Suzuki Sunday: Music Mind Games

Whenever I tell someone I'm a Suzuki teacher, the inevitable question follows: "But don't you think it's important for musicians to learn to read?"

I try not to roll my eyes when I hear this.  Of course it's important!  I wouldn't advise any aspiring musician to learn only by ear.  The fact is, though, that many of my students begin very early, aged 2-5.  At these ages, they are often not reading their first language yet, so to try to teach them to read music would be foolish.  In the case of older students, I like to give them a period of six months to a year to get established in my studio before I give them a separate music book besides the one for their repertoire.

I have a secret, though: I trick my students into learning to read music from their very first lessons.  My secret is a wonderful set of materials called Music Mind Games, developed by my good friend and colleague Michiko Yurko.  They focus on just one area of music reading, like interval recognition or rhythm accuracy, and they teach through interactive, cooperative games that are just loads of fun.  I often say [half-] jokingly that if it weren't for the games we play at lessons, I wouldn't have any students at all.  And I confide in the parents that I occasionally feel guilty for "tricking" them into learning; they are having so much fun that they don't realize they've been taught, analyzed and assessed in the same ten-minute span.

Below: A guide to the Music Mind Games website, plus a warning about an extremely addictive game for online musicians!

Every music teacher should seek out the opportunity to watch Michiko at work.  Her studio in Kensington is a busy place.  Despite her growing list of accomplishments, she's constantly changing and adapting her methods and coming up with new ideas -- she is endlessly flexible, the mark of a great teacher.  Yet she remains incredibly focused while teaching, connecting with the students while continually assessing their knowledge and familiarity with the concepts they're working on.

My parents are somewhat familiar with the store on her website, having been there to purchase Puppy Packets (a convenient combination of the most popular materials, transportable from home to studio) when they began lessons with me.  If you have an older Puppy Packet or just aren't sure about all of this, a good introduction would be to purchase the Student Handbook, a valuable resource that has charts and definitions for all of the unusual-looking symbols and words on your card sets.  Here's a few more highlights:

Classic Games: a list of games that can be used with just about any set of cards.  These include favorites like Five Hiding and War, but also some newer ones like 21 and Play or Pass (a group game, especially fun for families!)  This is a good place to go when your kids say there's "nothing to do" in the house.

Rhythm Solitaire: this free online game comes with a warning.  It's addictive!  Remember the rules for "regular" Solitaire, and ask your kids if you've forgotten the note and rest values.  They'll be very happy to set you straight.

Past Workshops: Michiko's still working on getting the photos up, but once they're there you'll be able to see me in the August 2005 and August 2006 photos.  The second one also has a picture of Freddie, Michiko's adorable dog who guest-stars on several materials.

Videos: There is an amazing repository here; to navigate, use the pull-down menus at the top, starting from the "Curriculum" tab.  Each one clearly illustrates one of the dozens of games Michiko uses with her students.  This is one of my favorites: John, the fourth child in a Suzuki family, began lessons when he was just eighteen months old, and at two he is signing Blue Jello like a pro. Here's another good one of some children in Iceland learning the notes with the Blue Jello puzzle.  I love hearing their words for the note names!

Enjoy, and be sure to tell me which page is your favorite!