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

You may enjoy these:

Thoughtless Repetition – bad & ugly!

How long should I practice a piece?

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


You may also like:

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

“I love to watch you play.”

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

You may also like:

Why Ages Three to Five Are So Important

How Does the Violin Teach Children about Emotions?

Who Can Resist a Marshmallow?

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

You may enjoy reading my related posts:

What does Midori say about practice?

200% Practice from Rosindust by Cornelia Watkins

Practice the violin to see progress.



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

Why I do professional development –

Teaching Is Not Once & Done

Suzuki Professional Development

Professional Development is part of the Suzuki philosophy–life long learning.  The Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) website states that selecting a Suzuki teacher involves looking at several factors.  One is that “teachers who are members of the Suzuki Association are dedicated to the principles of the Suzuki Method and to their own continued professional development through SAA training.”

I choose to use my time and resources to engage in professional development. I think it is really important to my students that I continue to study and challenge myself in much the same way that they do.  Professional development workshops and classes put the teacher in the shoes of a student.  It is an important part of not getting stale.  I also believe that associating with other like-minded Suzuki teachers is encouraging and intellectually stimulating.  Teaching in one’s studio can be an isolating experience unless you purposely choose to reach out to other Suzuki teachers.

Three Summer Challenges

  1. Music Mind Games Teacher Training, Unit 2.
  2. SAA Violin Practicum
  3. Suzuki Early Childhood Education

Music Mind Games is an ingenious method for teaching music literacy through games.  There are close to 100 games, suitable for all ages. Until I took the Music Mind Games, training, I never would have thought about teaching theory through such creativity resulting in astounding effectiveness. Michiko Yurko, the creator of this program is a genius.

The Violin Practicum emphasis was on honing the art of teaching. Topics explored included communication skills, teaching strategies, diagnostics and observation. We used video footage from our home studio and on-site teaching to practice self-assessment skills to identify strengths in teaching and those areas in need of improvement. I loved Practicum because it was an opportunity to tie together all the technique found in the Book classes I have taken.

Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) is a special program of activities for ages 0-3.  Although some activities are appropriate for older students, the focus is on creating a highly effective music program for children under age 3.  The SAA website describes Suzuki ECE as one that “seeks to build on the child’s natural delight in learning and lays the foundation for life-long learning that meets Dr. Suzuki’s goals for all children—to create an environment for children, free from pressure, in which they can gain skills, a sense of purpose in life, an understanding of discipline, and an appreciation of beauty.”

A Summer of Professional Development!

ECE Professional Development

I hope that each of my students and parents enjoyed their vacations and continued learning together.

“The advice I am giving always to all my students is above all to study the music profoundly… music is like the ocean, and the instruments are little or bigger islands, very beautiful for the flowers and trees.” Andres Segovia

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

The Carrot Seed

How do we teach young children that learning to play the violin takes time and effort?  We don’t want them to get discouraged.  And the life lesson found in learning to play a violin is priceless.

Read this book to your child about this topic or  watch the video below, or both. The Carrot Seed, a wonderful story about planting a carrot seed, watering it, weeding it, and waiting…waiting…waiting.., teaches young children the lesson of doing something to make success happen.  Look at all the discouragement the child in the book ignores!

What a great way to show young children that learning to play the violin takes time, patience, and determination. What a great way to show young children that those who tell you “it won’t work” might not be right.  If you water and weed [or practice] you will experience success.  “And then one day, a carrot came up!”

But the lesson is bigger than learning to play a very difficult musical instrument!  It’s a lesson about determination, perseverance,  patience, and delayed gratification.  I haven’t met parents yet who don’t want all those characteristics for their son or daughter.

This is a video of the book, The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Kraus & illustrated by Crockett Johnson.


“Talent is no accident of birth.” Shinichi Suzuki


Featured image credit: Pink House Studio

5 Year-old excited to set & reach a goal!

Freya 100.2

Let’s hear it for a 5 year-old setting her own goal!

In order to record the 100th time she played Twinkle at practice, one of my 5 year-old students decided to challenge herself and experience what it feels like to do something every day until you have done it 100 times!

It is truly a celebration of doing something every single day until she was able to count the 100th time. She asked her mother to record her playing Twinkle to document that day!

What did she learn?

Long term perseverance!


Delayed gratification!

Satisfaction at achieving a goal!

And she is …5!

Celebrate along with her as you watch the video.  Watch her intense concentration.  You can see by her smile at the end, and her deep bow, that she met her own goal. So proud of her!

Congratulations young lady!

“Knowledge is not skill.  Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill.”  Shinichi Suzuki

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

Why should students mix it up when practicing the violin?

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

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

~Bored brains don’t learn much.~


Robinson: “Keep It Random”

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Featured image credit

Do you see dots?

September 15 is International Dot Day.

Here is a wonderful video of the children’s book, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, which reminds children that they should keep trying even when they think they cannot do something. This is worth sharing with the young ones.

On September 15, 2009, school teacher, Terry Shay, read the book, The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds to his class.  It was the start of International Dot Day.  A day celebrated around the world!

When something looks hard to a child, he needs to be encouraged.  We need to show him that he shouldn’t give up just because it doesn’t come easy.  And we have to teach him that he shouldn’t compare himself to others.

Learning to play the violin is not easy; it is a very difficult instrument to play.  That’s why it is so ingenious that Shinichi Suzuki created a Method to teach violin to the very young child.  He made it accessible to all children.  As he said, Every Child Can.

Let’s encourage our children to “see the many dots”on their way to becoming excellent violin players.

Click here for Featured Image credit.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Albert Einstein


Which has a greater impact: music lessons, dance, or sports?

“There are strong differences in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive skills between adolescents who learned a musical instrument during childhood and those who did not.” *

Of course, there are many benefits from participating in dance or sports, but only playing a musical instrument is associated with higher grades and superior cognitive skills.

Compared to children who participate in sports or dance, children who take music lessons have substantially greater gains in several key areas.

  • intellectual development
  • school grades
  • wide interests, being imaginative, & insightful
  • organization, thoroughness, making plans
  • using time wisely

More than twice as much

According to a 2012 German study, the effects of studying a musical instrument are much stronger on cognitive skills, school grades, and conscientiousness, than the effects of sports and dance.

As  a matter of fact, the research found that music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports or dance does. This research finds that improved academic performance truly is a result of musical training.

While the researchers acknowledged benefits of sports and dance, the strong impact of music lessons on cognitive skills was not replicated for children doing sports or dance. This is not to say that children should not participate in sports or dance.  In this study, there certainly are benefits to both activities.

But for substantial cognitive gains, music lessons win.  Why would you want substantial cognitive gains for your young child? Because cognitive development includes such things as information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Goals of the study

Because the motivation for the research was to know the long-term effects of music training on children, all of the students in this study took lessons for 9 years

They tested for the effects of music training in 5 categories:

  1. cognitive skills
  2. school achievement
  3. personality (openness and conscientiousness)
  4. use of time
  5. ambition

Results of the study

  1. cognitive skills: scores are more than twice as high as what would be obtained from playing sports
  2. school achievement: much higher achievement than those who didn’t take music
  3. personality: much greater in openness [having wide interests, and being imaginative and insightful] and conscientiousness [organized, thorough, and planful] 
  4. time use: 13 % less likely to watch TV every day
  5. ambition: 15 % more likely to plan on obtaining an upper secondary school degree and 18 % more likely to apply to university.

Earlier start, greater results

The study was based on 372 German teens who began to take music lessons outside of school before the age of 8 and continued for 9 years. The control group consisted of about 3000.  Outcomes were measured at age 17.

The effects of beginning to play a musical instrument later than the age of 8 were still positive, but weaker than those of children who start to learn a musical instrument earlier. For those who started later,  the effects on cognitive skills, openness and ambition are still relatively strong, but effects on school marks and conscientiousness were not significant.

A summary of other studies that illustrate the unique benefits of music lessons can be found here.

 Photo credit: takacsi75 / Foter / CC BY

“Parents who recognize their child’s potential ability are good parents.” Shinichi Suzuki

It’s Suzuki Institute time at Stevens Point!

It’s the end of week one for me at Stevens Point, WI, where the American Suzuki Institute is being held at the University of Wisconsin at the Aber Suzuki Center.  With four other Suzuki teachers, I studied Book 8 in the Suzuki series of books.  I know the students in my studio will benefit from the learning I gained from studying under the expertise of our teacher, Carol Dallinger.

The Institutes are always a time and place to get energized, to meet new Suzuki teachers with the same mindset that learning never stops, and to see the hundreds of students and parents enjoying the benefits of this experience.


We were very fortunate to study with Carol Dallinger this week.  The ASI website reports that Carol Dallinger “is currently the Oramay Cluthe Eades Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Evansville where she has been a member of the faculty since 1972. She is also founder and coordinator of the University of Evansville Suzuki Violin Program. Ms. Dallinger has lectured at both state and national music conferences and, as a registered teacher trainer with the Suzuki Association of the Americas, frequently serves as clinician for summer institutes throughout the United States. She is a former member of the National Board of Directors of the Suzuki Association. Professor Dallinger holds a Bachelor of Music in performance from Illinois Wesleyan University and a Master of Music in performance from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. She currently teaches courses in applied violin, applied viola, music theory, and Suzuki violin pedagogy.”

Ms. Dallinger is an excellent teacher’s teacher!  She even modeled for us what we should do if we break a finger.  ~You just keep on, keepin’ on.~  Thank you, Ms. Dallinger for your expertise, guidance, and inspiration.


I am also looking forward to this coming week when I will be studying “The Development of Bowing Techniques” with Alice Joy Lewis, founder and Director of Ottawa Suzuki Strings in Kansas.  Mrs. Lewis is also the mother of Brian Lewis, professional violinist and well-known pedagogue.

Happy Father’s Day Suzuki Dads!

Suzuki Dads know what it takes!

Dads bring another perspective to the Suzuki experience for their children.  Suzuki Dads are right there to add a little humor to the pot.

♯ A dad understands when his son has to set up his favorite cars to watch his practice.

♯ He understands when his son has to fall on the floor a few more times.

♯ Or wave his arms around and yell “whoa, whoa” and ask for a drink.*

No, I’m not saying to use your son or daughter’s bow as a sword.  But, let’s lighten up a little, use our imaginations…have some fun…

like The Piano Guys in this Lightsaber Duel.



Dads know what Paul Tough talks about in his book, How Children Succeed Tough argues that the qualities that matter most for success for our children have more to do with character than with ability.  And, Dads, you know how Suzuki violin lessons teach these skills:

  • perseverance
  • curiosity
  • conscientiousness
  • optimism
  • self-control.

Sure Suzuki Dads know that studying the violin:

  • Gives their child confidence and something to be proud of.
  • Teaches their child that if you practice something, you will get better.
  • Is an opportunity for your child to gain the ability to master something.
  • Teaches that music is hard and most musicians struggle with practicing.
  • Teaches that anything worth having a lifelong relationship with takes time and perseverance and has had spots.
  • Teaches that nothing is all pleasure.
  • Teaches that everything that matters in life takes work.
  • Will give you the opportunity to develop a closer dad-child relationship.

What Suzuki dads don’t say is, “I want my child to be the next Joshua Bell.”

And Suzuki Dads know that they can’t rush their son or daughter.

Using the gardening analogy (a little milder than Star Wars), from Ed Sprunger in his book, Building Violin Skills,  “you can’t tug on a plant to make it grow!”

You have to trust the process.

But there’s nothing wrong with fertilizing, watering, and generally caring for a plant.

That’s what gardeners do.

Dads need to do it as well. In the process of tending beautiful flowers and nutritious vegetables, gardeners also encounter weeds. And pests. They also get some dirt under their fingers.

In their own way, so will dads.

Happy Fathers Day!

You will not avoid practicing. You will like this practice. You will practice every day.  Obi-Wan-Kenobi

* Source


What does Bobby McFerrin teach us about our brain?

Fascinating view into how our brain is wired for music!

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


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

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

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


Happy Suzuki Kids

Who wouldn’t want their child to be happy?  Yet, happiness is so elusive –happy one minute, crying the next!  What makes happy children?  Are some children simply born with happy dispositions?

Happiness is a choice.

For example, although our children may be happy when they reach a goal, the problem is that happiness is short-lived.  And then what?   What else?

Take children at a birthday party.  After the gifts are opened, then there is a let-down. What else is there?  Young children can be really disappointed and even cry.  Children can start to run around, getting what we think is hyperactive from the birthday cake.


Could it be as simple as “goal setting?”

Children have to be taught about personal goals (and birthday party presents are not a goal we should work toward!). Children don’t automatically understand how goals and goal setting can enhance their lives.

If we can teach our children to enjoy the journey, the “work” that it takes to reach a goal, then we are beginning to change the mindset of our children.  What fun it can be to learn something new, to try something again until we reach that one specific goal.

The happy child could be the one who says, “What’s next?” –meaning what is our next goal?

How do we do this for Suzuki violin lessons?

  • We can set up milestones along the way to the final goal.
  • That means we help our child see the multiple steps that will get him or her to the goal.
  • Each time we reach a milestone, we teach our child to celebrate.
  • Show your child that his success will impact the group: i.e., a play-in is coming up and other children depend on her or him.
  • Use the Suzuki experience to build up your relationship with your child.  The closeness you both can feel if mom or dad does Suzuki right can seldom be replicated through dance or sports, for example.

Teaching your child many skills, not just how to play the violin.

How will their practice impact the bigger picture in their Suzuki school?  Just like how their effort will help a company when they are adults.

How will their day-to-day positive efforts influence people in their community some day?

To answer that question for himself, Scott Crabtree founded the Happy Brain Science to foster productivity through cutting-edge brain science.  On the First Round Review website, he reports that he had climbed the corporate ladder for 24 years before deciding to share his ideas on day-to-day positive efforts.

Crabtree says, “Solid science tells us, yes, happiness comes from our genes, but also from the choices and thoughts going on between our ears…The place you have the most effective chance of changing your own happiness level is in your own mind.  You can choose happiness.”

Suzuki goals coincide with the advice from Crabtree who says:

  • Break goals into steps.
  • Celebrate each step as you achieve it.
  • Know that you are part of a larger entity. Your efforts count toward the group’s success.
  • Personal relationships matter on the job. The more you have in common with another employee, the more likely you are to work diligently toward the common goal.

Dr. Suzuki was onto something. We can influence our children to learn how to be happy throughout their lives.


We can develop happy Suzuki kids.