Practice: Parent as a Home Teacher by Alinta Thornton;
‘You don’t have to practice on the days you don’t eat’ Shinichi Suzuki
One of the parents will have the pleasure of taking on the role of active parent. This means you have to do the following things:
Attend lesson with the child.
Practice with the child every day.
Ensure that the recording is listened to every day.
Attend parents’ meetings and concerts and group lessons.
Most teachers will want to give you lessons on the instrument for a short period.
This is the crux of the whole method. When a child learns to speak, how could he do it if a parent weren’t around to help? A three-year old is not yet capable of logic, but the practical process of practice requires logic if it is to be done well. The great effect of praise and encouragement on students is far more effective when applied by the parent during the practice.
You are, in fact, the home teacher. The Suzuki teacher shows you at the lesson how to teach the child at home. The effectiveness of the lesson is implemented by you every day and is multiplied seven-fold! Instead of having one lesson a week, the student will have at least seven!
At the beginning, the practice time is not very long (because the child isn’t playing much material and his concentration is built up slowly and naturally as he progresses). The start with it might be five minutes two or three times a day. You must be available whenever the child wants to practice, unless the house is on fire! How much more productive if the practice is done when the child wants to do ti.
Also you will have to establish a routine. Some children are most receptive in the morning. In this case, get up half an hour earlier and teach the child then. If it’s done in the morning, distractions later in the day are less important- at least you have done one practice that day…
Other children are at their best in the afternoon, so for these children this is the best time to practice. Most families split the practice into two sessions – one in the morning, another at night, the content of each practice geared to the child’s energy. Whatever system you adopt, practice is far more harmonious (and regular) if it is done at the same time each day. However this doesn’t exclude doing some if the child suddenly wants to. If the child really wants to do it at another time, then you can reschedule to a more convenient moment. But you must learn the difference between procrastination and true fatigue!
It can be difficult to put aside all other concerns and simply enjoy the pleasure of the moment, but that’s exactly what you need to do to be a good Suzuki parent. If you are always aiming for a distant goal (e.g. to have the child become a world-famous violinist, or to reach Book 10) you miss out on the pleasure of the learning process. Suzuki says the parent must give the child a good environment, and then wait and enjoy as the child learns to play. You know your child will learn to speak eventually and you don’t rush him to learn- and no child fails to learn his own language.
During the practice at home, parents should avoid negative criticism. Comments could be: ‘Very good! Can you play this note better?’ ‘Let’s play ‘May Song’ and listen for a beautiful tone. Very good. That was a lovely tone.’
In the practice the parent should concentrate on only one problem at a time. Some parents say, ‘Elbow down. Violin up. Bow straight. Fingers around. Your third finger is sharp.’ This only confuses the child and makes him feel inadequate and useless. It is far easier- and more successful- to concentrate on one part of playing until it is correct before moving on to the next.
The practice should also be a pleasant experience. The best gift a parent can give to a Suzuki student is a sense of enjoyment. Education does not have to be stuffy and formal. Discipline is necessary (or you can’t learn successfully), but there is always room for a sense of humour and imagination. If you enjoy it, chances are your child will too.
I have said that students may only practice 15 minutes a day at the beginning. However when the child can play all the ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little star’ variations, he can play them consecutively for the full four minutes it takes to play them. Thus the concentration span increases naturally with the amount of material studied. Halfway through Book 1, 30- 45 minutes is a reasonable amount. By Book 3 it should be at least one hour.
Dr Suzuki says, ‘If one child practices 15 minutes a day, and another child practices three hours a day, it takes the second child three months to accomplish what the first accomplishes in nine years.’ But most people would say the second child was more talented than the first. This of course is not true – he simply practiced more.
Suzuki method is a no-fail method. However, students do drop out! This is because of the parent’s bad attitude and lack of commitment, not because of an ‘untalented’ child. Every child can play the violin. But not every parent is cut out to be a Suzuki parent. Please be very sure that you want to do it before going ahead- it takes a big commitment, a large slice of your time and effort and is not an easy task. However, it is also a very rewarding task. I urge you to think very seriously about it!
‘Every child has ‘talent’. Shinichi Suzuki
A Nurturing Superior Musical Sensitivity
Provide your child with the opportunity to listen as much as possible every day to the companion CD of the pieces he will learn. When students are familiar with pieces before they study them, they are, in essence, developing internal abilities. This is the best method for fostering motivation. Once motivation is in place, your child will practice with enjoyment and develop nicely. The violin is a medium for cultivating human character, ability, and heart.
Vocalists practice a pedagogical exercise called Vocalization in order to nurture beautiful, refined voices. Their lessons start with Vocalizaiton exercises to develop quality and power in their singing voices. With instrumentalists, as well, it is vital for teachers to lead their students in Tonalization exercises at each lesson. At home, too, students ought to practice for tone so that they develop ever finer ability.
Developing a balanced posture
Always strive for accurate intonation, a balance posture, and natural approach to the instrument.
Parents and teachers alike must foster the child’s motivation so that he will practice with enjoyment and good will.
Balance between Individual Lessons and Group Classes
Individual lessons are important for students to develop their abilities at their own rate of learning. Every child learns differently.
Group classes give students the opportunity to play together with others and are a fun and enjoyable experience. Hearing more advanced players also can be highly motivating to children and improves their playing and listening skills.
Goals of lessons and performance
Reference for students and their families
The Group Class is an important means of enriching the musical environment and essential component of the Suzuki method. Group classes are essential for performance of the review pieces and are also an opportunity to learn to play with the piano accompaniment. Learning happens much more quickly when children are allowed to watch others. In addition group lessons provide a motivating social environment that, if nurtured by the parents, can later blossom into extra-curricular musical activities such as orchestra and small chamber music ensembles as the children mature. It is precisely this kind of social atmosphere that inspires students to practice especially during adolescence when music is in competition with so many other activities.
When a student was already very good at playing the pieces, Dr. Suzuki said “Improve your ability with a piece that you know.”. Not all the children will know all the pieces that are played during a performance – if they do not know a piece or a particular skill, they will sit down and watch and learn from the others. The teacher may give them an activity to do while the others are playing (help another student with posture or straight bows, play on an open string, count circle bows, listen or watch for a specific technique) which will help them when they get to that piece. It is important for the student to be in “good review shape” in order to enjoy the Group Concert experience.