The brain is not a container that we dump information into, the brain is a problem solver.
One of the most powerful ways you can work with your children and students is to use questions.
When we ask the brain a question, the brain will search for the answer. Understanding this explains the phenomenon that happens when you run into someone you know at the grocery store but can not remember their name. Later when you are falling asleep your brain remembers their name. That is because you asked your brain a question and although it took several hours to answer, it was diligently finding the answer for you.
This philosophy of “Ask, Don’t Tell” is one of the cornerstones of my teaching.
It does not matter if the student accomplished the goal, it matters if they know that they accomplished the goal.
We may enthusiastically exclaim “Good Job!” when a student has successfully achieved what we were aiming to convey, but we do not know if they were aware of what they accomplished - this is where questions come in. Questions both create awareness and are using the brain as it is intended - to solve problems.
Since we only see our students briefly once a week, it is imperative that we set them up in a way that they know how to work when they are practicing by themselves. Questions are a powerful tool to help us create students that are aware of and able to use their time best when practicing at home.
Below is a short clip from my parent talk "Creating a Culture of Success" that goes into more detail on the concept of "Ask, Don't Tell."
Click to set custom HTML
“Doctor Suzuki said, ‘Only practice on the days that you eat.’” I say, in my most optimistic and encouraging voice, to every new cello student and their practice parent.
We all start out knowing that practice is the name of the game, we must commit to at least this part or it all goes down the tubes, right? But, when I hear myself saying this, I know full well that in about 5-6 months it is possible that I will see this same eager family, who nodded in agreement, walk into the studio with flat expressions, barely speaking to each other, and desperation showing in their once bright eyes. “We’ve had a hard week, month, few months,” they say.
I know exactly what they are telling me. Despite all of the love, opportunity and dedication the parents have provided, the child refuses to practice. Maybe there had even been arguments, tantrums, and foot stomping by both parties. The honeymoon has ended and they are at their wits end. They don’t want their child to despise music or them, so maybe it’s time to throw in the towel?
My heart fills with empathy for them both. I know so much of their pain, feelings of failure, guilt, and confusion about where they went wrong. How could a professionally trained Suzuki teacher have this problem?! After much reflection over the past few years as a new Suzuki parent, I have come to the conclusion that this struggle is absolutely part of the process and is completely necessary for many families.
A familiar comment that I often hear from parents who are trying to pinpoint their practice struggle is, “Once she/he is in there, they play their hearts out and they enjoy themselves." It’s the “getting in there” that is the problem. The obstacle of transitioning from the outside world, with all of its excitement and wonderful distractions, to their actual workspace and mindset is something many artists face, from painters to musicians. Most of the time, once inside that space, it seems a magical inertia carries them forward until they have exhausted their creative output and work is done for the day.
Personally, I find it very difficult to shift from my mama mode to the music studio, for either teaching or practicing. It was equally as challenging, if not more so, for our daughter, who spent all day at school or having fun with friends and family, to drop everything and pick up her violin because it was time. I would tell myself, “If I could just get her to the other side of the door with the instrument in her hands, everything will be okay, and the music will take over.”
Unfortunately, because of the negative interactions prior to practice, our combative attitude would follow us through that door, and very little music would be accomplished. Realizing the transition period had been ignored and not included as part of the practice itself, we decided to make it inviting, special, and fun by creating a small ritual, which for us took the form of a tea ceremony.
Once our daughter is aware that it is time for music practice, she finds her favorite tea cup, and with my help, makes herself a cup of tea with honey and puts a small cookie or biscuit on her plate. The entire process takes about 5 minutes and during that time we usually chat about what she intends to work on. She enters the studio with her tea and nibbles or sips through the first part of her practice. I have found that both of us consistently have a much calmer and more positive attitude as a result of being mindful of the transition.
Emily Graff-Uhlman has been teaching cello privately for 13 years and currently maintains a small Suzuki studio in Eugene, Oregon while enjoying her three young children. She is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music (BM) and the University of Nevada, Reno (MM).
Children Speak in Code - Learn How to Interpret
When a child declares they hate the violin (or practicing, or you for that matter) I caution you to interpret the meaning of such strong statements with great wisdom and care.
Children experience all the same emotions as adults, and this includes frustration, shame and disappointment.
Children speak in code because they do not yet have the maturity to word their feelings for the full explanation of their emotions to be articulated.
I knew a little girl who started playing the violin at the age of 4. She was full fire and like many violinists tended to be an intense child. She would frequently verbalize strong statements in the home practice sessions saying things such as:
This little girl had a wise mother who knew these statements were code with a meaning different from the words spoken. What this little girl really meant was:
"I hate playing VIOLIN!!!" = I really just hate this terrible feeling of defeat and inadequacy inside of me.
Your child may also be saying to you:
"Please do not give up on me, I need your support and your years of wisdom to guide me through this challenge in a healthy way. I am counting on you to shine a light to a higher path for the challenge at hand. My strong reaction right now even illustrates my need for a healthy emotional expression in life and music is a perfect fit for me and this necessary release. Please do not quit before I do. Please look 20 years into the future and help me through this challenge. I am counting on you."
"I hate YOU!!!" = "I hate disappointing you and feeling like a failure in front of you.
"I hate PRACTICING!!!" = "I hate feeling left out and frankly it does not feel fair.
There is more to this story and a happy ending. Somewhere around the age of 12 or 13 music became an incredibly compelling experience for this little girl and there was a shift with her relationship to practicing. She was starting to connect the dots now how practicing was a path to making her dreams come true. All of a sudden there were String Quartets to play in at summer institutes and sophisticated Concertos by J.S. Bach and A. Vivaldi. It was indeed exciting to be a musician and she finally took full ownership of home practicing so her mother no longer needed to come to lessons or help with home practice.
This girl became so focused and fulfilled with her music that she went onto major in violin performance in her undergraduate. She continued to fall in love with music and even pursued a graduate degree in violin performance with an emphasis in Suzuki Pedagogy. She has been teaching for 15 years now and is extremely grateful that her mother was so devoted to a higher vision when times got emotionally rough growing up.
This little girl with such a strong willed constitution presented great challenges to her mother while growing up but her mother continued to believe in the higher purpose of music education and was willing to weather the storm of these verbal outburts and occasions such as the little girl's violin becoming a projectile object (that is a nice way to say the violin was thrown across the room.)
The moral of the story is to please interpret strong statements towards playing the violin and practicing with extreme caution.
I know that little girl who used to shout out in home practice very well because that little girl was me. Thank you mom for believing in me at such a young age and for staying focused on the higher purpose of this work. I am so grateful for your endearing support all of these years.
Music for Young Violinists is happy to be joining Pinterest - a virtual bulletin board. I will be posting unique violin and music education related items here that are complementary to the posts and resources on the Music for Young Violinists website. I will frequently update our board with:
What exactly is Pinterest? Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board. Your Pinterest "board" fills with images of your specified interest from people from around the world that you follow. Many music educators are now using this modality as a way to share ideas about teaching, practicing as well as inspirations and humor.
Click HERE to learn more about Pinterest.
Young musicians having fun with a play on words in one of our group classes.
Learning is an incredible experience that encompasses all parts of life. YES, that sometimes means fun, silliness and cheesy jokes!!!
We are using the quarter note rests from the Blue Jello Rhythm Puzzles that are a part of the Music Mind Games curriculum created by the brilliant pedagogue Michiko Yurko. I highly recommend this music theory program - your students will have so much fun, they hardly even realize that they are learning!
For more information, please visit the Music Mind Games website.
What's cheap, hands-on, quiet, colorful with easy clean-up?
Answer = Pipe Cleaners!
A parent recently turned me onto this fantastic teaching tool. Pipe cleaners are economical, colorful, hands-on, quiet and clean up with the swoop of one hand. What's not to love? We have been using these to study the shapes of musical symbols. The hands-on quality makes it a slow and individualized learning tool for young children to study the details of the shapes in musical symbols.
We have also used pipe cleaners to re-create Blue Jello cards with great success (see picture below.). For more information on the incredible Blue Jello cards that are a part of the highly recommended Music Minds Games curriculum please visit: http://www.musicmindgames.com
Below are links to our recent parent class titled "Strengthening Our Why & Creating a Culture of Talent." It is very important that we meet as parents and teacher to fully understand how the philosophy of a Suzuki education works and also to get very clear on why we are doing this.
My hope is that this parent talk ignited some of the deeper reasons why we have committed to a Suzuki violin education and that this clarity of reason keeps you strong in your commitment when challenges come along.
Hi! It's me, Heather. I absolutely love working on the Music for Young Violinists project and all the many facets: blogging, website, music, teaching materials, freebies, videos, newsletter and giveaway contests. The best part is connecting with you so feel free to drop me a line. You can learn more about me on the "ABOUT" page. Thanks!