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Sunday, May 29, 2016

100 Things to do in the Summer

Just in time for the summer months, the Teach Suzuki Podcast has released an episode that lists 100 things to do in the summer.

Teach Suzuki Podcast episode 009: 100 Things to do in the Summer

I hope that everyone finds something interesting to try this summer. Be sure to comment below with your ideas and experiences. If you would like to send me pictures, you may email me at paulabirdviolin@gmail.com

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Watch Your Language

"I can't do it!"

"I'm so stupid!"

"I'll never be able to get this!"

"I'm just not very good at this."

When I trained for the marathon in 2005-6, I learned that it was imperative that I keep my mind in a positive mode. I found it easier to stay the course in my training and discipline if I kept my mind in a healthier, more upbeat place, because whenever any negativity entered into my sphere, I noticed that it had a detrimental effect on my psychological ability to push through and keep going.

During my training, I picked up many helpful tricks to stay in this happier mental state, and I found these tricks quite useful in the musical arena as well. Most of these simple tricks related to a simple tweak in my focus and awareness of the language I chose to use aloud and to myself.

"You can do this, you know you can."
Watch your language, choose yes

"You're a person who perseveres when things get tough."

"You have the discipline and strength to finish this."

"You are prepared for this, so relax and let the training take over."

I said these affirmations, especially the first one, frequently every day. What I discovered is that the affirmation would pop into my head several times all on its own. It became a part of my self-talk on a regular basis, and I noticed that my attitude stayed positive and strong as a result.

But how do we get to this stage? For some of us, our self-talk has dipped so low, that we are unaware of how weighty it has become. It pulls on us, gnaws on us, and ultimately drags us down to an unpleasant place where things seem so hard and impossible to accomplish. How do we fix this negative self-talk habit? I have a few suggestions.

Here are three easy steps that you can take to help you notice and change your language choices.

Change your Physical State

Changing our physical state will often change our mental state. For example, when I am angry or frustrated, I notice that my shoulders, upper back, and back of the neck are tense. I hold my breath. When I adjust these tension points and take a slow breath out and then in, my mental attitude responds as it relaxes and drifts toward a more positive state.

Notice what your physical state is the next time you catch yourself saying something negative. Are you holding your breath? Are you squeezing a muscle somewhere in your body? Are you clenching anything? Are you smiling? Whatever you are doing, change it to something else. I find that smiling is the fastest way to change a negative physical condition. I make it a practice to smile at the top or bottom of every flight of stairs at work, from the initial stairway that leads down to the front door of my workplace to the inner staircase that connects both floors of the building. Every time I reach the bottom or top of the staircases, I remind myself to smile. This is a habit that I have built over time, and I think that it has helped immensely to alter my face into a happier one when I greet my colleagues and students within my workplace.

But it Doesn't Matter

This suggestion comes from one of my favorite books. Although this book is devoted to marathon training for non-marathon runners, I find that much of the book has some very useful tips for musicians. The book, Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer by David Whitsett, Forrest Dolgener, and Tanjala Kole, has three parts to each chapter:
  • The first part is devoted to the psychological or mental aspect of training and preparing for a marathon.
  • The second part advises things related to the physical aspects of training.
  • The third part recounts personal stories and advice from runners involved in the training program.
What I found most helpful in this book from a musician's standpoint was the psychological discussion at the beginning of each chapter. When it comes to altering your language choices or focus, I highly recommend this book as one of the tools you might use because of its wealth of information contained at the beginning of each chapter. And the training program (4 runs per week) is pretty darn good too.

One very useful suggestion from the marathon training book was the phrase, "but it doesn't matter" placed at the end of every complaint or negative thought. For example, I might start whining because I am having trouble with my coffee pot. "But it doesn't matter!" I will exclaim. Then I will argue with myself for a few more sentences: "yes it matters! I need to have my coffee in the morning without fussing with the coffee pot!" I pause and remember what I am supposed to do. "But it doesn't matter," I will remind myself to say aloud.

It really does not matter unless you believe it does, and by reminding yourself that it does not matter, you will remind yourself to overcome whatever frustration is in this moment. Since we routinely overcome many such problems in our lives, this teensy reminder goes a long way to refocus our attitude, belief, and view of ourselves -- that we can do this. After reminding myself a few times that my complaints really do not matter, I will notice that my body completely relaxes with the change in thought and attitude.

Modify Your Behavior (the Positive-Negative Marble Jars)

One studio family came up with a clever idea to help modify their child's language behavior. The daughter was in the habit of arguing a lot without really meaning to argue. She would enter into conversations with a conflicting viewpoint, or she would answer "yes" and then follow it up with "but" or "no." Her parents came up with a behavior modification scheme to help the daughter to recognize when she was doing these types of behaviors, and the parents helped her to find a concrete way to record these negative or positive behaviors. The parents hoped that by recording the language choices the daughter made, that the daughter would then refrain from the unwanted negative language in favor of positive responses. Instead of saying, "no," "but," an excuse of any kind, or any other negative words, the parents encouraged her to say, "yes, and," "okay," and "may I" instead. For example, here is a possible conversation before the behavior modification scheme:

Parent: "I think it's going to be a nice day."

Child: "Yes, but it's going to rain later."

Teacher: "I think your left hand could be more relaxed so that your wrist is flatter rather than bent."

Student: "But I'm holding it relaxed!"

Parent: "Can you take out the garbage later?"

Child: "No."

If you notice, there would not be much to say after those brief exchanges. After the behavior modification, the above conversations might go like this:

Parent: "I think it's going to be a nice day."

Child: "Yes, and it might rain later too."
Parent: "Oh that might complicate things! We do need the rain for the garden though."

Teacher: "I think your left hand could be more relaxed so that your wrist is flatter rather than bent."

Student: "Okay, let me try that. Does this work better?"
Teacher: "Yes, that's better. Can we work together to see if your wrist can relax even more?"

Parent: "Can you take out the garbage later?"

Child: "May I do it after dinner rather than right now?"
Parent: "Of course, that would be a terrific help!"

Notice that it feels more comfortable to continue with the conversation when there are positive responses.

Here is a picture of the positive-negative jars that the parents used to help their daughter become more aware of the language choices she made. If the daughter said something negative or positive, then she would put a marble in the appropriate jar. Notice how many positive marbles there are after only a few days of this exercise! At the next lesson, the daughter was very eager to tell me the exact number of positive versus negative marbles that she had in her jars.

marbles in jars to modify behavior
Positive and Negative Marble Jars

One of my other posts discussed what a performer might say after a recital or other performance. If you would like to read that post, click here.

If you are interested in the marathon book, click here. Please note that this is an affiliate link, meaning that it will be no additional cost to you and you are under no obligation to purchase this item, but if you are already in the market to buy this book, I will get a financial benefit that will go to support the blog and the production of the podcast. I appreciate your help so that I can avoid putting advertisements on the blog.

As a reminder too, if you have not yet subscribed to my newsletter, please do so or send me an email and I will add you to the mailing list. At the moment I send the newsletter out twice a month and include links to articles and podcast episodes that you may have missed. As always, I greatly appreciate my readers and all of their helpful suggestions and comments!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What to Say After a Performance or Recital

Listener: "Wow! You sounded great!"
Performer: "I made a lot of mistakes."

Listener: "That was beautiful!"
Performer: "I could have done better."

Most of what performers say after a performance or recital may be the result of recital "aftershock." This is what I call that brief period after a recital (about 1-2 hours) when the performer is still in self-evaluation mode and cannot focus on much else besides a thorough analysis of the performance. So what comes out of the mouth of the performer is generally not polite from the perspective of the listener or audience member.

What do I mean exactly? When someone tells you how great you sounded, it is not polite to then tell the listener that they are wrong about what they heard. If you look at the above examples you will see what I mean. In both examples, the performer disagreed with the compliments that the listener offered.

I understand how easy it is to succumb to the aftershock siren call of "telling it like it is." Here are some possible reasons why I think we performers behave like this:
  • We want everyone to know how much we know. Such as, "I know I made that mistake. I do not want you to think that I am unaware of it."
  • We want our listeners to think that we had a "slip of the moment," and that we normally never make that mistake.
  • We are nervous and do not think in advance about what we are going to say in response.
  • We are embarrassed by the compliment and want to lessen its impact and effect.
  • Someone in our circle of influence has told us that it is better to be humble, and we want to look as if we do not deserve the compliment.
Sound about right? So what can do differently to avoid the aftershock behavior?

Practice doing something else. Here are the two steps that I ask my students to practice at each studio masterclass (university level) or at group classes (Wildflower Suzuki Studio) when we practice performing for each other:

Ask and Answer Two Questions

The first step is to ask and answer two questions. Each student performer must answer these two important questions before anyone is allowed to speak, including the teacher.
  • What worked?
  • What do I want to do differently next time?
Notice that these two questions never raise any possibility of negativity. The questions keep the performer focused on positive elements, and these questions keep the focus on the evaluation and plan for the future -- a much more useful and encouraging skill than being negative and focusing on the things that went wrong.

Practice Whay You Want To Say

The second step is to practice saying the following things after every compliment given to the student after the performance at studio seminar or group class:
  • Thank you.
  • I'm glad you enjoyed it.
  • Thank you for coming and listening.
  • I appreciate your comments.
  • Thank you.
  • Thank you.
  • Thank you.
As you can see, gratitude is the most important expression. All other possible answers are not useful for the listener or the performer.
When I performed as a young student, my mother was very quick to be self-deprecating on our behalf. "Oh your girls are so talented!" audience members would exclaim. My mother was very quick to respond, "They work very hard." Now I am not advocating that parents adopt this answer on behalf of their children. I would prefer that parents teach their children how to respond appropriately to these sorts of comments, which can also be great sources of discussion points later about philosophical beliefs, such as talent versus hard work, or politeness versus rudeness. That sort of thing.

How do you handle comments after a recital? Have you come up with responses that you find easier to share? Let us know in the comments below.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What Kind of Parent Are You?

Teach Suzuki logo
Teach Suzuki Podcast
The Teach Suzuki Podcast recently published its seventh episode, and this one is an interesting discussion for parents particularly. You will want to give this one a listen if you are a parent or a teacher.

In this episode, I talk about how parents run up against their own personal history when they participate in the Suzuki journey. For some parents, this encounter can be life changing for the parents as well as the children and other members of the family. What do I mean?

Everyone is the product of their own personal history. I had parents, and everyone else did too. Some of us had happy childhoods, and others did not. Most of us had mixtures of things, and our histories were also not the same within the family. My sister's memories are very different from my own, and even as an adult with the experience that I have as a teacher, I am unable to completely understand the family dynamics as they relate to my parents or my sibling.

To look at this phenomenon from a Suzuki parent's perspective though, I find that many of my studio parents discover that the difficulties they have during home practices are directly related to the parent's own personal experiences growing up in the parent's own family. This can be a very liberating discovery for most parents. I have witnessed many parents shed tears when they make this discovery and can now recognize and admit openly how their personal upbringing and story plays such a negative impact on the parents' styles of parenting today. For many parents this is a defining moment of beauty.

I use the word "beauty" to describe what happens, because I am gratified inside to share the parents' joy as they realize that their children's futures do not have to be a repeat of the parents' past disappointments. This is joyful because children will now reap the benefits of very informed and thoughtful parenting from this point forward. And joyful too because many parents now free themselves of beliefs that have limited the parents up to this point. I have had many parents rediscover a love for music that the parents had given up hope for when growing up. Many of these parents have begun music lessons alongside their children in order to share this joy of discovery.

So have a listen and see if you find this subject one that you would like to explore in more depth as a parent. Or, if you are a teacher, share this episode with your studio parents and see if they too are finding these same experiences. This episode, I hope, will offer every studio an opportunity to join parents and teachers together for the benefit of the children. Please leave me a comment and let me know what you discover and wish to share. Click below to listen to the podcast episode:

          Podcast Episode 007

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird

Monday, May 9, 2016


Thank you card

Here is a tradition I started last year and plan to continue annually at our spring recital. I write a thank you note for each of my students. They are not lengthy notes -- perhaps one or two sentences long. The act of thinking and writing these notes helps me focus my attitude on the things that I find special about each student and our relationship.

For my youngest students, I might draw a note in picture language and include a few stickers:

I love you

For other students I might include a little card with one or two quotes that can be hung up in the child's bedroom or placed inside the instrument case, which is where many of my students kept them this past year. 

This "thank you" task may take a few minutes of my time, but I like the way I feel about my students, their parents, my studio, and the past teaching year after I have finished.
Thanks! Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird