Group Class Success – What do parents do?

What do parents do at lessons? Everything! And how does that work?

Group class

We’ve all heard it before: Parents are the key to their children’s success. And it’s true. If a child has lost motivation or is not moving through the pieces, the missing link is parent involvement. But parents need to know what to do. I’ve experienced Suzuki Violin first hand as a parent and as an educator. My role as a parent was far more challenging, every day at home with my children grappling with ways to ‘get’ them to play their pieces.

At the heart of the problem is the western tuition model’s narrow focus on the child and the student in the lesson. I too sat silently, a parent at the back of the room while the teacher expertly taught my children one-to-one. Occasionally during the lesson, the teacher nodded over at me to make sure I had made a note for home practice. Despite my diligence, I felt disconnected and superfluous. Being the parent at your child’s lesson can be an excruciating experience and it is no surprise some mothers and fathers wonder why they have to be there.

Problems of the Parent Disconnect

I’ve watched classes where parents bring magazines to read during the lesson, or slip outside for long conversations on their mobiles, and see they were going to be quite unable to work with their child during the week. I imagined they’d go home, tell their child to practice and wonder why there is so much resistance. In the very early stages of violin playing, young children need an enormous amount of home teaching. Violin is a very challenging instrument to learn. We’ve all heard a parent say, “I don’t think my child is suited to violin, they have lost interest, we are thinking of giving up.” In other words the parent is giving up.

My own experiences and observations of the parent disconnect in the lesson made me think about how it could be different. I began with the lesson structure, what the ideal outcomes should be, and how parents could communicate and work in depth with their children about the study points in question.

What I saw at the Summer School

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Meditation by Massenet – Violin Solo

Within French composer Jules Massenet’s opera “Thaïs” is the beautiful Meditation, a short intermezzo melody soon adopted by violinists everywhere as an attractive concert encore. The violin floats in above the gentler sounds of the harp and is joined by the rising glow of the orchestra strings, lifting and transporting us upward to the passionate emotions beyond. Welcome to the new TSV Violin Solo Series!

Jules Massenet

Jules Massenet

Meditation is a real gift for violin students on their journeys to the heights, a technically easy short violin solo of about six minutes with unlimited possibilities for personal interpretation and creative expression. Because of its lasting popularity, there are numerous performances by famous violinists available, providing some wonderful examples to admire and emulate.

TSV Gold members can now download the score from the solos section on the Scores Main Page.

Some points of interest for study

  • Research and practise the technical difficulties.

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Group Class Success – Teaching the Points

In this post on Group Class Success Series we look at the second teaching session, which focuses on violin pieces and points within the levels. For violin programs based on Suzuki’s principles, Session Two is the mainstay of group work, violin workshops and summer schools.

Photo courtesy of Michel Catalisano

In many areas of violin studies, especially for achieving big advances in playing style, tone control, performance presentation and musicality, these classes are more effective than one-to-one lessons. Students learn skills about the quality of their playing and sound from watching and studying with other players, and the persuasive social proof principle comes into effect, creating the sense and conviction, if the others can do it, I can too!

How to choose the main study point

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Group Class Success: Managing Behaviour

We are in a quandary about how to handle children. The words behaviour and discipline are charged with tension as arguments rage back and forth between traditional and alternative ideas – but as I explain later, I don’t like using the words. I believe we are looking for other, better ways in our dealings with children, and as a society, I think it is very important that we keep revisiting this topic.

The fact is that in many cases, especially in schools and for parents, behaviour and discipline are fraught simply because modern children see that they can refuse to comply with demands placed on them by adults – and really, at the end of the story, can’t be made to do something anymore. Quite often they don’t care about the punishments or embargoes devised to keep them in order. However, there is a way to bypass this deadlock. To have successful, productive and enjoyable group classes and violin lessons, we have to find it.

I’m not so keen on the word discipline for its old connotations – children to be seen and not heard, controlling children rather than inspiring them and so on, therefore I might just have to drop the word and look for other ways of explaining something that is, or should be, alive and inspiring. When it really boils down, what we want to do is to create and develop good relationships. but instead I think we have ended up in a muddle.

Disconnected incentives extinguish interest

For a long time now, focus on children’s behaviour has been driven by the psychological model of Behaviourism. From this doctrine, we alternate between reward and punishment as the way to cope with children – great for rats and pigeons perhaps, but not the best if we are to have healthy and successful teacher-student and parent-child relationships. Clearly, it is a toxic mix. To be honest, every society (and it doesn’t really matter which country) is floundering to cope with bringing up children. If we haven’t made a connected relationship with our children in the early years, we are headed for a bumpy ride and much difficulty managing them as teenagers.

Create genuine interest

I love watching John’s and Phianne’s classes as they are so adept at teaching. They rarely have a student who is not concentrating on what they are doing. Even the most disconnected children pay attention during their sessions, but it’s not so apparent how it’s being done.

At the end of one Group Class, I recall speaking with a group of parents who unwittingly made the comment, Oh, John and Phianne are so patient with the children. Shocked that they could miss seeing the point, I said in frustration, It has absolutely nothing to do with patience! It comes from creating interest and focusing the children on the teaching point.

When children become intensely engaged in doing, behaviour problems fade away. Parents and teachers alike are often so accustomed to disciplining children’s behaviour and becoming so stressed and frazzled in the process that they cannot see another totally different way when it is in front of them.

Even at university lectures for my education degree, we were instructed never to turn our backs on the class!

Don’t you just hate it when kids roll their eyes at you? When they start eye-rolling, communicating with others or mucking up in classes, lessons or home practice, it’s a sure sign that attention is on behaviour. (These days I think it is very funny when I see eye rolling.)

A lot of keeping students in the flow comes from being organised ourselves, especially in our head.

FOUR PRINCIPLES FOR GROUP CLASS BLISS

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Group Class Success – Playing with the Suzuki Recordings

Listening to and playing with the recordings is a cornerstone of the Suzuki Method. Once you really get it, everything changes and it’s so much easier for all students to progress rapidly. Some may think it is a bit stilted to play along with the recording, yet I always imagine what it is like for young children, or anyone for that matter, to go home and try to play violin without first hearing and knowing the sound of the music.

Listening to the recording builds the inner music landscape in all its auditory vistas, colours and details – I’m amazed how some parents of violin students don’t take advantage of its extraordinary power. Without it there is little in the child’s mind to make the connection between head, hands and instrument and the only time the student hears the real music is once a week, at the lesson. There’s virtually no hope they can carry home what they’ve heard and hold it usefully through the week without going back to the recordings.

These days, few parents are experienced piano accompanists or accomplished violinists, so without the sounds of the recording, like in Old Mother Hubbard, the music cupboard for the musical mind is relatively bare. The recorded music is the means by which parents can build a strong, healthy music learning environment at home and speed up their child’s learning success.

Learning the Language of Music

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Group Class Success – The Play Through

For a number of years our violin school ran what I can only describe as standard group classes, held a couple of times in the school term. Modelled on classes in Japan and elsewhere, they were well attended and from a teaching perspective, quite productive. The students liked coming and participated conscientiously, but if anything the classes were an addition to private lessons, almost like group practices on particular points and pieces.

When the decision was made to revolutionize the program, putting the group class in the driver’s seat and holding them every week, we chose Saturdays to run them. (It wasn’t the best day on reflection, as Saturday is a general day of relaxation, but I will come back to the schedule and better options in a later topic about scheduling.)

In our planning meetings we spent a lot of time discussing how to bring a real buzz and sense of community into the new classes. Because of the big changes to the program we were unsure how it would turn out, but it didn’t matter. We were just determined to make the sessions fun and very instructive. In some ways the new classes were very experimental partly due to the wide mix of abilities in the small number we started them with.

Eventually the large teaching room was full and really buzzing. Here’s the story of how it happened.

The Six Group Class Sessions

Session 1: The Play Through

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Group Class Success – Introduction

Welcome to the new series on the Group Class, from TSV co-founder Allie Berger.

I love what group class does for students and parents. My wow moment was when we had just come out of a group class at a Suzuki Summer School in Matsumoto, Japan, as I watched a mother with her three or four year old child talking together in detail about what they had noticed and learned in the class.

The level of discussion they had from the class was truly impressive. Both the parent and child were inspired by what they had learned in the group class setting and it was obvious they were developing a close relationship through what they were doing together.

For me, Group Class is the key to learning violin.

It makes the roles and work of teachers, parents and students so much easier, colouring and illuminating the landscape of learning for everyone in the violin programme.

The rise of individualism in the west, despite its important contribution to personal autonomy and self-realization, carries the risk of social isolation and separation. By focusing on the individual, educators miss out on many of the benefits of group dynamics and community, We develop individual learning plans and design our lessons accordingly, limiting the creative energy that comes from working together in the group.

Often it is challenging for parents to understand – and for teachers to explain – why both parents and student should attend regular group class together in addition to an individual lesson. It just seems like one more commitment to fulfill in their busy schedules.

And traditionally, many music teachers run mainly one-on-one lesson programmes, punctuated by occasional get togethers. They work very hard to transfer the spark of enthusiasm to their students, producing a few stars, but miss out on the wealth of motivating influences that come from running regular group classes.

In this new series we will show you how to develop and run group classes so that they support the momentum and inner motivation we are talking about.

Keeping the Spark Alive

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TSV Gold – A new membership level

Some changes have happened at Teach Suzuki Violin. This month we launched a new low cost membership level called TSV Gold, expanding the reach of the website and making all resources accessible and downloadable for new Gold level members at any time. (Although some content will remain free, many of the existing resources, posts and articles transition into TSV Gold.)

How to Join:

Currently registered Public Members and new subscribers are invited join the new TSV Gold membership level for $7/month or a yearly subscription of $77.

Click on this Gold Button to choose your option

TSV Gold Membership

TSV Gold members receive:

  • Resources, Videos and Learning Materials on Teach Suzuki Violin – Unlimited access
  • Motivation and Practice Habits Course – At no extra cost, your Gold subscription will include access to the self-directed Motivation and Practice Habits Course
  • Scores – TSV Gold members are also entitled to free downloads of any score published on the Teach Suzuki Violin Store

Members who have already purchased the Motivation and Practice Habits Course are offered the opportunity to become TSV Gold Members for $25 for the first year.
Click here to email.

TSV Gold membership subscription is $7/month or a yearly subscription for $77.

By signing up, you’ll support Teach Suzuki Violin to continue helping teachers, parents, students and violin players around the world teaching and studying violin, creating musical talent and researching the art of learning.

Click on this Gold Button to choose your option

TSV Gold Membership

What’s coming in 2018 at Teach Suzuki Violin

The Successful Group Class

Early this year the focus will be on Group Class and the powerful drivers of student progress and success.

TSV Violin Solo Series

Teach Suzuki Violin is publishing a new series of exciting classic violin solo pieces with real audience appeal, suitable for various levels.

Photo courtesy of Jordan Mixson

These downloadable scores include how-to tips for study and performance.

Thank you!

A big thank you to all of our members and subscribers for your ongoing interest and support. We welcome your suggestions, stories and questions.

And special thanks go to all the members who responded to the recent newsletter asking for feedback about TSV Gold. We appreciate your kind and thoughtful answers!


Founded by John Berger in 2013, Teach Suzuki Violin is committed to children’s happiness and educational success through the art of violin teaching and playing.

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Japanese Learning Style

Revisiting Japan at the end of last year after a break of 8 years provided the perspective to see the broader picture of its recent times. The country we came to know and love is going through some conspicuous changes. The sadness of the Fukushima Tsunami tragedy still resonates quietly below the cheerful stoicism of public affairs. Tokyo shopping crowds are denser than ever and the economic powerhouse rumbles on relentlessly, while a drift of young people from rural and regional areas to the already overcrowded cities hints at subtle shifts in Japanese society.

View of Tokyo from Shinjuku Tower

View of Tokyo from Shinjuku Tower

As has been happening for many years in practically all western countries, the influence of major corporations and the multinational chains is reaching more deeply than ever into everyday life, especially noticeable in the decline of small makers, craftspeople and cottage industries. Even many traditional Japanese items and goods are now manufactured in countries with cheap labour.

Although the unrestrained expansion of private capital causes visible losses in local industry and artisan skills, the effect on community organisations, education and the arts is less obvious.

At this time of the year in Matsumoto the Suzuki Method Building felt subdued and quiet, dwarfed by the enormous new Matsumoto Performing Arts Center.

Is the robust Japanese learning style we admire so much in danger of softening and losing direction? Are the family and local community, at the heart of education, being distracted by surging consumerism and the demands of the commercial world?

In the beautiful Kiso Valley we saw our first signs of the reversal and rebuttal of these trends. We stayed in a little guest house converted from an old silk making house, lovingly refurbished by a young couple who had recently turned away from the corporate world. They were fired up with a vision of renewal in rural communities and working hard to bring it about.

Walking in the stunning autumn scenery of the mountain trails, the local residents we met and conversed with on our walks greeted and welcomed us with genuine good will and interest.

Tourism has brought discomforting changes to the lives and economies of these history-rich rustic villages, yet the spirit of friendly hospitality is as strong and fresh as ever.

On the Nakasendo Trail

On the Nakasendo Trail

Confirmation also came later as we visited the Hakuba ski region.

With snow gently falling outside our hotel window, we watched several fascinating stories on local television featuring the dynamic rebirth of handmade artisan crafts and traditional organic farming practices. Despite seemingly overwhelming odds, a revival is well under way.

Stone Sculptures

Stone Sculptures

 

Glass Artist Kasai

Glass Artist Kasai

People who come to Japan to work or study quickly realise the value and power of Japanese learning style and ethic.

Qualities such as the single minded focus of perfect practice, the close attention to the finest details, the will to endure until success is attained, the tradition of ingenuity, an unselfish consideration for the welfare of other students and the strength of harmonious collaboration make the Japanese way of learning a powerful means of achieving the right kind of progress and achievement in any field of activity.

Japanese learning is alive and well.

Happy New Year!

John

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Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Revisited

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, The Alphabet Song and Baa Baa Black Sheep are all derivations of the 18th century French children’s melody “Ah! vous dirai-je, maman” – which W.A. Mozart used as the theme for his Twelve Variations.

Shinichi Suzuki, recognising the potential of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’s structure for learning the first skills on the violin, chose the melody for the first piece to start teaching young children to play.

Why was Twinkle was such a good choice?

The violin skills that can be learned from this song come down to rhythm, bowing, string crossings, fingering and good intonation, a pretty good list for such a simple piece!

Get Rhythm

Girl dancing

Photo courtesy of Hanna Morris

Concentrating on the open E string, students learn to bow five key musical rhythms before starting on fingered notes. The focus on the physical side of violin playing in these crucial first stages creates a robust foundation for building other skills.

Suzuki’s early emphasis on rhythmic development contrasts with methods which start with longer bow strokes with slower and simpler rhythms.

Starting with the rhythms and and achieving a good level of fluency kick-starts rapid progress through the pieces, mainly because mastery of the bow arm is the primary means of producing and controlling tone.

In principle every art form works this way: physical proficiency is the key prerequisite for developing refined artistic expression.

Just how well should the rhythms be played before it’s time to start on the notes?

This question relates to every skill and sets the pattern for future learning.

Starting with the iconic first rhythm, variously named Ta-ka-Ta-ka-Ta-Ka, Busy-Busy-Stop, Stop and so on – the words and syllables reflect détaché and staccato qualities in the rhythm – and learning the others one or two at time at lessons, students should aim to get up to the tempo of the Suzuki Violin recording by the time all the Twinkle variations are completed.

Don’t be daunted by this speed goal. Practiced correctly, even very young students manage to do it.

The musical qualities of the rhythms emerge from the physical skills, which are the result of repeated practice. The arm motion should be smooth, strong and automatic.

See Five Easy Rhythms

Bowing and Scraping

Suzuki’s tone, tone, tone mantra may seem premature when applied to beginners, yet I am always amazed at young children’s astute perceptions about sound quality. They comment about their tone with disarming frankness. “That was totally yukky!” said 3 year old Lily one day, after playing a slightly scratchy rhythm, as we all laughed in agreement.

A good tone teaching strategy is to pose simple questions or to create choices.

The teacher, for example, plays a segment twice and asks, “Which sounds better, No. 1 or 2?” – gradually reducing the contrast between the two.

Another good approach is “What’s wrong with the sound of my playing?” and “How can I make it sound better?” These simple queries can lead to hilarious replies, providing good opportunities for light-hearted teaching points.

Photo courtesy of Uriel Soberanes

Clever Crossings

The violin has four very different strings, yet good players are able to produce seamless streams of melody which sound as if they are playing on a single string. It comes down to exquisite tone control and superb string crossing. Introducing quick, economical and clean string crossing in the lead-up to learning Twinkle begins building this pivotal skill.

Photo by Jiunn Kang Too

See Seamless String Crossing

Finely Formed Fingers

Although every person’s hands and fingers differ in length, width, shape and flexibility, the optimum form for the neck and fingerboard is essentially the same for all players. Getting it right from the beginning enables quick, accurate fingering and sets up the hand and fingers for great vibrato, shifting and elegant, stress free playing.

Placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd correctly on A string at B, C# and D (with tiny fingers, 4th comes a little later) for Twinkle, helps to create and maintain the best shape for the left hand.

See The Violinist’s Left Hand.

Intonation for the In Tune Nation

Like good tone quality, learning to play the violin with accurate intonation commences in the earliest stages, because it stems from listening, discriminating and adjusting against an inner gold standard of pitch. Training the link between finger and pitch starts from the day fingered notes begin – and the listening habit should continue for a lifetime.

The Twinkle melody starts with a perfect fifth, the most fundamental and natural interval in music after the octave. As long as the violin is accurately tuned, this cardinal harmony establishes a clear foundation for F# and the other fingered notes to be played in tune.

Children’s hearing is spectacularly sensitive and acute, especially up to the age of about eight, when the sense of good intonation should be well established.

Ingrained poor intonation can be repaired with careful guidance. I saw a striking example in St. Petersburg, unambiguously clear despite my lack of Russian, where the teacher patiently corrected a 10 year old violinist in subtle pitch details over a long lesson, singing intervals to illustrate her points and tirelessly refining the student’s understanding of intonation.

Greater Glider, Victoria – a great listener!

See How to Teach Good Intonation.

One Skill at a Time

Unavoidably, students have to work on several areas during any stage of their studies, nonetheless practice must be singularly focused on one skill at a time for a long enough periods to make real progress. In this way instrumental abilities are built up sequentially, each on secure foundations with a minimum of backtracking. Twinkle is the perfect piece for building these beautiful abilities – one by one.

Practice sessions that attempt to cover all bases slow things down and waste time.

Two of our most conscientious students accidentally fell into this mistake. Their diligent parents unwittingly created a practice regime clogged with too many bits and pieces and no clear headway was made in the most important physical skills. By the time we woke up to what was happening, habits were laid down requiring some laborious repairs. All was well in the end, but it wasn’t easy or particularly enjoyable.

The idea of extended practice on one skill is out of favour in some education circles. Part of the teacher’s job is to inspire confidence in their students about their ability to learn. Seeing the sense of achievement they experience is one of the great joys of teaching,

It doesn’t mean being a pontificating perfectionist or a discipline dragon, just sticking at it, a smile on your face and a joke or two to lighten the load!

Cheers,

John

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