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Friday, January 29, 2016

I Don't Have to Like You

by Paula E. Bird

“I have to love you. I don’t have to like you.”

What would you think about a parent who said that to their child? How do you think the child would feel upon hearing that? What does the phrase tell you about the parent-child relationship?

Recently I was challenged to come up with a theme for my life and work, sort of like a thesis statement. I thought about the importance to the world of my choice of professions – teaching and music – and about what change I wanted to see in the world because of the work that I do, and that is when this memory came to me.

Yes, this statement is one of my childhood memories. I had a very complicated relationship with my mother. She was a fine primary education teacher and won many awards for her wonderful work. However, by the time she was home with my sister and me, she was tired. What energy she might have left at the end of a long teaching day was spent keeping the household running smoothly. We all pitched in with assigned chores, so the burden was not entirely hers. Still, she was the one in charge of this “master plan,” and I am sure she was exhausted performing things perfectly in this area. We had a very well run home. It was clean, on schedule, and well maintained. Even annual chores such as spring cleaning or replacing storm windows with summertime screens were kept up with a regular routine. My mother helped my father further his education (two masters degrees and one doctorate) and even typed his dissertation during her spare time (was there any?).

My mother did many other things for my sister and me as well. She provided us with opportunities to study music (piano and violin), and she came to every performance and concert of my entire childhood – every single one. She listened to every practice session when I was too young to have taken ownership of my own practicing. We may not have had the warmest relationship, but she was always there for me. She insisted that music education was extremely important, and she drove us to the finest teachers and made sure that we were prepared for lessons and recitals. She was quick to correct anyone who lessened our practicing effort by their praising our talent. “The girls work very hard at practicing for this performance,” she would tell them. I never came away from a performance with the belief that it came easy because I was blessed with some sort of innate ability.

I was not an easy child to raise. I pushed the status quo with curiosity and determination. Every time I needed to step confidently in a positive direction that relied on courage, I had my role model in my mother. Of course she loved me; I do not doubt that. With all the trouble she spent to provide a home that was rich in learning opportunities  and the necessary steps to develop goal-achieving discipline, I know in my bones that she did all that she did for our family and our home out of love for us. The more I have studied and considered Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy about the impact of the environment on a child’s ability to learn or a parent’s ability to be an effective home teacher, the more I realize how difficult I made things for my mother. My mother was a strong, stubborn only child herself, and I cannot imagine a better choice to hang in there with a child like I was.

When my mother would state that she loved me but did not like me, I understood exactly what she meant. I felt that too. Family is what we are given. Usually we have no say in the family we receive. However, having just written that, I will go on to then state that the relationship we build, nurture, and sustain is something we make a choice about. We have the power to choose what kind of parent-child or any type of relationship we allow to enter into our lives. How we respond, how we relate, and how we connect with our language, our touch, and even our thoughts are entirely within our purview of choice and attitude. What may not be the greatest relationship today does not need to be static; every moment can bring another possibility of joy and connection and love.

“I have to love you. I don’t have to like you.”

It is the second part of the statement that I want to see change in the world, because through my study of Dr. Suzuki’s work and philosophy, I have learned that this part of the statement can be successfully changed. Each and every parent and child that enters my studio has the potential to have a loving, happy, and satisfying relationship with one other. This pleasant state of affairs may not be the way the parent-child relationship initially is when I first meet this family, but the potential for the relationship to be the ultimate expression of love and togetherness is there. The relationship may be just the seed or kernel with a very hard shell casing, but nevertheless the seed is there. It needs nurturing. My role as the trained teacher is to enter into the Suzuki Triangle partnership and guide everyone toward the ultimate goal of love. The title of Dr. Suzuki’s book tells much: “Nurtured by Love.”

Dr. Suzuki wanted to develop fine human beings who would be productive community members with beautiful hearts. I want this too. I have wanted to share this vision from the moment that I first read Dr. Suzuki’s book. I want to change the world -- one child, one family, one community at a time.

I challenge you to ask yourself these important and life-affecting questions as well because of the hidden treasure you will reveal:

·      What is really important to you?
·      Does your life and work center around a particular theme?
·      What is the change that you want to see in the world because of your efforts?

I hope you will share your vision with me.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

 © 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Student Hit Me

by Paula E. Bird

Recently during a lesson I asked a student to hit me with her bow. She did. Ouch!

I have tried to get this student to stop playing with a floppy bow hand for a long time. I have tried all sorts of pictures, analogies, and suggestions to get her to understand that her sound was soggy and floppy because her bow hand was soggy and floppy. No energy.

I tried to get the teaching point across to her by shaking her hand using a “limp fish” handshake. Then I shook hands with her using a good, firm business-like grip. The model example did not “take.” Her bow continued to flop and sag, and then she began to lean the bow stick backwards, as if she was pushing her sound away from her. Instead of connecting her musical energy through her body to the bow and ultimately onto the violin, my student was letting the energy seep out of her bow hand knuckles and dissipate into the air. How to change this?

I have been working with my student to alter this energy use for about a year now with no success. I finally became desperate, and out of the land of desperation, many wonderful ideas are born.

At her last lesson, I became desperate to try anything to bring awareness. I explained the problem: her hand was bleeding energy out into the air rather than directing it to her bow hand and the violin. I talked about the 4 types of energy flows and used the descriptions from Ed Kreitman’s book, Teaching with an Open Heart (2010):


My lesson about energy was an easy one with this particular student because her mother’s business is about working with other people’s animals. Since my student is home-schooled, she is able to join her mother often and learn how to work with the animals. We discussed the different types of energy and its effect on dogs, because that is the most familiar experience for this particular student. Pomeranians have more energy; old Labradors have less. That sort of thing.

Ed Kreitman’s book is an excellent resource book for teachers. It is worth every penny. The book contains a beautiful description of energy and the role that energy plays in our approach to the musical instrument and to the creation of our musical expression. The illustrations are very clear, and often once I have shown the pictures to my students, they seem to grasp so much more quickly the teaching point that I am trying to make. I highly recommend that teachers read this book to aid the teaching of musicality and playing with musical expression. For more information about the book, you can order the book through Ed Kreitman's website shop here: http://www.wsste.com/. The book is also available through the Suzuki association website, suzukiassociation.org.

So here is how I got the teaching point across to my student.

"Hit me with your bow," I told her.

She looked at me blankly.

"Hit me with your bow," I insisted.




Her bow hold altered! Her grip or hold had more substance. She directed energy to the bow and ultimately to the side of my head where she hit me. That was what I intended. I wanted her to form an intention to direct her energy to a certain point -- me. From there I showed her what she had done and how the bow hold energy changed, and how it looked.

Light bulb moment! For the first time I think my student "got it." She immediately changed her approach to the bow. She did not squeeze anything tighter; she merely garnered her body's energy to one focal point on her bow and then from her bow to the violin. Instead of letting the intentional energy leak out of her hand into the air, my student focused it into the instrument.

And her sound was fabulous! Gorgeous, focused, and clear! Lovely bow hold posture.

Although I would not advocate a student hitting a teacher (or vice versa), in this case the lesson was perfect!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula ----- 

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Monday, January 18, 2016

Quick Posture Tip: The Eye is Looking at You!

by Paula E. Bird

Here is another quick posture tip that helps students to stand up tall and quickly. I got the little eyeball as a Halloween gag, and my students really like it!

The tip itself I picked up from a Mueller Rusch book many moons ago; it's something that has stuck with me for years.

We put the eyeball on the G and D strings. If the student is standing tall and correctly erect, then the ball balances perfectly in this position, as you can see from the pictures. The eyeball (or any small rubber ball) is a quick way to check whether a student is standing erect. My students eagerly "rise to the occasion" with this trick!

If you are interested in some of these eyeballs for your own studio, click this link: creepy Halloween eyeballs. Or if the eyeballs are a little too creepy for you or some of your younger students, try the glow-in-the-dark balls or the soccer balls. These items also make great prizes for special practice or posture focus weeks or group classes!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Friday, January 15, 2016

What is Your Winning Strategy?

by Paula E. Bird

Recently I have been working extra special with one of my young students, who has been preparing a videotape of one of his book one pieces. This young man has struggled for many months to play Minuet 2 without memory slips and to remember to add fourth fingers and down bow circles in the appropriate places. He and his mother tell me that he practices, and I have no reason to doubt his word. Still he struggles each week to play the piece well enough to make a videotape to apply for graduation with our local Suzuki organization.

When things like this happen, I find it important to figure out some winning strategies for the practice sessions. Because this boy's family is quite tech savvy, we try to use our smart phone or computer technologies as much as we can. I suggested that the student make a video of himself using his iPad every day during the week leading up to the last lesson when the video tape was due. So every day I have received a video performance of Minuet 2 from my student.

Every day I have responded to my student about his latest video with some helpful suggestions and occasional pep talks. The student does not always recognize the progress that he makes from day to day, but I see it in an instant when I watch the films. And, because the videos come every single day without fail, I am able to add a few ideas that can tweak his path to progress. I also find that when students make videos to send to me, they are much more careful about the quality of their presentation. I see very few instances of speeding, sloppy bowing, or less than stellar intonation. The students appear to find it important to do a good job when they make their video submissions.

On the second day of submissions, I suggested that the student add a little extra listening: listen to the piece three times before bed and three times before making his next video. We hit on a winning combination in this instance, because the video I got next was night and day different from the video of the previous day. My student remembered the notes, many more of the finer teaching points (down bow circles, 4th fingers), and he played with so much more confidence. And now we know what type of winning strategy works for this particular student -- extra saturated listening.

Let me use this example as a reminder to add these strategies to our quiver of practice ideas and suggestions: making daily videos to send to the teacher, and doing special listening assignments.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

©2016 by Paula E. Bird