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Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Start a Beginner, part 3: how to hold the violin

Unless the student is an older student or adult, I usually start my beginners on a “box violin.” This is a violin made out of an empty macaroni and cheese box. I prefer to start the student on the box for several reasons:
  • The box violin is lighter, which allows the student a chance to adjust to holding it before the actual weight of the real violin.
  • The box violin allows little risk of damage if the child drops it, steps on it, or otherwise damages it.
  • The box violin gives the child and the family the opportunity to learn how to take care of a violin in a safe environment. There have been a few instances when a younger sibling managed to take hold of the box violin and wreak all sorts of damage. Having the box gave the family the chance to find out these sorts of pitfalls before it became a financial issue with a real instrument.
  • The box violin helps to build incentive and motivation to practice, because we also state many times that as soon as the student is able to do a particular list of skill sets, then they will be ready for the real violin.

When the child arrives at their lesson and after we have bowed, I usually place a small beanbag on the child’s left shoulder. The bean bag has the same approximate weight as a violin, and by placing it on the child’s shoulder, I am helping the child to grow accustomed to the feel of the violin in this place, which is also the correct place where the violin will be placed on the student’s shoulder. While the beanbag is on the child’s shoulder, we proceed with our bow hold games and rhythm awakening games.

Many teachers use foot charts to help a student beginner learn the proper placement of their feet. I do not have any issue with the use of foot charts, except that they interfere with group class activities. I find it useful in some cases to have some sort of mat, carpet square, or pizza circle to help the student to find “grounding.” I have had success with some autistic and hyperactive children, as well as other students, through the use of various devices to mark the standing spot:
  • Cutouts of the child’s feet, which were traced and cut out at an earlier lesson.
  • Coins or plastic poker or counting chips placed under the feet. The student can “feel” the items under the feet. Then if I spy one of the items peeking out from under the feet (because the student moved out of proper foot position), I take back the coin or other item.
  • Masking tape on the floor, either as a small rectangular box or a straight line for the feet (either toes or heels on the line).

I teach two positions for the feet:

Rest position: where the feet are placed together (or a few inches apart for very young children who have not yet developed the balance necessary to put the feet closely together.

Playing position: I prefer the feet apart and in a “vee” position, with the toes pointing about 10 and 2 o’clock.

To get the feet from rest position to playing position, I ask the student to do a “zip, step.” The student zips the feet into the “vee” position, and then takes a step (either with the right or left foot; it doesn’t matter to me). Then we play a game where I try to knock the student over:
  • If the feet are placed too close together, I can knock the student off balance from the side.
  • If the feet are placed too far apart, I can knock the student off balance from the front or back.
  • In the case of those students who have difficulty finding the correct spot for balanced feet, I ask them to jump up and down a few times. I have found that when we land on our feet after jumping, out feet are usually perfectly balanced.
  • I then pretend to “plant” the student’s feet. I gather “dirt” with my hands and pack it around and on the student’s feet, as if I were planting a tree. We pretend there is a strong wind. I huff and puff and try to blow the student over. I ask the student to open the arms wide, and I gently pull them as if a storm wind were pulling. I do this to be sure the student feels balanced and doesn’t fall over.

Some teachers prefer to have the student place his or her left hand on their right shoulder to create a “table” with the left shoulder. I find that difficult to do myself and quite uncomfortable, although it may work just fine from the student’s perspective. I prefer to arrive at this place in a different way. With my left hand, the “wrong” hand, I shake hands with my student’s left hand. Then I keep the student’s hand in mine so that the student’s left shoulder is moved a bit forward toward me. I hold the violin in my right hand in front of the student and ask the student to “look at me.” Then I move the violin to the student’s left and ask the student to “look at the violin.” This motion causes the student to turn the head to the left.

Then I place the violin on the student’s “high shoulder.” I say something like, “Plop, plop goes the chin, drop it on the violin.” I ask the student to hold the violin with “no hands” to test whether the hold is secure. At every chance I mention that the chin and heavy head hold the violin.

At this point, I balance a toy on the violin (remember the rubber band seat belts?), and I count aloud to 10 or play Twinkle Variation A while the student balances the toy on the violin. If I sense that the student is getting a little antsy, or that the student needs some sort of touch to keep still and calm, I might move the toy along the fingerboard. I try to make these sorts of movements as deliberate as I can so that the student’s attention and focus are engaged for as long a period of time as possible.  I might touch the child’s nose lightly with the toy or hop it onto the child’s head briefly and then retreat back down the length of the fingerboard.

That’s it! I then work with the parent so that he or she can duplicate the same procedure without my help. As lessons progress, we will add the bow to the exercise. In the beginning, the student might stand in playing attention with the bow at a standstill while I play the recording or my own violin on the Twinkle Variations. Eventually, the student might move the bow on the box violin and will ultimately learn to play all of the Twinkle Variations with this kind of set up.

In future discussions I will explain how I set up the left hand. I will also explain my steps to learn the Twinkle Variations.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Got a moment to spare?

It’s Monday Morning and the last day in January. I took time yesterday to go through my calendar for February. I have two calendars: my iPhone and a regular weekly paper calendar. I primarily use my iPhone for just about everything in my life, especially my calendar, but I have found that using a paper calendar as well helps me to plan out my week better when it comes to scheduling certain activities that I want to do, like exercise and writing.

Because we are at the end of the month and February is around the corner, I took about an hour yesterday to note on my paper weekly calendar all of the activities and appointments that I have scheduled for the month already. Then I looked at my available morning times to schedule my exercise blocks (I like to run or do my weight or cross training in the morning before my day starts). Then I looked for areas during the week when I could schedule writing time. Some weeks are more generous with time blocks for this activity than other weeks, but even busy weeks provide opportunities to grab a few short blocks of time (10-20 or 15-30 minutes). I even realized as I looked through my paper calendar that there were times when a regularly scheduled rehearsal had been cancelled, so I quickly grabbed that block of time and claimed it for my writing time.

To keep this straight in my mind and make it easier for me to see at a glance, I drew colored boxes around the exercise (blue) and writing (purple) activity blocks. Now all I have to do is refer to my “at a glance” calendar for a visual orientation as I start and end each day.

It helps me to check in briefly at the beginning of each week to be sure that anything new that was added to my iPhone calendar also gets added to my paper calendar as well. And I have already noted on Sunday, February 27, that I should spend another hour planning out my March calendars.

I learned about this scheduling technique from Neil Fiore and The Now Habit. Now I will warn you that I’m not exactly following his technique, but I have it in the back of my mind. You might find his technique interesting. Just go to Google and search for “unschedule” or “Neil Fiore” to find out more information.

It is very helpful in terms of time management to have a good sense of how the week will flow. I have made a few “to do” notes on various days regarding a birthday or paying a special bill. I can also see how little or how much free time I will have this week or next, which can help me to pace myself in terms of other activities or taking on other commitments. For example, I can see that I have an easier evening schedule this week, but that I will have evening commitments during the two following weeks. I have a heavy performance or gig schedule on the last three weekends, and so I will want to jealously guard any free time that I have during those three weeks and before. It’s not enough to just think, “I’ll wait until spring break to take some time off.” I need to think now about how to give myself the down time that I need to get through the busy times, not just spend time recovering from them later. A calendar review system like this can be invaluable for this purpose.

My husband likes to say that I have an allergy to “white spaces.” By white spaces, he is referring to any blank space on my calendar. If it’s empty, then he thinks I work to fill it up. He’s probably right. By reviewing my calendars today, I was able to identify 5 “white space” days and block them out on the calendar. In some cases, the day was not a complete day but maybe just the afternoon and evening.

My basic rule on a white space day is that I’m not to schedule any work project or chore. I am allowed to do chores if I want, but I cannot plan them in advance. When a white space day arrives, I just do what I want to do when I want to do it. I know I’ll continue my exercise program, but I won’t be scheduling any appointments unless it’s for fun, like horseback riding, taking the dogs to Wiener races, going out to dinner, or something similar. The purpose of white space days for me is to have a relaxing time doing whatever or going wherever my desire and passion takes me.

One of the Ten Commandments is to observe the Sabbath day and set it apart as a day of rest from work.  The Sabbath refreshes our spirits. In my line of work as a professional musician, I am not fortunate to have a consistent day off each week. Sometimes I am working on days that others have free time. I have looked through my calendar for February, however, and I have identified five “Sabbaths” (white space days) this month. I think it’s going to be a great month and a terrific week!

In my next post, I am going to continue my discussion about how to start a beginner violin student. I last left off with holding the bow. I plan to discuss the topics of how to hold the violin, whether to use a real violin or a box violin, how to make a box violin, and when it’s time to switch from a box violin to a real violin. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Start a Beginner, part 2: Holding the Bow

When I last wrote about starting a beginner, I did not discuss with any detail how I actually instruct students to hold the bow. This was not an oversight. I hesitated bringing up this subject because there are so many variations about the correct way to hold the bow, as indeed there are several historical schools about bow holds and usage. My way isn't the only way, but I'm willing to offer it up for an example of how I do it.

I believe in achieving balance in the bow hold, so everything I do with a student is done with an eye to ultimately achieving relaxation and balance. When I think about how I hold and use the bow, I think about what I need to do to feel comfortable holding the bow but still have the necessary control to play with a variety of tone colors and articulations.

In addition, I must state that I am a very small person in size, and so there are other difficulties that afflict me but that may have no bearing on another person. My discussion here is a simple one, as it is difficult to discuss such an advanced and complex topic with a young student. The bow topic -- how to hold it and how to use it -- is a process that grows in complexity as the student matures in technical prowess.

Simply put, I believe that every finger of our right hand has a specific job:

  • the thumb is largely responsible for the crispness of our articulation, or the "beginning" of our notes.
  • the pinkie is largely responsible for any pivoting involved with crossing the strings and for keeping gravity at bay and keeping the tip of the bow from crashing down to the floor.
  • the index finger is the steering wheel and acts as the guide to keep the bow stroke parallel to the bridge.
  • the middle finger is one of the balancing fingers and is responsible for "grounding" the right hand's hold and weight on the bow.
  • the ring finger is also one of the balancing fingers, but it can also work together with the pinkie to execute "finger motion" when changing the bow at the frog or performing spiccato bowing.
When I discuss the placement of the fingers on the bow, I give each finger a nickname to help the student remember where to place the fingers:

  • strong and bumpy thumb (thumb is curved outward, forming a "bump")
  • two best friends (middle and ring fingers) are across from their other best friend the thumb
  • Captain Hook (index finger) curls around the stick
  • pinkie sits in the nest
In terms of placement:
  • for the very youngest students, I still use the Dr. Scholl round corn cushions for the pinkie placement. For older students, I wrap a rubber band around the frog across the eyelet. The rubber band acts as a non-slip bath mat and provides a non-slip surface for the pinkie. The advantage of the rubber band is that the pinkie will not slip off the bow, and the student can feel the correct place for the pinkie without even looking. I happen to have very dry hands, and I use the rubber band myself to keep my bow hold feeling secure. Without it, my fingers often slip off the bow.
  • I place the thumb half on the ferrule and half on the hair underneath the frog per Dr. Suzuki's suggestion. I find that students need this under-frog placement for a time in order to keep the area between the thumb and index finger round and open. If I put a student's thumb "inside" the frog too soon, the student will likely bend the thumb inward like a banana, and I find it very difficult to undo that error once it has happened.
  • I put the two best friends (middle and ring fingers) across from the thumb in their first joints; the ring finger is on the frog right next to the eyelet, and the middle finger is off the frog and directly across from the thumb.
  • I curl Captain Hook (index finger) around the stick in the first joint. If the student drapes the index finger too far over the stick, he or she sacrifices control of the bow stick.
I move a student's thumb "inside" the frog somewhere around Perpetual Motion. I announce to the student that he or she is actually ready to learn the "book 2 bow hold," and I talk as if he or she were learning early how to do something from book 2. Most students are eager to learn the new bow hold when I present it in this way.

As students progress in technique, especially at the beginning of book 3, I introduce the slight adjustment needed for more advanced bowing, where the pinkie is on the back side of the top of the bow stick. Actually I always place the student's pinkie in this place (which is why I do not use ready made pinkie nests that sit the pinkie on the top of the stick rather than slightly to the rear), but at later stages, I need to kindly remind the student of the correct placement, and this is how I do that.

I notice somewhere in the middle of book 2, when the student is starting to use fuller, longer bows, that finger motion is starting to manifest itself. I watch very closely for this for two reasons. One reason is that some students actually fight to keep their bow hold from performing the finger motion, and then the bow hold and its usage tends to be stiff and rough.

The other reason is that some students tend to be too "flippy" and relaxed in their use of the finger motion, and these students tend to use finger motion at any time when changing the bow and not necessarily when changing the bow at the frog. In addition, this excessive flipping of the fingers interferes with good, crisp detache bowing, which should be performed more with a strong forearm movement.

How one holds the bow is personal to each student. My purpose is to introduce the basic form, and then to allow the student's personal maturation to guide me later in making adjustments that fit a student's needs in more advanced repertoire. But for now, this is the basic bow hold and how I introduce it to my beginning students.

I welcome any comments, additions, or suggestions. I'm particularly interested in how other teachers prefer to instruct their beginning students concerning proper bow hold posture.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Morning: The State of the Union

Monday morning again, and I'm checking in with you to see if you are on track with your goal plan. Today I'd like to write about habits. We all have them. Some we are proud of and display publicly, while others we try to hide in secret.

A habit is something that you are used to doing. It's something you have done so many times that you may not even be aware that you are doing it at the time. Habits can be good or bad, desired or embarrassing. One thing that is common to all of us is that we have the power to change our habits to whichever direction we want our habits to go.

Starting a good habit takes the same amount of time as starting a bad habit. Practicing a correct habit takes as long as practicing an incorrect habit. Once learned, however, a bad habit takes a longer time to undo than it does to learn in the first place, because there is the added element of having to unlearn something before a new thing takes its place.

The key to working to undo a bad habit is lots of little corrections done consistently and regularly. Edward Kreitman, who wrote Teaching from the Balance Point (1998 Western Springs School of Talent Education, IL), suggests that we work to change a bad habit a little at a time. Mr. Kreitman writes that he asks students to form the imaginary picture of cutting or breaking a thick rope. At first this task may seem too difficult to do; therefore we tend not to do it, and we keep on doing what is easy to do.

If we think about the thick rope, we realize that the larger rope is built by numerous tiny strands woven together to form a larger unit. If we just work at loosening one tiny strand at a time, we will ultimately sever the power of the larger rope. Similarly if we just work to undo one small aspect of our bad habit at a time, we will ultimately unravel all the strings of the poor habit.

During this season of the State of the Union, why not take a few minutes today to consider what your current habits are, whether they are good or bad, and whether you want to keep any of them or change them to something else. What tiny strands could you put your attention to on a daily basis that will ultimately sever the larger cord?

Our next step is to develop the discipline to take the daily steps necessary to bring us closer to achieving our goals and take us to where we want to be. We must continually ask ourselves: What can I do today that will move me closer to my goal? Then we should take that step.

What about setbacks? Setbacks, frustrations, and disappointments are inevitable. We do not learn anything when things go smoothly. We need our setbacks in order to continue our growth. I read an old proverb somewhere that says: A person can't climb a mountain that's smooth as glass. There would be no place to get a foothold. With setbacks we also have one thing in common, and that is our ability to choose how we will react to the setbacks. In the words of Cesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer":

"When bad things happen, we can react one of several ways. We can feel defeated, depressed, hopeless, or we can use it as a learning experience, to grow, redefine, and improve. . . . [W]hen you are dreaming big and tackling what seems impossible, you are bound to have some setbacks along the way. . . . Not every experience is going to be positive. But with each negative experience or display of bad behavior is the opportunity for you to correct it and turn it around into a canvas for learning.

"Negative experiences serve as reminders for ways we can improve our lives. The 'downs' are the best teachers to become clear with your belief system and what you want in life. It allows you to be more in tune to yourself because you are more vulnerable. Without weakness, you don't know strength."*

Now you have a plan for the week. Let's get started.

* www.cesarsway.com, January 23, 2011, newsletter. http://www.cesarsway.com/news/cesarspeaks/Turning-Negative-into-Positive?utm_source=mobilestorm&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Jan11NL_4

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jamey's practice book

In recent posts I've discussed various practice tools: practice logs, worksheets, and journals. One of my students, Jamey (10 years old), came in with a new one. His mom put together a little booklet for him with a list on each page of the various things that Jamey needs to practice. The booklet isn't very large, about 8.5 x 5.5 inches or half the size of a piece of paper. Jamey enjoys checking off everything that he has done. During our last lesson, we even thought of a few more things that he could put in his journal in the future. The journal isn't too large, so Jamey should finish it within a reasonable time, maybe a month. Then he will make up another booklet.

Jamey has given me permission to show you his journal booklet. This is the cover. Cute, isn't it? Shows how creative and fun you can make your practice tasks.

Here is what the inside of Jamey's journal looks like with his list of tasks.

Jamey's mom put in the reminder to tune his violin first. The yellow book is the Kayser etudes, op. 20 that Jamey has been working on. The green book is William Starr's scale book. Suzuki piece is what he is currently working on. We talked about adding a review component to his list. "Listen to fixes" is mom's reminder that Jamey is to listen closely to whether he is really making the corrections that I have asked him to make or whether he is just playing through things too quickly.

After Jamey completes his practice, he takes it to his mom for her signature (can you tell that mom is a teacher?).

I just thought this little booklet was the cutest thing and wanted to share it with you.

Is there anyone else out there doing the 100 days challenge? It's day 20 for me. If you haven't started, now would be a good time! Don't forget to check in.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Morning Check-In: Definiteness of Purpose

Another Monday is upon us, and it's time for a check in to see if we are on track with our goals and plans for the week. Let me pose some basic questions to get you thinking about your day and the rest of this week.

  • What do you want to accomplish this week in terms of practice?
  • What do you want to accomplish this week in terms of teaching?
  • What is your review focus this week?
  • Which skill will you concentrate on this week?
Last week I suggested that the review focus be on posture and the Twinkle Variations. I reviewed the Twinkles myself and found it interesting that I could still improve on several points, even though I've been playing this repertoire for decades. I also made my students play through the variations during their lesson and during group classes. There was much that my students could improve upon as well, even the advanced students.

This week I'll let you set your own review agenda. If you don't really have a review plan, let me suggest a simple one. Make up a blank table with seven columns and as many rows as the page will hold. Label each column with the days of the week. Then begin with the Sunday column and write "Var. A." Thereafter write "Var. B" for Monday, "Var. C" for Tuesday, and so forth. Keep writing all the songs for book 1, then add the songs from book 2 and as many books as you know.
Basic Calendar Review Chart

Now your daily review plan is simple. Just look at the column for that day and review the songs listed in that column. Or just do the book 1 songs this week and review the book 2 songs the next week, and so forth. It's simple and basic, but sometimes simple and basic is all we need.

I'd like to once again urge you to think about your purpose. Let me leave you with a quote from James Allen, the author of As a Man Thinketh: "He conceives of, mentally builds up, an ideal condition of life; the vision of a wider liberty and a larger scope take possession of him; unrest urges him to action, and he utilizes all his spare time and means, small though they are, to the development of his latent powers and resources."

These are the keys to success: having what Napoleon Hill called a "definiteness of purpose." When we know what we want, there is such an unrest that builds up inside of us, that we feel compelled to do something, to move forward, to take steps to go ahead with our plans. "We have the choice to live our life on purpose or without a purpose. Life doesn't make the distinction, it simply rewards our choice." -- Day by Day With James Allen, by Vic Johnson (Sylvia's Foundation, Inc., St. Augustine, FL 2003).

Having said that, let me leave you with one last question: How can you live your life on purpose this week?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How to Start a Beginner, Introduction

I'd like to devote the next several posts to the topic of starting a beginning violin student. In fact, I've already written one about my very first steps when teaching a beginning violin student. Then it occurred to me that there was another step that occurs before I even begin violin lessons -- parent education.

I don't mean parent education as it applies to the parent's learning how to play the instrument before the child learns to play, as the Suzuki Method encourages. I do have parents who learn to play, and many of these parents have continued their violin study and now participate in local community orchestras. One mom made it her goal to attend a Suzuki institute each summer, not only for her daughter, but also for herself. The institutes were happy to include this parent as a student, and the other children didn't even seem to notice that there was an adult in their midst. Any other parents who were observing during institute lessons and classes greatly admired this mom because she showed courage in attending as a student. Other parents in my studio have continued violin lessons and reached the more advanced Suzuki books 4-6.

What I mean by parent education is a specialized course that I developed over years. It is a six-part course spread out over 10 hours. I have conducted the course as a group workshop spread out over six class meetings, but I generally opt to give the course to each new parent individually in six class sessions, scheduled at the convenience of the parent to attend. I ask that the parent who will be responsible for the student's practicing be the parent who attends the parent classes, although I encourage any interested parent to attend my classes, and I have accepted grandparents as well if the grandparent would be working with the student.

I didn't always offer a parent course during my teaching career. In the beginning I just taught. I had many parents interested to various degrees in the Suzuki program and in what I was teaching their child. Over time, however, I made several disturbing observations. Those parents who were not very engaged in their child's violin learning did not seem to have a child who was very interested in learning to play the violin. These same parents often complained that their child didn't like to practice or didn't practice at all, that practice sessions sometimes turned into battle sessions, and the child didn't show any enthusiasm for the violin once things got a little tricky. These same parents would throw up their hands in dismay and lament how they couldn't get things to work at home concerning practice, as if somehow the fault of the matter rested entirely on the little student.

Hmm, those kinds of remarks puzzled me because they showed little or no understanding of how the Suzuki method of Talent Education worked. I spent some time then thinking about the state of my studio. I turned my focus on the parents of my students and observed very carefully what my parents were saying and doing. I matched that behavior with the results I was getting from my students during lessons and noted that things were not headed in the direction I wanted them to go. That's when I made the decision to start my students off right from that point on by educating their parents first before lessons even began.

I developed my parent education course from scratch. I kept asking myself, What do I want my parents to know? What do I want my parents to do? What do I want my parents to believe and act on? My answers to these questions produced my parent education course, which I have used for over a decade now.

Parents may initially resist having to take the course but by the second session, they are completely involved with it, because they are learning not only how to be a good Suzuki teacher at home in between lessons, but also how to be a better parent in general for their child. Being a parent means being a role model and example, a teacher (the first teacher the child ever has!), a nurturer, an enthusiastic supporter, and a provider. As adults we all bring baggage with us from our own family situations when we were growing up. Some of us have never quite resolved some of the issues from our childhood. My parent course brings much of this "stuff" to the surface for parents as they consider how to structure their child's future.

Dr. Suzuki wasn't trying to create concert artists. He wanted to build a better world. He wanted to create better citizens for the future. He wanted his students to become fine human beings with good hearts. He had many life lessons to share with his students (and teachers from all over the world). He chose the violin as his "vehicle" to teach these principles.

During the course, I discuss what the Suzuki Method of Talent Education is and how it works. I discuss how to effectively teach the child at home, whether the subject matter is the violin, schoolwork, or chores. I discuss the child's (and the parent's) learning and personality styles and how they might impact on the lesson and home practice situation. I teach about the importance of creating the desire to learn and how a parent can motivate his or her child. I discuss the importance of the child's learning environment, and we talk about how to set up an encouraging learning and listening environment. We discuss how lessons and group classes work and the roles of the teacher, parent, and student in each of these activities. And throughout the course I also include many examples of ways and games to play with the child to generate and maintain interest in learning.

What do I get from doing all this extra work with a new parent? I get a parent who is on the same page with me once lessons begin. I do not have to interrupt the child's learning to explain a particular teaching point or why it is important. I have given the parents a treasury of resources in the event there should ever be a future problem.

I also have learned much about the parent from my interactions with him or her. I have structured the "entrance" into my studio in such a way as to give me a gauge to measure a parent's level of commitment. There are many opportunities along the initial journey when a parent might drop out, or a parent might show me that they are less committed to the journey than I am. I can address these issues right away before we reach the point when they might impact adversely on the child's learning situation.

I have never had a parent complain about having taken the course. On the contrary, I have had most, if not all, my parents tell me that they learned a lot from the course and were glad they took it. Several parents have indicated to me that they hadn't read the written materials I had provided in between the parent course sessions, but I expect some of that to occur anyway. These same parents will discover the value of the materials later when a specific problem arises, since the possible answers to problems are all there in the written course materials.

On the flip side, the parent gets to know me well. I have high energy, and the parent gets accustomed to my style of speech and movement. We become friends and share some personal stories that connect us as human beings. The parents learn how serious I am about my personal mission to teach children. They learn that I have high expectations for my students, my parents, and me.

My favorite thing about the parent education course is that I will now have a parent who is my partner and ready to embark on the important journey of teaching the child how to be a fine human being with a good heart.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How to Beat a Speeding Ticket

I recall when Jeffrey Reynolds, former bass trombone with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra (1969 to 2006) once remarked that he didn't understand how musicians could play in a "hole" in the music. By "hole" Jeff was referring to those empty spots in the composition where the orchestra has a few beats of silence. In initial rehearsals it is inevitable that someone "falls into the hole" and plays when they should be silent. To Jeff, however, this type of mistake seemed inconceivable. If a musician was paying attention, couldn't they have quickly "swallowed" the note before they played it?

In the same manner I am amazed that students miss shifts in practice sessions, and I then need to, once again, devote some of our lesson time to discussing proper practice habits. (I find that I need to reinforce this concept thoroughly and often.) A student will be playing through a shifting exercise (e.g., Ševčík op. 1, part 3), and they will miss the shifts. Sometimes they will correct the shifts as they go along, but sometimes they just let the bad shift hang there in the air while they continue with the exercise or passage. Despite my repeated (ad nauseum) reminders that the student is only practicing "missing the shift," I find some students continue to do the same thing, over and over.

The reason is speeding. There ought to be a way to give a student a speeding ticket and fine them. For younger students, that is exactly what I do. I have a police whistle, and if I catch a student speeding, I blow the whistle and give them a citation for speeding, usually the repetition of the passage or finger tangle spot about 10 times in a row perfect. For an older student though, it is even more problematic, because they seem determined to continue this bad habit. I have stood on my head trying to point out that by practicing too fast, they are letting many, many, many things go by unchecked and incorrect, thereby actually practicing how to do things INCORRECTLY. Doesn't seem to matter. Speeding still occurs.

I have discovered a delightful game on http://www.practicespot.com, and for the time being, this game is extremely popular with my students. I fold a piece of paper in half and continue folding it in half until I have divided the paper into 8 squares. After unfolding the paper, I number each of the squares from 1-7 and put a big star in the number 8 square. Then the student selects a "game piece," I isolate a particularly unsettled passage in the music, and we start playing. The student starts on square 1 and plays through the passage I identified. If the student plays the passage through correctly, they can advance the game piece to square number 2. Notice that I gave the student no information about whether to play a particular speed. I actually think it's terrific if the student discovers for himself or herself to put a thinking pause into the music to make sure that the student plays accurately. It usually takes the student about 3-4 tries before he or she plays the passage correctly and in tune and can advance to square number 2.

Now the student has something to lose. If the student plays the passage correctly again, he or she may advance to square number 3, however, if the student makes a mistake or plays a note out of tune, the student must move back a square. Thus, the game proceeds. After a few frustrated tries, the student will alter the manner in which they are playing. They tend to slow the tempo down, they pause for a second or two to refrain from playing an incorrect fingering, and they may stop long enough to actually THINK about what should happen next with the fingers or the bow. And all of this occurs without much guidance from me! Whoot!

To my amusement, certain areas of the game board are problematic. One of my younger students calls squares 3 and 4 the "habit breaking spot" while another of my older students calls squares 6 and 7 the "make it or break it" squares. Each student is unique too in the areas of the game board that typically trip them up. Some students do great for one row of the game but have difficulty advancing to the second row. Other students make it to the higher numbered squares, only to lose their advantage and slip back to lower and lower numbered squares. I find that all sorts of reasons are at play, with impatience and cockiness heading the list.

I haven't tried this game on my really advanced students yet. Instead I just prefer to play along with them. In that way I can completely control the tempo and intonation, and I provide the correct model for playing with evenness of tone, bow distribution, bow usage, and left hand fingering. Don't overestimate the power of good role modeling!

I have started adding challenges to the practicespot.com game of squares. Just the other day I circled the number 4 square for one of my six year old students and drew an arrow pointing back to square 3. I told my student that if she was on square 3 and waiting to advance to square 4, she would need to play it absolutely correctly, and if she did she could completely skip over square 4 and jump to square 5. If she did not play it correctly, she would have to play it 4 times correct in a row, and then she could just move to square 4. In this variation, we have put a little bit more pressure on the student because there is more at stake: the student can actually skip over a square for a chance to skip some practice! And the downside is that if the student is not careful, they will wind up playing the passage more times in the end just to make a little bit of forward progress. Get the idea? I'm trying to instill the student with the concept that by a little careful practice in the first place, the student can make MORE progress and by being inattentive, the student will wind up having to practice even more. This is a very powerful concept and ties in handily with the old adage "haste makes waste."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Practice, part 5: Snacking Your Way to Good Practice Health

Let's face it. We are all too busy and have too many demands on our time. We juggle our priorities and reassign them sometimes hourly as we work to extinguish fires or keep others under control. Unfortunately our practice plans get bumped. I believe that everything in life is interconnected in one way or another, and we can learn lessons and figure out solutions from other disciplines.

Take dieting, for example. This is January and a new year of a new decade. I'll bet there are several of us on eating plans right now. So most of us can relate to my coming analogy to dieting.

We are hungry generally when we are dieting. One solution many diet plans have is to provide allowed healthy snacks throughout the day. And for really busy folks, have meals prepared in advance and then graze on them all day long.

Sometimes I don't have a block of time that I can devote to eating a meal, I mean practicing (well, eating too). Here's how I solve the problem: practice snacks.

Orchestral musicians are accustomed to drawing an "X" mark in the margin alongside a particularly tricky passage. I also do this while I am practicing. If you look at my etude books and repertoire pieces, you will find margin notes, "x's," and bits of colored highlighting tape to call my attention to practice areas that require special attention.

The practice snacking technique works best if the instrument is handy. When I am teaching, I have the case open and the violin ready to be played. Then when I get a few minutes here and there, I take up the instrument and play one of the passages I had marked earlier. I really work the section as hard as I can, leaving no detail to escape my notice. Even if my student has entered the studio, I may continue a few more minutes on this mini-practice while my student gets their instrument and materials ready for their lesson. I figure that I am role modeling for my student, not only practicing in general, but how to practice analytically.

When I worked as an attorney, there were days when my time sheet had a lot of "point one" (.1) hour tasks written on it. In lawyer-speak, a .1 task is one that takes 6 minutes. It could be a quick file review, a brief phone call, or quick memo dictation. I noticed that I was exhausted after a "Point One Day," referring to the majority of my time sheet being filled with .1 hour tasks. It was difficult to switch from task to task after spending just a few minutes.
The practice snack idea is different in that we are spending a brief amount of time practicing in between longer sessions of something else:
  • rehearsal segment (yes, you can get some good practice sessions during a rehearsal intermission) 
  • student lessons
  • household chores
I hope that this practice technique will encourage you to use a few of your spare moments as practice times. Practice snacking can be good for your practice health!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 10, 2011: Monday Morning Check In

Monday morning again. Time to check in and see if we are on plan. For some of us, we need to check in and see if we even have a plan. If not, please see some of my earlier posts about goals, SMART goals, and practice challenges, and get busy!

Today I'd like to issue a few focus challenges for the week. Since it's January and the start of a new year, I thought it would be a good idea to start at the beginning. For me, a Suzuki teacher, that is the Twinkle, Twinkle Variations by Shinichi Suzuki. I highly recommend that every violinist learn and perfect these variations. They are chock full of technical skills, and whenever I find a student who is deficient in a particular technical area, it's a sure bet that the student's Twinkle variations have gotten sloppy.

So go back to the beginning of Suzuki Violin Volume 1, revised edition, and review the Twinkle Variations. Here are some things to focus on:

Twinkle Variations
  • Remember to play crisp staccato notes. There should be:
    • a solid "ping" at the beginning of the note
    • a stopped bow at the end of the note
    • a nice ringing tone to the middle of the note
  • Vary the amount of bow used depending on your level.
    • Book 1 students should use 1-3 inches of bow in the upper half of the bow at the spot where the right elbow bends the arm to form a "square."
    • Book 2 students should use 2-5 inches of bow and keeping the bow straight.
    • Book 3 students and above should be able to use increasing amounts of bow, always maintaining the crispness discussed above as well as a straight bow.
  • All the variations have short staccato notes except Variation D (eighth note triplets) and Variation E (16th notes).
  • Twinkle theme:
    • Less advanced students may use staccato bows (stopped short bows).
    • More advanced students may use the entire bow.
    • Remember the appropriate use of bow distribution: larger bows for the half notes, and shorter bows for the quarter notes.
    • Remember to vary the bow speed: slower bows for the half notes, and quicker bows for the quarter notes.
  • For students in book 4 and above, practice all the variations starting with a reversed bow. The variations should sound the same whether you start with an up bow or a down bow
Variations on the Variations
  • Practice the variations with varied tempos, from slow to fast.
  • Practice the variations with varied bowing, such as spiccato or sautillé.
Other Focus Points
  • Check your posture
  • Check your bow hold. Is your thumb rounded outward and your pinkie curved?
  • Check your left hand positioning. Is it to low? The lifeline at the bottom of your left pinkie should line up with the E string when you are playing on the E string.
  • Is your elbow under the instrument or sticking out to the left like a chicken wing?
  • Is your right elbow at or slightly below the level of your right hand?
  • Are there bumps and kinks along the right arm (wrist too high or pinkie straight and hand pronated on the index finger) or is there a smooth pathway? 
  • Is there tension in your shoulder or back? Can you release that tension and send the released weight to your bow's contact point instead?
I think everyone should follow some sort of review program. I enjoy using the Suzuki materials as a general review because of the thorough skills presentation and progression.

So this week let's revisit our Twinkle skills and "tune up" anything about our playing that has gotten a little loose and sloppy.

Please leave me a comment about your own review discoveries. See you tomorrow for part 5 of How to Practice.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How to Practice, part 4: Using a Practice Journal

For my own practice purposes, I have found it useful to use a practice diary or journal rather than a practice log. The actual journal itself can be whatever is comfortable for you. I bought a little spiral notebook that isn't much larger than an index card. Here's how I use the journal.

In the very beginning of the book (or starting from the back pages of the journal if you prefer), I leave a few blank pages. I write my goals on these pages. Leaving them in the beginning (or back pages) of my journal, I can easily refer to them. I like to include several levels of goals:
  • Long term goals: These are the goals that I want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years. I usually start with figuring out what my age will be 5-10 years hence, then I just list a few goal ideas. I can always add to this list or delete completed or obsolete items as time passes.
  • Mid-range goals: These are the goals that I want to accomplish in the next 1-5 years. Again, I consider how old I will be, and then I compile my goal list.
  • Short-term goals: These are the goals that I want to accomplish in the next 6 months to 1 year. After the short-term goals, I consider what I want to accomplish:
    • This quarter (three months ahead)
    • This month
    • This week
My purpose in computing my age in order to compile my goal list is that I find it gives me greater clarity in terms of the time ahead. I expect to live to over 100 years of age, and I find it helpful to plan accordingly (smile). After I have finished listing my goals (and I will revise them from time to time as I go along), I list my weekly goals at the start of my current week of the rest of the journal pages, which is where the meat of my journal begins.

I put the date on every single page. If I am using a larger notebook, I might be able to put two days on 1 page. I write the date for every single day as it occurs, even if I skip a day of practice. If I skip a day of practice, I write down the reason why I skipped the practice. Sometimes I find this simple trick is enough to encourage me to practice anyway rather than have to write down my excuse.

After the date, I write down what I practice as I practice it. This can be detailed (e.g., 3 octave scale, G major, acceleration routine) or just a quick note to myself if I tend to follow the same pattern.

I continue to list items as I complete them. If something comes up in my practice that I need to work on, and I'm not willing to practice those items at the moment, I turn the page in my journal forward to the next day and write myself a note about what I want to practice. Then I flip back to the current day's page and continue my work.

Once I have completed my practice, I make any notes to myself on the following day's page (or perhaps even further in the future) about things I want to follow up on, and then finally I note how much time I spent on my practice session. I find the act of keeping track of my practice or playing time is crucial to my keeping myself injury-free. I have had students come to me with complaints of worrisome aches in elbows, neck, shoulders, or fingers, and when I look through their practice journal, I find the cause of the pain is generally due to the student's inattention to the amount of time they are playing.

If I have to do a lot of heavy playing one day, I try and balance that out with an "easy" day the next day. What is a heavy day for me may be different for one of my students or for you. By working with a practice journal, it will be easy to determine what a heavy day is. So I log in any sort of playing. If I practiced 2 hours in the morning, then play a 2.5 hour rehearsal in the afternoon, and play with my students for another 2 hours, I will have spent about 5-6 really solid hours playing my instrument. I can sustain this kind of playing for a few days, but eventually I need to balance this out with an easier more restful day. Fitness experts tell us that it takes 48 hours for a stressed muscle to recover, so I generally adopt a hard-easy-hard-easy practice plan whenever possible. The journal keeps me aware of my activities with the instrument, and it provides a record that can be useful later when diagnosing problems.

I also use the journal as a place to record my instrument maintenance activities: replacing old strings, rehairing my bow, buying a new shoulder rest. I usually put a huge asterisk or use a colored highlighter pen to bring the information to my attention. Here is a sample page from my practice journal from January 6, 2011.

practice journal: 4 x 6 memo book

Let's look at the information on the page. Along with the date in the top margin, I also noted "AQ vln" and "1.0 hard." "AQ vln" refers to the violin I use with the Artisan Quartet, one that blends well with that ensemble. "1.0 hard" refers to the length of time I practiced and my perceived effort, in this case I felt that I had put out hard effort in my practice. I noted this information because I play on more than one violin. If I start to note specific injuries, I might notice a pattern; perhaps some injuries are a result of switching between instruments. I also keep track of perceived effort, because I don't want to do too many "hard" days in a row. I need to insert an "easy" or "medium" day now and then to keep my body and mind fresh and injury free.

The next notes refer to my specific practice, in this case the Beethoven string quartet, op. 74, all of it and some specific detailed work on certain sections. My next three comments refer to how I am feeling physically. I've been monitoring my fingers because they have been extremely dry lately and feel tight unless I have enough lubrication on them. My shoulder has been bothering me because I think I pulled it a while back while working with my horse. I've been keeping track of it to be sure I don't aggravate the sore area by doing too much of a particular practice that might upset my healing. I have noticed that with the new violin that other physical issues have manifested themselves, so I check in on my neck too. Note my reminder to check the height of my shoulder rest to be sure that the shoulder rest isn't causing the neck ache. And finally, I wrote a reminder that I need to order new strings. When I finally put the strings on my instrument, I will also notate that in my practice journal.

I have found the practice journal to be especially useful when recording my practice, managing my practice details, and recording my observations about a great number of things. I hope that this tool will also be useful for your particular practice situation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to Practice, part 3: Using a Practice Log

In the past for my university students, I used a basic practice log:

Practice Log (university), © 2011 Paula E. Bird
I used this log for years at the university. Let me explain the components. My goal in designing this practice log was to encourage students to touch their instruments as often as possible during the week, and I graded accordingly. The form has 5 basic rows, but I only grade four of the rows unless there is something I have assigned in the 5th row in place of one of the other 4 rows.

There are four possible grades at each week's lesson: Scale, Etude, Repertoire, and Listening. I list the assignments in the top portion of the Practice Log. The student is then responsible for completing the bottom rows and columns. The letters S-E-R-O-L stand for: Scale-Etude-Repertoire-Other-Listening. The first left column after S-E-R-O-L I scribble "Lesson" across the entire column. If the student shows up at their lesson, this is a freebie from me.

Similar to the other practice logs I discussed in part 2 of How to Practice, I expect students to complete this practice log each week. If I do not get a practice log for a week, the student receives four zeroes for that week's lesson. I have provided the student with every possible opportunity to download the practice log outside of lessons, and I also accept handwritten or typed versions in the event that a student has lost their practice log.

You're probably wondering two things: (1) how do I grade these practice logs, and (2) how can I tell if the student is being honest?

(1) My grading plan is simple. If the student has completed every column in a particular row, that is 100%. If 6 columns are checked in a row, I give the grade of 90%, 5 columns equals 80%, 4 columns equals 70%, and so forth. Just showing up for your lesson is 40% (I'm so much more valuable, you see), but there have been times when I have not given the student the 40% for showing up at their lesson and have instead insisted that the student practice that day. There are occasions when I have opted to give the student credit for some other playing activity. For example, perhaps the student is involved with the opera orchestra and doing extra rehearsals during the week. I might give the student an 85 or 75 in one area to give the student credit for playing but not actually practicing lesson material. I don't explain myself. I just do it.

(2) I can tell if a student (whether university or private) skips even 1 day of practice. There is an overall change in the student's demeanor at lessons. It's a little more obvious with younger students, because they indicate a less than stellar practice week with other acting out behaviors. But for university students, I tell them upfront in the first lesson, that I will always assume they are being honest and telling me the truth. The first time their practice log doesn't align with the results in their lesson, I will note it. The second time I will assume that the student needs to correct their practice habits. I usually discover that there is a practice focus or concentration issue. Once I address the focus issue, the student's practice logs start to coincide with the results I hear in lessons. For incoming freshmen, this process may take an entire semester until we work the kinks out. But, I'll have a stronger student as a result.

Another benefit to this practice log is that a student can anticipate those weeks when priorities get muddled and there are too many performances or demands on the student's time. If a student is wise, they will store up a few 90% or 100% weeks in anticipation of those "slump" weeks of 60% or 70%. Even from week to week, a student should be able to balance out the practice priorities to earn a higher grade. For example, 100% in listening, 100% in scales, 70% in repertoire, and 80% in etude will net the student an overall grade of  87.5%.

Using this type of practice log may seem a bit simplistic and maybe a little juvenile, but I have found it to be a useful tool on the university level. It puts the student in the driver's seat as to organizing practice and practice priorities. It allows the student the opportunity to learn how to take responsibility for recording their practice efforts, and it affords me the opportunity to teach the student how to take more personal responsibility overall for noticing problems in areas such as discipline, focus/concentration, and sloppy practice habits.

Overall, most of my students will tell you that they find this particular method of grading useful. I recall one student explaining to another student how this practice log record allowed the student to "be in control of my grade," as if somehow the student did not realize that they have always been in control of their grade from the beginning. Yet somehow the practice log reinforces this concept, and for that reason it is a valuable tool for me at the university level.

By the way, when a student finishes a 90% or 100% week, we have heavenly lessons! So it really works.

I've added some more content to the "For Parents" and "For Teachers" pages. Please be sure to sign in whether you are joining us in the 100 Days Challenge, even if you are just beginning. And I'd love to have some comments from readers.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How to Practice, part 2: Using a Practice Record

I have experimented over the years with various practice logs and records for my students to complete during the week between lessons. For my private students I have provided them with handbooks containing monthly practice sheets. Let me include a few examples here:
Basic Practice Log, © 2011 Paula E. Bird
I got this idea from Marilyn O'Boyle, Suzuki teacher trainer extraordinaire (!), and I spent several hours designing it on my computer many years ago. This one page spans a four-week period.

Left Column: As the teacher, I make a numbered list in the left hand column of the items that I expect the student to practice.

Roman Numerals: Each Roman numeral represents a week. Note that the document spans four weeks.

Day: This row is for the 7 days in the week. Usually the first day is the lesson day. Then I note the subsequent days of the week in the other columns.

Numbers Practiced: Here the parent or student records what items in the left hand column the student actually practiced that day. The purpose of this list here is for the parent or student to keep a record of what they actually practice and to become more aware of the items that are NOT being practiced. I discourage a parent or student just placing a check mark in the box unless the parent or student has practiced everything on the list. I check periodically to be sure that the parent or student understands that that check mark is reserved for those practice days when everything is accomplished. The first column is usually the lesson day, so we note "lesson" in that box.

Time: I encourage parents to use this box and notate approximately how much time is spent in practice. Eventually parents stop completing this section, but in the beginning it is helpful to establish routine practice habits.

Listening: The purpose of this row is to remind parents of the importance of establishing a daily listening program. This practice log is at least one way to remind parents to do their listening.

The practice log is a good record of the progress that parents or students make during a month. It is also a handy tool for me as a teacher to diagnose the cause of problems later down the line. For example, when a parent complains to me about their child's apparent lack of progress, I can usually pinpoint the reason just by glancing at the log. Too much white space in the "Numbers Practiced" area or single digit numbers in the "Time" area indicates that not enough practice time is being spent. When a parent complains that a child seems to have an unusually difficult time learning a new piece, I can spot the cause of the problem in the number of white spaces in the listening row.

Practice Log #2, © 2011 Paula E. Bird
This practice log style is similar to the basic practice log except there is a more focused aspect to the left hand column. The focused areas include:
  • Main Focus Point or Goal for the Week
  • Technique Building Practice and Warmup Skills (Tonalization)
  • Working Goals or Songs
  • Review Songs for Polishing or Learning/Practicing Skills
  • Other
This practice log helps the parent (and teacher) focus on the important areas of goal setting as it relates to practice routines. Sometimes I use it, although I tend to find it distracting for my own purposes. I find I spend too much time trying to decide in what category a practice assignment belongs.

Practice Planning Worksheet, © 2011 Paula E. Bird
The Practice Planning Worksheet is a great document for parents who need something to guide their practice planning for the week in between lessons. In the beginning, I help the parent work through this document so that I can guide them to learn how to set practice goals. Periodically I check in with the parent to see how they are doing. I have found that, just like with vibrato exercises, scale books, and theory books, if I don't check in from time to time, the assignments don't get completed.

This worksheet focuses on improving the weekly focus point or goal (as identified by the teacher or during the lesson) and includes such topics as:
  • Technique, Warmup, and Tone
  • Working Goals or Songs
  • Review and Polishing
There are many different methods and books out there to help teachers, parents, and students keep track of assignments and practice items. In future posts, I will discuss what methods I use with my advanced private and university students.

I hope you are continuing to participate in the 100 Days Challenge, as I am. Be sure to leave a comment about your own preferred method of recording your practice. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday Morning: Your Best Year Yet!

I spend a lot of time thinking about goal setting and achieving. In the past I identified Mondays as the time when I would focus on goals in particular for the week. I have experimented with many goal setting programs over the years, and there are a few that I return to year after year. In particular, I would like to discuss one of my favorite books over the years and recommend this book as a very useful tool for structuring your best year yet: Your Best Year Yet! by Jinny S. Ditzler (click here for the book).

The book was an outgrowth of an annual workshop of the same name. The book's basic premise is that we should spend about three hours each year answering 10 questions, the answers to which will provide us with the necessary framework to have our best year yet. I recommend reading this book, because it contains a lot of material to flesh out each question and answer any ancillary questions that might arise during the exercise, and the book provides additional goal setting techniques that I will not address in this article. What I write here is a small portion of a much bigger whole, and you will find this book quite useful.

Question 1 asks us to remember what we achieved last year. At the time I first wrote this article (1/3/2011) I had just completed my 2010 annual report for the university, I therefore knew exactly how to answer question one with what I achieved that year in terms of recitals, classes, creative works, and travel. I was pleased with my lengthy list, and I understood better why I felt so "busy" all that year.

Questions 2 and 3 ask us to look back at our disappointments and learn from them. We should think back to what our disappointments and frustrations were and see if we can glean a lesson from them that can be set up as a principle for 2011.

Question 4 asks us to examine our limiting beliefs and create ways to turn them around into statements that empower us. If we examine the excuses or justifications we make, we may discover that we set ourselves up for failure before we have even begun. One way to uncover these limiting beliefs is to examine closely those areas of our lives in which we do not do or get what we want and look closely at how we explain that failure to ourselves. Once we discover what limiting statements we cling to, we can then re-write that script into more positive statements that will empower us to achieve.

Question 5 asks us to examine what is most important to us in our lives. This question asks us to focus on the personal values that we think are the most central to our being and the way we live.

Questions 6, 7, and 8 ask us to focus on the various roles we play in our different life areas. My list looks something like: teacher, musician, writer, blogger, podcaster, speaker, violinist, pianist, faculty member, wife, step mom, dog owner, alpaca owner, donkey owner, daughter, sister, aunt, friend. As you can see, the list can be lengthy, but that is important to consider in our busy lives. Perhaps there is a role I need to let go, a new one I should add, or one where I should focus more of my time. After I factor in my personal values, I examine how my current life reflects my values in my various roles. Finally, I consider what goals I want to set for each of my roles.

Question 9 asks what my top ten goals are for the next year. The author sets out a method to prioritize this list and set up a Best Year Yet Plan to include all the material developed by the questions.

Question 10 asks us to examine how we can ensure that we achieve our top ten goals. The author suggests several useful tools to develop a system that will lead us forward toward progress and success.

The book and the 10 questions are set forth in a way that will help you answer the 10 questions and develop your list of goals and priorities. Even though I read this book every year, I find the book new and refreshing each time, and I never tire of the discoveries I make as I work through the question and answer process.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird