TIPS FOR PARENTS
IN THE LESSON
How can you best help your child during their lessons?
Do you know what your teacher would like you to do during your child’s violin lessons?
As a parent myself, I understand just how easy it would be to plop down on the studio couch and break open a book or surf the web.
The Suzuki Method, however, encourages, even requires, parents to take a more “active” role during the lesson. Your child is not going to be able to recreate the lesson assignments at home without your help. Or at least not until the teenage years. Your child’s 30-60 minute lesson only represents a small fraction of their week. If we want to set the child up for success (which should be every teacher and parent’s goal), the parent needs to leave the lesson with a clear vision of what that week’s practice sessions should look like so that precious practice time has direction and purpose.
Intentional, goal-oriented practice at home leads to true progress. Progress is essential for your child’s motivation and self-confidence.
I try to give clear directions about what I want to happen at home. I tell my students “This is a practice spot. Can you play that bar correctly 5 times in a row?” I give clear instructions as to how to break down that particular spot using rhythms or helpful words.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or extra hands to write these challenges down when I am helping the student in the lesson. I expect parents to write down these practice challenges, and most do. Parents should make a note of the techniques to focus on each week in their lesson notes.
How can parents set their children up for practicing success?
1. Take notes during the lesson.
I am quite often helping your child with posture, holding their own instrument, demonstrating, etc. Taking notes is often physically impossible while you are teaching the lesson. This is especially true during young children’s lessons. If you are not sure what you should be writing down, check out this excellent episode of the Teach Suzuki Podcast about this very subject.
2. Give your child the gift of your full attention during their lesson. Make note of what they do well. Share these observations on your journey home. They will notice your attention and interest, and be motivated to do even better next time.
3. Resist the temptation to help or correct your child during the lesson.
After all of your hard work at home, you want your child to show the teacher that they really practiced! It makes sense that you would want to quickly remind your child to bend his knees, or say, “No, that’s third finger, we worked on that!” It’s perfectly natural to do. However, it is incredibly distracting and overwhelming for your child to receive direction from two sources. As Dr. Suzuki said, “One teacher in the lesson.”
If you have not been taking notes or paying focused attention to your child’s lesson in the past, don’t despair, it’s never too late to start! We can’t expect to be “perfect Suzuki parents” all the time. We can, however, make subtle course corrections every day so that we reach our destination.
Shoot only one arrow at a time. After playing a piece try to focus on just one thing to improve.
* Ask lots of questions to engage their thinking brain. It is much better for their retention when the child can come up with solutions himself. (Adult: How do you think you could make your tone even better? Child: Stay in the middle of the road… Adult: How do we do that? Child: Watch the bow.)
* One of the best ways to keep your kids feeling confident about their playing (not to mention improving their playing) is to really focus on review. Make a review spinner:
* Jokes. Reading jokes during practice brings smiling and laughter to practice sessions which I think is invaluable. Silly memes might be a good option for an older child.
* The Decide Now app. Kids love it because it is them and not you deciding the next activity.
* Short practices throughout the day. Children have only their age plus one in minutes of good focus, so for a five year old: 5+1=6 minutes of good focus time. It can be easier to get them to come practice because they know they won’t have to be focusing for 30-45 minutes at once. For older children, practicing between each piece of homework can be very effective.
* Switching places. Let your child be the teacher or parent. This works especially well if you don’t play their instrument. Children love to teach what they’re learning. It also gives you an opportunity to increase their awareness of what the instrument should sound like or how it should look.
* Do something ridiculous. Have them lay on the floor while they play.
Cry every time their bow hits an extra string. Be ridiculous.
* Let them experiment. Give them two minutes to try whatever they want on the violin.
* Do a practice tour. Play each practice activity in a different place in the house. Maybe even standing on the kitchen table or bed.
The main point to remember is that you are in charge of the overall tone of the practice. No matter what your child says or does, if you remain calm and try to bring love and laughter into the practice session then things won’t deteriorate much.
Need more help?
Here are some useful links