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Monday, January 27, 2014

How to Find More Time in a Day

written by Paula E. Bird, ©2014

How to find more time in a day? Impossible, you say. Everyone is given the same 24 hours each and every day. How can we find more time?

Have you noticed how some people seem to get more done in a day? Perhaps you are one of those people who accomplish much in a day. Have you wondered why that is so? I have observed that I go through periods when I am quite productive, almost unstoppable in my ability to get things done on my never-ending list of things to do (lists, actually). And then there are my moments of sluggishness, when the urge to be phlegmatic overtakes me, usually during a holiday break. During those periods I marvel at how I got so much done in my productive periods, while I struggle to regain momentum and energy during my "down" periods.

I frequently lament that there are not enough hours in the day to do all that I know I need to get done. That is when I remind myself that it is indeed possible to gain more time in a day. The secret lies in how you think about time.

Finding more time is all about how you manage time, and being successful at time management is all about how you think about time. I like to think of the passing of time like a conveyor belt, which of course leads me to the memory of Lucille Ball and her cohort working the candy factory conveyor belt. If you recall that particular television episode, you will remember that Lucy let the conveyor belt get beyond her ability to do her job effectively, and the rest is comedic history.

Consider though how conveyor belts and assembly line systems work. Typically there are several people at work at one time. There are supply stations nearby with the necessary systems to handle overloads, problems, or repairs and maintenance. There are systems in place to address necessary work stoppages. Things rarely reach the point of disaster as they did for Lucy.

Most importantly of all, assembly line systems fall under a more general plan of oversight. Someone has designed the system's work flow so that things do go smoothly for the most part, and the system has possible problem scenarios built into the flow in case of unexpected (or in this case expected) work stoppages or interruptions.

How we manage time is about how we think of time. If we think of time as a conveyor belt system, one in which the belt keeps moving, then we may have the same problems as Lucy had if we are unprepared for our responsibilities on the assembly line. It comes down to what your plan is and what tools you use to achieve your plan.

Some of us have little in the way of a working plan. We sort of drift through our lives, reacting to the demands of others or managing our work load as it arises. Some of us have a general idea of where we are headed in our lives and a little bit of a sense of how we will get there.

There are those, however, who know exactly where they are going, why they are going that way, and how they plan to get there in the foreseeable future. It is this group of people that I would like to take a closer look at, because these folks hold the answers for the rest of us. How do these successful people get so much squeezed out of their day? How do they find the time to do as much as they do?

HOW SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE DO IT

They have a goal. The goal may be as simple as a plan to get through a tough week or a demanding semester. The goal may be more long term, such as finishing school or completing a building project. The goal may be short term, such as preparing for a recital in a few weeks, or it may be sort of in the middle, such as learning all the pieces in a Suzuki volume. Whatever the goal may be, it is something specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, or "SMART" as we call it.

They have a plan. They have broken down their goal into smaller, more manageable steps. They have a blueprint of the steps to take along the road in order to reach their goal.

They take action. The goal setting or the plan of actionable steps is not the end of the exercise, but the beginning. The most important attribute of successful people is that they take action on their plan. They move. There is a time for thinking and planning, and then it is time to get going.

They spend a few moments daily updating their plan or thinking about it. They know that to use a few moments of the daily 24 hours will generate huge returns in the end. They use these few moments to consider the overall plan and to decide what steps to take action on that day which will bring them closer to achieving their plan.

They set milestones or guideposts along the way. Part of the fun or the challenge in following a goal plan is to note when progress occurs. How can we tell if we are getting somewhere? Successful people set milestones or guideposts along the way to help them measure their progress toward achieving their goals or to help them determine what course corrections they need. Milestones can include time period benchmarks, such as a weekly/monthly/quarterly/yearly review, or they can represent certain amounts of things accomplished (5 pounds, 5K run).

They have focus. Setting goals provides a focus structure. It encourages attention to the goal and the goal plan. This attention to the goal helps to guard against distractions that take away from the goal path. Without this focus, we may drift off course or in general, which then makes us subject to the whims and goals of others rather than our own.

They have a support system. Successful people can achieve success without others, but it is so much easier when there is a support system in place to help. Support systems may include family members, close friends, a personal coach, accountability partner, or a support group. Knowing that we will answer to our support system may encourage us to keep on striving to achieve our goal. Our support system can provide a safety net in the event that we slip or fall on our goal path. Best of all, our support system can cheer us on when we are in most need of encouragement and motivation.

MY TIME MANAGEMENT TOOLS

Here are my particular time management or time flowing tools.

750words.com and the Morning Pages. I still use these tools even after the many years since I completed Julia Cameron's Artist Way, although now I find it easier on my hands to use the computer keyboard rather than actual pen and paper. The 750 words website helps me to fulfill this purpose. I have worked through many a puzzling problem through these morning pages, and I find that my days begin with an uncluttered focus if I have taken 20 minutes for myself to "clear the air" of any unresolved issues floating around in my brain. While I am whittling away at my daily 750 words, I keep many of the following tools close at hand to capture any stray thoughts that would pertain to any of the items normally handled by the following tools.

Calendars. I use a phone calendar all the time. I put every appointment on this calendar. However, there are things that do not seem to belong on a calendar because they clutter up the calendar and make it harder for me to see the important appointments already listed there. I prefer another place for these things, as I will discuss later.

While the phone calendar is most useful to me on a day-to-day basis, I do find it helpful to see a week at a time, and on occasion to note more than one week. So, I also maintain a beautiful journal from the Smithsonian that my father gifts to me each Christmas. In it I briefly outline my schedule for the week in grand scoping gestures. I do not list each individual lesson, as I would on my phone calendar. Instead I list time blocks spent in various locations. My husband finds this journal calendar very useful to know where I am at all times. I leave this calendar at home on the dining room table, and I refer to it once in the morning and evening. Its most helpful purpose, however, is to show me the week at a glance. I also use it to make general notes of particular projects or items that I need to take care of in a week. Time to pay bills? I make a note at the top of the first page of the week in the margin, along with other items that I know I need to address.

Reminders. I use a phone system for these because I find it helpful to use my iPhone's personal assistant Siri feature. If I need to remember to do something, I tell Siri to create a reminder. I try to consistently give these reminders a date, time, or location in which to alert me (Siri, please remind me to take the check out of my violin case when I get home). With this easy system, I know that all of my reminding type ideas are captured somewhere. I do have other systems that I use on occasion, but the phone's reminder system is what I choose to use most often.

Daily to do list. I have two very useful daily tools for keeping track of my daily activities. One is my daily to do list, and the other is my daily schedule outline. On my daily to do list, I include everything that I want to accomplish in a day. Following the rule suggested by Mary Kay Ashe, I may only complete 6 things on the list and feel that it was a good day, but often my list is a bit longer than 6 things. I try to keep the list to one side of the page, but things do spill over onto page two, and sometimes page two is my catch-all for things that occur during the day or for things that I would like to do if the right circumstances present themselves. I use a small notebook page from a product by Mead called "notes on-the-go":



Daily schedule outline. The next time management tool is my daily schedule outline, and this is something that I created for myself on a computer. It is designed to take up half a page, so I have two outlines on each page, and I make copies of this and cut them in half. This daily outline starts with "wakeup" and lists each half hour thereafter beginning at 8 am until 5:30 pm with an evening slot at the bottom. I use this form to plan out my day and to anchor in my mind where I have slots to do things. I find that this tool helps me the most to avoid wasting the time I have in a day. Instead of gabbing in the hallway at the university or frittering my free moments with emails, I have a reminder before me that I had planned to do something else during that time slot. When I create the outline at the beginning of the day, I note where there are some open moments, and I fill in those moments with a few items that I can accomplish in that time. Do I need to spend more than 5 minutes answering my colleague's request for a schedule of rehearsals, prepare an exam for an upcoming class, or make a necessary phone call? These might be a few of the items that I include in that empty slot. Here is an example of how my day looks today:


The Master List. The next two tools I use interchangeably and for slightly different purposes. They are useful tools in that I have several possible systems to help me to remember any thoughts I have about things that I need to do or things that occur to me while I am in the middle of doing something else. These tools may not be for everyone, but they serve useful purposes for me.

I use a pad folio system for keeping a master list or at least capturing a list of items that I must include on my master list. I use a folio that is small enough to hold the smaller legal pads. I find that when I have such a tool handy, that I use it to capture stray ideas that surface during lessons, during meetings, or in general when I am out and about. It easily fits into my purse, so it is always handy. The trick, I find, is remembering to periodically look through it and deal with the items that I have written there. I put the items on the next tool and then deal with them.

Cloud Outliner or Mind Map. I currently use these two tools at different times to help me capture various types of thoughts, and I have both of these tools on my iPhone. If I am brainstorming ideas, I would use the Mind Map tool, where I would draw branches of ideas as they occur to me. Generally though, I am most comfortable with an outliner tool, and the Cloud Outliner app serves my needs very nicely. As projects or things I need to do occur to me, I write them on my outliner app. It is easy to list things and indent things. I used to use a paper master list, and I do carry around a pad folio to help me capture these things in meetings or while teaching, but as soon as I can, I transfer these things to my cloud outliner where I am able to break down these ideas into smaller action steps.

I maintain two master lists in my cloud outliner: backlog and active. I use a technique that I learned from the Quick and Dirty Tips Get it Done Guy [click here to read about it]. I cycle through the backlog list until I no longer find something that I want to work on. At that point I venture into the active list. When I do go back to the backlog list, I keep at it, maybe coming up with smaller steps. If I can reframe the item, then I put it on my active list. If not, I seriously think about eliminating the task or delegating it (with a followup step added to the active list). At some point my backlog list is eliminated. Then I rename my active list as the backlog and begin a new active list. This system really works to keep my focus on what I need to do and keeps me mindful about what is really a necessary thing to keep on my master to do list.

The Mind Map tool is not necessarily a time management tool, but I find it useful on occasion for brainstorming time management issues. Sometimes what holds me up from accomplishing things is some other problem that leads me to procrastinate. Perhaps my schedule is too busy, or perhaps I'm stuck trying to do something that is not quite ready for tackling. Maybe I need some baby steps. Maybe I need to explore the reasons why I am stuck. I find it helpful to use a mind mapping tool to puzzle through these issues. Because ultimately I can unstick myself after using this tool, I include it in my arsenal of time management tools.

When I use these tools on a consistent basis, I accomplish much. I am more mindful of how my time is spent, and I have a general outline and plan for accomplishing the things that are important to me. I did not find these tools overnight, and I have also tried many tools. I am still experimenting with various applications, planners, and forms, but after much trial and error, I find that these few tools are my most productive. I will still keep an open eye to whether there is something else out there that I missed, but in the meantime, I will continue to manage my time flow with these tools.

Everyone has their own particular systems. The best system is one that incorporates all of these basic time management items in some fashion that works for you. Please comment with some of your favorite tools and apps.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Morning Check In: What a difference practice makes

Written by Paula E. Bird, ©2014

What a difference practice makes!

I have such a varied group of parental approaches to practice sessions. Each approach tells me so much about the parent in terms of the parent's background, values, parenting style, and parenting philosophy. The past two weeks were very revealing to me in terms of my studio parents' various approaches to ability development.

Holiday breaks can be tricky times for many families because this is the time that many families can spend time together. Families travel during these times or they make plans to spend time visiting relatives and friends. Practice sessions drop down the list of priorities, and that is to be expected. I was prepared to face a few weeks of getting everyone back on track at the studio.

One child came without the practicing parent. The other parent sat on the couch in the nearby room. Practice sessions were very spotty over the holidays. We had to take a few steps backwards in our progress and pick up where we had been a few months ago.

Another child came completely prepared. He and his mom had practiced fairly regularly and had also included his younger brother in the sessions to encourage the younger child to begin his own lessons soon.

Another child came unprepared but eager to play. He had been very sick over the holidays, but his mother kept up his interest by playing the recordings more often and by talking about lessons starting up soon.

Another child came with nothing prepared, and her mother seemed a little resistant to getting things back on track. The mother wanted to take a few steps back and redo assignments that had been learned weeks ago. This mom was also looking for ways to simplify the child's learning, such as writing out cheat sheets of the fingerings to songs (something that I do on occasion to help the mothers check on whether the child is playing the songs correctly. Unfortunately in this case, the mother wanted the child to use these fingering sheets to learn the songs, except that the child was not learning the songs. The child was learning how to rely on a fingering sheet to play the song, which is a result that the parent still does not recognize nor believe is undesirable).

Another child came prepared to begin new material because she had done a really good job of practicing her assignments over the holiday break. In fact, her mother laid out how they practice at home. They play through the list of assignments, playing through each song and often more than once in some cases. Then after going through the assignment list in this way, they go back and review the list once more. No wonder this child was prepared to move on!

As a teacher, such varied approaches can be dicey to work with. My assignments are not consistent across the board between students, because I need to tailor my assignments to fit what a parent and student bring to the lessons and what they will take away for home practices. I am frequently balancing my parents' and students' practice values with my own decisions about whether to raise or lower my expectations about what I think the child is capable of doing.

Such is the life of a teacher. For many parents, at the onset of music lessons, such was the choice of the parent as well. Generally, parents want their children to succeed at ability learning. Somewhere along the way, however, life seems to raise its head and cause ripples in the learning process. Parents run into harder assignments, and students grow in and out of physical, emotional, and mental phases that cause ripples in the students' ability to progress in a linear fashion. This is all to be expected. It is how the parents and students regroup, recharge, and recommit to the ability development vision after these bumpy patches in the road that will determine how well the children will succeed.

This week I will spend thinking of ways to help my parents regain any lost enthusiasm and motivation for learning and for teaching their child at home. This may be a good time for me to revisit the parents' goals for their child.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Morning Check In: The Hidden Teaching Points

The Hidden Teaching Points: the Road to a Deeper Teaching Relationship

Written by Paula E. Bird, ©2014

I would like to warn my readers that one cannot search the Internet to learn how to teach a piece in the Suzuki repertoire and then just follow the suggested model. Teaching is about so much more than just a list of teaching points. The teaching points and historical background of the pieces are merely the starting point in a teaching relationship with a student; these are the entrance passes to a deeper understanding of the student and a more comprehensive understanding of the wealth of learning points contained in the Suzuki repertoire (and in other literature as well).

I have taught the Vivaldi concertos many, many times over my 38 years of teaching. I have grappled with the difficult teaching points contained in the pieces as well as with the outside influences that affect how well a student will learn and at what pace (listening program, review program, practice routine and schedule, motivation, etc.). What happens though when all of the aforementioned ingredients are in place and the student still does not "get it"? What do you do then? In my opinion, this is the point when the real teaching begins. These are what I call the hidden teaching points, and there is no rule  or guide book to show a teacher the way, other than experience in some cases, teacher training in other cases, and perhaps a mentoring relationship with other teachers. Still, there are those puzzling moments in our teaching experience that baffle us. Here is one example of such an experience.

I have a lovely high school student who has studied with me since elementary school. She is currently learning the third movement of the Vivaldi A Minor Concerto. She is also a pianist, and I believe piano was her first instrument. She is also a singer and participates regularly in choir activities. As a high school student, you can imagine the many activities that compete for this student's attention, but still she manages to do a creditable job of maintaining a regular practice schedule. I frequently remind her to do listening, but other than that, she is a good student. She comes to lessons prepared with her scale and etude books as well as her Suzuki repertoire assignments.

She can play the first movement of the Vivaldi concerto rather well, and she is well on the road to learning the third movement, her current working piece. As I watch her play her lesson for me, despite my student's many years of violin and piano study, she still struggles with the simplest execution of fingering and sometimes even with her bow hold. This has baffled me for a very long time. I have watched her, analyzed her from every possible direction for tension physically and mentally, and I have not been able to pinpoint what the difficulty is exactly. Yet, there it is before my eyes. She actually looks and sounds as if she is physically struggling to play. I remind her to "make it sound easy," and the sound does improve, but the visual aspect still shows her struggling.

I also began to notice that she was struggling to reach her pinkie finger to the appropriate pitch. Her violin is the correct size, and so is her hand for the instrument. Still the shape of her hand shifts to accommodate a pinkie "reach." We have diligently worked on shaping the hand to give support to the pinkie, but still the problem exists.

Here is where I think the real teaching begins. I find it so tempting to continue along this current path. After all, the student will not be a music major beyond high school, I believe. If she does opt for this pathway, it is more likely that she would choose the piano or vocal area. I could continue to have her play lessons for me in a similar fashion until she graduates high school and no longer is in my charge.

I, however, find these sorts of puzzle pieces fascinating. I frequently ask myself, "Why is that happening? Why does this student not get this? Why does this student have trouble with this?" Once I figure out the answer to those types of questions, I begin to understand even deeper what the learning challenges of the piece are or what learning challenges the student has.

I asked myself in earnest these questions. I even asked my student to demonstrate her piano playing as well so I could see if there was a relationship between the way she approached both instruments. I did not see the answer at first, but after much puzzling through this, I think that I have finally found the explanation. The answer to easing the problem has not yet definitely presented itself.

My student never lets her left hand knuckles relax into an elongated state. This explains why vibrato has always been difficult for her with her ring finger. Whereas most of us have a slightly extended shape to our ring finger, which allows the ring finger to be the perfect finger to learn and perform vibrato, my student has a completely square shape. This also explains why my student has difficulty reaching her pinkie pitches. She works to maintain her squared finger shape at all times, and this shortens her reach to the pinkie notes. My student's vibrato has always been stiff and awkward, and this squared finger issue would explain the stiff vibrato as well.

Yay! I finally figured out the problem. But did I? All I would have to do is get her to relax her knuckle grip. That is where we began, until I ran into the real problem, and this problem was not readily apparent. My student has an extreme case of double-jointedness. Her fingers can collapse at the slightest touch. No amount of changing her hand shape to the instrument seems to affect this problem in a positive way. Well, that was a surprise to me as well.

What about the piano? When I asked my student to demonstrate her piano playing again, I saw that she was doing the same thing, and I would bet that her piano teacher has not seen this either. My student was altering her hand shape ever so slightly so that she could land her fingers in a way that allowed for squared knuckles.

Now I have to credit my student to coming up with a solution to playing both instruments that allowed her to accommodate her double-jointed proclivity. What a shame though that she had to do this. It has taken me a very long time to figure out what the issue was, and the problem has insinuated itself very delicately over the years into my student's playing. As a teacher, if I had just stuck to the teaching points and usual teaching plan that I read on the Internet or in a book, I would never have discovered this issue with my student.

So my question to you this week is: "What is your teaching philosophy?" Are you the kind of teacher who just teaches the piece, or are you the teacher who approaches the whole student and looks for ways to reconcile the student's learning experience to the rest of the student's world? Or are you a combination of both? This is an important question to consider and spend time reflecting on, because your answer will be the key that opens up the hidden teaching points that will enrich your teaching experience and deepen your relationship with your students.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Weber's Country Dance in Violin Book 5 and the Talent to Become Great

Written by Paula E. Bird, , ©2014

When I was a young Suzuki teacher just embarking on my teacher training experience, I remembered my first exposure to von Weber's "Country Dance" in Suzuki Violin Volume 5. I looked at all those up bow staccatos with a great deal of alarm. How in the world was I supposed to teach students how to play that bowing, when I as the teacher was unable to do this skill?

Let me relate my personal experience as a budding violinist at university. When the subject came up about this flying staccato/spiccato bowing (in the Mendelssohn concerto, third movement, if I recall), my teacher tried to teach me how to do it, but I struggled. We wound up doing the bowing with separate spiccato instead. Most of all I remember that my teacher made the comment that it was a tricky bowing, and that not everyone could do it. "You either can or you can't," but it was not something that could be taught for some students. I assumed from that moment on that I was one of those students who could not learn the bowing.

As I write this, I am reminded of something that Dr. Suzuki wrote in the preface to his book, "Ability Development from Age Zero": "I was not born with enough talent to become great," (emphasis added). He went on to write:
"A long time ago, I noticed that this common way of thinking was a mistake. Since then I have spent some thirty years proving a method about which it can truly be said, 'Look, advanced ability can be nurtured in any child. With this method wonderful ability can be developed, but with some other methods, some children will become miserable human beings with little ability.' The result is that today I can say, 'Talent is not inborn.' "
Hmm, then if I believe what Dr. Suzuki says, and I wholeheartedly believe this philosophy, then I am mistaken when I say that I am one of those students who cannot learn how to do this bowing. How do I then teach my students how to do the bowing when I cannot play the bowing myself? I turned to a fellow Suzuki teacher, Neela Kinariwala, for her advice. She assured me that my students would have no trouble with the bowing by the time they reached the piece in the repertoire. How can this be? Neela explained that my students would have worked with this bowing throughout their Suzuki education, so that when the time came, the learning of this new ability would be easily done.

Neela had me trace through the Suzuki Violin Volumes in search of the places when my students learned the up bow staccato in its various forms. Here is the tracing that we did, highlighting those pieces with the heaviest concentration of this bowing:

  • Minuet "1" in Volume 1: the introduction of up-up bowing in measures 1 and 3.
  • Minuet "2" in Volume 1: additional up-up bowing throughout the song.
  • Minuet "3" in Volume 1: additional up-up bowing throughout the song.
  • Long, Long Ago in Volume 2: the up-up bowing is found throughout the entire variation.
  • Minuet in G in Volume 2: the trio increases the number of up bows to 3 and 4 in a row.
  • Becker's Gavotte in Volume 3: the piece increases the up bows to as many as 6 in a row.
  • Seitz concertos in Volume 4: practice tips include playing the lengthy slurs as up-up bow staccato bowing.
  • Bach Gavottes in Volume 5: additional practice at extended up-up bowing.

Along with these pieces above, there are many other pieces in the volumes that include the up-up bowing in one fashion or another and frequently reinforce the skill, such that the students become well acquainted with this style of bowing by the time the student reaches the point of learning "Country Dance."

I took my discussion with Neela home and practiced tracing the bowing throughout the Suzuki violin literature, with the result that I surprised myself when I first attempted to play Weber's Country Dance. I could do it! For the first time in my life, I could play a fast up bow staccato! Then I repeated the process of tracing the bowing throughout the literature with spiccato and collé, and the result came out the same: I could perform a fast up bow spiccato as well!

Now, this is not a slight of any kind against that teacher who thought I could not learn it. Not everyone is exposed to the Suzuki philosophy or has reflected on the deeper meaning of this philosophy and its impact on talent education. Many teachers believed the opposite, and many still do. My eyes and heart were opened by this process, and I reflect deeply and often on other areas of my life where I might be holding myself back from success because of a limited belief in my ability to develop the talent to to become great.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday Morning Check In: What Systems do you Need?

Written by Paula E. Bird, ©2014

Today is the first Monday of 2014. I like to greet my Mondays with thoughts about what I want to accomplish in the coming week. Since this is the first Monday of the first full week, I thought it would be a good idea to consider the systems that I need to have in place to make my year go smoothly. Here are my top three suggestions for creating important systems:

Financial Systems -- A good financial system will account for incoming and outgoing finances, including some of the following items:

  • income register
  • expense register
  • tax-related items register
  • bookkeeping routine
  • bill pay reminders
  • student tuition reminders

Filing Systems -- A good filing system will rely on some of the following items:

  • file storage
  • filing plan
  • file management
  • file retrieval

Scheduling Systems: A good scheduling system will include some of the following items:

  • calendars
  • reminders
  • to do programs
  • tickler file

What systems do you need? Identify what systems you need and set them up this week. Make a plan or routine to use your systems.

Enjoy your week!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Written by Paula E. Bird, ©2014

Happy New Year! It is time to get back into shape, eat healthy, and set up routines and systems to accomplish all that we want to do this year. Today is the first day of a clean slate, and we can make this year be anything we want it to be. Today is a good day for reflecting on our values and our accomplishments as well as thinking about those things that did not work out as well as we had anticipated.

I remember when a teacher asked master Suzuki teacher Ronda Cole what she does when one of her students starts slacking in her practice routine. Ronda Cole's answer was that she turns on the heat. "They will either cook or flee." The student will either become more serious about practicing and learning or decide to give up.

Sometimes we drift. We start out on a good road that is filled with momentum, energy, enthusiasm, and promise. Then life gets a little cloudy and muddy. We become busy with other concerns. We stop pressing forward and instead sit down for a little rest. We lose sight of the direction we were headed in the first place and why we even wanted to go there. We stop thinking about what we want and start reacting instead to the things and people that push and pull at us. We lose our power to decide what we want and instead begin working for other people's goals.

I propose that we turn up the heat this year. I propose that we make some decisions about whether to cook or to flee. I propose that we spend today thinking about the things that we want to accomplish this year, and that we come up with a plan to follow.

Parents, have you lost sight of the reason why you decided to have your child take music lessons? Perhaps it might help if you scrolled through the archives and revisited some earlier posts about the importance of music lessons and spending time working with your child as he or she works to develop an ability and skill.

Parents, have you lost track of your commitment to practice with your child on a regular schedule? Perhaps it is time that you set up a new calendar system that will help you to keep a solid practice routine that occurs on a very regular basis. You will discover that practicing daily and allowing no more than 1 or 2 days of missed practice will actually help your practice with your child. Many of my studio parents tell me that the time they have problems working with their children is directly related to the number of missed practice days, and that when a daily practice habit is established, practice sessions go smoother.

Teachers, have you lost the will to teach? When we teachers allow ourselves to get too busy, we open ourselves up to burnout and stress. We must remember to allow ourselves some time off for reflection, meditation, and rest. The fact is that when others are enjoying a holiday break, we musicians are working. From the end of the Thanksgiving weekend until today, I have pretty much been working nonstop with performances and rehearsals. I need to remind myself about taking breaks too.

Teachers, have you allowed yourself to fall behind in paperwork or studio upkeep? How about scheduling a work day (or half a day) to deal with these issues? I have stacks of papers and music that I need to file. When the studio had a new carpet installed, I had to empty my music cabinet in order to lighten the cabinet enough for me to move it. When it came to putting my music stacks back in the cabinet, I quickly stuffed things in and did not take the time to reorganize the cabinet. I have paid for that ever since. Now might be a good time to take care of that, before I fire up the studio for the coming semester.

Teachers, have you allowed yourself to continue with some students who might do better elsewhere? I have difficulty letting go of students and will do as much as I can to help turn around an unpleasant teaching situation. I try to encourage parents to make a serious commitment to music lessons and to the value of practicing regularly with their children at home. I have many resources and ideas to help parents with this charge. Unfortunately, there are families who do not share the same value and commitment to learning an ability or skill to play a music instrument that I have. Although I try to turn this around, these families do not work alongside me and seem to want things to be easy, when in truth, things like this are never easy in any area of life. Perhaps it is time to let these families leave the studio or seek another teacher elsewhere. I do not enjoy these types of conversations with parents. I survive them mostly because I remind myself that there are other families out there who do share my values and commitment to music education and who want to become members of my studio. By allowing families to remain in the studio when they clearly do not wish to be committed members, I am in effect denying these other families the opportunity to learn in my studio.

Today is a good day to think about these sorts of things. While we think about these things, let us reflect with the perspective of turning up the heat and really doing something about what we think. Let us really cook this year.