December 2010

How DO Suzuki Students Learn Their Pieces?

December 27, 2010 01:05

There is nothing especially mysterious about the process of teaching a three, four or five year old how to play an instrument.  I have experienced many instances where parents have inquired about music lessons for their young child and repeatedly asked during the conversation “so they’ll actually be able to play an instrument?”  The straightforward answer to this question is another question: “do you think they can play?”

The Suzuki method breaks everything down to the simpler task.  This is why sight reading is taught as a separate entity.  It would be difficult for anyone of any age to attempt the complex task of playing an instrument while trying to figure out how to read music at the same time.  Therefore, beginning students are taught their pieces by ear; listening and repeating is a skill most people have already mastered at a young age.

Most of what goes in to learning an instrument has nothing to do with the actual playing.  One really good example would be the ability to sit still and focus on a single task.  In the Suzuki method, the child initially does not do a whole lot of playing on their instrument for quite a few lessons.  Instead, many of the activities (or “games”) are done away from the instrument but are designed to help attention span, focus and memory.

Once these skills are acquired, real work on the instrument may actually begin but in a step by step fashion.  For instance, on the violin, a student will spend a great deal of time just trying to master the bow hold.  Without a proper bow hold, there is no way to produce a good sound as the bow is pulled across the strings.

While mastering beginning technique, a Suzuki student will do a great deal of listening to their Suzuki CD.  The CD does two things: it familiarizes the student with the repertoire and helps to establish a sense of pitch.  It is not unlike retelling a story to someone; it is easier to retell if you already know how the story goes.

Constant listening and learning to associate certain sounds with certain note names will make playing “Twinkle” for the first time a much simpler process.  The students already know the tune, they know how certain pitches sound, all that is left is figuring out how to create those pitches on their instrument.

It is important to understand that the Suzuki method is not about listening to a piece and regurgitating.  It is about mastery of each small step in order to achieve a greater whole.  In order to really get the most out of the method, the student or parent of a younger student must be willing to embrace the long term bigger picture.  The skills music teaches a person will affect everything they do in life, not just their ability to play an instrument.

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Practice What You Teach While You Teach It

December 17, 2010 15:37

The catch 22 of teaching an instrument is that often times you will be too tired to play at the end of the day simply because you've been playing said instrument all day with your students.  This presents a bit of a problem in the area of self-improvement.

I haven't had a violin lesson in over 10 years.  I switched to viola and it became my primary instrument through high school and college.  I realized that if I wanted to continue to grow as a violin teacher, I was going to have to find a teacher for myself; just to keep my playing in check.

After much searching, I found a teacher who could take me on a monthly basis.  This was perfect since I'm pretty sure weekly lessons would have been the last straw that broke the camel's back.  We had our first lesson a few weeks ago and she was simply excellent to work with.

One thing my new teacher was extremely helpful with was giving me technique to work on WHILE I play with my students.  I realized then that I really undervalued all that time I spend playing in lessons.  Every time I play Twinkle with them I could be working on my own bow hold or string crossings at the same time.

While this is not nearly as ideal as practicing on my own, I figure it's way better than nothing at all.  Instead of compartmentalizing my practicing into a separate task, I just inject it into my regular working day.

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