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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Importance of Music Education

boy plays violin
Music Teaches Eight Abilities
In a recent podcast episode (episode 52: Why Study Music?), I discussed eight abilities that the study of music will develop. Let me list those eight abilities here:
  • Ability to Listen
  • Ability to Observe and Imitate
  • Ability to Memorize
  • Ability to Concentrate
  • Ability to Perform
  • Ability to be Disciplined
  • Ability to Persevere
  • Abilities of the Heart
My purpose in bringing up this discussion of the importance of music education is to remind us of Dr. Suzuki's greater mission. He did not merely teach the violin; his greater purpose was to teach the child to be a fine human being with a noble heart. He chose to do that through the study of the violin.

The episode takes a closer look at each of these abilities and why learning them is important for children (and adults). I like to think of these abilities as life skills to be applied in other areas of life. Not only do I believe that children should be taught these life skills, but I think that adults should improve these skill abilities (or learn them) as well. So let us look more closely at each of these eight abilities.

The first ability is the ability to listen. In the Suzuki program, children listen to the songs that they will learn. These children develop a very high level of listening ability and can figure out fingerings and bowings to songs that they have not yet learned except through hearing the songs. This ability to listen to such a high degree will carry over into other important areas of life, such as school, work, or ultimately in a loving relationship with another.

As these children continue lessons into the more advanced books of repertoire, they will also learn how to listen very carefully to their performance. This is a much more complex level of focused listening that expands a child’s ability to hear, listen, and evaluate. If students are not naturally aural learners, they can still develop the ability to listen to a very high degree.

Children also develop the ability to observe and imitate. Dr. Suzuki observed that children already use this ability when they learn to speak their native language. We were blessed with eyes and ears -- two of each -- and that is the best way we have to learn anything. I can make my teaching points clear to my students and their parents when I pick up my instrument and demonstrate the point.

The author John Holt wrote, “How Children Learn” (affiliate link). He describes how a young child learns by imitating: a very young child may attempt to imitate what they see someone else do, and then will stop and watch again to see whether their attempt at imitating measures up to what they saw. They watch, try it out, then watch to see how close they came, make adjustments, try it out again, then watch to see how close they came, make more adjustments, and so forth. In other words, the little ones learned how to do something by watching, imitating, and then trying it out.

An older child, in contrast, would watch, but the imitation might happen a few times in the older child’s mind or imagination first until the older child felt more comfortable and confident that the older child would be able to successfully recreate what the child observed. The podcast episode discusses even more points related to a child's imitation and learning, including the instinct of workmanship (listen).

Another ability developed through the study of music is the ability to memorize. In the Suzuki program, students memorize at first through listening to the pieces they are studying and in the same way that the students learned their native language through hearing and absorbing the language in the environment. In the Suzuki world, students hear the songs that they are studying because parents have the music playing in the home, and the students are constantly exposed to the sounds that the students will be making on the instrument. Later when students learn how to read the language of music, students will learn how to memorize using the sense of sight as well.

The ability to concentrate is a fourth ability developed in music study. I have published a book about the steps that lead to the Twinkle Variations for violin (The Twinkle Project), and I spend a great deal of the early book talking about how to develop concentration and focus in young children and beginning students. This skill development is not just limited to little children though; I spend a great deal of time working on this ability with my older university and adult students as well. It is important that we learn how to focus and concentrate at any stage of our development and life, because without focus and concentration, we do poor or shoddy work. We lose track of important details. We practice poorly, meaning that we learn how to do things inefficiently, with poor quality, and we are not fully engaged in what we are doing.

I remember standing in a line to get on an amusement park ride when I overheard two mothers talking about their 9 and 10 year old boys. The one mother said that she wanted to put her boy in trumpet lessons, but her boy did not concentrate very well. This mother thought that waiting awhile would be the solution. As any Suzuki music teacher would know, waiting will not fix the concentration and focus problem. The only way to learn how to concentrate and focus is to practice doing so. This is a regular part of lessons in my studio, and I ask that the parents of my students spend adequate time on this area as well at home.

The fifth ability is the ability to perform. This ability will apply to all areas of a student’s life. By learning how to perform, students learn how to present themselves and their ideas and work product to share with others. Music has the unique distinction as well of helping us to learn how to make connections with others. Music does not merely entertain by performing for spectators, as occurs in sports. Music adds that other dimension of establishing a communication and a connection with the listener. Since music is energy expressed mostly through sound but also through sight and feeling, it touches listeners on a physical level that sometimes listeners are not even aware is happening. Whenever I do leadership and energy development skill exercises in my group classes, there may be a few students and parents who will be surprised to discover how much connection there can be during a performance. And I mean this in a good way.

There are many performances that may be wonderful but that do not touch us to the core. Recently one of my high school advanced students attended a symphony concert where the performer played a concerto that my student was currently studying. At first my student loved the performance and raved about the many things that he heard during the concert. When I saw my student at his next lesson, he had some additional observations to make, such as that he did not feel that connection that we talk about. The performance was indeed great, but it was not that soul-touching, mind blowing experience that we will remember forever.

The ability to perform teaches us how to develop self confidence, how to present ourselves in a way that provides us with a sense of inner strength as well as projects that core strength to our audience. And performing also applies to other subjects and areas as well, from sports events and school presentations, to formal situations such as workplace demonstrations. Even being the new kid in the school will involve performance of some kind on the part of all students.

At the university, my violin studio holds a weekly seminar class where we meet to discuss pedagogy and technique development. We also perform for each other. My students learn the crucial performance skills, such as the importance of posture and how one walks onto a stage or into a room and the kind of effect this will have on the audience as well as the performer. We talk about our presentation physically as well as how to use our energy in the creation of the musical performance, and I know that these discussions about performance carry over into other areas of my students’ lives. This is a really, really important skill that is developed by music study.

The ability to be disciplined is one of the most important skills developed through the study of music. Music teaches students how to develop discipline in their personal habits as well as professional ones. Students learn how to practice correctly, how to maintain regular practice routines, how to prepare presentations, how to analyze things and go through a sequence of steps in order to learn and master a new piece of music, a new skill, or a refinement of an old piece or skill.

We learn how to be disciplined to some degree, usually with something that we like to do. Then we might move on to another activity and work on the discipline ability with the new activity. I find that following a marathon training program has quite nicely dovetailed with my ability to be disciplined about my music practices as well. I learned at a very young age how to be disciplined in my music, and I find that this ability has carried forward into many activities, from writing legal briefs that were 50 pages in length to running a 50K. Both of these activities took the same concentration, focus, and discipline that my music practices demanded from me.

The ability to persevere is the ability that will carry us through tough situations and keep us from giving up when things become hard. Life may be full of tragic, heart-wrenching, and mind-blowing events that will be difficult to overcome. Yet, many people do. The ability to persevere helps to give people the ability to work through tough times. 

The study of music teaches us how to develop that skill. We encounter stumbling blocks pretty much all the time. But for the love of the music, the fun of doing what we are doing, that fact that our parents seem to want us to do this and enjoy the activity and encourage us, and the fact that children generally want to please their parents, parents can really teach a child this important ability. With a little humor, lots of patience and kindness, and a generous dose of good will and encouragement, parents can help children work through any frustration or difficulty and come out the other side with a smile and a sense of pride that the child accomplished something. Dr. Suzuki said, “Teaching intonation and technique will never be more than a method. We do not have to become professional musicians. It is enough to grow up playing the violin. Because a person works at playing the violin well he develops ability to overcome any difficult problems by working. Then he accomplishes the ability to overcome even the hardest problems easily.”

And finally, the last ability of music education that I want to discuss is what Jeanne Luedke calls the abilities of the heart. Consider the possibilities of this quote from Dr. Suzuki: “Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart. A child raised on Bach from a young age will develop the noble soul, powerful personality and the religious sensitivity of Bach. The force that makes a child want to live and survive will absorb the traits of Bach’s music to a high degree.”

Even young children can play a musical instrument and create a musical mood that will touch the heart of a listener. Music has that power, and even the youngest of children can learn how to express that power and share it with others, even very young children.

I tell my new studio parents that when children study music and how to play a musical instrument that these children will be exposed to the best of music that our culture has to offer. Music has been around since the beginning of recorded time, and what has survived over the centuries in this body of musical works is the best of these works. The child will absorb so many things while studying this music and how to play. The child will not only absorb the sounds of music, but also the expression of feelings and events and emotions and even the description of beautiful things in nature, including possibly the recreation of story within the musical notes – all of this will be absorbed by the child who is exposed to and studies this music and combination of sounds.

The child's parents and other family members will also absorb this same fabulous collection of the best of our culture. We also learn how to appreciate and study new ideas and sounds, including new music and music from different cultures besides the Western culture. Music gives our young students and children the tools necessary to learn about, connect with, and appreciate the creations of other cultures besides our own.

At some point in their music studies, my students ask me what book I’m in. I always answer the same way. I am in book 11. And this book is the hugest book of all the Suzuki books, because it is everything else that is not yet in books 1-10. This book has thousands of pieces in it.

The gift of the abilities of the heart is my favorite gift from the study of music, because I think that this was Dr. Suzuki’s most important mission in his teaching. Let us recommit to this mission in all that we do with our children and students.

To hear more about these eight abilities, visit the podcast: episode 52: Why Study Music?

To learn more about my book, The Twinkle Project, visit: my shop.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----
 © 2017 by Paula E. Bird

If you found this episode (or any episode) of the podcast helpful, and you would like to make a donation to support the Teach Suzuki Podcast and the blog, click here. My efforts to write and produce the Teach Suzuki blog and podcast do not generate income except through the generosity of those readers and listeners. I really appreciate your support. Just click here for a direct link to PayPal to support the blog and podcast.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Recently I broadcast a podcast episode that began a short series about the importance of love in the parent-child relationship. This love topic applies to more than just a parent and child; it also applies to a teaching relationship as well. In this episode I again stressed the importance of why parents are important in a child's life and I expanded my ideas. Here are the basic points about love that I made:
  1. Children want to please their parents, so parents have a great deal of power when it comes to influence and role modeling.
  2. Parents are with their children more time than anyone else. Again, parents have a great deal of power to influence because of the hours spent with the children.
  3. Parents care how well their children do or develop more than anyone else.
  4. Parental love is the first love a child experiences and this experience affects how the chid will develop a relationship with the world and others later in life.
  5. Love expands. It never contracts or constricts.
  6. Love is a verb. It is something we do, not something we have or hold.
I also discussed the importance of building an interdependent relationship between the parent and the child rather than push the child toward independence too soon or before the child is ready.

I continued the discussion by setting out a few things that parents might do to establish and strengthen the parent-child bond of interconnectedness and interdependence. I also related Dr. Suzuki's admonition that children will treat their elderly parents as the children witness how the parents treat their neighbors and others now.

I finished up the current episode by discussing unconditional love. How does one define this ultimate expression of love? Here is St. Paul's definition of love, written to the Corinthians over two centuries ago:
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, Doesn't have a swelled head, Doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always "me first, "Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.
(The Message by Eugene H. Peterson, affiliate link
Dr. Suzuki was once asked, "Why do you teach?" His answer was:

"First for the love of the child; second, for the love of teaching the child; and third for the love of the music that is taught the child, but the child always comes first."

You may listen to the podcast episode on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher Radio, or you may click the link here: Click here. The subsequent episode that completes this mini series discussion can be found here.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----
 © 2017 by Paula E. Bird

If you found this episode (or any episode) of the podcast helpful, and you would like to make a donation to support the Teach Suzuki Podcast and the blog, click here. My efforts to write and produce the Teach Suzuki blog and podcast do not generate income except through the generosity of those readers and listeners. I really appreciate your support. Just click here for a direct link to PayPal to support the blog and podcast.

Monday, March 13, 2017

How to Discover and Set Your Priorities

In my last article (click here to read), I discussed the issue of shifting priorities in the context of parents' struggles to find time to practice with their children. I related two stories of building a foundation on shifting sand or rock. Here are some questions to help parents uncover and focus their priorities and attention.

Four Questions to Discover and Set Your Priorities

Here are four questions to discover where your treasure is and to set your priorities:

1. Where do you spend your time?

In order to find out where your treasure is, you need only look at where you spend your time. Fill out an activity log or hourly calendar this week with every activity that you do, including work, driving time, sleeping, and watching TV. Do this for one week and you will most likely be amazed at what you discover. Of course, what you choose to do about your discovery will also be interesting. Are there pockets of time that are wasted? Do some activities drain your time? Where could you yield more satisfactory results with your time?

2. What do you want to accomplish?

Do you know what you want to accomplish? Do you have a set of goals or even one thing that you want to see happen this year, this semester, this season, this month, this week, or even today? I usually have a few goals floating around each year. I have them written down. Sometimes I go through periods when I refer to them often or on a daily basis, but I find that once I have written my goals down, I usually remember them. There have been several instances when I wrote a list of goals and forgot about them only to rediscover my list later and realize that I had accomplished everything on the list. I believe that writing down your list of goals is the key to accomplishing them. (Here is an article about my 90-day goal setting approach).

The purpose of having a list of goals or any goal is that you will be more in control of how you spend your time. You will be more aware of when others take you away from your goal path and when and what activities drink up the time you could spend on your goal plan. Think about what you want to accomplish.

I have three scheduling tools, and they each serve specific purposes:
  • iPhone: this digital tool allows me to check my schedule at all times and far into the future, and I can share it with others.
  • Planner: I keep my appointments here with occasional note reminders of important items that have a time specific aspect to them. This tool serves two purposes for me: (1) I get a “global” view of the week to come, and (2) I can quickly see where I have pockets of available time to accomplish things related to my goals.
  • Bullet journal: this is my weekly and daily schedule plan and my working tool. In this tool (Leuchtturm 1917 dotted medium), I design my week and my days to come. I identify my top goals for the week, and I use this tool to capture stray thoughts, notes, reminders, and other useful information. Because I refer to this particular tool often every day, I stay on top of all my priorities and goals for the day and the week. This tool is a great way to keep track of many different things. There is an entire community of avid bullet journal users to draw ideas and inspiration from. For more information about how I use a bullet journal, here are some previous articles and podcast episodes:

3. How will you reach your goal?

Do you have a plan? Having a list of goals is a great step, but developing a plan to reach those goals is an even stronger step. Figure out what steps need to be taken and in what order. I currently use my bullet journal to work through ideas and steps for a project, and I have also used a project notebook to jot down ideas related to my goals, but any notebook, sketchpad, or legal pad would do. I devote a page of the notebook for each project idea I might consider. Then I pull out one project sheet at a time and carry it around with me. I jot additional ideas down on my project sheet, and sometimes I turn them into lists of action items. Here is an article I wrote recently to outline my use of the 90-day square to accomplish my goals and projects over a 90-day period and to provide more balance in the major areas of my life: There Comes a Journey.

4. How Can You Get Started?

Remember the Nike slogan, “Just Do It!” This is the best advice I can ever give to any parent or student. My other favorite unspoken part of the slogan is, “stop whining,” or as I like to tell my university students, “stop why-ning” (Why do I have to play scales? Why do I have to go to this concert? Why? Why? Why?). Yup, stop the "why-ning" and just get started! The time it takes to think of creative excuses is time that you could use for something more productive, like practicing with your child!

I hope that my readers will take some time this week to consider where their hearts truly are and what treasure they seek to find. Are your priorities built on rock or sand?

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

If you found this episode (or any episode) of the podcast helpful, and you would like to make a donation to support the Teach Suzuki Podcast and the blog, click here. My efforts to write and produce the Teach Suzuki blog and podcast do not generate income except through the generosity of those readers and listeners. I really appreciate your support. Just click here for a direct link to PayPal to support the blog and podcast.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Rock or Sand -- Shifting Priorities

I posted an article on April 8, 2012 that dealt with the subject of shifting priorities when parents struggle to find adequate practice time with their children at home. I thought that another look at this article with some updated material would help podcast listeners apply the subject of the podcast episode 049 about building character. Character can mean so many things, and decisions about how to approach the practice issue may reveal questions of character, as this article discusses.


The Two Houses

The bible (Matthew 7:24-27) relates a story about two men who built houses. One man built his house on a rock. When the rain came down, “the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (NIV) This is the wise man, the man who builds his home on a solid foundation. Not so the foolish man. He built his house on sand, and when the rain came down, “the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (NIV)

Even children relate to this story in its fairy tale form about the three little pigs (Paul Galdone classic book). One little pig built his house of straw, but the wolf blew it down and forced the pig to seek safety with his brother. The second pig built his house of sticks, but the wolf blew down that house as well. The third pig built his house of bricks and it withstood the wolf’s attack.

My purpose in relating these two stories is to bring up the issue of priorities. On occasion I observe parents on various forums ask about how to find time to practice with their children. As these parents ask the question, I notice that the question also defines the home and parent situation to show that the parents have absolutely no time to practice. These parents’ frame the issue in a way that seems to seek permission NOT to practice. One parent went so far as to suggest that he or she might be looking for something like an exercise program that promised “rock hard abs” in a few minutes per day. This reminds me of a cartoon I saw recently, where the student says to the teacher something like, "Can we just skip ahead to the part where I'm awesome?"

I had to sit for a while after reading that particular parent’s situation, because I would think that most of us in the world know that it is impossible to get or build something worthwhile without putting in the time and effort that are required to get there. As much as we would all like to be thinner, stronger, faster, or better, it just is not going to happen in a short amount of time. We need to pay our dues. We need to put in the time and effort.


Life is all about priorities. There are many things that compete for our attention -- all day and well into the night. Parents need to sift through all of the “stuff” and sort things according to well-defined priorities. Let us teach our children this important life skill of how to set priorities, because if we fail to teach this life lesson, our children may drift through life and work to accomplish other’s goals.

How we choose to set priorities may reveal our character as well. Podcast episode 049 (click here to listen) discusses character, how to build it, and why it is important to line up our character with our integrity. After listening to the podcast episode, see if you resonate with some of the questions I pose here about the priorities we choose to follow.

Which house are you building?
  • Are you situated on a rock? Do you know where you are going? Do you know what to do when things fall apart all around you? Do you have goals? Do you make your goals top priority?
  • Are you situated on sand? Do you go wherever the moment takes you? Do the demands of others buffet you about or are you clear about your needs and your family's priorities? What is important to you to accomplish? Do you have a plan?

What is Your Treasure?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Luke 12:34 (NIV)

If you want to understand what your current priorities are, take a look at where you spend most of your time. Your time is your most valuable asset and gift to yourself and others. Your time is not something you can save or store up. When time is spent, it cannot be recaptured. If you waste a minute, it will be gone forever.

So look closely at where you spend your time and with what people. Most adults would say that they spend the biggest part of their waking day with people at work. I understand the need to make a living, and I am guilty about spending too much time with my work. I often raise the issue of how much time I spend to make a living versus the time I spend with the things or people that matter most to me. I assume for parents that children and family are the most important things in life. If that is true, do the parents' lives actually demonstrate this situation to others? Do parents spend time with their families? What are the parents' priorities?

Let us return to the distressed parent who had to work so long in a day that the parent had no time to devote to the child’s practice. It may be that this particular parent has decided that her heart truly belonged to work. That decision is none of my business unless the parent asks for my opinion. Parents can decide how to run their lives and raise their families and I do not have to be involved in any way. I do, however, want to be sure that these parents are being truthful with themselves. If this is truly the parent’s decision and priority – to be so busy with work and other activities that there is no time left in a day for the child’s practice, even ten minutes – then I want the parent to be able to say that aloud to themselves and be able to admit that to others. Be honest. If this is your priority, then say so. Please do not try to give the rest of us the illusion that you wish things were different if you really do not.

Should a parent’s treasure be somewhere else? I hope that busy parents take some time this week to look at this issue. Find out where your hearts truly are. Are parents' priorities and attention directed toward their children or elsewhere?

In my next article I will discuss four questions that will help parents discover their true priorities and make decisions to set new priorities.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

If you found this episode (or any episode) of the podcast helpful, and you would like to make a donation to support the Teach Suzuki Podcast and the blog, click here. My efforts to write and produce the Teach Suzuki blog and podcast do not generate income except through the generosity of readers and listeners. I really appreciate your support. Just click here for a direct link to PayPal to support the blog and podcast.