Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Wheel of Music (Group Classes Can Be Fun!)

We used a new tool at group class -- the color spinning wheel. We called it the "Wheel of Music."


spinning color wheel on tabletop
The Wheel of Music
For a few weeks before using the wheel, I had it prominently displayed on a table in the studio, so that the wheel attracted my students' attention.

"What's that?"

"What is it for?"

"How do you use it?"

The wheel generated a lot of buzz among the students, and not just the youngest students. Parents and siblings showed interest in it as well. During this preparatory time leading up to the wheel's initial use in class, I thought of ways to use it. Here are a few activity ideas and my discoveries of what the various colors on the wheel could represent:
  • Students could touch the tip of the bow to something in the studio that has the same color as the color that the wheel spin lands on. This was another bow game activity that was very popular with the younger students, although there were some laugh-out-loud moments with the older students as well when I turned around and found two older students locked in a tableau of pointing their bows at something on each other's shirts. One boy stood there as if he were about to commit harikari.
  • The students helped me decide what activity to put on the wheel. Occasionally I would alter a suggested activity to add something new and pique their curiosity ("What are we going to do with the 'toy bears'?" In this way I learned quickly which were their favorite activities and games, because they were eager to shout them out to me to put on the wheel. They included things like: water cups, hide the rosin, and even the Twinkle Variations.
  • My students came up with nicknames of their own for the Twinkle Variations: "eat boogers" (Variation C), "Pika-ch-u" (Variation B). [What can I say? The studio enjoys the energy of a few younger boys.] I was surprised how much fun the students had with the simple activity of writing things on the wheel before class officially began.
  • The colors could represent a kind of activity, and there could be lists of things on a color chart or paper:
    • Bow games: Up Like a Rocket, Pass the Cup, Through the Loop
    • Concentration and focus activities: water cups, zombie walk, toy bear sticks
    • Twinkle Variations: Twinkle reviews and new challenges (G Major Twinkle, different keys, higher positions, backwards bows, upside down bows)
    • Singing activities
    • Spinner's choice: I asked students to consider in advance what activity they might choose if the wheel landed on this space, so that the student would be ready to go with a choice of activity
    • Special "challenges":
      • Stick out your tongue
      • Stand on one foot
      • Play with eyes closed
      • Stand back to back with another student for posture
      • Stand with the back of the upper bow arms touching each other for posture
      • Play song sections out of order (Scramble Game)
As the students finished each activity on the spinning wheel, we erased the dry erase mark from the wheel. At this point, we had additional options to consider:
  • The students could add a new activity to replace the activity they had just completed
  • Students could leave the space blank and continue spinning until all activities were finished
  • There could be a combination of things added to the wheel, such as student's choice, teacher's choice, and parent's choice
There may be other options to include:
  • Students could also play for the other students in order to "earn" the chance to spin the wheel.
  • The wheel colors could represent a pick from different prize boxes. The prize boxes could include very simple items, such as craft beads of matching colors.
My favorite idea, which was borne out of a conversation with a young student who made the mistake of saying they sometimes got "bored" at home, was to make a "Boring Chores" wheel at home. The parents and students could list various "boring" chores on the wheel, such as "take out the trash," "dust your room," or "clean a toilet." Then if someone were to say they were "bored," they would have to spin the wheel and do the chore listed on the wheel. This idea led some of my students and parents to come up with all sorts of variations, from performing regular chores to earning special treats.

My students had a great deal of fun with the color spinning wheel in group class. Even my shyest students really got involved in the spinning activities. There was so much excitement and fun, and I noticed that even my most fearful students lost themselves in all the fun.

We use the larger version of the wheel in the studio, but there are smaller versions available as well. If you try this idea, be sure to comment below or email me and tell me your favorite ways to use the wheel. I highly recommend this fun activity and teaching tool!

For more information about the spinning color wheel, click here (affiliate link). The wheel also comes in other sizes. We use the wheel that is linked here.

Many of the activities listed above can be found in my new resource book, The Twinkle Project. I wrote this book as a collection of resources and teaching steps from the beginning stages of learning the violin up to and including the Twinkle Variations. I include many activities to build concentration and focus and explain in depth the many possible ways to learn and later combine the parts of the Twinkle Variations to get the most optimum concentration and focus benefit. For more information about the book, click here. Here are links to the two videos about the book: (Why Did I Write This Book? and What's the Book About?).


suzuki method violin beginner resource teaching materials
The Twinkle Project
I am eager to hear of your teaching ideas with the spinning wheel!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----
 © 2017 by Paula E. Bird

If you found this episode (or any episode) of the podcast helpful, and you would like to make a donation to support the Teach Suzuki Podcast and the blog, click here. My efforts to write and produce the Teach Suzuki blog and podcast do not generate income except through the generosity of those readers and listeners. I really appreciate your support. Just click here for a direct link to PayPal to support the blog and podcast.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Importance of Music Education

boy plays violin
Music Teaches Eight Abilities
In a recent podcast episode (episode 52: Why Study Music?), I discussed eight abilities that the study of music will develop. Let me list those eight abilities here:
  • Ability to Listen
  • Ability to Observe and Imitate
  • Ability to Memorize
  • Ability to Concentrate
  • Ability to Perform
  • Ability to be Disciplined
  • Ability to Persevere
  • Abilities of the Heart
My purpose in bringing up this discussion of the importance of music education is to remind us of Dr. Suzuki's greater mission. He did not merely teach the violin; his greater purpose was to teach the child to be a fine human being with a noble heart. He chose to do that through the study of the violin.

The episode takes a closer look at each of these abilities and why learning them is important for children (and adults). I like to think of these abilities as life skills to be applied in other areas of life. Not only do I believe that children should be taught these life skills, but I think that adults should improve these skill abilities (or learn them) as well. So let us look more closely at each of these eight abilities.

The first ability is the ability to listen. In the Suzuki program, children listen to the songs that they will learn. These children develop a very high level of listening ability and can figure out fingerings and bowings to songs that they have not yet learned except through hearing the songs. This ability to listen to such a high degree will carry over into other important areas of life, such as school, work, or ultimately in a loving relationship with another.

As these children continue lessons into the more advanced books of repertoire, they will also learn how to listen very carefully to their performance. This is a much more complex level of focused listening that expands a child’s ability to hear, listen, and evaluate. If students are not naturally aural learners, they can still develop the ability to listen to a very high degree.

Children also develop the ability to observe and imitate. Dr. Suzuki observed that children already use this ability when they learn to speak their native language. We were blessed with eyes and ears -- two of each -- and that is the best way we have to learn anything. I can make my teaching points clear to my students and their parents when I pick up my instrument and demonstrate the point.

The author John Holt wrote, “How Children Learn” (affiliate link). He describes how a young child learns by imitating: a very young child may attempt to imitate what they see someone else do, and then will stop and watch again to see whether their attempt at imitating measures up to what they saw. They watch, try it out, then watch to see how close they came, make adjustments, try it out again, then watch to see how close they came, make more adjustments, and so forth. In other words, the little ones learned how to do something by watching, imitating, and then trying it out.

An older child, in contrast, would watch, but the imitation might happen a few times in the older child’s mind or imagination first until the older child felt more comfortable and confident that the older child would be able to successfully recreate what the child observed. The podcast episode discusses even more points related to a child's imitation and learning, including the instinct of workmanship (listen).

Another ability developed through the study of music is the ability to memorize. In the Suzuki program, students memorize at first through listening to the pieces they are studying and in the same way that the students learned their native language through hearing and absorbing the language in the environment. In the Suzuki world, students hear the songs that they are studying because parents have the music playing in the home, and the students are constantly exposed to the sounds that the students will be making on the instrument. Later when students learn how to read the language of music, students will learn how to memorize using the sense of sight as well.

The ability to concentrate is a fourth ability developed in music study. I have published a book about the steps that lead to the Twinkle Variations for violin (The Twinkle Project), and I spend a great deal of the early book talking about how to develop concentration and focus in young children and beginning students. This skill development is not just limited to little children though; I spend a great deal of time working on this ability with my older university and adult students as well. It is important that we learn how to focus and concentrate at any stage of our development and life, because without focus and concentration, we do poor or shoddy work. We lose track of important details. We practice poorly, meaning that we learn how to do things inefficiently, with poor quality, and we are not fully engaged in what we are doing.

I remember standing in a line to get on an amusement park ride when I overheard two mothers talking about their 9 and 10 year old boys. The one mother said that she wanted to put her boy in trumpet lessons, but her boy did not concentrate very well. This mother thought that waiting awhile would be the solution. As any Suzuki music teacher would know, waiting will not fix the concentration and focus problem. The only way to learn how to concentrate and focus is to practice doing so. This is a regular part of lessons in my studio, and I ask that the parents of my students spend adequate time on this area as well at home.

The fifth ability is the ability to perform. This ability will apply to all areas of a student’s life. By learning how to perform, students learn how to present themselves and their ideas and work product to share with others. Music has the unique distinction as well of helping us to learn how to make connections with others. Music does not merely entertain by performing for spectators, as occurs in sports. Music adds that other dimension of establishing a communication and a connection with the listener. Since music is energy expressed mostly through sound but also through sight and feeling, it touches listeners on a physical level that sometimes listeners are not even aware is happening. Whenever I do leadership and energy development skill exercises in my group classes, there may be a few students and parents who will be surprised to discover how much connection there can be during a performance. And I mean this in a good way.

There are many performances that may be wonderful but that do not touch us to the core. Recently one of my high school advanced students attended a symphony concert where the performer played a concerto that my student was currently studying. At first my student loved the performance and raved about the many things that he heard during the concert. When I saw my student at his next lesson, he had some additional observations to make, such as that he did not feel that connection that we talk about. The performance was indeed great, but it was not that soul-touching, mind blowing experience that we will remember forever.

The ability to perform teaches us how to develop self confidence, how to present ourselves in a way that provides us with a sense of inner strength as well as projects that core strength to our audience. And performing also applies to other subjects and areas as well, from sports events and school presentations, to formal situations such as workplace demonstrations. Even being the new kid in the school will involve performance of some kind on the part of all students.

At the university, my violin studio holds a weekly seminar class where we meet to discuss pedagogy and technique development. We also perform for each other. My students learn the crucial performance skills, such as the importance of posture and how one walks onto a stage or into a room and the kind of effect this will have on the audience as well as the performer. We talk about our presentation physically as well as how to use our energy in the creation of the musical performance, and I know that these discussions about performance carry over into other areas of my students’ lives. This is a really, really important skill that is developed by music study.

The ability to be disciplined is one of the most important skills developed through the study of music. Music teaches students how to develop discipline in their personal habits as well as professional ones. Students learn how to practice correctly, how to maintain regular practice routines, how to prepare presentations, how to analyze things and go through a sequence of steps in order to learn and master a new piece of music, a new skill, or a refinement of an old piece or skill.

We learn how to be disciplined to some degree, usually with something that we like to do. Then we might move on to another activity and work on the discipline ability with the new activity. I find that following a marathon training program has quite nicely dovetailed with my ability to be disciplined about my music practices as well. I learned at a very young age how to be disciplined in my music, and I find that this ability has carried forward into many activities, from writing legal briefs that were 50 pages in length to running a 50K. Both of these activities took the same concentration, focus, and discipline that my music practices demanded from me.

The ability to persevere is the ability that will carry us through tough situations and keep us from giving up when things become hard. Life may be full of tragic, heart-wrenching, and mind-blowing events that will be difficult to overcome. Yet, many people do. The ability to persevere helps to give people the ability to work through tough times. 

The study of music teaches us how to develop that skill. We encounter stumbling blocks pretty much all the time. But for the love of the music, the fun of doing what we are doing, that fact that our parents seem to want us to do this and enjoy the activity and encourage us, and the fact that children generally want to please their parents, parents can really teach a child this important ability. With a little humor, lots of patience and kindness, and a generous dose of good will and encouragement, parents can help children work through any frustration or difficulty and come out the other side with a smile and a sense of pride that the child accomplished something. Dr. Suzuki said, “Teaching intonation and technique will never be more than a method. We do not have to become professional musicians. It is enough to grow up playing the violin. Because a person works at playing the violin well he develops ability to overcome any difficult problems by working. Then he accomplishes the ability to overcome even the hardest problems easily.”

And finally, the last ability of music education that I want to discuss is what Jeanne Luedke calls the abilities of the heart. Consider the possibilities of this quote from Dr. Suzuki: “Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart. A child raised on Bach from a young age will develop the noble soul, powerful personality and the religious sensitivity of Bach. The force that makes a child want to live and survive will absorb the traits of Bach’s music to a high degree.”

Even young children can play a musical instrument and create a musical mood that will touch the heart of a listener. Music has that power, and even the youngest of children can learn how to express that power and share it with others, even very young children.

I tell my new studio parents that when children study music and how to play a musical instrument that these children will be exposed to the best of music that our culture has to offer. Music has been around since the beginning of recorded time, and what has survived over the centuries in this body of musical works is the best of these works. The child will absorb so many things while studying this music and how to play. The child will not only absorb the sounds of music, but also the expression of feelings and events and emotions and even the description of beautiful things in nature, including possibly the recreation of story within the musical notes – all of this will be absorbed by the child who is exposed to and studies this music and combination of sounds.

The child's parents and other family members will also absorb this same fabulous collection of the best of our culture. We also learn how to appreciate and study new ideas and sounds, including new music and music from different cultures besides the Western culture. Music gives our young students and children the tools necessary to learn about, connect with, and appreciate the creations of other cultures besides our own.

At some point in their music studies, my students ask me what book I’m in. I always answer the same way. I am in book 11. And this book is the hugest book of all the Suzuki books, because it is everything else that is not yet in books 1-10. This book has thousands of pieces in it.

The gift of the abilities of the heart is my favorite gift from the study of music, because I think that this was Dr. Suzuki’s most important mission in his teaching. Let us recommit to this mission in all that we do with our children and students.

To hear more about these eight abilities, visit the podcast: episode 52: Why Study Music?

To learn more about my book, The Twinkle Project, visit: my shop.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----
 © 2017 by Paula E. Bird

If you found this episode (or any episode) of the podcast helpful, and you would like to make a donation to support the Teach Suzuki Podcast and the blog, click here. My efforts to write and produce the Teach Suzuki blog and podcast do not generate income except through the generosity of those readers and listeners. I really appreciate your support. Just click here for a direct link to PayPal to support the blog and podcast.