who he says have “long used this technique to improve feel and accuracy.”  The reason we close our eyes while practicing is because it is a quick way to get you to engage your other senses to give you new feedback.  Your brain loves something new!  That’s why kids with ADHD can pay attention easily when there is something new in the air.  Their brain is immediately engaged. When you close your eyes to practice, your brain is sensing a familiar skill in a new and fresh way.

Your child would love to try closing her eyes to play a song or to practice a certain skill.

Tip #26

Slow it down!  I’d be the first in line to play a new piece fast.  But we should stop the “Hey, Look at Me! reflex.” Yes, we are excited because we learned to do something new.  However, playing it fast simply creates sloppiness, hurting our chance of improving over the long-term.  “It’s not how fast you can do it.  It’s how slowly you can do it correctly.”

Remind your child to slow down on newly learned parts of a song.

Tip # 41

End on a positive note. This tip is near and dear to my heart because Coyle tells about his daughter’s violin practice. He says they end her practice with a foot-stomping rendition of the bluegrass tune “Old Joe Clark.”  Just listening to “Old Joe Clark” would be fun!  I think your young child would consider a big bear hug from you as ending on a positive note!  And the words, great work!  Or, let’s go tell Daddy how well you practiced.  Let’s FaceTime Gramma about it.  Let’s tell your stuffed animals or baby brother.  Older students have moved into the area of self-satisfaction of a job well done, or of completing something they agreed to do.  You could use a simple chart where your older child checks off the day and, if you want to teach him metacognition skills, have him record the best part in the practice.


Practice increases Myelin

It’s all about that Myelin!

Tip # 43

Embrace Repetition.  To borrow from the cellist, Andrea Yun’s clever video– It’s “all about that myelin”  — Coyle says, “Repetition is the single most powerful lever we have to improve our skills because it uses the built-in mechanism for making the wires of our brains faster and more accurate.” Myelin is a substance that wraps around nerve fibers and makes the messages travel faster. Easy to see in the above image.

Myelin grows in proportion to the hours spent in practice. Every time you complete another rep, your brain adds another layer of myelin. The more you practice, the more layers are added,  the more quickly and accurately the signal travels, — the more skill! Easy!  I suspect Coyle read a lot that Shinichi Suzuki wrote because of course this is all about Suzuki.  It is all about that bass, I mean myelin!

Oh, and myelin is the culprit for explaining why bad habits are tough to break.  You can’t unwind myelin.  Look at that image of a nerve. How could it unwind?

These are just 4 of the 52 gems in the book.  I think Suzuki parents know a lot about what goes into creating skill, and they might enjoy dabbling in Coyle’s short book.

“There is no such thing as a difficult piece of music. A piece is either impossible or easy.  The process whereby it migrates from one category to the other is known as PRACTICING.” Sir Yehudi Menuhin

Image source here.

Some related posts

Five year old excited to set and reach a goal

Practice the violin: Rewire your brain!

All Children Can Play the Violin Well

Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

Our Children Can Celebrate!

They can develop talent~

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki was born on October 17, 1898, in Nagoya, Japan.  His life story is inspirational because he developed a unique method that allowed students from very young children to adults to learn to play the violin and other instruments.

He began to play at a rather late age–most likely age 17.  What is most fascinating about the man is that he thought through a way to teach a complicated instrument in a simple way. He broke the steps into even smaller steps to make the skill easier and accessible to all.

Two Focuses

Shinichi Suzuki violin pedagogue

One focus is on his method which is based on how babies learn to speak their native language, their Mother Tongue.  Babies are surrounded by people smiling and talking to them, repeating words, and encouraging all the time.  Suzuki had the idea that you could learn to play the violin by that same method.  It is such a strange idea for him to have come up with.  However, he was an observer of children’s development that far exceeded other’s skills.

Another focus. I like to think about him in yet another way.  I like to focus also on his idea of breaking down the steps to the smallest parts.  With this idea, there is a very specific way to understand the violin and how it works.  A way to figure out how to make beautiful music from an instrument with no markings on it!

His idea of small steps is very similar to that of other pedagogues who work with children with learning differences.  Teachers have discovered that children with dyslexia, for example, can learn to read when the process is broken down into its minuscule steps.  Children who have difficulty with math can be taught when the teacher understands what knowledge and skills must be mastered before the next step can be introduced. So it is the same, he thought, with teaching someone, even someone very young, to play one of the most difficulty musical instruments.

Significance of His Ideas

Perhaps this was the first time someone said you don’t have to be talented to play the violin.  You just have to have the right kind of teaching.  I think this attitude is so apropos to today’s children with their different learning styles.  They don’t have to be talented to read, to do math, to learn a second language.  They just need the right teaching method–one that understands the way they learn and the way the content can be taught successfully. And they need a teacher who has been trained to do just that.

That’s how Suzuki thought about learning the skills involved in violin playing.

He analyzed the instrument and the music

Introduced the basic skills that need to be in place before the next step

Taught to mastery those skills before moving on to the next step.

Never will we find sloppy playing if we implement and follow this method.

Suzuki, Never Satisfied

Furthermore, Suzuki was a life-long learner (He lived almost 100 years!), frequently tweaking his method as he discovered new ideas from his teaching, from his students.   What an inspiration for any teacher.

This is a man who changed the way we look at teaching violin.  If he were alive today, I feel certain he would continue to improve upon his Method.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

You can find more information here about Dr. Suzuki on the Suzuki Association of Americas website.

Find out about The Suzuki Alumni Project founded by cellist Yumi Kendall here and on FaceBook.

“Talent is no accident of birth. In today’s society a good many people seem to have the idea that if one is born without talent, there is nothing he can do about it; they simply resign themselves to what they consider to be their fate.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki


You might enjoy reading:

Baby Eli, Is Suzuki for you?

How does that triangle work?

Is there a Suzuki Method for 0 to 3-year-olds?


6 ways to fit in homework & practice ~

The Homework  / Practice Crunch

You enjoy playing the violin either by yourself, with a group at school, or with the other students in the Suzuki Group class.  By middle school and high school, you have seen the rewards of practice and of sticking with something–violin.  At the same time, by middle school, some students find themselves with a lot of homework.  Certainly, by high school many students have to navigate that challenge.  Just like with everything in life, it is how you handle challenges, not that the challenge appears.

Practice and homework

 Creativity and Planning

1:  Keep your violin  ready to play in a safe place.  If you can easily get your hands on the violin, you are more likely to use it.  At the end of the day, you could put in away in the case.  There is such thing as a horizontal violin holder which gives more support than a vertical holder.

2: Turn your phone / devices off. That step alone will give you many more minutes of valuable time.

How to get things done

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

3: Be creative about getting your homework done.  Nibble away at it one bite at a time.  Take advantage of small chunks of time during the day.  Often the middle and high school student will find a few minutes between classes or even longer blocks of time to start an assignment and finish later.  Some students are able to get assignments started during the commute home.   As for practice, you don’t have to have the perfect 45 minutes or an hour all lined up neatly in one package.  15-20 minutes here and there add up quickly. I wrote another post about practicing the violin to see progress  referring to the Cube Timer, something you can use for homework and for practice.

4:  Try doing some practice in the morning.  Although reports say adolescents like to sleep in, some don’t.  If you are one of those, take advantage of that time to get a little practice in.  You might be in a better mood afterwards just starting the day off playing some beautiful music.

5: Use the violin practice time to relax, a time to be away from the rigors of academics.  If a student develops that mindset, then practice becomes an enjoyable break from the routine.  Do math homework, stop and practice for 15 minutes. Do science homework, and when done, stop again.

6:  Along those same lines, high school students might find practice a healthy way to wind down for the night after completing their academic assignments.  Practicing is better for the brain than any screen time (which reportedly stimulates the brain to stay awake).   They can use a mute to avoid inconveniencing the family.

“Music to me is like breathing.  I don’t get tired of breathing. I don’t get tired of music.” Ray Charles


Other posts about practice

I love to practice!

What does Midori say about practice?

Wonderful Wednesday: Sister Practice!

The show must go on!

We’ve got some performances coming…and

It’s all about the audience!

The audience expects the show to go on no matter what.  Whether we play at a recital, entertain residents at a retirement home, play at the Herndon Depot, or at the Gelato Store, we are playing for our audience.  I want the children to begin to understand that it is not about them, but it is a chance to learn to do for others.

They are playing to give the audience enjoyment of their music, of their playing…and which audience have you ever heard of that doesn’t like to see and hear youth perform?  It is such a treat.  Such a blessing to see young people doing important work–taking their instrument seriously enough “to take it public.” They love to watch them play.

So let’s tell students “What Not to Do!”

 Samantha at Preach What You Practice, writes about 7 deadly sins.  I have taken the liberty to add my own twist to them.

 * Don’t draw attention to your mistakes.  Don’t stop and try to play it again. Just keep playing.  Chances are the audience is enjoying watching you and listening to you that they aren’t checking out your notes or your tuning.  They really are there to hear some good music.

* Don’t correct your wrong notes.  As Samantha says, “An audience will usually not recognise an incorrect pitch, but they will always notice a disruption in rhythm.”

* Don’t show that you aren’t happy with your performance.   You must smile!  You must look happy!  That’s why your audience is there. To enjoy a few moments of pleasure in their day.  And they love to watch you play!  And after the performance when you get complimented, simply say,”thank you.”  Don’t say I played terrible.

Suzuki performance


* Don’t look at the audience while you play. They are looking at you play, but not really at you.  Don’t try to see what your mom or dad are doing.  Don’t glance at the crying baby.  Or the laughing child.  If you remember you are there to entertain them, you will smile and play. Or at least look pleasant.

* Don’t start too fast.  The adrenalin can take over.  There’s that brain controlling you instead of you controlling it. Practice the beginning of your piece that you are going to play so that you start at a good pace.

* Don’t change anything on the day of the performance. Play what you have prepared.  If you watch the Olympics, those who do routines have done them a thousand, maybe ten thousand times before. They do not change them at the last minute. They even practice in their costumes.  So, don’t wear anything crazy for the public performance.

* Don’t forget to acknowledge your audience.  Greet the audience with a bow and a smile.  They are there for you!  Bowing is part of the performance, both before and after.  Bowing is polite. It’s a way for you to say thank you for listening to me and clapping!  (I love to hear you clap!)  And walk on the performance stage with confidence.  People want to watch and listen to you when you look confident.

“The Violin is simply an extraordinary instrument with just four strings: G, D, A and E.”  Liz


Enjoy my other blog posts:

I love to watch you play

Wonderful Wednesday: Sister Practice

Play violin with a parrot on your head?


International Dot Day –time to celebrate again~

.The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.

Inspired by the book by Peter H. Reynolds, International Dot Day is celebrated every year on September 15-ish.

All we teachers love the story of The Dot.  It is a simple story of a teacher who encourages a frustrated child, helping her find courage and confidence.  A teacher who celebrates the small successes, yes, even the smallest of steps.  Even makes a great big deal out of one tiny step, one tiny dot!


The Suzuki “Dot”

Suzuki violin teachers celebrate dots too. We find the smallest step to applaud.

Maybe it’s getting to the perfect bow hold, an absolute must to good playing.

Maybe it’s simply getting a few fingers right on the bow, a few times in a row.

Maybe its hearing good tone for the first time and only a little bit.

We celebrate Suzuki “dots” at each lesson. We help the students gain the confidence and courage, inspiring them to discover the possibilities in their skill.

Then we go further and frame those dots at recitals in “swirly gold,” surprising the student to see how many people admire her playing, her work.  She will go on to show us: “Hmmph! I can make a better dot than that!” for the next time.

The child in the story who painted and painted is our student, practicing and practicing until one day at the school recital, someone looks up at him and says, “you’re really a great violin player. I wish I could play the violin.”

Suzuki dot day


International Dot Day

Our Suzuki Studio has Dot Day every day. Just like International Dot Day, we celebrate and support creativity, courage, and collaboration.

There are so many ways for you to celebrate at home, too!

Put a dot on the floor and play your violin there in that very spot!

Put a big paper dot on the refrigerator and stand in front of it to play.

For older students, create quite the dot like the celebrities.

As Dot Day supporters, The Little Orchestra of New York City believes that all people of all ages should enjoy great music.  So they hold LOS Kids for ages 3-10.  I love how they say on their ticket page, “Lap seats are available for very small children and infants.

How can you celebrate Dot Day on September 15-ish? (ish is another book by Reynolds which young children will love.)

“The fact that children make beautiful music is less significant than the fact that music makes children beautiful.”–Cheryl Lavender


Visit also:

How is planting a carrot seed like learning to play the violin?

I Love to Watch You Play!

All Children Can Play the Violin Well

Who was John Kendall?

John Kendall brought the Suzuki Method to the U.S.

Happy Birthday to John Kendall!

Born on August 30, 1917, he helped revitalize string playing in the United States in the early 1960’s when he embraced  Suzuki’s revolutionary belief that Every Child Can!  And because Kendall recognized that Suzuki had created a method to make this possible.

The New York Times reported that although Kendall was not the only early convert to the Method, he was “its most tireless evangelist…He was the first, starting in the early 1960s, to adapt Mr. Suzuki’s instructional books for American students; he helped found the Suzuki Association in 1972, and later served as its president.”

How did John Kendall discover Shinichi Suzuki?

It happened that in 1958, while attending a music conference in Ohio, Kendall saw a film with about 750 Japanese children playing the Bach Double Violin Concerto with surprising skill.  A man who didn’t seem to waste any time, the next year Kendall went to Japan to see Suzuki students firsthand.  I wish I were a fly on the wall then because when Kendall entered the room, Suzuki’s younger students were masterfully playing the Vivaldi G Minor Concerto.  As the story goes, tears came to Kendall’s eyes at the performance of so many young children playing the violin at such an advanced level.


A brief interview with John Kendall about his first experiences with the Suzuki Method.


Why would Kendall become so infatuated with Suzuki’s method?

Why not continue with string teaching as it was in the U.S.?   “In the ’60s, string education wasn’t doing too well in the United States,” said Tanya L. Carey, a cellist and longtime Suzuki educator. “Orchestras were hiring foreign musicians, because we weren’t producing enough American-trained musicians.” The NY Times went on to explain that “the problem was rooted in the nature of American string pedagogy. Children typically began instruction fairly late, at about 10. The [typical string] curriculum stressed endless scales, arpeggios and other soul-numbing exercises, for most children a deep disincentive to practice.”

In contrast to the typical string curriculum, the Suzuki Method

Teaches children as young as 2 or 3.

Is complete immersion in musical life including playing Suzuki recordings in the child’s home.

Uses instruments made to fit the young child.

Teaches students to learn real pieces by ear through imitation.

Teaches music-reading later

Has intensive involvement of one parent,  trained along with the child who oversees practice at home.

Holds Group class in addition to individual lessons. No more isolation!

What makes this program so special is the opportunity to enjoy your child!

“You don’t just drop your kids off and then pick them up,” says Carey. So many activities in the U.S. now are drop off and pick up.  It takes a special parent to realize that this age of their children ends far too quickly.  What parent would not want to spend productive, beautiful time with them when they realize the benefits of pursuing this endeavor?

Thank you, John Kendall. Thank you to all the pioneers who started Suzuki education in the 1960’s.


(BTW, Nick Kendall of Time for Three is the grandson of John Kendall.)


You might also enjoy:

What has greater impact, music lessons, dance, or sports?

Baby Eli, Is Suzuki for you too?

Suzuki Parents Need to Know List

“I was greeted at the door by about 275 Japanese children playing Vivaldi’s G Minor Concerto.” John Kendall