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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