Suzuki Sunday: Milestones

About a week ago, Rob and I attended a reception for a friend and colleague of his who was granted tenure at their college.  Several of her family members toasted her accomplishments in touching speeches, and I remember wondering why we don't celebrate stuff like this more.  She worked hard to be granted tenure, and that's much more important than the day she happened to be born -- but for many of us, our birthdays are the biggest celebration of the year.

Suzuki students work their way through a series of books, so some milestones are pre-determined, but they still require a lot of work to attain.  In my experience, a student's Volume I graduation is perhaps the biggest milestone of her piano career; after that, sadly, most students are too busy and / or "cool" to want to have a graduation party, though I have attended several that were great fun.  However, there are many smaller milestones along the way that are important, and celebrating each one is crucial to keeping a student motivated.  Anytime you can teach a child to step outside of "NOW" and see the bigger picture, it's a wonderful lesson for them to learn; when they see that they have made progress, it inspires them to make even more progress.

Here are some ideas for milestones to celebrate -- whether with a special dinner at home, a trip to the movies, or just a congratulatory note slipped into a lunch box:

  • Graduating from the Twinkles: Many teachers have "Twinkle Parties" when their young students finish the Twinkles and move on to Honeybee.  I don't require that, but I'd be glad to come to one if you wanted to host it -- it sure would be a great motivator!

  • Hands Together: Honeybee is the first piece played hands together, and Cuckoo is the first piece played hands together with two different melodies.  Both are worthy of celebration!

  • Halfway There: When your child finishes Au Clair de la Lune, he is halfway through the first book.  A huge accomplishment, and in my eyes, the first sign that he is serious about music.

  • The End of Alberti: Long, Long Ago is the last Alberti piece in Book I.  I know how taxing those pieces can seem at times, since they're so similar, so I always make a big deal out of "No more Alberti!" when they finish it.

  • Different Time Signatures: Chant Arabe is the first of three pieces that are written in 3/4 time; Musette is the first one they'll have played in 6/8 time.  It really is tough to break out of the 4/4 mold, so congratulations are in order!

  • Different Hands Playing Melody: This happens in Little Playmates for a couple of measures, and more extensively with The Happy Farmer in Book II.  It takes a lot of adjusting, so be sure to praise their efforts in addition to their accomplishments.

  • On the Radio: I remember vividly the first time I heard one of my piano pieces being performed on the radio.  It was "Theme," a piece in Book 3; I was flooded with pride, thinking, "Wow, I have really arrived!"  (You can always turn this around, of course, and learn a piece you know you'll hear on the radio -- a piece of popular music or an easier version of a classical piece.)

  • Remember When . . . : This is an excellent tool for diffusing overwrought tempers.  All you have to do is take the child on a journey backwards.  "Remember when you had your first lesson, how excited you were to be able to name all the keys?"  "Remember when you started this piece and you didn't think you would ever finish?  Look how easy it is now!"  There are endless variations on this game, all of them guaranteed to lift the spirits of a tired musician.