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


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“I love to watch you play.”

4 Reasons: The violin, great choice for first instrument

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

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

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

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

Suzuki love & busking

Playing at a fund-raiser.

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


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

Violin lessons are a lot of fun with many benefits!

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

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

You may also want to read:

The Show Must Go On!

If You Stick with the Violin, Where Will It Take You?

Practice the violin: Rewire Your Brain


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.



Thoughtless Repetition -bad & ugly!

Repetition is fundamental, but bad and ugly?

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

Practice doesn’t make perfect–practice makes permanent.

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

Uh Oh.

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


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

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

Oh no!

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

Even worse…

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

Good repetition

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

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

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

Parents models of good habits

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

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

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

You may also enjoy my posts on similar topics.

How long should I practice a piece?

Practice the violin: Rewire your brain.

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

Suzuki Love!

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

Basic Elements of the Suzuki Method

The International Suzuki Association lists the basic elements:

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

Now for the Suzuki Love!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Suzuki love!”

Suzuki love closer to home

Suzuki love & busking

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

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

Other parents see how valuable the Suzuki elements are:

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

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

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

Suzuki Love Hyatt

Suzuki Love Violin

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


Suzuki love

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

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

You may enjoy my other posts on a similar topic.

Suzuki Violin: The Dog Days of Summer~

Suzuki Alumni Project: Suzuki Kids as Pros

Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

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

The Gift

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


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

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



Listening…Click on the photo to see the video.

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

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

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

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

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

“Review” pieces

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

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

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

A gift to your child!

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

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

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

Check out these related posts:

Brain Power from a Challenge

Parents Need to Know

I Love to Practice!

Suzuki Alumni Project: Suzuki Kids as Pros

A Celebration of the Suzuki Method

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Alumni

Just a few examples of those who started early:

Michi Wiancko started lessons at age three.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Our Student with Nick Kendall

Suzuki Violinists

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

Nick and Yumi Kendall share their story.

Further reading: Professional Musicians Celebrate Their Squeaky Suzuki Origins

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

Other posts you may be interested in:

Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

Who Was John Kendall?

Take Care of Your Violin This Winter

My favorite tips from The Little Book of Talent~

The Little Book of Talent

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

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

4 Favorite Tips

Tip #27

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

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

Tip #26

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

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

Tip # 41

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


Practice increases Myelin

It’s all about that Myelin!

Tip # 43

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

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

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

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

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

Image source here.

Some related posts

Five year old excited to set and reach a goal

Practice the violin: Rewire your brain!

All Children Can Play the Violin Well

Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

Our Children Can Celebrate!

They can develop talent~

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

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

Two Focuses

Shinichi Suzuki violin pedagogue

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

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

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

Significance of His Ideas

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

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

He analyzed the instrument and the music

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

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

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

Suzuki, Never Satisfied

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

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

Happy Birthday, Dr. Suzuki!

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

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

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


You might enjoy reading:

Baby Eli, Is Suzuki for you?

How does that triangle work?

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


International Dot Day –time to celebrate again~

.The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.

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

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


The Suzuki “Dot”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suzuki dot day


International Dot Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Visit also:

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

I Love to Watch You Play!

All Children Can Play the Violin Well

Suzuki Violin: The Dog Days of Summer~

Suzuki quartet

Might be steamy weather, but Suzuki Violin enthusiasts prevail!


Students in our Suzuki studio have been busy this summer. Leo went to a Suzuki Institute in Michigan. Some students surprised me with learning new songs. Karla even practiced for 1 1/2 hours each day for over 21 days.  Everyone worked to keep up their daily practice so as not to lose those hard-earned skills.

Speaking of hard-earned skills, my niece’s parents brought her violin on the plane when they took their 2 week vacation and practiced daily in all kinds of places for grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. One day she played outside on a makeshift stage!

Suzuki violinists

Suzuki violinists gather under the shade.

Last Sunday, some of our students met at the Herndon Depot and we played under the big tree, followed by a bike ride.  The sweltering heat is not for the faint of heart!







Serious business either way you look at it.

This video is priceless!

This next Sunday, we find ourselves at a cooler spot.  We will share our violin skills inside for the residents at Tall Oaks Assisted Living in Reston, followed by an ice cream social.  Suzuki says, “Those who, for the sake of others’ happiness, serve all who surround them today with love and respect, walk along the path which leads to happiness.”  Tall Oaks should be a little cooler experience than the bike ride!

It’s almost back to school time!  But our violin students haven’t skipped a beat all summer.


You might also like:

Who Says We Don’t Have Fun at Lessons?

Keep Cool? An Ice Violin!

Brain Lewis & Suzuki Rap!

”Talent is not something given naturally. It is something you foster. Every child can foster his talent.” Shinichi Suzuki

How long should I practice a piece?

practice a piece

Practice one piece for how long?

There are some misconceptions about learning to play the violin. Practice is not about putting in a certain number of  hours each day.  Nor is it what some do–many people give themselves a time limit to learn a piece.

However, if they reach the time limit, or stages along the way, and can’t play the piece the way they want to, they feel that “the piece is not for them.”

You ARE in charge!

While practicing the violin, you don’t have a buzzer to tell you that ‘time’s up.” And you don’t have someone telling you that your turn is over like in baseball game where you aren’t totally in charge. There, a pitcher throws the ball at you and, after three strikes, you are out. In this case, you are called out by the umpire.  However, in any field of learning you are the pitcher, the batter, and the umpire all at the same time. When learning something, you can pitch yourself as many balls as you like, and you can try to hit them as many times as you like. The only one to call you out is you. 

Setting a deadline and giving up is like calling yourself out.

But, they make it look so easy.

Professional violinists haven’t called themselves out in practice.  Vadim Brodsky tells about the time he won a special commendation for playing the Paganini Caprice #1.  Although he was praised for how well he played, he says, “I was the only one who knew I had been working on the movements in the piece for 13 years. Nobody cares how long you work on a piece. They just care about what they hear.”

If you quit too soon, you don’t give yourself a chance to accomplish what might have been possible.  Don’t be fooled by the professionals.  They have put in the time to master a piece.  And they don’t perform it until they feel it is ready for the public.  I doubt they give themselves a time limit….unless it’s something like 13 years.

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing all the hard work you already did.” Newt Gingrich

Violins & Video Games

A little levity for April 1st!

Yes, there are violins in an orchestra and, well, they can be found playing video game music! Certainly, video games have sound tracks.  And there really was a Video Game Music Concert!

The Tapiola Sinfonietta Orchestra played at the Slush technology conference in Helsinki, Finland, in 2015.  The concert included nine famous themes from popular video games such as Angry Birds, Clash of Clans, Super Stardust, and Boom Beach.

To be enticing, video games must have good music.  Often the music makes the game more exciting, helping the players to get emotionally invested. Some of the tunes even become part of the popular culture.

Yle, the Finnish public broadcaster, posted a series of videos from the conference.

Click here to go to their webpage where you can choose from 21 selections. I liked– Slush: Angry Birds Medley.  You might prefer Apocalyptica Cello’s version of Angry Birds.

Move over Star Wars soundtrack!

Angry Birds!


Tapiola Sinfonietta

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein


Click here for Featured Image source

Play violin with a parrot on your head?

Focus! Even with a parrot on my head?

Violin students need to focus. But this much? I may ask a lot from my violin students, but I doubt they will ever have to do that!

Eloise Hellyer’s post, “Good Habits,” (click here for her post.)  included this amusing video found below about concentrating while playing the violin.

Jordanna Greenberg from the group, Harpeth Rising, was practicing at her parents’ home when their pet cherry-headed Conure named Pepper landed on her head.  As she says, “Rule #1 of being a performer: You must continue to play, even with a parrot on your head!”

It is not likely that a student will have a parrot on his or her head, but we can think about the children in the audience during a recital making noises like Pepper is doing.  Jordanna is the perfect model for “the play must go on!”

Enjoy the look on her face when she starts to refocus. She plays one of the most difficult violin concertos, the Sibelius.  The video is hilarious and a great lesson for our students on focus!

Hmmm, maybe we should get a studio mascot…

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  Theodore Roosevelt


Click here for image credit.

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

If you stick with the violin, where will it take you?

Violin! To the Super Bowl?

Dr. Seuss tells you where your violin will take you:  “Fame you’ll be famous, as famous as can be, with everyone watching you win on TV….”  You just never know where your violin will take you.  Stick with it for the long haul.  There are so many advantages to the discipline of studying the violin, not the least of which are the opportunities that lie ahead.

Click here to read The Washington Post article on the Super Bowl 50 halftime appearance of members of the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles.  We are always advocating for support for classical music, and the 2016 Super Bowl was the opportunity to showcase talented young people playing violins–on stage–with Chris Martin of the rock band, Coldplay.

“For anyone eager to see classical music take its place on the same playing field as other art forms in our society, it was a signal, and delightful, satisfaction,” says Anne Midgette of The Washington Post.

The video gives a glimpse behind the scenes with the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles as they rehearse for the Super Bowl.  Can you feel the excitement in these young people?  They will never forget Super Bowl 50!


“Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you.”  Dr. Seuss


Take care of your violin this winter!

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day!

Don’t be fooled by warm weather in January. Will Punxsutawney Phil predict 6 more weeks of winter! ? That’s a lot more cold weather for your violin to deal with.

During the winter, the violin has two enemies:  cold and low humidity.  The hair on the bow shortens, and tops shrink across the width of the violin more than the backs shrink.  Sounds like trouble.  To keep your instrument safe from the ravages of the cold weather,  you should remember a few basics about where you store your violin at any time.

Your violin should be kept where temperatures do not drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity is in the range of 35-50 percent.  Easier said than done in the winter weather of Northern Virginia.  Moving from the warm house to the cold car is not good for a violin.  You might possibly notice that the pegs do not fit properly, or you might even see cracks in the wood.

Yet, you may have to get to lessons, rehearsals, play-ins, and recitals. Life must go on for a violin, so here are some suggestions for keeping it safe for the winter months from Erin Shrader at

~a digital hygrometer– a must to monitor the humidity of the room the violin is in.

~a humidifier for the room in which your violin lives.

~store the violin in the case with the top closed to protect it from changes in temperature and humidity.

~a case humidifier can be useful if you remember to keep it filled.

~store the violin in a silk or tightly woven cotton sack

~before you play the violin, let it acclimate to the room.

Another good site to check out for violin care, winter and summer, is Potter Violin Company in Bethesda.

From Ashburn to Great Falls, winter weather may be wrecking havoc on your violin for 6 more weeks!

“O wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”  Percy Bysshe Shelley

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 )

Practice the violin: rewire your brain!

A gift of violin for your child for the new year!

The gift that violin lessons can offer!  Although we know that music lessons are good for our children, there is proof that lessons are more than good.  Real positive changes take place in the brain of children who take music lessons.

An October 2015 article in Limelight Magazine, reports the results of a study that took place in Finland which says that music can rewire the circuitry of our brain if we practice regularly.

They discovered that practicing actually changes your brain!  Why should you care about the results of this study? It shows that music lessons and practice strengthen your child’s brain, taking advantage of all that the brain can be.

Why they chose this study:

But we should ask also, “Why did the researchers want to do this study?”  The goal of researchers was to find out if the brain can reorganize itself, for example, after an accident with a central nervous system injury.  In that type of injury, the brain is affected so that the individual’s life may be drastically altered.
The researchers were hoping to show that there may be an ability in the brain to reconfigure itself to create alternate pathways.  If this were so, there would be more possibilities for recovery for central nervous system injury patients.  Since musicians’ brains are different, they wanted to use musicians in their study.

Clever Suzuki Violinist

How they did the study:

The question was:  Can training on a musical instrument improve the communication between the two hemispheres of the brain?

~The researchers investigated the effect that listening to music had on 2 parts of the brain.

1. the corpus callosum – a broad band of nerve fibers joining the two hemispheres of the brain.

2.  the two hemispheres – the right and left parts of the brain

~They tested 2 groups by having them listen to music.

1. professional musicians (who would have practiced a lot)

2. people  who had never played music professionally (who would have practiced much less)


People in the study who were musicians had much more robust development in the corpus callosum and in the two hemispheres.

There was more equal activity in the left and right hemispheres of the professional musicians as they listened to the music.

Even when music lessons were limited to fifteen months in childhood, there was an increase in grey matter in the brain for areas involved in motor, auditory, and visuo–spatial processing.

The front of the corpus callosum, which mainly connects motor areas, is larger in individuals who started playing a musical instrument earlier in life.

Music training leads to sensory and motor changes in the brain.  Motor nerves transmit impulses from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles.  The study shows that since the brain is capable of changing, people with central nervous system injuries may recover some abilities.

I find it fascinating that so many studies of the brain focus on musicians.  There is a tremendous impact on the growth and development of the brain when your child takes music lessons.  In an upcoming blog, I will report on studies of the brain of violin players.

“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!