As I reviewed the past year and considered what resolutions to include in my annual plan, I thought about Dr. Suzuki’s “Not Angry” graph. Dr. Suzuki wrote: “Anger is the ability to become angry. . . .As a person learns not to become angry, his heart becomes more amiable and he becomes better at helping others. At the same time he will become able to live without pestering his companions by polluting the air with his anger.” Ability Development from Age Zero, pp. 45 and 48. Dr. Suzuki concluded that anger was not necessary, and he practiced not being angry instead of developing an ability for anger.
Dr. Suzuki suggested that a person willing to eliminate anger should keep a family anger graph near the family calendar. As the family notes how many times each member becomes angry every day, the total is marked on the graph. Dr. Suzuki insisted that the number of times someone becomes angry would naturally lessen as they maintain the anger graph. As the number of angry times lessens, so too will everyone lose their ability to become angry.
In the same way, as we consider how we want to alter our behaviors and attitudes in this new year and resolve to make changes, perhaps we could maintain such a graph to help us, as Dr. Suzuki suggests, and not only about our anger issues. Why not maintain a graph that helps us to turn impatience into patience, arrogance into understanding and empathy, indifference into enthusiasm, inconsistent practice into regular routine, frustration into insight, bitterness into laughter, complaining into gratitude, or distance into affection?
As I considered my own resolutions, I thought about the types of resolutions that I hoped my students’ parents were considering, and I would like to share those possible resolutions so that you might consider adopting some or all of them:
- Play the recordings on a daily basis. Make extra copies of the recordings so that you can play the recordings in every possible location or vehicle available. A regular listening program is vital to a music student's successful learning.
- Practice on a regular schedule, including review programs. Children thrive in an environment that is predictable, so plan a regular practice time with your child and then keep it. When a parent maintains a regular schedule, the child’s confidence level grows.
- Attend all lessons and group classes. Be consistent about attending your child's lessons and group activities and classes. Doing so is not only key to the child's successful learning, but it will also send your child the message that the child's activities are important to you.
- Keep the instrument in good playing condition. Please make sure that your child has the proper equipment and that it is in good working order. If a string breaks, be sure to replace it as soon as possible. Keep an extra set of strings on hand for emergencies. Take care of repairs on a timely basis. If the instrument is out of tune, have it tuned immediately. Let the teacher know about the tuning issue, and your teacher may suggest a helpful parent or student who lives near to you and who can help. I have tuned many violins over the phone.
- Be interested in your child’s lessons and group classes. Talk about the lessons and classes with your child and with other people who are important in the child’s life (grandparents, siblings, friends). Brag about your child’s accomplishments and activities to everyone you meet. Do not forget to come into your child’s lesson and brag about how wonderful and how hard your child worked during the week before the lesson. Most teachers would enjoy listening to a parent brag in this manner about their child.
- Set the tone for good lessons. Do not complain about how little your child did during home practice sessions in front of the child. In fact, resolve to never complain about your child in front of anyone, including family members. This includes making sarcastic remarks, teasing, and making other jokes at the child’s expense. If you must let the teacher know about some problem that occurred during home practice, phone the teacher to discuss it before the lesson or write the teacher a note to be read silently before the lesson. Help to make the child’s lessons fun, exciting, and pleasant. Show interest and enthusiasm even when you do not have it!
- Be enthusiastic about lessons, practices, classes, listening, review programs, Twinkle Variations, and recitals. Without a spark of enthusiasm, the child will likely want to back off his practice schedule for fear of taking up too much of your time. Do not let your child feel as if her playing and practicing for you does not please you. Curb your criticism and watch your words during practices.
- Be involved as a family in the child’s music activities. Set up home concerts or recitals for family, relatives, friends, or schoolmates. Arrange performance opportunities for your child to play at school, in local community events, at nursing homes, at churches, and in talent shows. Go to other students’ concerts and recitals. Go to symphony concerts, especially children’s programs. Play for Grandma over the telephone.
- Take the child’s instrument on vacations and short visits so that the child can maintain a regular practice schedule and take advantage of performance opportunities along the way. You will find that practice sessions and lessons go much better when the child has maintained a regular practice schedule. Use the vacation or short trip as an opportunity for the child to show off developed skills and abilities. Recently one of my studio families took an unexpected flight out of town, and the household was in a frenzy to make the flight connection on time. In the haste of packing up the household and the children, the parents forgot about the violins until the family arrived at the final destination. This mom quickly went to a local violin shop and talked the owner into renting two small violins for the four days that the family would be in town. That is a resolved parent! They have recently hit the one year anniversary of continuous practice.
- Do not ignore your child. Your child should not be invisible. When present, be sure to include the child in whatever activity or discussion is taking place. If you cannot do that comfortably, then alter the activity or discussion so that you can include the child. Too often we adults have conversations that do not focus on or include the child, and lessons are especially inappropriate times for such discussions. Call up the teacher at another time, or write a note or email (or text message). Remember that your child is a person and should be treated with the same dignity that you would treat another adult person standing next to you. It distresses me to watch parents make decisions that impact the child without even acknowledging the child’s presence or desires. Resolve to avoid this type of behavior in the future. Especially remember that the child is to be the focal point of the child’s music lessons. Limit your conversation accordingly.
- Do less, simplify, and delegate. Too many families in today’s society do too much or have the children scheduled in more activities than the children can or should be expected to handle. Make a list of your activities and then strive to cut down, simplify, or delegate. The children will likely benefit from being scheduled for only one activity outside of school. Too many activities cause children stress and affects their ability to focus, concentrate, and develop a good ability about anything. It is better for children to develop one skill and ability to the utmost rather than excel at nothing in particular because the children’s efforts are diffused by too many activities.
- Praise, praise, praise! Praise your children, your spouse, your relatives, your friends, your co-workers, strangers, and everyone you touch daily. Be part of the Suzuki community. Share your enthusiasm for children, for learning, and for developing fine human beings by finding something to praise in everyone and everything every day.
Happy practicing! Happy parenting!