Suzuki Sunday: Performance as Sharing

What is so inspiring about Matt's video?  In essence, it's that the performance became a dialogue, a shared experience, instead of one lonely guy traveling the planet with a video camera.

Music, too, is pretty useless unless it is shared with others.  I don't know if I've ever met a musician or music lover who was content to listen to music exclusively by himself, never playing a song or making a CD for a friend, never discussing the merits or faults of bands he loves, never finding a new favorite on the recommendation of a like-minded family member.  To some extent, we all do this: part of the joy of listening to and participating in music is the thrill that we get from sharing it with someone else.

As a Suzuki student, I enjoyed performing after just one lesson.  My teacher taught me how to name every key on the piano, plunking each one in turn and saying its name aloud (something I still do at first lessons with my students.)  "Just wait until you show your father that you can name every single key on the piano!" she marveled.  Because of her enthusiasm, and because the "piece" was an easy one, I was just as excited to play for him that evening.  It wasn't scary; it was something I already knew, and I was performing it for someone I loved.

Ultimately, every single performance of a Suzuki student should be that easy.  It should be something she knows well (which is why we decide on a piece many weeks in advance and don't change it, even if she learns a new one in the meantime.)  It should be performed for people she knows and loves.  The desire to perform should grow organically out of the skills she possesses and they love she has for music and for others.

Here is another juncture where the Suzuki method differs radically from traditional piano.  Most traditional teachers "choose" recital pieces in advance and prepare them specifically for recitals; once the recital is over, the piece is forgotten.  In Suzuki, we work on establishing a repertoire of pieces that develop specific and necessary skills; this repertoire remains accessible until a whole volume has been completed, and often for long afterwards.

Review can be tedious, yes.  But instead of grumbling because you HAVE to listen to one more repetition of Twinkle Stew, look at it as an opportunity to practice proper hand position, a lovely "singing" tone, staccato / legato contrast, and a flexible wrist.  By the same token, if you don't practice Twinkle Stew, these skills will be lost.  Every review piece works exactly the same way, so if your child isn't reviewing the pieces, she isn't reviewing the skills, and they will eventually fall by the wayside.  Without regular, consistent review, it's anyone's guess as to how long pieces and skills will be remembered. Don't let all your hard work go to waste!

How can you make review fun?  Here are some simple ways:

1. Review together. When practicing is done with a parent, it becomes a joy instead of a chore, and your child is less likely to rush through his pieces if you're right there beside him.  Take advantage of these moments!

2. Be positive first.
Find something to praise about each piece your child plays: notes, rhythm, technique, posture, attitude.  Review is a  perfect time to encourage your child, especially if she's struggled recently with a newer piece.  Remind her that these pieces that she plays so effortlessly were once just as hard! If you take a positive attitude, treating the older pieces as treasures rather than tasks, she will emulate your enthusiasm.

3. Issue a challenge. For each peace, find something (small) to improve.  The challenge of music, as with any form of art, is that it's never "finished;" we can always work just a little harder to play our very best.  Could the left hand be a little softer to bring more focus to the melody?  Are all the staccato notes crisp and clean?  If you need ideas for improvement, I can provide you with plenty -- mostly drawn from Michiko Yurko's wonderful Piano Cards, which should be available soon here!

I can't tell you how many times parents have told me, astonished, stories of their shy and reticent children performing multiple pieces in front of friends, relatives, even strangers in a hotel lobby!  This is a natural outgrowth of regular review: the child sees that she has learned something valuable, and she is rightly proud of her accomplishment.  The next logical step is to share the fruits of her labors with others.