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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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


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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

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Suzuki Violin: 10 Keys



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

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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

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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

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

5 reasons to listen!

Listening to recordings sounds “so yesterday,”  “so old school.”

Why would I want my child or me to listen to classical music?  Why can’t we be like everybody else?  The reasons are the same for wanting  your child or you to learn to play one of the most challenging instruments.  If you have discovered that you are a Suzuki Family, you want the best.  You want what is admirable, noble, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy for you and your family.

listening Suzuki violin

Here are 5 reasons to listen to the Suzuki Music

  1. Listening is the foundation of the Suzuki Method. It’s the keystone.
  2. Listening is our ear training that we will be using to match our playing to.
  3. Listening allows us to play that internal song from memory that we try to copy on our instruments.
  4. Listening also allows students to discover and choose the notes for themselves, so the teacher can concentrate on the physical challenges that constitute the real difficulties of playing the violin.
  5. Suzuki music is beautiful music.  Suzuki said, if children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.

Ideas for Listening

  1. Listen first thing in the morning.*
  2. Play the music softly in the background during the day while the children play or you work.
  3. You can play it in the car.
  4. Have the means to play the music where you find it is most useful.  Playing on your iPhone or iPad or using Blue Tooth technology to send to a speaker is easy.
  5. Think about listening as something that will enhance your family life.  If you have young children or even babies, listening to good music can have cognitive benefits.  If you are listening for yourself, there isn’t a better earworm than a Suzuki song.


  • Nancy Lokken, a teacher trainer from Minneapolis, suggests that we do our listening first thing in the morning. This way, if something comes up later, and you cannot practice that day, you have at least done your listening. I recommend the same thing.  Why not play the music in the background during breakfast?  After all, listening can be passive. You can listen while doing homework, driving, preparing and eating dinner, or during any other routine in your and your child’s day.

What should a Pre-twinkler Listen to?

For the beginning period, the pre-twinkle period, I recommend that parents and students listen to the following from the Book 1 Violin CD:

Twinkle Variation A (track 1) 10x
Twinkle Theme (track 6) 10x
Lightly Row (track 7) 1x
Song of the Wind (track 8) 1x
GO Tell Aunt Rody (track 9) 1x
Oh, Come Little Children (track 10) 1x

Make a CD or playlist of the above to listen every day.

10 times for the Twinkle songs

1 time each for the others.

It should take about 18 minutes to complete.

The above routine gives the children the fundamentals of the song that will occupy them for about a year– Twinkle Variation A (Mississippi Hot Dog). Listening to the other songs on that list shows them, that if they work patiently and diligently for a year, they will be playing those other songs– no problem!  Listening to the other songs gives them a taste of what is to come and prepares them to play those songs.  I might change this as the months go on, but this is the foundational idea for pre-twinkle listening.


listening Suzuki violin

Your Child Will Not Get Tired of the Songs

While you may tire of listening to Book 1, your child will not.  Children love repetition.  Remember how many times you played Candy Land when you were little?  It is really important that you do not let on to your child that you have tired of the music in Book 1.

However, if you want variation, listen to the Book 4 CD on occasion. It is full of professional music. The Vivaldi Concertos are wonderful and the Bach Double Concerto is unmatched in compositional skill. Listening to it is a music lesson in itself. Always keep in mind that you will return to the pre-twinkle listening list.

Music for After Pre-twinkle

As we add the skills necessary to play the first few songs, and as we go further into Book 1 and Books 2 and 3, we can adopt a different listening routine.

I recommend about 20 minutes. I follow a 5 -10 -5 formula:

1) 5 minutes. The piece you are “polishing.” A polishing piece is the piece for which the notes are learned but which the student is continuing to make easy by conscientious repetition. Repeat this song on the CD or Playlist for about 5 minutes. Depending on which Book you are in, this might mean 5 repetitions or 2 repetitions.

2) 10 minutes: The next song on the playlist is the current piece for which we are learning new skills. This is the big one. Listen to it for 10 minutes. Again, if you are in Book 3, this might be 2 or 3 repetitions. If you are in Book 1, it might mean 10 repetitions.

3) 5 minutes: The final song is the one you are not on yet. You are creating a mental picture of it so you will be ready when we start it. Listen to it for 5 minutes.

A good place to get the recordings is

To make a resolution and act accordingly is to live with hope…follow the path steadily. Do not hurry. … DO not rest in your efforts… Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking a step at a time forward will surely get you there.” Shinichi Suzuki


Suzuki Dads: Happy Father’s Day!

Suzuki Dads are fun…

Sit with the kids and have a little fun today!


 Suzuki Dads are serious…

Training vs Education

Dr. Susan Baer, a violinist and Suzuki violin teacher in Washington state pays tribute to her father [ Galaxy of Stars page of the Suzuki Association of Americas website.]

My father taught me that there’s a difference between training and education.

Training allows us to cultivate a certain set of skills in order to perform a specific task.

Education teaches us to think and to synthesize ideas.

My father wanted me to have both.

This, I think, is what Dr. Suzuki wished for all children. He wanted each child to have the benefit of excellent training so that he/she would become a skilled musician. He also wanted each child to be educated so that he/she would become a thinking human being, able to recognize beauty in all things.

Sincere thanks to all the fathers in our Suzuki studio who have the role of either the teaching parent or the support parent! It just doesn’t work as well without you.

Father’s Day “embraces our grandfathers, our uncles, our husbands—any male figure who has provided a warm lap, a comforting shoulder, a firm hand, a word of sage advice, or a path to follow. That’s a lot to celebrate!” Dr. Susan Baer


Suzuki Summer Institutes: Why go?

A Suzuki Summer Institute! It is a wonderful way to bring your child into the company of other children and parents who share your vision.

Many Institutes have a family camp atmosphere making the experience one your entire family can enjoy together.  In these hurried days, it would be pleasant to take a week off to enjoy each other while learning and growing in Suzuki.  You will have the opportunity to focus on your child, to enjoy this experience together, to make memories.

At an Institute, you will be refreshed and renewed, knowing that the Suzuki violin program you are taking is right for your child.  There are wonderful performances to attend where you and your child can see the possibilities that lie ahead.  You can join in with helpful parent talks to learn new ways to support your child.

The final concert at many Institutes includes all the students–an exciting experience.

I have attended many Institutes all over the United States and one in Lima, Peru—some with the Family Camp atmosphere and some not.  One of my favorites for the family atmosphere is the American Suzuki Institute at Stevens Point, WI.

Click on the photo for a video of one of the large gatherings at Stevens Point!

American Suzuki Institute


I truly believe you and your child would leave a good Suzuki Institute and talk about returning the next summer.

In case I haven’t given you enough reasons to attend a summer Institute, the Suzuki Association of Americas lists 25 reasons why you would want to go.

Joseph Chapman, who writes a blog at says, “One’s creative endeavors, especially as a child or adolescent, aren’t easy to maintain. But the right support structure, even if it’s only for a week or two, can nourish an aspiring artist throughout the year.”


Some Family Camp Atmosphere Institutes

The American Suzuki Institute at Stevens Point, WI.

The Ithaca College Summer Institute (Pre-Twinkle Variations and above)

The Virginia Suzuki Institute ( Has a special program for those in Pre-Twinkle through Lightly Row)

The Blue Ridge Suzuki Camp (Not an affiliated Suzuki Institute, but an established camp held at Orkney Springs)

The Blue Lake Suzuki Family Camp in Michigan.

Local Institute

Not a Family Camp atmosphere, but locally the Greater Washington Suzuki Institute is held at Woodrow Wilson H.S. in DC.

All Summer Institutes

Click here for the list of all institutes throughout North America.

“Taking a week to spend immersed in music is well worth the time and money. As a child, seeing the wide ranges of players at camp helped inspire me to practice harder and become a better player.” Alexandra Ostroff, a Suzuki Teacher in Training

Suzuki Parents’ Need to Know List:

Suzkui parents can support

How rewarding it is for parents to watch the children grow and develop, learning a skill that seems beyond their reach.   Suzuki parents know that “nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy.”*

Suzuki teachers work hard to teach children to play one of the most difficult instruments; parents work hard to learn the skills they need to aid their children on the journey; and children learn that hard work has its own rewards.

Support for Parents

Parent training classes give parents knowledge and the specific skills they will need to support their child as he/she learns to play the violin. However, once in a while, parents need to be reminded that the path they’ve chosen is a worthy one; they need to know that they are doing it right.

Group class is a good opportunity for parents to support each other.

Calling an experienced Suzuki parent can really help.

Talking to an experienced Suzuki parent before or after class gives the new parent just the tips he/she may be looking for.

Suzuki Method Parent Discussion Group on Facebook, is a good place for parents to ask questions about all things Suzuki.

Another good source for parents is a post by Brecklyn Ferrin who is a mother and Suzuki violin teacher. She shares what she has learned from both sides of the bow.   Click here to read her “Top 7 Things Your Suzuki Violin Teacher Wants You to Know.”

Learning to play the violin is one of the most challenging as well as one of the most rewarding activities a child (or adult) can undertake.  Imagine the human physical structures that must work together to create beautiful music from this instrument.  Suzuki believed that we can create a beautiful human spirit also through learning to play the violin.  But it does take a parent who shares the same vision.

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges….” Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.


*Nicholas Sparks, American novelist, screenwriter and producer.

I love to practice!

Who wouldn’t want to hear those words?  Gone are the days of banishing a child to his or her room to practice!  Today’s parents are more involved with their children.  Ask a parent and he or she will say that they want to be part of the progress, part of the joy of seeing their child develop.

If parents can make practice as enjoyable as possible so that their child sees progress,  that child will learn so many life lessons.  Starting early in their life, they can experience the rewards of perseverance, self-discipline, goal-setting, delayed gratification, patience.

The following ideas from the Suzuki Association of America will help keep parents motivated, helping to give their child the best experience possible.   According to Suzuki,  very young children should “practice three minutes, five times a day, with joy.”  When put that way, who couldn’t plan for that?  Of course, as the years progress, you will have other tricks at the ready to keep your child’s eye on the prize.


Practice ideas from the Suzuki Association

The main point of practice is spending time with your child with joy!

Be consistent.  Some find 10 minutes before school is the perfect time.

Use the expression, in our family.  “In our family we practice every day.”  “This is what we do in our family.”

Don’t worry about perfection.  We want our children to learn that life isn’t about doing things perfectly, but about trying new things and embracing challenge.

Practice time doesn’t have to be measured in minutes.  You can teach your child that reaching a goal accomplishes the task.

Suzuki wisdom of learning is encompassed in his saying: “Move slowly and never stop.”  Make the goal reachable and stop before the child is ready to stop.  He’ll want to start up again the next day. He won’t stop.

Lengthen practice time gradually as the child gains strength and stamina and as more concepts are added.

Click here for the “rest of the [practice] story”!

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

Why ages 3-5 are so important!

Because those ages present a window of opportunity!

Click the image to watch the video.

3 Year-old learning Skills of Executive Function

3 Year-old learning Skills of Executive Function

“There is a dramatic window for growth in executive function and other cognitive skills between the ages of 3 to 5.” ( Scientific Learning )

Find Out about This Special Window!


Ever since all Grammas cuddled  little ones, singing songs and telling stories, the importance of early childhood education has been recognized. What was common sense since the beginning of raising children is now touted from places like Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child.

There are 2 sets of skills that children must develop not only for their own good but also for society’s benefit.  Children aren’t born with these skills, but they are born with the potential to develop them.

1. Executive Function

2. Self-Regulation

These skills are important for learning and for helping children to develop positive behavior and making healthy choices throughout life.

When executive function is present, the ability to succeed in school and in life is strengthened.

Even very young children have to learn how to manage a lot of information and how to avoid distractions.

Executive Function Skills are: focus, remember, plan, and do several tasks at the same time.

Self-regulation skills are those that help us set priorities and resist impulsive actions.

Children aren’t born with these skills, but children have the potential to develop them.

Development in the Brain: Ages 3-5


During the early years, ages 3-5, children have the opportunity to develop key skills for their future.

The interactions between child and parent are the active ingredient in building a healthy brain structure. The brain is most able to adapt and change in the earliest years of life.

The more advanced thinking skills cannot be built until the lower ones are in place.

Simple skills developed in the brain are the foundation for more advanced skills.   That is why, giving the child a strong foundation in the early years is vital for executive function development.

A PEAK PERIOD  for developing proficiency in executive function skills is around the ages of 3-5.

Why Scaffold Skills for Young Children?


A scaffold provides a temporary structure used to support.  Parents provide the  environments that give children “scaffolding” that helps them practice necessary skills before they must perform them alone.

We know now that development of the executive function and self-regulation skills is not guaranteed. Furthermore, children with problems do not necessarily outgrow the problems. Children who struggle to plan and organize their work in early elementary may become adolescents who fall behind in homework, have difficulty completing projects and struggle to gain academic skills.

Helping children by “scaffolding” will give them the safety net as they develop these important skills.  What does “scaffolding” look like? Here are some ideas from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child.

1. Play imaginary roles – children invent rules to follow when they play; cooking, eating, setting the play table with play food, etc.

2. Tell stories – children make up stories with complicated plots. They hold and manipulate the characters and actions in their working memory as they tell their story.

3. Climbing, balance beam, see saws – new challenges make the child focus attention, monitor and adjust their actions, and persist to reach their goal.

4. Singing and song games – use working memory and focused attention.

5. Matching and sorting games – change the rules so they learn cognitive flexibility.

Suzuki Violin

Finally, not from Harvard, but from Shinichi Suzuki–beginning to play the violin between the ages of 3-5 is AWESOME for: focus, memory, planning, setting priorities, manipulating several tasks, following rules, resisting impulses, and persisting to a goal.

“There is a dramatic window for growth in executive function and other cognitive skills between the ages of 3 to 5.” ( Scientific Learning )

How does that triangle work?

The Suzuki Triangle

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


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

simple triangle

The Suzuki Triangle


ages 3-6

Ages 3-6

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

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



photo 1

Ages 7-10

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




age 11 and up

Ages 11 and up

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

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



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

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

 This really does happen!

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

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

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

The triangle has matured!

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

Orchestras-They’re not just for adults!

Playing in an orchestra is like nothing else in the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening is valuable too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could be a Suzuki teacher!

violinist in park

Park on Shamian Island, Guangzhou, China

A few years ago, I co-hosted a recital with another Suzuki teacher, a veteran teacher who had recently moved to Virginia.  My most memorable moment from that afternoon was that she insisted that all the children from both studios should line up behind her as she led them out onto the stage, playing as she strolled.  The youngest children looked just like these in this statue…walking closely behind, not yet playing the violin. And you know how those preschoolers follow in line, sometimes never even looking where they are going.  The older children at our recital followed along also, each playing along with the teacher and assuring that the little ones kept up. A ceremonial way to begin a recital, for sure.

Each Suzuki teacher brings his or her personality to the studio. However, there are certain features of a Suzuki violin teacher that parents should look for.

One home schooling mother said that it is important for the Suzuki teacher to understand the significance of Suzuki’s heart and to embrace Suzuki’s philosophy that every child CAN play the violin given the right environment and instruction.

It is also important for parents to read Suzuki’s books such as Nurtured by Love and Ability from Age Zero.  Know Suzuki well even before you sign up for lessons for your little one.

The Suzuki Method is so special for children and their families. Parents may be tempted by the myriad of activities available for children. But they should focus on one important activity for their very young child.

Violin lessons are uniquely suited for them in many ways.

Click here for photo credit

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

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

Infants Are Like Seedlings

Suzuki said that infants are like seedlings. We don’t let a sprout whither and then give it a lot of fertilizer, sunlight, and water, thinking that is the right time to grow. It’s too late for the withered sprout. Likewise, we don’t set children aside until they enter kindergarten saying that’s when education begins.

Suzuki said you don’t expect a bumper crop when you plant nothing.  What you will get will be whatever seeds happen to land in the field.  Likewise, parents should not leave education up to chance. If they do, they won’t get what they hoped for.

Plant early enough in the season! Suzuki told a story about Darwin who was asked by a mother when she should start educating her one and a half  year-old son.  Darwin told her she was a year and a half too late.


Suzuki observed how children learn by watching the way they learned to talk. Children begin to talk a lot between the ages of 2 and 5.  They seem to learn to speak almost overnight once they begin. He says a young baby learns one word at first, which is repeated by the adults around him or her.  Then later another word is added, but the first word is not dropped. He based his teaching Method on the way a baby learns language.  He says to start with listening to music. Immerse the infant with good music.

Very, Very Early Suzuki Training!

Start your Suzuki training from the time of birth. Not because you want your child to be an Einstein.  But because you really do know it is the right thing to do.  Surround the infant with good music. Since infants hear and absorb the sounds of their environment, play good music softly in the background.  Play it at home and in the car. Learning to play violin, for a baby, is simply listening to music.

MVbaby2From birth to age 3 is the best time to develop an ear for music.  Play one piece repeatedly during the day. The music should be played softly.  Just loud enough to know it is on. Suzuki says that if you play a five-minute piece of Mozart, for example, every day, by 5 months old the baby has learned it.

He says test this:  play a different piece of music for the baby; then switch to the familiar piece.  Observe the baby’s response.  For the 1st piece, the baby will listen intently and his or her eyes will be absorbed.  As soon as the music switches to the familiar piece, the baby will smile, look for his mother, and may even shake his or her body to the rhythm of the old piece.

Suzuki says the piece has become the baby’s music—a comfort.

Eventually add more pieces, one at a time.  The result is “a heightened musical sensitivity” similar to that of the acquisition of language.

Choose Beautiful Music

Select beautiful music from the European masters. It has sophistication and intricacy which appeals to children. You wouldn’t put off looking at beautiful masterpieces and only focus on simple sketches. Likewise, babies shouldn’t have to listen to simple melodies only, without the opportunity to hear masterpieces.

Babies don’t need to understand the music.  Music is sensed, not understood. Adults don’t necessarily understand music, but they certainly can feel it.  So it is with infants.

Suzuki Early Childhood Education

Following the ideas of early exposure to good music, Dorothy Jones created an early childhood education program in 1993 which was approved by the International Suzuki Association.  Suzuki Early Childhood Education is developed on the same principles as that of the Suzuki Method for teaching children to play a musical instrument. Our studio introduces SECE classes in September 2017 for ages 0-3!

And when baby is around 3, a good Suzuki Violin Program for your child would be:

1.  Begin as early as possible

2.  Create the best possible environment

3.  Use the finest teaching method

4.  Provide a great deal of training

5.  Use the finest teachers

“The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents.”  Shinichi Suzuki


“I love to watch you play”

6 Words You Should Say Today

Rachel Macy Stafford, who writes a blog called Hands Free Mama wrote a post, “Six Words You Should Say Today,” which suggested a wonderful way for a parent to react after any performance. Stafford says: simply tell your child, I love to watch you play.

A Suzuki education is of the whole child.

The Suzuki parent develops a very close relationship with her child through the Suzuki Method.  So the child is very attentive to her parent.

We intuitively know that children are influenced by the quality of the adults in their lives. Parents are indispensable partners in the early years of learning, but also into adolescence. Dr. Suzuki knew that parents (and teachers) are also responsible for nurturing a beautiful heart. A beautiful way for a parent to react to the child’s performance is in those words–I love to watch you play.

This child is filled with sheer joy at this simple accomplishment.

What’s the best thing for mom or dad to say after the lesson?

Suzuki parents simply say, “I love to watch you play.”

“The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents.”  Shinichi Suzuki


The best way to get your child ready for kindergarten

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article, “Getting Your Child Ready for Kindergarten,” in the Summer 2015  issue of Virginia, The UVA Magazine, which validates everything I know about the value of Suzuki violin lessons for preschool children, even those as young as 2 1/2.

In the article, Amanda Williford, Ph.D., describes the skills that have been found to be the most important for success in kindergarten.  Dr. Williford says that parents often focus on skills such as:

  • learning the alphabet
  • writing their name
  • being able to count to 20.

But it turns out that those aren’t the most important skills your child needs to start kindergarten.” (my emphasis)

The skills children need most for success in kindergarten are:

  • to be able to relate to others
  • to be independent
  • to persist in challenging tasks
  • to inhibit impulsive behavior

Skills learned in Suzuki Violin Lessons

As I read this article, I immediately thought, Boom!  Those are the same skills a preschool child learns from taking Suzuki violin lessons.

  1. They learn how to relate to others through the dynamic of the Suzuki Triangle which includes the teacher, the parent, and the child AND through the relationships in Suzuki group classes, play-ins, and recitals.
  2. Suzuki preschoolers learn how to be independent through many Suzuki activities:  a). coming to lessons prepared to learn, b). performing in front of the Suzuki students & parents,  and c). performing at informal play-ins and more formal recitals. Yes, even the little ones have an opportunity in a supportive environment to show others what they have learned.
  3. Suzuki violin preschoolers certainly learn persistence in learning to play probably the most challenging musical instrument for a beginner, the violin.
  4. Finally, these youngest students learn to inhibit impulsive behavior at individual lessons and group activities.  Focus is one of the key skills I develop with the preschoolers.

Video Examples

Below is a video of a 5 year-old in a lesson. See the focus develop in the very young child.

Watch his eyes when he is working on his left hand. When will you see such focused attention from a very young child—not mesmerized by a video game?


Watch the video below of a 5 year-old girl.

Look for her focus as we count to 7 before we bow to begin the lesson.

Watch the intensity of her eyes while she learns to play with her left hand.

Suzuki Steps to Playing

Each step in the Suzuki violin lesson is planned strategically to give the child the skills to focus. Intuitively, Shinichi Suzuki knew the importance of focus and self-discipline for a child.

In several posts I wrote about the benefit of Suzuki violin lessons for children with ADHD and Executive Function challenges; always, focus is key.  Read the posts herehere, and here.

But wait, there’s more!

As if all of this proven data about skills for success in kindergarten isn’t enough, Williford adds:

“It is actually these foundational social-emotional and self-control skills that predict children’s success in future grades and in lifelong outcomes, including higher educational attainment and better health outcomes.” (my emphasis)

Some parents might think that Suzuki lessons aren’t exciting enough for their preschool child.  However, this article validates the Suzuki method.  The key to success in kindergarten and in higher education is in developing skills in persistence, focus, and independence.

Williford was the study’s lead investigator at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, CASTL.

Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett, CC BY 2.0

“The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents.” Shinichi Suzuki