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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