Search This Blog

Monday, February 29, 2016

You Can't Make Me Do It! (Or Can You?)

This is the last in our series of discussions about environment, and although we have not yet said everything there is to say about this topic, we have covered a lot of ground. If you are interested in revisiting my previous articles about environment, I have posted links below at the end of this article.
"No! I Don't Want to!"

In previous articles we have discussed physical environment and its impact on our teaching and learning "atmosphere." We also discussed briefly about how the concept of time and its impact on our scheduling can impact our environment. I would like to discuss now another aspect of our psychological environment: motivation.

What is motivation? Motivation is what is inside us that drives us to do something. Motivation is the reason behind any goal-directed behavior. Motivation is what causes us to act:
  • What motivates me to get a drink of water? "I'm thirsty" is usually the motivation behind that behavior.
  • What motivates a student to practice?
    • "I want to get better." [perfect]
    • "My mom will kill me if I don't." [sad]
    • "My teacher expects it, and I like to please my teacher." [better, still . . .]
  • What motivates parents to sign their child up for music lessons?
    • "I want my child to share my joy in making music." [great]
    • "I want my child to be exposed to as many things as possible, and I heard that music lessons were good." [maybe]
    • "We have a teacher within a short driving distance, and she has a slot that fits our needs." [um, maybe not]
    • "I want to fill my child's heart with beauty." [I hope this parent calls me]
The problem with motivation is that it is internal and invisible to the outside world. We cannot see someone else's motivation; we can only infer motivation from what we see someone do.

As teachers and parents we want our students and children to be motivated to do well at lessons and practices. How can we motivate them to do that?
The Joy of Music

 Dr. Suzuki is often quoted as saying, "Man is the son of his environment." Dr. Suzuki recognized the value of the environment. This is a subject that bears thinking about and discussing at great length. One article will not cover the subject to its very edges. We can, however, still bring up several good ideas.

What motivates students to learn? To practice? To want to play an instrument? Here is a partial list of possibilities to add music to the environment and strengthen the motivational building block:
  • Listen to good music (recordings, concerts, videos)
  • Observe good performances (concerts, videos)
  • Arrange home recitals or other community performance events (local shopping center, grocery store, town market days)
  • Attend or organize talent shows or school performance events
  • Observe other student lessons and performances
  • Observe and attend group classes where the student can observe other role models and even serve as a role model as well for younger or less experienced students
  • Attend performances given by the teacher, who is also a good performance role model
On the home front, there are several things that parents could include in home practices to bolster motivation:
  • set goals for learning and practices
    • create a practice plan and method for following through
    • teach how to set goals and work to achieve them
  • offer applause and appreciation
  • show enthusiasm and excitement
  • be fascinated and curious
  • discover and experiment
  • say kind words
  • smile and laugh
  • give love, affection, and hugs
  • create quality time and quantity time (in other words, lots of quality time!)
As you can see, the possibilities to create, build, and fuel motivation are limitless. If we were to focus on ways to create and maintain an environment that encourages motivation, we would be able to come up with even more ideas. Please write me comments that suggest other ways that you have found to motivate your students or your children to want to be involved in this fabulous world of beautiful music.

If you were interested in reading the previous articles that I posted recently about environment, you may find them below:

Studio Focus: Environment: This article discusses how focusing on our environment might impact behavior and learning.

Studio Focus: Physical Environment: This article argues that when we are mindful, aware, and observant about our environment, mood, and energy, we will have a favorable impact on our teaching, practicing, and learning environment.

Studio Focus: Physical Environment and Timing: This article considers how time and timing impacts our environment.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

New Teach Suzuki Blogcast Episode #2 now live!

I have posted another brief blogcast episode for your listening pleasure and comment. In this episode #2, I discuss two statements that Dr. Suzuki made about himself. I think that one statement will surprise you! I also talk about an action step that you could take today to personalize and empower your child.

Episode #2: Empower or Limit Your Child?

Let me know what you think.

If you are interested in reading the book that I mentioned in the episode, click here.

Studio Focus: Physical Environment and Timing

In a previous article about physical environment, I discussed the location of your teaching, practicing, and learning space and explored such things as setup, physical location, mood, and energy of the space. In today's article I want to discuss an additional component of physical environment, and that is the concept of time.

Many of us do not think of a physical environment in terms of the impact that time has on us physically, but I think that this is very important. I have various periods each day when I have more or less energy. I feel stressed on occasion to finish a list of tasks, or I feel relaxed because my day has not quite begun. So timing may be of great importance. Here are some aspects and questions about time that may impact on our environment and therefore bear thinking about on a deeper level.

Teaching Time

Well do I know that the time available to us teachers may not be the optimum time for a student's lesson. Unfortunately, private studio teachers are unable to do much about the time available for lessons if a student attends public school. Our "daylight" teaching hours usually encompass the time of day when students may be tired from a long day at school, in need of a snack or other pick-me-up before beginning the next segment of their after-school day, and generally needing a little downtime to unwind and get those wiggles out. For the very little ones, lessons may occur after nap times or perhaps during the optimum times for naps, and this situation brings out other problems of scheduling.

I have also been increasingly aware that some day's teaching schedules demand more of my energy than I might actually have. Sometimes during a season, I notice that particular teaching days demand more concentration, creativity, or physical exertion than other days. I try to be mindful of these different needs and schedule accordingly.

Practicing Time

These same time considerations impact on a parent and child's practice time together. I think the guiding principle should be to schedule practice times in a way that works for the child. Unfortunately, all too often we schedule activities based on the parent's convenience. We all wish that it were different, but in reality sometimes schedules need to reflect the parent's priorities rather than the child's, but wherever possible, I think it best for optimum learning if we were to put the child's needs before the adult's needs.

Sometimes it helps us to think "outside the box" and find creative solutions. Traditionally we think of practices occurring after school before dinner. What about practicing before leaving for school? Some families find that there is a good 10-minute window of practicing opportunity that occurs before everyone leaves for school. One family discovered that there was actually a time period during school that worked. In this case, the school was amenable to the parent coming and practicing with the child. Actually, in this particular case, more than one family was involved, and the parents shared the practicing responsibility. Even if this solution worked on 1 or 2 days, it would be 1 or 2 days closer to meeting a daily practice goal rather than no practices.

Another family divided its practice routine into different parts for different parts of the day. The morning might be for working on new material and the afternoon might be for review work. This practice schedule division worked well for the child because the practice agenda matched the child's energy levels and focus abilities.


This is an important issue and one that I wish more parents would spend time contemplating. I have noticed in the past decade that parents have been scheduling their children into so many activities, that the children have become more stressed (as well as the parents). They have also become less able to master any skill or ability development, because they have less time in which to do so. I understand that the current fashion in parenting is to expose children to as many activities as possible, but as a teacher I note that I have observed more tension in the way that children approach their physical relationship to the instrument. I have also observed more tension in the behavior of the family and parents in general, as everyone needs to be on an accelerated movement path. Families rush into the studio for lessons, having raced through school traffic to be on time for lessons, and then having to dash off to be on time for the next activity. I have heard stories of late nights spent doing homework assignments because there was little time left in the regular day due to extracurricular activities.

I remember myself wanting to add a sport to my high school activities. At that point I was already taking piano and violin lessons, participating in school orchestra activities, and rehearsing with the local youth orchestra. Do not forget to add driving time to all of those activities. I wanted to add the intramural sport of field hockey to the mix. After trying it for one week, my mother wisely pointed out how everything else in my life had begun to tilt as a result of carving out time for this new activity. I dropped the sport. Instead we found other ways to participate in sports as a family, and I look back with fond feelings on these family memories of tennis, biking, hiking, and swimming. I appreciate much more the family relationship bonds we forged than I ever would have appreciated the team sports bonds of an intramural sport activity.

When considering adding a sport or other activity to your child's day, consider the following things:
  • the time available for the new activity
  • the time that will be taken away from other important activities
  • the quality of time that will be available for the new activity
  • what the trade-offs will be (e.g., family time sacrificed for the new activity)
Please consider this issue carefully. There are many wonderful activities out there to spark a child's educational growth, but research has continued to show us that one activity does the most for using and developing all the brain's ability, and that is music education. Other activities have their benefits, but music learning is the one activity that does it all at once. There is also the added benefit of the gift of ability and skill development. Your child's self esteem will grow as your child learns and is able to show more and more skills.

How does time affect your environment in your studio or home practices? Do you have similar problems or different ones? How do you handle these issues?

If you like the clock timer shown in the photo at the beginning of this article, which shows the time period shrinking, you can find it here.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

It's Frog Season at the Studio!

My students have been having a bit of fun with me and each other at the studio. I have used tiny rubbery frog toys for various games of concentration. However, my students play with them in a different way after lessons are over and sometimes before the lesson even begins.

I keep the frog toys in a dish on a smaller bookshelf behind the student's parent. Many of my students know where to look to find the toys. Before the lesson is over, we will discover that the frogs mysteriously moved to a different location! I have found them sitting on the foot pedals of the piano, on the piano keys, hanging over the top edge of the music stand, and peeking out from underneath the pencils on the music stand.

This little "game" that my students have invented on their own has been quite the delight for me, as I never know where to expect the frogs to show up next!

Do your students have little games like this that they surprise you with? Leave me a comment below and tell me about it.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Sunday, February 21, 2016

New Podcast! Episode 1: Be Observant!

Today I am including something new on the blog. This is episode 1 of a very short "blogcast" that I made about a teaching and parenting tip. The episode is merely 2.5 minutes long. I hope you find something useful in the material. I also hope that you will write me in the comments below and let me know what you think and what topics you might like to see in the future. I am eager to know how this experience worked.

blogcast episode 1

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Friday, February 19, 2016

Studio Focus: Physical Environment

Last month we focused on posture. This month I thought I would spend some time focusing on our environment. This is a rather large topic though, so we may touch on merely a bit of the subject and save a deeper discussion of another aspect of environment for another time.

Become Mindful and Aware

In order to make any changes about anything, we need to become mindful first. We need to know what it is that we want to change and why. We need to discover what we really want to accomplish, and then we can think about the next steps that we need to follow in order to accomplish this.

Painting by Mikiko Kudo 2015
So if we were to focus on our environment, we first need to become aware of what our environment is. This involves paying attention and being observant. What sorts of things will we learn?

There are two kinds of environment: physical and psychological. The physical environment may be the easiest to address, so let us start with that aspect first. Let me put forth some questions that might help us to focus on our physical environment.

Notice and Describe

What is our teaching or practicing location like? Is it the same place or a different place from time to time? Is it a small or large space? Is there enough room? Do we have all of our supplies near to hand or do we need to interrupt our teaching and learning momentum in order to retrieve an item that is necessary to continue teaching, practicing, or learning? Take a few moments to note and describe the physical location, the setup of the space, and the items contained therein. What sorts of things do you notice now that you’ve written that description?

Mood and Energy
Painting by KM Robinson 2014)

What is the quality of your space like? By quality I mean, how would someone describe the type of mood that the space creates? Is your space colorful and vibrant? Is it noisy? Is it peaceful and calm? Is it messy or clean? Is it organized or does it spill over the edges?

Take the time to observe and answer carefully these questions related to the quality of the space, because my theory is that there are many children and adults who respond in less than positive ways to various sorts of “energy” being expressed in a room. I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I walked into a colleague’s office that had well crossed the boundary of orderliness and spilled over into chaos. When I found myself holding my breath for fear that by letting it out I might blow over a stack of papers that was taller than I was, I knew that this situation was much less than ideal.

Cleanup after the 2015 flood
I’m not the greatest housekeeper. I do, however, clean my space on a regular basis and focus on consistency as my main priority. I also try to be mindful about how my space looks to others. I spend a few minutes daily putting things in their proper places, and I think about organizing the things in the studio in a way that looks “neat and straight.”

As for calm and peaceful, I do things to help myself exude relaxation. I do a lot to breathe out my air, because I find that I completely calm myself down when I do that. We can spend more time this month thinking of ways to bring calmness to our studio. I welcome reading your suggestions in the comment section below.

For now, give some thought to the above areas and let me know what you discover. In the meantime,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird