Practice Tips From a Suzuki Mom

I’m president of SAU and a Suzuki violin and viola private teacher, but I am also a mother of four children, all whom are Suzuki violin students. My time as mother is demanding and I don’t have time to practice all day with the kids. I want to share things I’ve learned as a mother of Suzuki kids:

Consistent Practice Time: best way to get your kids to practice without complaint is never miss a day. This may seem clique, but it will save so much time and help you avoid complaining. They practice because that is just what we do, not because they “have to.”

  • Set a schedule: school day schedules may be different from your weekend. Have a schedule set in place before summer vacation starts. Make sure that once the schedule is in place don’t schedule anything during that time of day. Vacations are fun, but the routine must start up again right away or it is hard to get it back into place.
  • Time of day: I have found that if my kids practice before school we don’t have other things get in the way of practice time. Finding the right time for your family to practice will take time. My kids wake up, get ready, eat breakfast and then start practicing until it is time to leave for school. I have more time scheduled than they actually need for practice. Sometimes it is good to set up multiple practice times in a day. For little musicians their attention span is too short. Setting up multiple short practice times throughout the day is a great way to practice with little ones. With teens setting up two practice times, one in the morning and one after school is a better way for them to keep focus. They could practice intense difficult passages in the morning and go through review songs in the afternoon. This helps keep their mind fresh, reduces frustration, and helps them learn things much quicker. I have found with morning practice this wakes up the brain and they focus better in school.
  • “Daddy Sunday Recital”: There are many ways to get a practice on Sundays. On Sundays we have a “Daddy Recital.” That means my kids get to show off for my husband all the great things they worked on during the week. Grandparents love to have Sunday recitals too. Skype recitals are fun when grandparents live far away.

Advanced Learner (also known as Accomplished Learner): Children should develop the ability to self-evaluate and self-correct. Our goal as teacher and parent is to have the child develop the ability to learn without the need for a parent or teacher. Thus, when they go to their lesson, they’re fully invested and ready to learn. This is a life lesson that will carry through with all they do.

Multiple kids practice: It is always best to practice one on one between the parent and child without distractions. You can accomplish so much in a short time.

  • One on One time: Set up special times for each child to practice with you. As the kids learn and grow in their abilities they can start taking ownership for small parts of their practice such as scales, arpeggios, tone practice, vibrato practice, and even special 10x spots in their working piece. Even the smallest musician can learn to evaluate how they play. This takes lots of encouragement and questions like, “How did that sound?” “What did you like about that?” “What could you change to make it better?” The child learns to own their playing rather than letting it “just happen.”
  • Stagger practice times: I could spend most of my day practicing with my kids if I had to do them all separate. I stagger practice times. My oldest is now in middle school so he actually does not practice at the same time as the younger three. I start the next oldest two together. They need more time to practice than my youngest. Sometimes my girls and I do warm up exercises together. We always start with things that help their balance, posture, and tone. I then work with one while the other is doing items I know they can do on their own successfully. After a time, I switch which child I’m working with. Each of my children has their own practice chart to help guide them through their practice. After I have my one on one time with each of my girls, I will start my youngest. Once I start practicing with him, I don’t stop until his practice time is up. My girls are usually doing review songs or cleaning up a section of a song. If I have a child that needs help or a question then they practice on other things until I finish with my son. Then I work with my girls on any questions they have. This is not a perfect solution to practicing with multiple kids.
  • Focus: It is very crazy in my house during practice time, but the kids really learn to focus on what they are doing and not what the others are doing. If they struggle focusing then they practice in different rooms.
  • Dessert: At the end of our practice time, we try to have a little “dessert”. “Dessert” is when the kids choose something fun to play together. I always try to end our practice time with something the kids enjoy doing.
  • Group Song: Find music they can learn and work on together for special occasions. When certain times of the year become hectic and crazy, having all the kids work on one song together is a great way to find center and purpose. Our violin teacher is great at giving each of my kids different parts that are their ability level. It is a beautiful experience. Many times, I’ve found my kids randomly picking up their instrument and playing their part of the song and the others trickle in and join them.

Keep the instruments out: Having a special instrument hook on the wall makes it so easy to grab the instrument to practice. We all know that kids could take 20 min. just getting their instrument out. When they get to the age when they have to take it to school the hook is great place for them to set their instrument when they are doing special practice exercises that don’t require using the full instrument. If you have little kids in the house this is a great way to keep them up and out of the way.

Have a practice location: setting up an area with all they’ll need in arms reach is best. I have a little basket that has metronome, bead counters, stickers, timers, pencil, and anything my kids might need for practice. I also use this same basket when I am teaching. Keep the area free from distractions.

Who’s the teacher? I don’t teach my own kids. If I did, every day would end up feeling like a lesson. Kids need time to practice one concept for a week so they can master it and feel successful. Many wonderful teachers can teach their own kids, but it is much easier for me to say, “But Miss. Asheley wants it like this.” It is easier for the child to receive corrections from a teacher than from their parent. It is much easier for me to reinforce the new concepts, and provide guidance and support my child needs.

Lessons: During lessons, I am careful to take notes in a way that the child can use the chart as they practice and they can understand what the teacher is instructing. I use their teacher’s vocabulary for things even if it is different from what I use with my own students. I also try to make sure that my child knows that during lessons this is their time with the teacher. I answer questions when they are directed at me, but it is their time to learn to communicate challenges and to receive special instructions just for them from their teacher.

Listening Everyday: Each of my children has their own MP3 player with only Suzuki music. They listen as they work on homework, eat breakfast, and as they study the song in their practice time. They listen to other great music throughout the day.

Attend Concerts: Provide many opportunities to take your kids to concert. Even the little kids can attend special concerts throughout the community. Teach them concert etiquette. I was able to take one of my kids to see Joshua Bell a year ago. I wish I could have taken all of them. That concert affected her in so many different ways. She became more interested in the makers of violins. She enjoys going on YouTube to discover her favorite Joshua Bell songs. Her playing has changed. She has developed a grace about her playing that the others don’t have. We have attended many other concerts with all the kids. Dr. Suzuki was notorious at finding the best and then studying them and experimenting ways to mimic them. He would then have all the teachers in his school try out his new ideas. Some he kept others he scrapped.

Create magical moments: Just as the Joshua Bell concert was a magical moment for my daughter and me, I have found it very important to help create magical musical moments. With my students, I try to discover exciting locations to perform. I had the joy of taking my performance group to Hawaii a few years ago. Each location we performed at was magical. The location was wonderful, but the education about the place and people they were performing for is what makes it special. It does not have to be elaborate as an exotic vacation. Here is a list of ideas and places for magical moments:

  • Service performances: perform at your local senior center, assisted living, retirement homes, hospitals, and other care facilities. These places want people to come perform. It brings so much join to all their residence. They love having children come perform.
  • Suzuki Institutes: My family loves going to the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute every year. Because I do teacher training I get help from my extended family. My dad is almost an icon there. He loves going. My brother asks me every year when the institute is so he can come. I was not raised in the Suzuki method. I did not attend the institutes as a child. My father does not have much of a musical background and my brother plays percussion. They have no reason to want to go other than they really enjoy it. It really is a magical place. I learn so much as a teacher and parent attending the classes. I take notes not just on my kids but on the other kids in the class because there are so many great ideas shared. My kids look forward to it every year.
  • Celebration IX Concert: The Celebration concerts happen every five year in the Suzuki Association of Utah. It is truly a magical event. Children from all over Utah come to perform together. We are so lucky to have it at the LDS Conference Center.
  • Super Activities, Graduations, and Play-ins: We have so many wonderful events in the SAU geared towards education, positive social events, and helping kids see their talent part of something so much bigger than their little world. We try to create moments that will last on in the child’s memory forever.
  • Trips: planning and arranging that will enhance your child’s musical journey.  Examples are taking your child on a trip to see some of the top performers for their instrument.  If you plan a family trip, take them to see the area’s local symphony or to have them experience the cultures music.  Get your child involved in the planning of the trip.  That builds their anticipation and it makes the trip feel like it starts from the first day of planning.

Open their eyes to possibilities.  It does not have to be only in music. We have such a limited amount of time while raising our children lets cherish each moment.

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