Suzuki Sunday: Getting the Most from Lessons

Every year I take one week of piano lessons and replace them with parent classes.  This is not to give myself a holiday (I usually spend more time preparing for the classes than I would teaching lessons; teaching adults is pretty nervewracking for me!)  Rather, it gives parents a chance to connect with and support each other. I want my studio to function more like a family than like a bunch of individual clients, and this gives them a chance to get to know each other through discussion and fellowship.

Last spring, I had my parents read A Suzuki Parent's Diary.  Although this book is very far from great literature, it contains a lot of realism, and my parents told me they'd empathized greatly with the decidedly un-musical mom who fumbls through a year's worth of violin lessons with her young daughter.

In our group discussion, one thing that came up again and again was the tendency children have to behave perfectly at lessons and leave enthusiastic and happy, but then to lose that attitude the minute they walk in the door of their own house.  I'm not a parent, but I can imagine there are few things more frustrating!  So read below for a few things you can do to ensure that your progress is as smooth at home as it is at lessons.

1. Practice right away. Don't let a whole day go by between the lesson and your next practice session; practice that evening if possible, or the next morning if not.  Even a few minutes spent going over the "new" part of the lesson will help reinforce the concepts while they're still fresh.

2. Take specific notes at the lesson: phrases or words that will help your child remember what I said.  It's really difficult for me to have to take notes as I'm teaching, and the child is obviously not able to do this!  If you're not able to bring your child one week, please brief the "substitute" so that I can put all of my energy into working with the student at the piano.

3. Put it on me! If in doubt, feel free to ascribe any unpleasant requirements to me: "Remember when Miss Emily asked you to do this?"  Also, if something has been a point of contention during the week, bring it up at the lesson.  I will back you a hundred percent, and that will help the child to see that we're working together.

4. Have fun. It seems silly to have to say this, doesn't it?  But I know how it is when you're focusing on something as a task: you tend to get very businesslike, and you lose sight of the element of amusement.  Don't be afraid to be silly.  Children learn best when they don't realize they're learning!  And in fact, this may be why they enjoy lessons but don't want to practice.  If you can incorporate some of the funny, silly things I do with them (most of which are shamelessly appropriated from other teachers, by the way; I'm not so brilliant as to have invented them) they may start to see practicing as an extension of the lesson, which it really is.

5. Give yourself credit. My mom told a great story about my first piano recital.  My teacher stood up at the end and said, "I'm not an idiot.  I know exactly why this studio is so successful; it's not because of me, or even because of the Suzuki method.  It's because of you guys!  You do all the hard stuff.  Give yourself a hand!"

It's true.  Even if I could work magic, I could only work it for half an hour a week.  The other 335 half-hours are my parents', and they do wonderful things with them.