BTS Deals: School Supplies to Improve Music Practice

picture of colored pencils

It’s that time again and here in St. Louis, we are all settling into the new school year. But while you’re getting your backpacks, markers, and rulers, there are some items that pop up at stores this time of the year that can help with music practice. Most are available year round, but a lot of school supplies are marked down in August and September, so it’s the perfect time to stock up on things that will help with music practice.

New binders

This is the cheapest you will see three-ring binders all year. If your lesson binder is looking the worse for wear, replace it now. I’ve seen binders fall apart before important auditions throwing papers everywhere. Don’t let this happen to you!

Reading Timers

These little guys have been showing up in deals section of Target. If your child needs to practice something for a certain number of minutes, this flat bookmark timer will fit in their music book and remind them to practice. Here is a link to a similar reading timer available on Amazon.

Practice Mirrors

In the dorm section of Target and other big box stores, you can now buy long over-the-door mirrors for around $5. Buy one and mount it in the area where your child practices so they can watch their own posture, bow hand, bow tracking, etc.  A mirror is an invaluable practice tool for the advancing student and they are deeply discounted right before school starts.

Pencil Toppers

You can use these to place on the tip of the bow for bow hand exercises. You can also use finger puppets.

Counters

Get an abacus to count repetitions. They’re on sale now, or available year-round at IKEA.

Fun Erasers

If you have a student who is working on posture, balancing one of these fun erasers on the top of the violin or viola will be a treat. Target often has seasonal erasers in the dollar section near the front of the store, or check out the dollar store.

Dry-Erase Foam Dice

I found these at our local Dollar Tree in the teacher section and can’t wait to try them out. You could write twinkle rhythms, review pieces, or number of repetitions, the choices are endless. Then you can erase and change them after next week’s lesson.

Charts

I’m not a fan of giving out stickers for practice because I want students to develop intrinsic motivation, but some students just love seeing their progress over time. You can use the dollar tree charts to track how often your child has played a certain review piece, or how many minutes of practice they did on each assignment. These charts can be found in the teacher section of dollar tree, office stores or big box stores.

Picture of sand timer.

Old-Fashioned 2-Minute Timers

I’ve seen these at dollar stores. I often use an app on my phone for minute timers, but these are too much fun. Just turn it over and practice a small section of music until the timer runs out.

What do you like to stock up on during back to school season?

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Summer Institute Magic: My ASI Experience

My American Suzuki Institute Experience

It’s back-to-school time here in St. Louis, and I’m busy getting ready for the new year, but before things get too crazy, I want to share my experience at the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point Wisconsin. I spent the last two weeks of July this year in Stevens Point, taking some viola teacher training. I’ve been to other institutes in the past and always enjoyed the experience, but I have to say that ASI is the largest and most organized that I’ve attended. Read More »

What I’m Reading Now: Beyond the Music Lesson

Beyond the Music Lesson-Habits of Successful Suzuki Families

Summer is a great time to catch up on on some reading. I’m off to Wisconsin soon and will be gone for a few weeks, so I was excited to get a new book in the mail with just enough time to read it before I left town. The book is called “Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families”  by Christine E. Goodner, a Suzuki teacher and parent. I’ve enjoyed reading the author’s blog, The Suzuki Triangle, so when I found out she was publishing a book, I knew I wanted to check it out.

“Beyond the Music Lesson” is the reading equivalent of taking a knowledgeable, friendly music teacher out for coffee and picking their brain about how to help your child succeed in music lessons. When I got the book in the mail, I’ll admit I was a bit surprised that it’s on the shorter side at just 141 pages. But as I read on, I realized that the shorter length is an asset. There are many wonderful books about practicing and teaching which are much longer and focus on lots of little details. They are great resources, but this book has the real advantage in that it is easy to read small chunks at a time without getting lost. The format of the book means that even the busiest parent could read a couple of paragraphs when they have a moment throughout the day and still get a lot of helpful information.

Before my Suzuki students begin lessons, their parents are required to attend a series of orientation sessions which include information on Suzuki philosophy as well as practical help in how to practice with their child. These sessions are invaluable in getting parents and students get off to the right start, but parent education should be a continuing process so that families continue to experience success in lessons and feel confident at home. As time goes on, new issues can arise such as what to do if a child being resistant or argumentative about practice, how to structure review practice, or just the daily grind of other activities crowding out practice time. There’s a lot to talk about! “Beyond the Music Lesson” addresses these common practice issues and more, in a simple, down-to-earth format that is accessible to non-musicians. It is written from a Suzuki perspective and for Suzuki parents, though there are some tips that would also apply to parents whose children are in traditional lessons as well. Although the author is a violinist and violist, the advice in the book is not instrument specific.

This book is not a comprehensive encyclopedia on efficient music practice. For a more detailed, nuts-and-bolts guide to practice, I would recommend “The Practice Revolution” by Philip Johnston, which is aimed more at music teachers rather than parents. Noa Kageyama over at the Bulletproof Musician Blog also has a list of recommended books that deal with learning and performance optimization. “Beyond the Music Lesson” is aimed more at big picture and practical issues such as how parents can find time for practice, how to create a daily listening habit, and why repetition is important. Just writing about it, I realize that for Suzuki teachers, these may seem like no-brainers, but it’s so important to keep coming back to basics, especially when working with families who are new to lessons. The book also cites research to back up ideas about practice and character development and provides resources for further reading.

For teachers, the last two chapters about mastery (including a long discussion on review) and on looking at the big picture are especially valuable.  I found it enlightening to reflect on ideas such as how I can help to create a positive musical environment in the studio, thinking of long-term goals to get through short-term frustrations, and helping students to cultivate a growth mindset. As all music teachers know, you can never really get too much of revisiting the basics. I’m glad to have added this book to my own library, and I’m hoping that my studio families will find it helpful as well.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Book Review-Beyond the Music Lesson

The Suzuki Method: What It Isn’t

The Suzuki Method- What it Isn't.

My Suzuki Journey

Prior to taking teacher training courses, my impressions of the Suzuki Method were mostly based on vague statements from other people who may or may not have had any knowledge of Suzuki teaching. Like a game of telephone, misinformation tends to spread unless corrected by a reliable source. I would like to address some common misconceptions about the method that  I have heard over the years, both from teachers and parents, and share my own experience with the method.

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A New Discovery from Dr. Suzuki’s Book

Like many Suzuki teachers, I have read Dr. Suzuki’s classic “Nurtured By Love” many times, coming back to Dr. Suzuki’s reflections time and again for inspiration. This week I stumbled upon a detail which had been previously overlooked. In the Suzuki community, we talk about the “Suzuki Triangle”,  in which the teacher, parent, and child work together for maximum success. However, the word “triangle” has proven difficult to translate from Japanese to English. Recently a more accurate translation reveals that this relationship is better translated as “Suzuki Quadrangle”. It may seem like a small detail, but I believe that a proper understanding of the Suzuki Quadrangle will lead to a better relationship among parent, teacher, and student, and to more productive, happy practices and lessons. Let’s explore the quadrangle.

Suzuki Quadrangle

As you can see, many parents and teachers have not been taking advantage of the missing piece which creates the Suzuki Quadrangle: that of coffee. If the teacher receives a regular supply of coffee, they are able to provide excellent instruction to the child. Similarly, if the parent has enough coffee, they can provide a positive learning environment for their child. Parent and teacher are able to freely and amicably communicate once both have had their coffee. One important note is that the child should never be on the receiving end of coffee. Should the child get coffee, all aspects of the Quadrangle will break down (although new tempi may be discovered!).

I am excited to put the Suzuki Quadrangle into practice in my studio.

p.s. Happy April Fool’s Day!

I Love Parents As Partners Online

OI Heart Parents As Partners

 

The practice partner/home teacher plays a crucial role in a Suzuki student’s success. As a teacher, I’m lucky that our program has a robust and comprehensive parent education for new Suzuki parents, but parents who have been practicing with their child for a while can often use some extra help and inspiration in home practice beyond what I can fit into the weekly lesson. Enter Parents As Partners Online!

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Red Light/Green Light: A Simple Game to Improve Music Practice

Red LightGreen Light(1)

Do you ever come across an idea so simple yet effective that you wonder: “Why didn’t I think of that?” The Red Light/Green Light game is that idea for me. During the summer when many of the young viola students whom I had started were reaching middle school and were starting to take more ownership of their own practicing, I was looking for ways to help them to practice more effectively to solve problems, rather than just repeat passages mindlessly. Enter my Violin Book 3 training course with the wonderful Joanne Melvin. She had devised a genius little trick to encourage self-reflection in her students. Up to that point, I would try to ask my students questions about how they had played, but I have found this game to be a much more succinct and specific version of those conversations. My students have since become much better practicers because of this game and I hope you will enjoy it as well.Read More »

Suzuki, Ben Folds and the Power of Listening

Ben Folds

I am very lucky to have a studio full of students who are diligent and consistent with daily practice. This has not always been the case in my teaching career, so I recognize what a blessing it is to work with children and parents who understand and commit to the value of daily practice. They make my job easy! I’m often surprised, therefore, that the same attention is not always paid to listening to the Suzuki recordings. My older students keep a daily practice log, which includes a space at the bottom for listening assignments. I’m shocked when a student who has accomplished all the scales, etudes, and repetitive practice of difficult passages I assigned has not also listened to the CD. Listening is supposed to be the easy part! I am always looking for ways to emphasize the crucial importance of listening to my studio families.Read More »

Play it again! Fun ways to practice repetitions.

We used to have a downstairs neighbor who was a very nice, polite guy who worked in sales and, as far as we knew, had no music background. My husband told me one evening that he had run into our neighbor in the garage. “It’s nice really nice hearing Eliana practice, but it seems like she just plays the same thing over and over again!”, the neighbor had remarked. Because many non-musicians only ever see the finished product of a piece performed in concert, they don’t realize that practice often involves playing short sections of a piece many times until they are in the muscle memory. Particularly with my older students who are practicing independently, I  have to sell them on the idea of playing a tricky part again and again.

Play It Again, Sam!

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No More Squeezing, Gripping, Squishing: Games and Tips to Relieve Left Hand Tension

No More Squeezing , Gripping, Squishing!1

One of the most common technical hangups with string players is excess tension in the left hand. In the beginning, many students don’t yet have the finger strength to be tense, but as soon as they do, it can seem like they are holding the violin or viola like a vice! This can be a difficult habit to break because the student can’t  see the tension and often isn’t aware they are squeezing.

Over the years, I have found these simple games and activities to help relieve left hand tension and promote good position. I have divided them into two categories: games that support holding the violin/viola without the left hand helping, and games that help with left hand to relax. Read More »