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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy the Concert Hall? How Arts Donations Ignore Poor, Ethnically Diverse

Here is an interesting discussion about the role of money in making arts organizations more accessible to a broader public. As an educator, I believe it's vital for us to develop in children a love of, and interest in arts and culture from birth. Children who grow up with an appreciation for the arts become adults who patronize and support arts organizations in their communities.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Power of Community, SAA Campaign

 Happy Birthday to Dr. Suzuki (born Oct. 17, 1898).

If you have found the Suzuki experience to have a profound and positive impact in your child's life as well as your own, perhaps you will consider celebrating with the Suzuki Association of the Americas with a gift to the Power of Community campaign, aimed at building awareness of the Suzuki philosophy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to Practice

Even if you're not working on Hunter's Chorus, watch this video. It is an excellent demonstration of how to practice a piece. Notice how she does not start by playing through the piece as fast as possible, but instead focuses on a very small group of notes and plays them repeatedly. When she is finally ready to play through the piece, she does so at a slow tempo.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Benjamin Zander on music and passion | Video on

Benjamin Zander on music and passion | Video on If you watch only one of the videos posted on this blog, it should be this one. Particularly pertinent to the Suzuki experience (specifically to the importance of practicing reviews) is Zander's discussion in the first few minutes about how a child's performance of a piece evolves as he matures musically. That evolution only happens, however, if the child continues to practice (i.e. review) the piece over the course of several years. But the whole video is great, and very entertaining.

Charles Hazlewood: Trusting the ensemble | Video on

Charles Hazlewood: Trusting the ensemble | Video on

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Click here for a a blog post containing Pixar Animators thoughts on frustration in the creative process. Worth reading.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


This morning I listened to the NPR coverage of the Tenth Anniversary 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, and at one point in the service Paul Simon performed "The Sound of Silence." The choice of song struck me as particularly pertinent to my own memories of that day. I was on the second day of a backpacking trip through Rocky Mountain National Park with two friends and colleagues from my undergraduate cello studio. On Monday we had hiked a shorter loop, and the plan had been to take a shuttle bus from that trail-head to another, where we would begin the longer leg of our trip. We had not realized, however, that the shuttles no longer ran after labor day, and we therefore found ourselves suddenly in need of another way to get to the other trail. There was a Park Ranger there who agreed to escort us to the new location, but he treated us with suspicion, asking if we were carrying weapons (he confiscated our pocket knives) and calling for a second ranger to help escort us. Of course the ranger's behavior makes sense in retrospect, but we had no way of knowing at that point why he was being so overly cautious, so it seemed odd.

Thus we began our trek around the larger loop through the park. That day, Tuesday, would mean about 10 miles total of walking, starting with a three thousand foot ascent to the summit of a 13,000 foot peak. About half an hour into our climb, we encountered a day hiker who was frantically running up the hill, telling everyone he passed about a jet plane that had struck one of the towers in the world trade center. Later there was another hiker "both towers have been hit. It's an attack." Then another. What information we were getting conflicted with the other information. The numbers grew exponentially. 4 planes, 15 planes. 12,000, no 40,000 presumed dead. It was clear that something profoundly horrifying had happened, but on that sunny Tuesday morning, on that dew-covered Colorado mountainside, it was impossible to know what to believe. And then, silence. We had hiked out of the range of day hikers and cell phone reception (in primitive 2001, only one of us was carrying a cell phone anyway). We did not see a newspaper or a news cast for the rest of the week. And what stands out most in my memory of that week was the seemingly unnatural absence of man-made sounds. One doesn't realize just how many planes roar overhead on a daily basis until those planes are grounded and the roaring stops, and your left with only the crunching leaves and twigs underfoot. The sound of silence.

This morning's NPR coverage continued with an interview with the composer Steve Reich (listen here) about a piece that he had written in response to the attack, and it occurred to me that what follows the silence is music. So often in history, we respond to great moments of tragedy with music. I remember reading a touching article about a Juilliard violinist who found himself in room filled with the grieving loved ones those killed, wanting to help, but not knowing how. And so he simply pulled out his violin and began to play. The French composer Olivier Messiaen composed perhaps his best known work while he was imprisoned in a Nazi P.O.W. camp, using the unusual combination of instruments he had available to him. Benjamin Britten wrote his great War Requiem for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, but it is as much a commentary on the horror and futility of war.

Famously, cellist Vedran Smailović, played his cello daily in the rubble of bombed out buildings during the siege of Sarajevo.

Of course we don't only turn to music in moments of great sorrow, but also in moments of great joy. When the Berlin Wall fell, conductor Leonard Bernstein was there to lead a performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony. We turn to music because it has the power to speak to all who will listen, and to say what cannot be said with mere words. Cellist Pablo Casals famously said "music will save the world."

Asking "what if" does nothing to change the events of that Tuesday ten years ago, or the course of history to follow, but still I wonder, what if the hijackers had been nurtured by love instead of hate. What if they had parents and teachers who saw the potential for good in them, and encouraged them daily to work toward meeting that potential. What if the perpetrators of school shootings, or gang violence found a discipline they loved and, with the support of family and community, pursued it to the point of excellence.

If politicians, (and perhaps also their constituents) possessed in greater numbers the skills that chamber musicians have for cooperation and compromise, would we find ourselves so often in political gridlock?

As Suzuki teachers, we do what we do, not because he expect every student to be the next Yo-Yo Ma or Joshua Bell or Lang Lang, but because we hope that all of our students will grow up to be extraordinary human beings, who turn to love instead of hate, to creativity instead of violence, to joy instead of anger, to compromise instead of conflict. I firmly believe that music can do that. It is why I have chosen this career.

Dr. Suzuki knew that every child can achieve excellence, but what if every child in the world did? Would it prevent future 9/11's? I think it might.

"The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn't been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him." Pablo Casals
"This will be our response to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." Leonard Bernstein

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hope to see you at my recital, Sept. 16 6:30. Fulton Hall at the University of Chicago.

Works by Falla, Bach, Froberger, Brahms, Cashner

Thursday, September 1, 2011

From Odd Quartet


If you haven't seen it, there's a great article in this quarter's American Suzuki Journal (Vol. 39, #4) by Benjamin Wyatt about the use of counting beads as a practicing tool, and it got me thinking about the subject of repetition.

We know that repetition (and lots of it) is the key to skill development. Particularly when a skill is new, a child must repeat it many, many times before it feels easy enough that he is ready to add another layer of complexity. Beyond that, Dr. Suzuki said it takes 10,000 repetitions before a skill is mastered (i.e. as deeply engrained as walking or speaking in the native language). Most of those repetitions happen during the practice of review repertoire. But it's important not to underestimate the number of repetitions that are needed at the early stages of learning a new task. There is a plethora of ideas available for how to motivate a child to repeat a task many times, so I won't go into it in this post (see here), but it occurs to me that perhaps more needs to be said about figuring out what to repeat and how to repeat it.

1. One thing at a time. Avoid asking the child to think about several things at once.
2. Pick a chunk of music that your child can play successfully. If there are mistakes, you are trying to do too much, or the tempo is too fast. Break it down further and/or slow it down. In most cases, the smaller the chunk the better. (It's too much to ask your bk. 1 child to play Go Tell Aunt Rhody ten times in one practice session. It is probably not to much to ask him to play the first measure ten times with the bow distribution his teacher showed him - but it might be, in which case, ask him to play the first note with as much bow as the teacher asked for, then add another note or two, etc.).
3. Clearly identify what criteria must be met to count a repetition as successful, make sure the child understands those criteria, and evaluate the repetitions fairly based on those criteria.
4. Involve the child in that evaluation process.
5. Make sure your child stops completely between repetitions, and carefully prepares for each subsequent repetition.
6.Repeat a skill as many times as necessary to make it easy BUT a finite number of times in one practice session. Set attainable goals (e.g. 7 good tries in a row) and when that goal is met, move on. If you feel that the child needs more repetitions (and she almost certainly will), include them in the following day's practice. Children get frustrated and impatient when a task seems open ended.

Concert: Gautier Capuçon & Gabriela Monter

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ideas for Practicing Reviews

As we know, practicing review repertoire is an integral part of the Suzuki experience, but it can sometimes be a frustrating part of practice. Here are some ideas for keeping reviews engaging and challenging (and avoiding the dreaded 'autopilot'):

1. Roll dice to decide which pieces to play
2. Leave out all the F#'s (for example)
3. Alternate singing and playing phrases
4. Have your child teach the piece to you (make obvious mistakes for her to correct)
5. "Red Light, Green Light" - child must stop when parent says "Red Light" and on "green light" continue from exactly the same place. (At first, be sure to stop him in a logical place. Later it can be more challenging. Also, later consider adding a "yellow light" where he must continue at a much slower tempo).
6. Student can't play the next note until you clap (this is very useful to quell a rushing habit in Etude or Perpetual Motion for instance - but it's really difficult. The child should know the piece very well first).
7. Play the phrases out of order (a la Lightly Row "Fruit Salad")
8. Focus on a technical skill, and come up with a challenge that addresses that skill (e.g. hold something gently under the neck of the cello w/ left thumb and play the piece without squeezing it).
9. Play with opposite bowings, then with correct bowings.
10. Play with a metronome. For advanced students working on older reviews, you can have them play with the metronome on the offbeats.
11. Hold the bow backwards (w tip where frog would be and vice versa. Great for developing tone-production).
12. A student proficient in thumb position can try to play pieces up an octave.
13. Transpose to different keys by ear (must be level-appropriate. Your teacher can make suggestions if you're not sure).
14. Replace A's, D's, G's and C's with the corresponding harmonics.
15. Play the open strings without the left hand.
16. Ask the child to evaluate the performance. Have her identify one thing that she felt she did very well, and one thing she thinks she can work on to make the piece even better.

What to work on in review practice:
1. Posture and position (it's not enough to learn the bow hold once. It must be reinforced continually).
2. Tone
3. Intonation
4. Dynamics, phrase shapes
5. Bow distribution
6. Articulation
7. Vibrato (if appropriate)
8. Teaching points for that piece
9. Performance skills, stage presence, movement
10. Memory
11. Pulse and rhythm
12. Whatever particular skill had been the focus of the previous lesson

Monday, August 29, 2011

Making the Most of Your Investment

It's no secret that providing music lessons for your child can be very expensive. In addition to the tuition costs of the program, there's instrument rental or purchase, instrument maintenance, workshops, institutes, camps, masterclasses, books, recordings etc. But we know the rewards outweigh the costs when we consider the myriad ways in which children benefit from studying music. There are far too many examples to list in this post, but a fair amount of this blog is devoted to links to articles describing the benefits of a musical education. Besides which, as parents you already know it. That's why you register your kids for lessons in the first place.

I'm perhaps the last person who should be offering financial advice, but it doesn't take a CPA or a Stockbroker to realize that it's a good idea to do whatever you can (legally of course) to maximize the return on your investment. Why would the same not be true when it comes to your child's musical education?

It's important to consider what exactly you're paying for. You are not, contrary to what some might believe, paying for a certain number of minutes of face time with the teacher each week (although the actual lesson time and group class are of course very important pieces to the puzzle - they are, however - only pieces). Rather, you're investing in the full experience: the teacher's knowledge and expertise, the performance opportunities, the discipline, the artistry, the joy of music etc, the quality time with your child, etc. The other puzzle pieces have to be in place too in order for the child to find success.

So as we begin a new school year, perhaps now is a good time to examine what steps you can take to maximize your "profit." Start with the following questions.

-How often do you practice? Do you take days off? If so, how many?
-How long is the average practice session?
-How much of that time is put to productive use?
-How often do you practice reviews?
-How careful are you to follow through on concepts and assignments from the lesson?
-Are you attending lessons?
-Are you paying attention in lessons?
-Are you taking notes?
-Are you videotaping lessons?
-Are you patient with your son? Even when he is impatient with you?
-Do you listen to, and empathize with your daughter?
-Do you communicate effectively with your child and with the teacher?
-Are you willing to find creative ways to challenge and motivate your child?
-Could you play the recordings for your child more often? (The answer is always "yes").
-Do you take advantage of the resources available to help guide you through the important and difficult and monumental task of being a Suzuki parent?
-Do you demonstrate to your child, through your own behavior, that you believe music is important?
-Do you attend her recitals and performances? Do you stay to listen to the other children perform?
-Do you participate in workshops and institutes?
-Do you listen to classical music in the home?
-Do you take your child to hear other musicians perform?

None of us is perfect. We all have room for improvement, and of course one significant aspect of studying music is that one is always looking for ways to grow and develop. If, after asking the above questions, you see areas where changes would be helpful, even small changes, what could you do to make those changes? Even a few small changes might lead to faster progress, and more importantly to a happier experience, and that would be well worth the investment of time and money.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trimming music ed in schools is a mistake

"Ultimately though, school administrators and political leaders are responsive to the community. People who understand the power and importance of serious music education must raise their voices in a great crescendo of advocacy and emotion. It comes down to something very simple: Children deserve the opportunity to reach their full human potential."

-Mark George

Trimming music ed in schools is a mistake

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Excerpted from the article by Brant Taylor:

Author Michael Ruhlman’s writings about Thomas Keller sparked my interest in this topic some years ago. I paraphrase Ruhlman here, easily turning what was for him a culinary discussion into a musical one:

The concept of finesse rests upon a conviction that paying attention to a handful of small details in a given musical pursuit has an enormous impact on the quality of the finished result, and is a primary form of gratification for the musician in his or her pursuit of a rarefied level of accomplishment. The level to which a musician attends to these details describes the finesse of the musician.

Capuçon performs Meditation de Thais by Massenet

Gautier Capucon - Joplin Ragtime

Sesame Street: Itzhak Perlman Talks About Easy and Hard

Sesame Street: Yo Yo Ma: The Jam Session

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Musicians Are Probably Smarter Than The Rest Of Us"


"While it is known that practicing music repeatedly changes the organization of the brain, it is not clear if these changes can correlate musical abilities with non-musical abilities. The study of 70 older participants, with different musical experience over their lifetimes, provides a connection between musical activity and mental balance in old age. 'The results of this preliminary study revealed that participants with at least 10 years of musical experience (high activity musicians) had better performance in nonverbal memory, naming, and executive processes in advanced age relative to non-musicians.'"

Read the whole article here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. —Albert Einstein

Friday, July 1, 2011

Suzuki Violin Teacher Teri Einfeldt on Guiding the Transition from Student to Artist

Excerpted from the article:

Practice does not make perfect, "practice makes permanent," Teri said. "Don't practice until you get it right, then practice until you can't get it wrong." How do you get to that stage, where you "get it right?" Here are a few ideas: Start with tricky sections. Identify the problem. Use the metronome. Remember that most mistakes happen between two notes. Play a section and stop right before the mistake, then sing the next note. Practice in rhythms. Record yourself. Repeat, a lot!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy

Excerpted from the article by Lori Gottlieb:

“Research shows that people get more satisfaction from working hard at one thing, and that those who always need to have choices and keep their options open get left behind,” Schwartz told me. “I’m not saying don’t let your kid try out various interests or activities. I’m saying give them choices, but within reason. Most parents tell kids, ‘You can do anything you want, you can quit any time, you can try this other thing if you’re not 100 percent satisfied with the other.’ It’s no wonder they live their lives that way as adults, too.” He sees this in students who graduate from Swarthmore. “They can’t bear the thought that saying yes to one interest or opportunity means saying no to everything else, so they spend years hoping that the perfect answer will emerge. What they don’t understand is that they’re looking for the perfect answer when they should be looking for the good-enough answer.”

Read the whole article here.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Please don't try this at home!

Diego Stocco - Experibass from Diego Stocco on Vimeo.

Fostering Critical and Creative Thinkers

Frequently in a lesson I will ask a student to play a review piece, passage or exercise with a specific technical issue in mind. I'll say, for example, "play the first line of French Folk Song and notice whether your bow stays on the 'highway.'" Afterward I'll ask for an assessment. Almost always I get one of two monosyllabic replies: "Good" or "Bad" (the latter response always fascinates me because I am very careful in my teaching never to use the word "bad" to describe any aspect of a student's playing).

The terseness of their answers can be frustrating to be sure, but I think it reveals something interesting about their points of view. So much of what kids are expected to learn is presented to them in black and white. It seems like they come to think that every question has right answer and wrong answers. 1 + 1 = 2. 7-3 is not 5. Missippi is spelled M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya. Phnom Penh is not.

I've noticed that students are very often enthusiastic to answer a question if it has one right answer and they are sure what that answer is. On the other hand, when I ask a student for an opinion or a description they hesitate.

From my perspective as a cello teacher, this is a problem. If kids are thinking about their playing in terms of right vs. wrong, once they have learned to play a piece "right," they don't want to work on it anymore. Instead they want to move on to the next thing. I want them, however, to think of learning music as a continuous process, as having infinite rather than finite possibilities.

Many questions in music do in fact have a right answer? "How many beats are there in a whole note if the time signature says 4/4?" "What is Major key with two sharps?" But many more have many possible answers "How do I want to shape this phrase?" "Should I make this crescendo by increasing my bow-speed or adding more weight?" "What can I do to make this piece sound even better?"

If my goal (or one of them) is to help prepare students one day to become their own teachers, then I need them to be critical thinkers. In fact, one of the many benefits of studying music is that it can help kids learn to think critically and analytically. One hears of study after study that demonstrates that adults who have studied music as kids make successful doctors and engineers and CEO's because they are able to approach problems from a variety of angles, and come up with creative solutions.

So how do we help kids to exercise their critical thinking skills?

1. We encourage them to be creative. We ask questions that have several possible answers. We offer problems that have several possible solutions. We invite them to make up stories to go along with the music. We let them play the role of the teacher, and we the student. We explain things in various ways.
2. We show them that there is more than one way to play a piece, or approach a technical challenge. This is one reason that group classes are so beneficial, because students might have to have the flexibility to play something one way in group and another way by themselves. This is also why I believe it's helpful to work with many different teachers in workshops and institutes, etc.
3. We let them hear recordings and live performances of great musicians. A lot. If students know what the possibilities are, they can form opinions about how they themselves would like to sound, and are more motivated to explore and figure out how to produce that sound themselves.
4. We continue to work on review pieces, so that students will understand that there is no such thing as a finished product in music, but we're always looking for ways to improve that way we play something.
5. We allow them to work collaboratively and encourage them to be open to the ideas of their peers.
6. We allow them to try and to err. And more importantly to try again.

Lynn Harrell's Cello Workshop -- Volume 1 Pt.1

Sound Production Principles

Listening Like a Maniac

Dr. Suzuki was very specific that simply listening to a piece a few times is not sufficient if the goal is to learn that piece by heart. Often I will see a student get stuck while attempting to play a piece in a lesson. When this happens my first question is, "how often do you listen to this piece." Occasionally the student or parent bows his or her head and confesses that the CD has been missing for three weeks. More often the parent shrugs and says something like, "we listen to the CD every day while we're getting ready for school." The fact is sometimes listening once a day is not nearly enough. Etude from Book 1 is a case in point. Playing that piece is like navigating a complex maze, because the form of it is not so clearly defined as in previous pieces. The more one listens, the more detailed and useful the mental map with which one can navigate that maze.

Suzuki Guitar Teacher and Suzuki Violin Mother, Michelle Horner, described in a video for the recent online Parents as Partners seminar on the SAA website, the system for listening that she and her daughter have come to use in their home. Both parent and child had been frustrated by what they viewed as relatively slow progress, despite practicing and listening every day as they were supposed to do. So they decided to begin listening like maniacs. This meant:
  • Listening to the current working piece 10 times in a row
  • Listening to the next piece 10 times in a row
  • Listening to the piece after that 10 times in a row
They saw almost immediate improvement in the rate of progress, and in the overall level of playing. Horner explains that they have continued to listen like maniacs over the years, and that she encourages her guitar families to do the same, with great success.

Try it in your home. Do you notice a change in the quality of playing or in the quality of practice?

Ask the Experts #6: Practicing and Psychological Development

Excerpted from Edmund Sprunger's excellent article on the SAA website.

Even when the work is broken down into manageable chunks, I notice that children often complain about doing some things; but once they get going their own initiative kicks in. Sometimes it’s helpful to say “This is really hard isn’t it?” or “Tell me what the worst part of this is…” and then let the child talk. The child is often ready to go, and in reality this empathizing usually takes less time than it does to pull out a prop. Jumping to a “fun activity” too quickly, then, runs the risk of thwarting the child’s developing awareness that there is pleasure to be had in accomplishing things with one’s own efforts.
Read the whole article here:

Softness is Strength

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Brahms Dble Cto Oïstrakh Rostropovitch Kondrashin 1/1

The Value of Preparation

I lectured a student the other day about the apparent inefficiency with which he seems to practice. This is a student who can memorize and play material "correctly" (i.e. with the right notes, fingerings, bowings, rhythms etc.), but who often doesn't employ the accuracy of intonation, purity of tone, and mature artistry of which I know he is capable. On my way home I found myself asking, what exactly is it that I would like to see him do differently.

The answer can be summed up with one word: Prepare.

This particular student (like so many others - including myself) has a habit of correcting things after the fact. If a note is out of tune, he hears it and adjusts his finger. If the tone is less than ideal, sometimes he'll go back and try it again. Sometimes not. But that alone does not guarantee that the problem will happen again in the future.

What that student needs to do when he practices is to apply a strategy that can be helpful and productive in just about every circumstance, and which I've heard teachers prescribe in a number of different ways:
  • Stop. Prepare.
  • Place then play.
  • Fingers. Bow. Go.
  • Feel the note before you play the note.
The process is as follows:
1. Work in chunks. Pick a unit of music that addresses one issue at a time (probably no more than a few notes).
2. Identify what needs to be done to play a given 'chunk' as you would like it to happen in performance.
  • Where should you be in the bow?
  • Where should the bow be on the string?
  • How much bow should you use?
  • How should you balance your body/set up your posture?
  • How do you adjust the balance of your left arm to go from one note to the next?
  • How do you handle a string crossing?
  • How can you eliminate excessive tension?
  • How can you eliminate excessive motion?
3. Once you've thought about how best to execute that 'chunk,' identify how best to prepare for it.
4. Only then are you ready to play it.

Notice, there is much more thinking in the process than actual playing.

CelloBello Blog

Click for a link to a great blog edited by the great cellist and pedagogue Paul Katz (of the Cleveland Quartet and New England Conservatory), and including contributions from a variety of other great cellists.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cirque du Soleil - Kooza (Wheel of death)

Why are we impressed by something like this? Because it's death-defying? Maybe. Because it's impossible? No. Because it's possible but only with incredible focus and hours upon hours of hard work? Absolutely.

Bobby McFerrin - Ave Maria

This too.

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of th...

This is so great!

NPR Profile on Cellist Alisa Weilerstein

Listen to the interview here.

John Adams' (Composer, not President) Commencement Address at Juilliard

 Excerpted from Composer John Adams' Commencement Address at the Juilliard School. Read the whole address here. While I don't quite agree with the assertion that God doesn't "dole out talent in fair and equal proportions," (see Every Child Can) I think Adam's overall point has a lot of merit.

"But by choosing a life in the arts you’ve set yourselves apart from all that and from a nation that has become such a hostage to distraction that it can’t absorb a single complex thought without having it reduced to a sound byte. Most people now, and particularly most people your age, live in a fractured virtual environment where staying focused on a single thought for, say, a mere seven seconds presents a grave challenge. (I mention seven seconds because a staff researcher at Google in San Francisco recently told me that 7.3 seconds was the amount of time that an average viewer stays on a YouTube site before jumping to another page.) You have grown up in a world that offers constant, almost irresistible distraction not unlike what the serpent in the Garden of Eden offered to Eve when he whispered to her, 'check out them apples.'
The arts, however, are difficult. They are mind-bendingly and refreshingly difficult. You can’t learn the role of Hamlet (no less write it), you can’t play the fugue in the Hammerklavier Sonata (no less compose it) and you can’t hope to move effortlessly through one of Twyla Tharp’s ballets without having submitting yourself to something that’s profoundly difficult, that demands sustained concentration and unyielding devotion. Artists are people who’ve learned how to surrender themselves to a higher purpose, to something better than their miserable little egos. They’ve been willing to put their self-esteem in a Cuisinart and let it be chopped and diced and crushed to a pulp. They are the ones who’ve learned to live with the brutal fact that God didn’t dole out talent in fair and equal portions and that the person sitting next to them may only need to practice only half as hard to win the concerto competition."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Depersonalizing Instructions and Criticism

Often parents find that their kids are more responsive to the instructions of the teacher in the lesson than they are to instructions from the parent at home. Children don't like to be dictated to, and so as teachers and parents we have to find ways to get them to cooperate without having it seem like the instruction is coming directly from us.

Here are some ideas:
  • Give the child choices, but be sure only to offer options you're willing to accept.
  • Make a game board, perhaps with zones of different colors. The child can roll dice, and draw a card that corresponds to whatever zone her piece lands on. Cards can have instructions on them (e.g. "Play the shifting spot in Minuet 1 seven times slowly with a ringing G and a ringing A) You can control from practice session to practice session which cards are in the stack. There might be a pink zone for posture exercises (and pink cards to go with it), a blue zone for reviews, a green zone for working/polishing pieces, a purple zone for reading etc. If each zone has at least 6 spaces on the board, then you'll be sure to get work done on each of the categories. When the child's game piece reaches the finish line, that is the end of practice for that day. (You can also build into the game rules consequences for not cooperating. For example, refusing to do what the card says means you have to move your game pieces back five spaces).
  • Tool Box - Each tool corresponds to a different skill to develop (hammer for staccato bows, wrench for "finger-bow-go" etc). Let the child decide which tool his needed to help whatever piece or passage you're working on.
  • Playing Cards - Child draws from the deck. If the suit is red, the parent chooses the activity, if the suit is black the child chooses. The number on the card can determine how many times to repeat it. Ace is high.
  • Roll Dice
  • Let the child be the judge. If the task is to play the hopping finger notes in Song of the Wind (for example) 8 times, let the student decide whether a given repetition can count. Ask a specific question like, "Did your fingers lift up before they moved to the A-string?" This is also a good way of assessing the level of the student's focus, and comprehension of the task. If you disagree with the "judge's" ruling, resist the temptation to say so.
  • Let a stuffed animal be the judge (for young children, obviously).
  • Be willing to acknowledge your child's feelings. Be prepared to listen.
  • Make a practice to-do list with your child, and then simply allow him to check tasks off when they're accomplished.
There are endless possibilities. If any parents have ideas that have worked for them at home, please share them in the comments section.

Oliver Aldort

There are dozens of impressive YouTube videos of this gifted young cellist. He is also a very talented pianist.

Also, take a moment to watch this video of his mother, who has a parenting website at What she's saying might sound surprising, but her point is good. In order to help a child change unacceptable behavior, we need to acknowledge the feelings that have led to that behavior. Often the problems that parents run into while practicing have less to do with the actual technical and physical challenges of playing music, and more to do with the child's emotional life.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Really Cool Japanese Gravity Marimba Plays Bach

This turns out to be a cell phone commercial. I'm not posting it to advertise the product in any way, but because of the concept.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sarabande from J.S. Bach's Sixth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello

"As the people of Japan continue to endure profound hardship, I have been thinking, as so many people have, about how culture can respond in a way that is directly meaningful. Is there a way for artists to bring solace to those who are suffering such overwhelming tragedy? A friend in Tokyo recently answered that question by saying, 'I believe that everyone should do anything he or she believes to be good, without hesitation, because the absence of action brings nothing.'

I hope this video will bring solace and comfort to the people of Japan." -- Yo-Yo Ma

Monday, April 11, 2011

Redefining Parent Goals

The SAA website has a great regular feature called "Ask the Experts." This is just one of several entries that you might find interesting.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

YouTube Symphony

If you and your family have some time, take a look at this exciting concert from the 2011 YouTube Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble comprises musicians from all over the world who submitted audition videos and selected by viewers to travel to Sydney and participate. This is not just a symphony concert, but a multimedia experience that incorporates various visual elements as well, and I found it very engaging. It's exciting to think about how technology will change the way the world experiences classical music.

Don't Take Backwards Steps

I often tell my students to think of the shortest/fastest route between two points (home and school, for instance). If the goal is to get to the second point quickly and efficiently, we have to identify which route to take, and then we have to take forward steps along that route. If we leave the house and move backwards (in the opposite direction from the school) we are only adding to the number of steps - and the amount of time - it will take to reach the school.

By the same token, in practicing, it simply isn't worth our time to practice careless and inaccurate repetitions of a task, because doing so only adds to the amount of time it will take to master a skill or to polish a piece. Instead we should try to make every action a productive one.

Productive Mistakes vs. Counterproductive Mistakes

Good Mistakes - It can be hard for teachers and parents to watch a student struggle through something without simply giving her the answers, but children always learn a skill better when they have figured it out them selves. Struggle is good. Mistakes that are born of conscious effort are great, because they are learning opportunities. Children often get frustrated by this kind of mistake and it's our job not to be frustrated with them, but rather to encourage them to keep working through it.

Consider Olympic gymnasts. What we see on our televisions are very complex and challenging routines that incorporate tasks we can't imagine being able to do ourselves (a back flip on a balance beam for instance), and those tasks are performed at a very high level. We know, however, that the gymnast on our screen has fallen off that balance beam, hundreds, or even thousands of times. With each fall, she has had to assess the problem and make small adjustments to where she shifts her weight, where she places her hands and feet, and so on. What we see in her Olympic routine is the culmination of thousands of hours of trial and error and discovery and repetition.

We need to allow music students to fall off the balance beam, and we need to encourage them to get back on and try again.

For insight into the role mistakes play in skill development, I recommend that you read Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code.

Bad Mistakes - The kind mistakes of which we should be wary are the mistakes born of carelessness. Often students will play something incorrectly because they didn't take the time to think and to prepare before starting to play. This usually means they are not focused on the task, and then it becomes our job to find ways to redirect their focus. Sometimes it means we have to change activities and come back to this task at a different time.

It's usually easy to distinguish a "good" mistake from a "bad" mistake, because when the mistake is bad, the student usually doesn't even notice it. Students are self-motivated to correct "good" mistakes, but if they are not paying attention - if they are playing on autopilot - they do not go back and correct things.

When we learn from a good mistake and correct it, the corrected version gets wired into our muscle memories, and then we strengthen that skill with each thoughtful repetition. When we make careless mistakes, the mistake itself gets wired into our muscle memories.

The Impossible Duet: Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia for Cello and Violin

Monday, April 4, 2011

NPR Story about Bilingual Children and Brain/Language Development

Making Music: The work of a Syracuse Symphony Orchestra musician isn't as effortless as it sometimes seems

David Finckel Cello Talks

I think this is a really cool illustration of how tone production fundamentally works on the cello.

David Finckel is the cellist of the renowned Emerson Quartet, and has a great YouTube channel with lots of informative videos. Not all of them are applicable to the young beginner, but some might be.

Chicago Suzuki Institute

Click on a title above for a link to online registration for the Chicago Suzuki Institute. Summer institutes are great opportunities to help keep momentum going during the Summer. Think how much progress your child can make in a week of intensive cello work. Not to mention, institutes are a lot of fun.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pablo Casals' Quotes

The Importance of Practicing Review Pieces - or - Your Teacher Doesn't Measure Progress in New Notes, and Neither Should You

Dr. Suzuki defined "ability" as "knowledge + 10,000 times." Remember that his guiding principle was that learning music should be like learning one's native language. In other words, the goal is to be able to play a piece with as much ease and comfort as we speak.

It is, therefore, very important to devote most of the practice time to review repertoire. Dr. Suzuki expected his students to play every piece they knew every day. That meant that a student working on Mozart concerti would still be practicing his Twinkles. That might sound silly, but imagine just how effortless it would be to play a piece if you've been playing it every day for ten years. Consider other activities that you've been doing every day for years: Driving, Walking, Speaking, Reading, Typing perhaps. Ideally, music should come just as naturally.

Most Suzuki teachers divide the pieces that a student knows (or is learning) into three categories.
1. The Working Piece is the newest piece - the student is just learning correct notes, rhythms and bowings, and working to play the piece in tune and with a beautiful tone and a steady tempo, appropriate articulations, and whatever technical point the teacher is asking for (e.g. tunnel fingers in Lightly Row).
2. Polishing Piece(s) - the student can play the piece at performance tempo, and apply musical concepts like phrasing, dynamics, etc., and is ready to play the piece in group class.
3. Review Piece (s) are pieces that the student has known for a while - these pieces should feel easy to play. The student can play the piece expressively, with beautiful tone, great intonation and great posture, with minimal effort. In my opinion a piece is not ready for a recital performance until it has reached the Review level, because the child will be much less likely to have memory slips or make nervous mistakes.

Review pieces are an incredibly important practice tool because they are where we develop cello playing skills. Most often, a technical point the teacher assigns you to work on at home will be too new or complex to address in the Working Piece. However, Review Pieces have become so effortless for the student that she can focus her attention on whatever skill you are working to develop.

The Suzuki repertoire is carefully scaffolded so that earlier pieces introduce skills that will be needed to learn latter pieces. Bowings and rhythms from the twinkle variations, for instance, appear in the Marcello Sonata in book 4. The rhythm and articulation in Humoresque in book 3 reappears in book 5's Goltermann Rondo, which in turn helps to prepare students for pieces like the Sammartini Sonata and the Haydn C Major Concerto. If a student continues to practice and refine her Review pieces, she will already be mastering the skills needed to learn those more advanced pieces.

As a teacher, I am not assessing a student's progress based on which new piece he's learning. Instead, I'm assessing his progress based on how well he plays his review pieces. Does a book 3 student play French Folk Song with a sophistication and maturity appropriate to his level? This student has gotten to Webster Scherzo after only two years of study. Great, but does she play in tune? Is her bow arm relaxed?

Practice Ideas

One of the aspects of practicing parents struggle with most is how to get their child to do the same thing several times. Repetition is vitally important. It's the only thing that converts knowledge to ability (As Dr. Suzuki said, "Ability = Knowledge + 10,000 times). But kids don't see the point. Why would they?

Here are some ideas for keeping them motivated:
  • Roll Dice. Kids love the serendipity.
  • Wipe-out Rule - If you're trying for x times in a row, any careless/inaccurate repetition means you go back to one, even if it's repetition x-1.
  • Wipe-out Rule Plus One - If the student wipes out, add one to the number of repetitions. x + 1, then x + 2, etc.
  • Yes Pile/No Pile - Move counting object (pennies, buttons, beans etc.) from no pile to "yes" pile with each good repetition. You can also reserve the right to move them back to the "no" pile.
  • Depersonalize - Let the student evaluate the repetitions, or let a stuffed animal or puppet be the "judge."
  • Move pieces around a game board.
  • Penny Jar - With each good repetition add a penny (or bean or other counter) to the jar. You and your child can agree on an appropriate reward for when the jar fills up, depending on the size of the jar. Maybe it's a trip to the ice cream shop, maybe it's a trip to Disneyland. What I like is that it the child learns that with effort, and one step at a time, you can achieve a goal over the long term. Meanwhile the child sees his cumulative progress as the jar fills up.
  • Clothes Pins - Line up clothes pins on the child's pant leg, and remove them with each good repetition.
  • Draw playing cards to determine the number
  • Make a paper chain, add a link with every repetition.
  • Make a tower of blocks and add a block with each repetition
  • Have a coloring book page, and color one section for each repetition. 
  • Plus Seven - On a piece of paper, write out the numbers -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. Start with a marker on 0. With each good repetition, move the marker in the positive direction. With each messy repetition, move the marker down one. Stop when you get to +7.
  • Disguised Repetition - Can you do it with your eyes closed? Can you do it with your mouth open? Can you do the bowing on a different string? Can you do the bowing in the air? Etc.
You'll need as many new ideas as you can find or come up with.

It's important that you evaluate each repetition only based on the one point that you are focusing on. If the instruction was to play the same 3 notes of a piece 12 times with a relaxed left thumb, don't discount a repetition because the bow wasn't on the highway. One thing at a time.

Jacqueline du Pre, Elgar Concerto

YouTube is an incredibly valuable resource for musicians. It gives us access to things like this. This is the late great cellist Jacqueline du Pre in her legendary performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto. I love how she connects to the music emotionally.

C. A. R. E. S.

Even if you're not quite sure how to go about practicing something, you can't go wrong by taking a small chunk (you can get a lot done by zeroing in on two notes) and applying the following acronym:

  • Carefully - Work with great focus and deliberation.
  • Accurately - Take care to play the chunk with the intonation, bow placement and style, posture, tone, etc. that you would want to have happen in a performance situation, even though it's under tempo.
  • Repeatedly - Figuring it out is only the first step. Actually learning a skill requires many many thoughtful repetitions.
  • Efficiently - Avoid any excess tension or movement that will create problems at performance tempi.
  • SLOWLY - It is never useful to play something faster than you can play it well. It is very useful to play very slowly, so that you have plenty of time to think and assess.
The order of the letters does not matter in terms of relative importance, but I thing S. C. A. R. E. or R. A. C. E. S. probably sends the wrong message.

Building a Library of Recordings

How often does your family listen to classical music in the home? Is the Suzuki reference recording the only cello CD you have? If so, consider building a library of other great recordings. Perhaps you could budget for one new recording a week or a month.

I'm reading Daniel Coyle's excellent book The Talent Code, and at one point he describes the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a network of alternative schools whose students mainly come from underprivileged backgrounds, and are often the first in their families to go to college. They are very successful, in part because of incredible discipline and attention to detail, and in part because the teachers make a point of bringing up college regularly in conversation. In other words, the students are constantly reminded of the long term goals toward which they are working. We should incorporate the same concept into our quest to nurture musical development in a child. Students should hear the pieces they are currently working on, or will be learning soon, as often as possible - several times a day. But they should also be given the opportunity to advanced works performed by world-class musicians.

Here's a list of things to look for as you're building a music library:

Great Cellists
Yo-Yo Ma
Mstislav Rostropovich
Jacqueline Du Pre
Leonard Rose
Pierre Fournier
Pablo Casals
Mischa Maisky
Gregor Piatigorsky
Janos Starker
Bernard Greenhouse
Maria Kliegel
Lynn Harrell
Heinrich Schiff

Young Cellists, Rising Stars
Alyssa Weilerstein
Han Na Chang
Gautier Capucon
Alban Gerhardt
Luca Sulic
Stejpan Hauser

Great Ensembles
New York Philharmonic
Vienna Philharmonic
Berlin Philharmonic
Chicago Symphony
Cleveland Orchestra
San Fransisco Symphony
Juilliard Quartet
Cleveland Quartet
Emerson Quartet
Vermeer Quartet
Orion Quartet
Tokyo Quartet
Beethoven Quartet
Alban Berg Quartet

Import Pieces in the Cello Repertoire
Bach, Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (as many different recordings as possible)
Dvorak, Cello Concerto
Elgar, Cello Concerto
Haydn, Cello Concertos
Saint Saens, Cello Concerto in A minor
Schumann, Cello Concerto
Brahms, Double Concerto, E minor and F Major Sonatas
Beethoven, Cello Sonatas
Debussy, Cello Sonata
Shostakovich, Cello Sonata and Cello Concerto No. 1
Prokofiev, Cello Sonata and Sinfonia Concertante
Kodaly, Sonata for Solo Cello

These lists are nowhere near exhaustive (I haven't even touched the orchestral or quartet repertoire, or pieces for other instruments, not to mention opera, non-classical styles etc.) I could devote the entire blog to listing great pieces and performers and not come anywhere near a comprehensive list, but this is a good start.

If you are planning to take your child to a live performance, find out what's on the program, get a recording if one is available and let her listen to it beforehand.

Happy hunting.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How Can I Best Help My Child in the Lesson?

It's important for there to be only one teacher at a time in the lesson. Parent's should be silent observers and note-takers and only comment or actively participate at the teacher's instruction. This is because two sets of instructions will confuse the child, and divide the child's attention, even when the instructions are the same.

If you notice that your child is distracted to see you in her line of sight, position yourself behind her, so that she can focus on the teacher. If she turns to look at you, simply smile and redirect her focus back to the teacher.

How to Take Notes
You may take notes in whatever format you like, but they should be thorough, accurate and clear. In addition to (not in lieu of) written notes, parents in my studio are always welcome to record or videotape all or part of any lesson. Now with the advent of flip cameras, it is relatively convenient to do so. Please don't leave a lesson without making sure you fully understand the week's assignments.

What to Write Down
In short, everything. The more you give yourself to work with, the easier time you'll have at home, and the more likely you are to follow through on what the teacher did in the lesson. Too often, parents get home and open up their notebooks to find that "practice Allegro" is the only thing they wrote down for the whole lesson.

To be more specific:
  • How did the teacher work on posture?
  • How did the teacher work on tone?
  • What scales and/or exercises did the teacher assign?
  • Assignments for review pieces
  • Assignments for polishing pieces
  • What did the teacher compliment?
  • What did the teacher communicate non-verbally?
  • What vocabulary did the teacher use?
  • What analogies did the teacher use?
  • How much bow?
  • Which part of the bow?
  • Which bow direction?
  • How did the teacher physically guide the students bow arm or left hand or posture?
  • What are the steps the teacher prescribes for practicing this skill?
  • What is the one point the teacher would like you to focus on with this activity?
  • Any questions you might have for the teacher that you want to ask at the end of the lesson
  • Any concepts the teacher explains - make sure you understand your notes if the concept is new to you
  • Reading assignment (if applicable)
  • Specific listening assignment (if applicable)
  • Important dates
You should also be observing and taking notes on group class, as the teacher expects those skills and activities to be practiced at home as well.

What to Say, How to Say It, How Much to Say, and When Not to Say Anything

As teachers and as "at home teachers" we often think our job is to tell the student what the next step is in refining a skill or preparing a piece. That is an important part of our job, of course, but kids experience every instruction or constructive criticism the same way. No matter how we present it, kids usually hear "You're doing this wrong and now we have to fix it." (I highly recommend the book Helping Parents Practice, by Edmund Sprunger, in which he explains with great clarity how children experience practice psychologically). So it should be no surprise that kids who only get that kind of interaction from a teacher or parent can lose confidence and motivation.

Of course there are times when we simply have to address a problem, or introduce the next step, but the most effective teaching moments are usually not when we say, "okay, now do D-E-F," but when we say "wow! you did A-B-C so well." When children receive sincere, specific praise for a task, they are motivated to continue working as hard - sometimes even harder - to perform that task well. The same is true for adults. Think of the employers you've had. Were you more motivated to work hard for the ones who offered a lot of praise or for the ones who only ever pointed out where you had room for improvement?

When practicing with your child at home, most of your comments should sound something like "Great, Lizzie! You just did such a good job of keeping your bow on the highway, and it made your cello sound big and beautiful." Even if you're frustrated that Lizzie still isn't keeping her left elbow up after weeks of working on it, you can still always find room to offer honest praise.

Often if a parent complains to me that practice has really been a struggle, and that there have been a lot of arguments at home, I'll suggest that the parent only offer praise for what the child does successfully, and no 'instruction' of any kind for a whole week. Inevitably, both the parent and the child come back the following week feeling much better about things.

Furthermore, it is incredibly important that we only address one thing at a time. Sometimes it's very hard not to bombard a student with seventeen different instructions at once, but that only serves to overwhelm the student. Best to identify the issue that is most in need of work, and focus on that (see the post about Dr. Suzuki's Teaching/Practicing Priorities). If there are other things to work on, write them down and come back to them the next day.

Sometimes a child just needs to be allowed to explore and try things and figure things out. The parent should just sit back and watch and congratulate the child when he arrives at the correct solution (or a good solution) on his own.

Finally, sometimes the most helpful thing you can say to a child is "I love you."

Evelyn Glennie: How to listen to music with your whole body

Teaching/Practice Priorities

Dr. Suzuki ranked the priorities for practice and lessons as follows:

1. Posture/Position
2. Tone
3. Intonation
4. Musicianship
5. Notes and Bowings in New Repertoire

If there is an issue with posture or tone production, we should address that first. If the posture is great and the tone is beautiful and the notes are in tune, then we are free to work on refining musical ideas in a piece. Notice that learning new repertoire is last on the list.

Alisa Weilerstein and Sujari Britt Perform at the White House: 4 of 8

An incredibly mature chamber performance from a talented 8 yr old.

Suzuki Triangle

In order for a Suzuki journey to be fulfilling, there need to be three collaborators working in tandem to nurture the child's musical and personal growth.

The Teacher
  • Expert on the instrument
  • Expert on Suzuki philosophy
  • Diagnostician - identifies problems that might be preventing a child from reaching her potential
  • Doctor - prescribes solutions to those problems
  • Has an eye on long term goals, identifies intermediary steps toward those goals
  • Communicates expectations to parents and students
  • Determines when the Student is ready to start learning a new skill or piece
  • Determines when the Student is ready to perform a piece
  • Treats Student and Parent with respect and trust
The Parent
  • "At Home Teacher," works directly
  • Secretary and silent observer in the lesson
  • Caretaker, keeper of family routine
  • Makes sure to understand and follow through on weekly assignments and long term assignments
  • Ensures that child has adequate opportunities to practice and to listen to the recording
  • Ensures that child is repeating a skill an adequate number of times and with adequate focus
  • Is constantly finding creative ways to keep practice joyful and interesting for the child
  • Provides positive reinforcement for every success
  • Ensures that child is prepared for the lesson
  • Takes advantage of workshop and institute opportunities
  • Keeps the teacher apprised of child's mood, and events at school or home which might have an effect on the lesson
  • Treats the Teacher and Student with respect and trust
The Student
  •  Cooperates with the parent at home during practice
  • Cooperates with the teacher during the lesson
  • Cooperates with his peers in group class, concerts etc.
  • Listens carefully to instructions
  • Is an engaged learner
  • Treats the Teacher and Parent with respect and trust
Problems arise if and when any of the three corners of the triangle lapses, but when the triangle is functioning well, the child makes continued progress. No individual is perfect, and there are times in every case, with every student, when progress slows and frustrations arise. That's normal. But those are the times when each member of the Suzuki Triangle should assess the situations and make changes as necessary.

Group Class

Language development is a communal undertaking. Children learn to speak because they hear adults speak, and because they later interact with other children who are learning to communicate.

Group learning is vitally important in musical development as well. Suzuki families benefit from group class in myriad ways.
  • They build a community of friends with whom they have music in common
  • They often feel more secure to struggle with a difficult task when they see their peers struggling with them
  • Parents meet and interact with other parents and can share ideas about how to make practice more rewarding
  • Students have two cello lessons a week (one group and one individual), rather than one
  • Teachers can work on developing skills that can't be developed as effectively in an individual lesson, such as ensemble playing, leading and following, blending sounds, matching intonation and playing in unison
  • Technical skills and musical concepts that are introduced in the individual lesson are reinforced in group class
  • A piece that is relatively new and unpolished for an individual student will sound beautiful when she plays it with the group
  • Students develop a sense of rehearsal etiquette
  • Students develop the flexibility and versatility needed to adapt one's interpretation of a piece to fit the group interpretation  

Why Isn't My Child Learning to Read Music?

There is an unfortunate stereotype that Suzuki students can only learn by ear, and don't learn to read music. It isn't true, of course. Conscientious Suzuki teachers make reading an important priority, but they work on it at the appropriate time.

We would not think of teaching a child to read before he has learned to speak (except in rare cases). First we have to establish the foundation of linguistic concepts (vocabulary, pronunciation etc.), and only later (usually much later) is a child ready to comprehend the abstract system of symbols that we use to notate language on the page.

The same is true for music. Students who learn by ear first, and then learn to read, can develop a comprehensive knowledge of how to interpret the symbols on the page and translate them to musical sounds. Students who only learn music by reading often miss a lot of information. They have trouble seeing on the page where one phrase ends and another begins. Their sense of pulse is often mechanical and conceptual rather than intuitive, and the result is very stilted. They have to process each instruction on the page individually. They also have a much harder time memorizing.

Suzuki students do start to learn to read when the time is right. That time depends on a lot of factors (age, security of posture and set-up, aural development etc.), and varies from student to student. When I start students reading, I use material outside of the core Suzuki repertoire, so that I can be sure that they are in fact learning to read, rather than reading by ear. In the meantime, I introduce pre-reading concepts essentially from the start, much the way young kids learn the alphabet long before they are actually reading.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Always Room 4 Cello (original full-length version)

NYT Arts Beat Blog, 8 Yr Old Reader Responds to a Post about Top 10 Composers

Can your eight-year-old list ten composers and form opinions about their work? Could you at eight years old? I couldn't.

Music training enhances brainstem sensitivity to speech sounds, neuroscientist says

Music training enhances brainstem sensitivity to speech sounds, neuroscientist says

Everything I Know About Business I Learned at the Conservatory

From Brian Pertl, Dean of the Conservatory at Lawrence University, and former executive at Microsoft.

Sulic Hauser- Smooth Criminal

Jonathan conducts Chamber Orchestra Kremlin

Same kid, a little older.

3 year old Jonathan conducting to the 4th movement of Beethoven's 5th Sy...

At first sight, this is a video of a small child experiencing Beethoven's 5th symphony on a very visceral level, which is amazing in its own right, but what I find remarkable is how skilled his conducting is. His beat pattern and tempo match the piece, he conducts big when the music is loud and energetic and small when the music is more reserved, he cues different sections with his eyes (not always the right sections), he articulates different styles with his baton. I assume he's imitating a DVD he's seen many times, but imitating with an incredible amount of detail. An orchestra would be able to follow most of this. This kid might be the first ever Suzuki Conducting Student.

Every Child Can - The Truth About Talent

As a Japanese violinist studying in Germany, Dr. Suzuki struggled to learn a language so complex and so different from his own. He realized however, that German children all learn to speak German, and do so with joy and success. The same, of course, is true of children in all cultures.

It's for that reason that Suzuki teachers operate under the belief that Every Child Can learn to play an instrument. Contrary to popular belief, talent is not a gift - a birthright - that some people have and others don't. After all most of us are talented talkers, walkers, readers, drivers - the list goes on. These are all incredibly complex abilities that took an incredible amount of effort to learn, but we have practiced so much and so effectively that we don't even think of them as being remotely difficult. Talent is grown. It's a skill (or set of skills) that has to be cultivated, and can be nurtured in anyone.

Mother Tongue Approach to Teaching Music

The renowned violin pedagogue, Dr. Shin'ichi Suzuki, realized that if children could learn something as immensely complicated as language from such a young age, the same thing must be true of music, and that the results could be similar - i.e. that children can develop the ability to play an instrument with ease and fluency just as they eventually speak their native languages with ease and fluency.

If we always keep the analogy of language development in mind as teachers and parents working with the Suzuki philosophy, we can avoid many frustrations along the way, and have the patience to work through whatever frustrations we can't avoid.

I will discuss the following points in later posts.

  • Every Child Can learn language. Every Child Can learn music.
  • Children learn language by ear
  • Children learn to speak first and read later
  • Children learn best when working with a group of peers
  • Parental interaction is vital in language development, as in musical development
  • Repetition is essential
  • Progress is very slow at first
  • Children are not self-conscious about learning to speak
  • Children respond to positive reinforcement