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Danielle Gomez

Deliberate Participation

March 14, 2013 at 7:05 AM

Over my years of Suzuki Method teaching, parent participation is a subject that comes up quite a bit. The teacher, parent and student are the three parts of the triangle. Each must work with each other in order to achieve the greater goal and each part is equally important.

Ideally, both parents should be at every lesson. The teacher only gets to see the student once a week so the parents must become the at-home teachers for the other six days. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to have both parents at every lesson. Work or the other siblings create time constraints. So it is suggested that one parent, preferably the same parent, attends every lesson.

Having one parent attend every lesson and then work with the child at home usually works out well. But, inevitably, the other parent begins to feel left out which leads to what I call "random participation." Random participation can easily become a bone of contention if left unchecked.

Before I go on, I feel it's necessary to explain that I don't view the non-participating parent in a bad light (quite the opposite, since usually it's supporting their family at work that makes them unable to participate). The feeling of exclusion is also a completely natural emotion. It stems from the frustration of wanting to be there for the child as they reach various musical milestones.

"Random" participation means that the non-participating parent suddenly decides to take the child to a lesson or to work with the student at home for a few practice sessions. Sometimes this is not a problem. The parent attends the lesson, enjoys watching, takes a few notes and then leaves.

But random participation can cause problems, especially for younger students. To start, the parent has not been "trained" (as in they don't know what to look for when watching the lesson). The bigger problem, however, is that issues will be taken out of context. The parent may ask the student, "Why was that note out of tune?" The note may have been out of tune but the teacher may have been spending several months working on intonation with the student. So, yes, the note was incorrect but the student was playing on the whole better than they were months ago. Progress has been made but impossible to recognize if only watching one lesson.

It is discouraging for the student to hear that type of critique after months of hard work. It can also create unnecessary upheaval at home. The non-participating parent reports back to the regularly attending parent that the student was playing wrong notes, failing to realize if it was poor intonation or if it was really just a difficult passage of music. In a nutshell: things get lost in translation.

Therefore, it is crucial to discuss with the student's teacher how to be more involved in a child's musical education. Be deliberate, not random. Is there a teaching book both parents could read and discuss together? What are some fun practicing games the non-participating parent could do with the student at home? That way the time spent with the student is both positive and productive.

Raising a young music student is no easy task. There will always be ups and downs in the learning process but what's important is that everyone is on the same page. That way no one is excluded and current progress can continue as usual.

Rethinking Genius

From Scott Cole
Posted on March 14, 2013 at 6:42 PM
""The parent may ask the student, "Why was that note out of tune?""

You've raised an interesting point: that parents are likely to talk in an entirely different manner to their kids at home than teachers do at the lesson. When I ask that question, I'm asking, and my student is (hopefully) trained to know that I want a specific answer. Such as "I think I didn't get my elbow around that time" or "I over-reached" or whatever.

However, parents often criticize their kids--we've all heard it and done it--with an open-ended question that has no answer. It's a question without an answer, the opposite of a rhetorical question: "what were you thinking?" "how could you be so stupid?" "why aren't you practicing?" I could always tell when my father didn't like something I'd purchased when he asked the classic "what the hell kind of shoes are those?" What can one answer to such questions?

So when we let parents loose with young students at home, we have to train them to communicate as teachers, NOT parents. It's not an easy task.

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on March 14, 2013 at 7:46 PM
Exactly my point. The parent attending the lesson MUST be trained which is why random participation is not always a good thing. There's nothing more discouraging than excessive criticism. Even if the criticism is unintentional.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 16, 2013 at 12:31 AM
I didn't learn with the Suzuki method and I'm glad, specifically because of this parental participation issue. I don't think it would have been possible to "train" my parents to participate constructively. They paid for lessons and drove me to and from them, and for that I am very grateful. However, I'm glad they weren't asked, and didn't try, to do more.

My own children have also, now and then, just not taken instruction from me very well. They will hear whatever it is much better from a teacher, and I have learned the hard way, especially with my older child, that it is often just better for me to stay out of the way and let the teacher do his or her job.

I think it takes a particular type of parent-child relationship to make parental involvement of this sort work at all. I'm still a bit surprised that it's such a universal expectation of Suzuki lessons.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on March 16, 2013 at 3:16 PM
I feel you summed up a crucial need here regarding the parental role: "Be deliberate, not random." Although I didn't learn by Suzuki, I respect it; and it's more than proved its worth -- especially considering all the excellent players who have learned by it.

My parents paid for my lessons and required that I practice, but they weren't present during lessons or practice. Although they certainly kept track of my whereabouts and activities, they preferred that I learn to do things without direct parental supervision as soon as I was ready. Then, too, I was always something of a little geek and highly independent; so this approach no doubt worked best in my case. I don't believe Suzuki would have worked as well for me or my parents.

On the other hand, some kids prefer to have a parent involved in lessons and practice -- I've come across reports of such here on This kind of teamwork and coaching can do a lot of good, especially if the parent is also a skilled player. I would think Suzuki would be at its best in this kind of environment.

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