The studio is currently on break this week before summer lessons begin next week. I am grateful for a week off from teaching, especially as everyone in our house (including myself) came down with the flu over the weekend. It has been nice to have some time to recuperate!
While I am going through my third box of Kleenex, I thought I would take some time to finally go through my box of past American Suzuki Journals. If you are unfamiliar with this publication, it is the "official" publication of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. There are a lot of fabulous articles written by seasoned teachers, parents, etc. I find that there are all sorts of nuggets to be had from reviewing the articles, and thought that it might be worth sharing with everyone else as well!
Currently on my mind is the topic of regrouping--as in reevaluating what is going on in terms of home practice and restructuring as needed for the upcoming summer (and fall) semesters. Today I would like to share parts of an article written by Elizabeth Faidley from Fall 2005. The article is entitled, "The Student and Home Teacher--An Important Link in the Suzuki Learning Triangle."
She begins by giving a brief summary of her experiences as a Suzuki student, and then begins talking about her mother's role in her Suzuki study. She states, "Obviously, she doesn't practice with me anymore, but she is my biggest supporter." I think that this observation is so important. It is so easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and to nit-pick all the time about what your child is not doing rather than championing them for what they are doing. As a Suzuki mom, myself, I think it is important to continually ask yourself if your child sees you as their biggest supporter, or as the nagging mom who nags me about practicing. Some nagging is necessary (and Faidley does talk about this as well), but at the end of the day, your child needs to know that you support what they do, no matter what.
Practicing with her mother added a completely different dimension to her relationship with her mother. Faidley comments that she is sure she would have had a wonderful relationship with her mother regardless, but learning through the Suzuki method helped to strengthen their bond even more. This is also a valid question to consider as well. I know that I personally have days where I am prone to being more impatient, less kind, more pushy, and probably just mean. This does not excuse my behavior in the least, but I feel like this is one area that I need to be valiant in trying to redirect in a kind way and not become frustrated when my 4-year-old slouches on his cello bench for the fifteenth time, or starts talking about spaceships and dinosaurs when we are listening for good tone. It's not easy! But as the parent, YOU have to make the conscious choice to decide how to keep your attitude in check. Sometimes leveling with your child, looking them square in the eye, and saying, "Mommy has had a very long day and is not feeling well. We need to practice your cello though. We have committed to practice every day. Mommy needs you to help and try your very best to focus." is all it takes to keep them more on task.
Faidley writes, "I do not doubt that my mother and I would be close today even if it were not for Suzuki and the violin, but I also do not hesitate to give this learning method credit for our wonderful relationship. Practice time was very special to me as a child, despite the fact that I did not always want to practice right away. Super Mario Brothers on the Nintendo and my Nancy Drew books were very tempting, as were playing "School" with my younger sister and throwing the softball outside with my father. However, my mother always made it clear that violin time was the most essential part of our day. Practicing was not just important for me, the young musician, but also for her. Although our household demanded all of her attention, she always reserved time for us that would be undistracted and special. I always wanted to play for her, and if she had to cook dinner while I played through Lightly Row or Bach's Concerto in a minor, I would follow her into the kitchen."
I am going to interject and draw your attention to her comment about practicing being "undistracted and special." Personally, I have found that it is so much easier to focus my efforts better if the other two kiddos are occupied and out of the vicinity of practice. If I am trying to keep my 20-month old toddler entertained and trying to practice with one of my other child, it is a recipe for disaster. And I often get frustrated and impatient with my children who had absolutely nothing to do with making me agitated. Find a way to make practice time about your child ONLY if you are reasonably able to.
Faidley continues, "This isn't to say that my mother and I always got along perfectly while practicing. Many fights ensued regarding the new "low twos" in Etude. However, in the back of my young mind, I knew she was right and appreciated every second of the screaming, and later, the hugging. It meant so much to me that she cared enough to make sure each finger was perfectly placed. I knew that she believed in me. My mother did not become a pushy "stage-mother" and force music on me in any way. She simply helped me along in every way that she could. When I lost a chair audition in my first orchestra experience and was emotionally crushed, my mother was able to help me understand that I was still a great violinist and that there will always be peaks and valleys in life."
"Later in my violin career, when I was a teenager, our bond became even stronger. She made unbelievable sacrifices to send me to music camps and to ensure that I was studying with the right teacher at the right time. She and my father battled financial hardships and drove me to violin lessons hours away from our home. When a physical condition which required surgery threatened my violin playing, my mother tirelessly researched to find what ultimately would be the best solution and saved my ability to play. While any parent would want to do this for his or her child, I believe that our special bond was what led her to make sacrifices once again in order to ensure my continued playing. One experimental surgery later, I am performing again, thanks to my wonderful doctor and my Suzuki mother.
"Now that I am a teacher, I can see that my mother was the ideal Suzuki mother. She listened diligently to every word the teacher said, she took careful notes, she asked appropriate questions, and she knew how to teach me at home. Over many years and many experiences we have together survived the sometimes hurtful and the always exciting world of music. I am not confident that I would still have the love for the violin that I do today if it weren't for my mother's support and unconditional belief in music and me. I still look forward to playing for her whenever she visits, but our bond, forged through the Suzuki method, has naturally carried over to all parts of our lives. My other is my greatest support system, and she is most definitely the wind beneath my wings."
There are so many wonderful things that Faidley mentioned about her mother in these paragraphs. It seems like the perfect 'ode to my mother' on Mother's Day. I love how she highlights the good that her mother was able to do in the face of all sorts of opposition--including practicing with her obstinate and argumentative daughter. There are going to be times where practicing is an enjoyable and fun experience, and times where it is a battle of the wills. On days like this, I like to play the teacher card and say, "This is what your teacher said to do, so we are going to do it." Inventing games that usually earn a small piece of candy or a special pencil/pen at the end of the practice session (my kids are currently obsessed with office supplies that are bright, glittery, or smelly) help to keep us on track. Ultimately, I do want my children to know that I believe in them, and I think that this is the very thing we should try to frame everything that we do with our children. If our children know that we believe in them, there is no limit to what they are willing to try or what they are willing to do. It helps their self-confidence to grow, and when they feel confident about themselves and their instrument, they are better equipped to take the hiccups in stride.
So as we head into the summer and fall months, take a few minutes to examine your current home practice habits and determine if there is something (even small) that you can do to improve things!