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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Mid-Month Review

In the previous podcast episode (232 TSP What Did You Expect?) I talked about the wonderful world of Dr. Suzuki and how he sets us up for success by encouraging self-reflection. I spoke specifically about expectation and intention. In episode 233 TSP, I will walk further down that road. I will share my thoughts about my purpose in journaling and how it helps with summer expectations and intentions.

At the time I planned this episode initially, it was mid-July. Now it is almost mid-August. I generally perform a mid-month review to allow myself to look back and think ahead. I ask myself specific questions that I designed or gathered to keep me focused neutrally on what I've done or am doing. I offer no judgments or stories, just the facts. A mid-month review is one of the helpful tools I use in journaling. I have journaling prompt questions printed on a half-page, and I affix this page to my planner on the 15th of the month. The questions keep me focused on achievement and moving the needle forward. I do not berate myself if I do not achieve something. I refrain from looking ahead and measuring how far I have to go to "close the gap." I am more interested in the factual information I have gathered by moving from the starting line to my current place.

Here are my five questions:

1. What have I accomplished?

2. What projects do I need to adjust or drop?

3. What are my priorities for the rest of the month?

4. What bills do I need to pay? Do I have the necessary funds in place to pay these bills?

5. What projects or tasks have fallen off the radar?

I include a space for additional notes or thoughts. Although I originally intended to use this form as a stand-alone document that I could fill out as needed, I have used it as a bookmark in my planner and morning pages journal, and I answer the questions within my journal. I then place the questions as a bookmark for the next month to remind me when to do a mid-month review in the following month.

I hope you find as much value from this exercise as I do. You can adjust the questions to fit any time frame, whether a quarter, a season or semester, a half year, a year, or even a week. Let's use these questions to think about our summer expectations and intentions.

Do you remember what your summer expectations were? I laugh at how delighted I was at the beginning of the Summer, around the 1st or 2nd week of June when school let out and students began taking vacations. I thought ahead to the long time that stretched before me. Months of Summer, I thought. Weeks to accomplish a great deal. I felt so expansive.

And then, at the end of June, when I set a few goals and intentions for July, I realized that a great deal of time had slipped past me, and I had so little time left to accomplish those lofty goals I had constructed at the beginning of June. Yikes!

I have always had an issue with trying to accomplish more than is possible or even healthy in one sitting. I am determined, but I have realized how much I need to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and appreciate everything. I will not go into the details of that sort of thing yet; we have plenty of time to talk about that sort of discovery in future episodes. Let us focus on the remaining half of the Summer right now.

Question #1: What have I accomplished? This question is my favorite because it helps me celebrate that I have done something. I have not been sitting on my rear end and gazing into space. I have checked off many things on my list. When I forget to answer this question, I am too judgmental of myself. I forget how much I've done, and I forget to pat myself on the back for making that stuff happen. It was a hectic six weeks with music festivals and symphony commitments. I am amazed that I did as much as I had. And May was not any easier.

Question #2: What projects do I need to adjust or drop? This question is a great way to reframe things that are not working. Again, no judgments or guilty feelings are allowed. Sometimes other projects emerge on the horizon, and these new projects take higher priority than my previous expectations. That is OK. Roll with the punches. Accidents happen, weather happens, surprises happen. That is life. Rather than being rigid and causing me more stress than is necessary, why not just adjust the scope of the original project's intention, postpone it, or drop it if the timing no longer works?

While I am at it, I will also note anything I need to learn from this experience. Did I set my expectations too high? Did I overschedule or overcommit myself? For example, I serve on a board of directors for a music festival and did not factor in the amount of driving I had to do during the festival -- 141 miles daily to the performance venue. I had a completely unrealistic idea of the distance. I will not make that mistake again! I made a note of that lesson for the future.

Question #3: What are my priorities for the rest of the month? This question helps me reframe or reorganize my time and activities to accomplish what I want or need to achieve this month. While I am thinking about the answer to that question as it concerns July, I am also thinking ahead to August and the short amount of time left to finish my projects before school begins again with the fall semester in mid-August.

Question #4: What bills do I need to pay? Do I have the necessary funds in place to pay these bills? I added this question because I usually pay my bills around the 20th of the month. It's on my calendar to do this task on that date. I also have several accounts, so the question about the necessary funds refers to whether the funds are in the appropriate account that will send the checks to pay the bills. Sometimes I have to move some funds around for this purpose. I got in the habit of asking that question to remind me to arrange the bill payments. I don't have a lot of bills. Some bills are quarterly or yearly, and I like to keep that all in mind with this monthly question. And finally . . . ,

Question #5: What projects or tasks have fallen off the radar? This question is another favorite. Sometimes I start the month all excited to complete some big project on my list. I have lots of exciting energy and motivation. And then things start happening. We used to call this phenomenon "cranking up the carousel." When we did the Suzuki institute at TX State University, we would get everything worked out, and then on the first day, we would "crank up the carousel" and start noting all the pieces that began flying off. We would spend the first and sometimes the 2nd day screwing or tightening all the loose pieces before everything started to sail smoothly.

This question helps me recall the expectations I began with that month. I can decide if I want to do anything more about it during the rest of the month -- whether to renew my enthusiasm, rewrite my plans, delegate or defer it, or eliminate it.

How did your July month go? How did you answer those questions?

Now would be an excellent time to set some goals for the rest of the Summer. The questions may have helped you to renew your commitment to achieving a goal you started at the beginning of the Summer, or perhaps the questions helped you to reframe what you wanted to accomplish now that half the Summer has passed. Let me throw out another question for you to answer:

How do you want the remainder of your Summer to look? What do you want to finish or start?

Your child's teacher may have some ideas that fit your child's situation. Many of my students traveled, and I suggested some travel ideas to keep their steady progress. Perhaps you could set a few challenges. A student could complete many possible 30-day challenges during a week. Summers are terrific times to work on review challenges, such as reviewing the entire previous book or, if a student is in book 1, all the songs that the student knows in book 1. I have suggested challenges for increasing tone, developing vibrato, playing staccato or spiccato, or learning duet parts. I had a student who learned one hymn each Summer to share with her grandmother. She memorized the violin notes and all the verses -- a terrific mental exercise.

Do not forget to include listening challenges as well. Perhaps your child is listening to a particular Suzuki repertoire book. Your child's teacher might also challenge your child to listen to a list of pieces that the child would enjoy.

Here is the link to an episode I published many years ago when I first started the podcast: 100 Things to do in the Summer. I wrote that episode as an exercise in creativity. Could I think of 100 things to do in the Summer? I researched the lists I had made in teacher training workshops or read online. I also came up with a lot of other activities myself. I will link that episode in the show notes.

Before I close today's episode, let me include something about journaling in general. I answered a journaling prompt at the start of my week, and the prompt asked me about my reasons for journaling. Here is what I wrote as an answer to this prompt:

I have learned so much about myself. Most of all, I journal or do the Morning Pages to gain a sense of peace. I slow my racing thoughts down to a manageable, observable speed. I can puzzle through my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and figure out what is happening in my head. I can bring to my consciousness level the things I need to see to decide whether I want to keep these thoughts, treasure these thoughts, or learn better cognitive behavior around these thoughts.

I have worked myself through pain, anger, dissatisfaction, creativity, death or loss, and desire. Journaling gives me peace because I know that I have written things down. My words will not be lost. I may not go back and reread things. Maybe it is just the confidence that it is out of my head, down on the page, and therefore not lost. Also, writing things down helps me to remember things. I've completed many goal lists over the years after having written them and then forgotten about them. Writing enables me to remember. Is that why I gain peace from doing it? It helps slow my thinking down so that I examine things; it gives me the "examined life."

I can heal myself through problem-solving, working through problems, or coming up with actions to provide better ways to handle things in the future.

I have come up with creative ideas for podcasting or blog articles.

I have worked through things that I needed to do and also goals lists.

I encourage you to journal as well and make your discoveries about yourself. Start today. Start small. Try answering one of the five questions of the mid-month review or write a list of some activities or projects you want to work on for the rest of the month or Summer. Are there any projects that you want to do with your children? Journaling is for everyone, whether you are a student, a teacher, or a parent. Everyone can benefit from the examined life and mental clarity that comes from writing a placeholder in our lives.

I would love to hear from you and share your journaling experience. Please email me at paula@teachsuzuki.com and let me know how the experience went for you. I would also enjoy hearing how everyone else's Summer has gone so far. We have a local institute and several teacher training workshops in the coming weeks. I would love to hear how Summer has been working for everyone else. If you would like to comment or review the podcast, I have posted directions on how to do that on the podcast website at teachsuzuki.com. Also, if you are interested in finding more information about Eva Belvelin's book, Little Things for Little Strings, which would be a terrific and fun way to romp through the rest of the Summer, I have included book information on the website.

Until next time, 

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2022 by Paula E. Bird

To listen to the Teach Suzuki Podcast episode 233, click here

The following advertisements contain affiliate links. If you use these links when purchasing, the Teach Suzuki Blog will receive a slight benefit at no additional cost to you.

Monday, July 11, 2022

What Did You Expect? (Teach Suzuki podcast episode 232)

The following is the transcript from podcast episode 232:

Episode 232 TSP What Did You Expect


Zombieland is real. We may all experience this strange land. Today I will talk about how I woke up to escape from the siren song of Zombieland. I’m Paula Bird, and this is episode 232 of the Teach Suzuki Podcast.




I have been away for a while from the podcast, but I have been here. There have been so many life changes for me in the past two years:


  • There was a global pandemic, and I opted to retire from the university that same year, as I was eligible.
  • I am still very active in the Symphony and my private studio, even more so since I now have more time for teaching since I retired from the university.
  • My husband was hospitalized about that same time as the global pandemic arrived and never did recover or return home, subsequently passing away in March 2021.
  • There have been many things to take care of since my husband is no longer here. Although I was ready for that, taking care of it took time and energy.


There is a dip in energy and motivation after the death of or separation from a loved one. It took about a year to feel as if I was awakening again. I think it is safe to announce that Zombieland is a thing of the past.


I have new chickens that I’ve raised this past semester, and one of them turned out to be another rooster. Apparently, predicting the sexes of baby chicks isn’t an exact science. The new chicks have a new, rather large coop all to themselves, and I’m starting to find my first eggs from this flock. It amuses me to hear the new rooster answer the old rooster in the other coop. If you listen closely, occasionally, you may hear the sounds of a real farm outside my house!


Lately, I’ve been working on a project near my heart for a very long time. I’ve shared pieces of this project with you over the podcast years, and I’ll likely share more with you in the coming months as I work to bring this project to a sense of completion.


For years, I have re-read Dr. Suzuki’s two main books: Ability Development From Age Zero and Nurtured by Love. As a teacher, I found that by re-reading and re-visiting the numerous philosophical points these books contained, I reminded myself of many important things:


(1) the big “why” of my work as a teacher and self-professed ambassador for the Suzuki Method of Talent Education,

(2) timeless philosophical gems about living the best life and raising children to be good citizens with noble hearts and strong character,

(3) how to be respectful to others and why this is important,

(4) the importance of music education in brain activity and ability development, and

(5) how to strengthen relationships between parents and children.


Let me present some additional ideas important to my reading and absorbing Dr. Suzuki’s work. The principles he states are timeless, and by that, I mean that these principles and Dr. Suzuki’s ideas do not belong to any particular generation. We all share beliefs about learning, respect, and behavior that always apply. What Dr. Suzuki wrote and taught in the mid-20th century still applies today and will apply in the hundred years after.


Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy and education principles apply mainly to young children, and although seemingly about education, they also apply very successfully to parenting and relationships in general. Dr. Suzuki prescribes a way of life that, if followed, will also result in strong communities that care about children, each other, and the world around us.


And finally, there is something extraordinary about Dr. Suzuki’s work and beliefs. Taken alone and out of context, Dr. Suzuki’s words stir an expectation in us of what our lives can and will be. What I am most excited about is that Dr. Suzuki does not leave us alone with this expectation, but he spurs us toward intention.


I say this because I have recognized and understood over the many years of my study about the Suzuki philosophy that “expectation” is grounding, and “intention” is motion. Expectation has us sit with excitement and wonder or some other anticipatory emotion, but that is not enough. We need to act to bring our expectations to fruition. We need to set our intentions to achieve what we expect will happen.


This combination of expectation and intention within Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy is the best part of studying and learning with Dr. Suzuki. It is essential to focus on both ideas equally.


My current project is to build on my previous podcast and written work and use Dr. Suzuki’s words as springboards for personal essays and journaling reflections. I am compiling this work into a book that parents and teachers can use as a daily reader and jumping-off point to build a practice of self-reflection, as Dr. Suzuki advised. I promise to inform you as I go along with the project, and I hope you will join me in building a journaling and reflection habit.


Let me encourage you to begin this habit by giving it a top priority. Put it at the top or near the top of your daily to-do lists. Start small in the beginning with perhaps a few sentences or a small paragraph. Allow your practice to grow over time as you build your ability to sit still and reflect, concentrate on developing or recording your thoughts in your writing, and learn how to examine your thoughts on a deep level. Take encouragement from Dr. Suzuki’s reminder, to begin with small steps.


How would we journal expectation and intention? Would we use affirmations? Lists? Perhaps. I am not sure that there is a definitive answer. I find that developing “magic questions” is an entertaining thought exercise. Here are some quick examples of making a list of magic questions about expectations:


·      What expectations do I hold now?

·      What do I expect will happen (or come to pass)?

·      What will I achieve?

·      How will this expectation look?

·      How will I achieve this expectation?

·      What steps will I take?

·      What assumptions and facts underlie my expectations?

·      What rationale or justification do I rely on when I make these expectations?

·      What are some keywords that reflect my expectations?

·      How can my expectations limit me or hold me back?


That exercise of creating magic questions around the topic of expectations was interesting, as it usually is. So many sub-thoughts we may uncover around our thinking, whether it is about assumptions, rationales, or explanations.


Dr. Suzuki frequently writes about the importance of self-reflection. In a time when we move through our busy lives as quickly as we can, Dr. Suzuki’s advice can be a tonic. We look for time-saving devices, apps, and routines. We flit from one activity to another and teach our children to follow this example as we drive them from school to sports practices, music lessons, or other events. Gone is the calm space of a few extra moments to sit and contemplate and process what we learned.


I am such a person. I had excellent role models as I grew up. My parents were industrious people who accomplished many professional goals and championed many overflowing to-do lists. Every moment seemed to have a purpose.


My parents did have downtime. They were big readers and had hobbies that they tended to regularly. The overall message I learned from my parents’ home environment is that we were to accomplish a lot in a day. And so my sister and I did just that.


Perhaps our downtime came from the space we created through reading. This activity allowed us to sit at rest, and our reading speeds could adjust to allow us to reflect. However, this reflection type is not what I think Dr. Suzuki referred to. Dr. Suzuki wanted us to reflect much deeper by opening the door into our minds and hearts and examining what we discovered there.


One of the best ways to accomplish this reflection is through Morning Pages. I read about this concept in Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” One of the creative tools in Ms. Cameron’s book is the use of Morning Pages. These are three pages of writing (one side of each page counts as one of the three pages), preferably written by hand and best done in the morning before we have put up our psychological defenses to protect us. I have engaged on and off in the Morning Pages process for decades (30 years now?). Since September 2021, I have engaged in this exercise daily without missing a day.


Some days I may find it difficult to hit upon a topic to reflect on. On other days I reach the end of my allotted three pages before I have finished naming my thoughts and feelings. I found simple solutions to all of these problems, as you will. When I cannot think of what to write, I start writing whatever sentence or thought comes to mind, stream of consciousness, and I write it down. Maybe I will write it a second time, or a third. But at that moment, I find I can continue because I discover what I want to think about on paper.


When my thoughts are too numerous or too big for one Morning Pages session, I make a small note about where I am or what I want to cover and leave the note in my Morning Pages journal -- like a breadcrumb or two to lead me along the path to my secret place in the garden forest.


I have derived enormous value from reading Dr. Suzuki’s two main books. I have spent time reflecting on the small philosophical nuggets he wrote, and the books remind me of how important it is that we take the time to reflect on our lives. I have used a journaling system, mainly the morning pages tool from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I rejoice in the valuable lessons I have discovered or taught myself from the simple act of self-reflection.


My current project is to pull out these philosophical nuggets and share my self-reflections as a springboard for parents and teachers to read and use as starting points for self-reflection and learning, like a daily reader. Every time I review one of my past reflections, I am amazed at how powerful Dr. Suzuki’s messages are and how much I learn about myself -- even changing what I know or assume about my life and choices.


I have gathered many helpful journaling techniques that I am excited to share with you. Currently, I am revising the many reflections I have already written. Then I will organize them into a format that a reader can use to either pick a particular theme for the day’s reflection or follow along in the order I present in the book. Along the way, I will share valuable techniques for journaling that I have found to be quite helpful in solving problems, discovering unproductive hidden thinking, or providing reassurance that we are on the right track. Whether you have only a few minutes to make a short list to respond to a prompt or a longer time to consider a puzzling thought on a deeper level, there will be a journaling technique or strategy for everyone to derive value from the self-reflection process.


Stay tuned over the next few months. I will share my progress as I continue this project. Let me tell you that the project is a long time in the making. I started with my self-reflection essays several years ago, and you have heard me podcast several of these reflections over the podcast’s first year. I kept transcripts of these recordings and have edited them to add journaling tips and suggestions.


Working on this project has reassured me that I have all the tools I need to evaluate my decisions, solve my problems, and uncover my limiting beliefs so that I can stop holding myself back with fear.


I want to ask you a question now. Do you have a mechanism for self-reflection, and if so, what tools do you use? What routine do you follow? Please send me an email and let me know. Or leave a comment on my Facebook Page (Teach Suzuki). I’m curious about what others are doing for this process.


Before I sign off on today’s episode, I want to remind you about two very helpful teaching resources. Eva Belvelin wrote a terrific book, Little Things for Little Strings, which is described on the podcast website teachsuzuki.com. I use Eva’s book frequently in my teaching and group class activities, and my students respond with great enthusiasm to the material. My own book, The Twinkle Project, is also described on the podcast website with two brief videos that describe the book’s contents and my reasons for putting the book together. If you haven’t heard about these two books, visit the books’ descriptions on the website. The books both contain many terrific resources for parents and teachers.


If you would like to contact me or comment about the episode, please email me at paula@teachsuzuki.com. You can find the show notes for this episode, including a link to the previous podcast episode about Magic Questions on the podcast website: Teachsuzuki.com. The transcript of this episode is available on my blog at teachsuzuki.blogspot.com.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2022 by Paula E. Bird

To listen to the Teach Suzuki Podcast episode 232, click here.

The following advertisements contain affiliate links. If you use these links when purchasing, the Teach Suzuki Blog will receive a slight benefit at no additional cost to you.




Friday, January 29, 2021

The Message is the Same

This past year (2020) has been unique. New situations confronted us. Scary and uncertain events unnerved us. If you are reading this, then you have survived.

We have learned new things — how to learn or teach on a computer, how to adapt our usual routines to accommodate new health restrictions or guidelines, and how to maintain close connections with our families and communities. We may have learned new things about ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, such as our preferences, prejudices, and perspectives. We may still have a long way to go to resume living our lives in any way that we can refer to as “normal.”

Despite all this upheaval, some things are so important that they never change. Dr. Suzuki devoted his life and work to articulate timeless principles related to learning and ability development and, most of all, to improve the parent-child relationship within this overall framework of good learning.

Children held a special place in Dr. Suzuki’s heart. When we read his words about how to teach and how to parent to respect and uplift the child, we remember how important our roles as teachers and parents are. Despite all the turmoil and upheaval that defined the year 2020, what did not change is how important it is to respect and uplift our children. When we feel overwhelmed by restrictions designed to keep us safe and healthy or frustrated by having to work harder to accomplish our work or teach our children electronically, we may find more comfort by reminding ourselves about this important message.

Children are the most important thing in our lives, whether we are parents or teachers. Each of us is a child in some way and deserves to receive respect and encouragement. 

The message is the same. 

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2021 by Paula E. Bird

To listen to the latest Teach Suzuki Podcast episode, click here.

The following advertisements contain affiliate links. If you use these links when purchasing, the Teach Suzuki Blog will receive a slight benefit at no additional cost to you.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Ten Questions (Best Year Yet!)

 Let me set out the ten questions from Jinny Ditzler's Best Year Yet! These questions guide you to look at your past year and then look forward to the coming year. I use this process at the end of the year; however, you may embark on this journey at any time. Never limit yourself to a particular time and rob yourself of the time of possibility.

1. What did I accomplish?

2. What were my biggest disappointments?

3. What did I learn?

4. How do I limit myself and how can I stop?

5. What are my personal values?

6. What roles do I play in my life?

7 . Which role is my major focus for the next year?

8. What are my goals for each role?

9. What are my top ten goals for the next year?

10. How can I make sure I achieve my top ten goals?

I have information to share about how we construct our goals once we have determined our answers to the ten questions. We must begin to think of these questions and the thoughts that these questions stir in us. Read these questions to note any thoughts and feelings that these questions dislodge from your mind and heart. I will visit these questions and the subject matter they represent over the next few weeks. Your answers will differ from those of others because of your unique nature, upbringing, and interests. During these next few weeks, we will spend time processing and reflecting and concluding, and from this mass of thought and ideas, we will extract a goal plan for the coming year that will satisfy you in a way that you have not experienced previously.

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Life Lesson Journal

 If you are interested in listening to a discussion of this post by the Teach Suzuki Podcast, episode 223, click here.

Note that this article may include affiliate links. If you purchase an item using an affiliate link, the blog and podcast may receive a small benefit (at no additional cost to you).

I previously discussed finding a journal to use as a regular course, and I suggested several possible formats. Now I wish to share my favorite and simplest journal of all — the Life Lesson Journal.

For the life lesson journal purpose, I use a simple Moleskine softcover journal. This journal is straightforward to use and maintain.

First, decide when you will use it. My initial life lesson journal began as a short evening ritual that mentally prepared me for bedtime. I kept the journal near my bedside and quickly recapped the life lessons from the day. Now I use the journal in the mornings before I even drink my first sips of morning refreshments (coffee and tea). Maintaining the journal takes about a minute or so.

Second, decide where you will use it. I leave my journal on my morning placemat, where I will see it immediately when I sit down to begin my morning reflection and study. Another idea is to store it in a familiar, accessible place and put up a reminder to write in it daily. Habits are more comfortable to start and maintain if I see them when I desire to execute them; hence, my kitchen table where I sit first thing in the morning.

Third, here are the four categories to include in your life lesson journal. Remember, this is a brief journal, like a stake that you put in the ground to mark a particular point and place in the time of your life. The journal does not need to be more than a quick summary of things within these four categories. If you wish to broaden and expand your entries, you can use another larger journal for that reflective purpose.

Day and Date: include the day of the week and its date. I draw a box around this information so that I can quickly see it. Sometimes I add splashes of color to the date box if something important occurred that I think I might wish to find quickly at a later time.

Accomplished: Here, I quickly summarize what I accomplished that day. I use abbreviations frequently. Over time I have developed my abbreviated system of noting what I accomplished in a day.

Learned: Here, I include something that I learned. It may be a new word or piece of information, or it could be a lesson that I learned from a particularly knotty problem or stumbling block that I encountered that day. Sometimes I even forget what I learned that day but might remember that I did indeed learn something. I ask myself these questions to prod my memory: Did I learn something new? Did I learn something surprising? Did I have a problem, and if so, what lesson could I learn from what happened?

Grateful: Here, I write a short statement about something that I am grateful for. This is one of my favorite parts of the journal. Sometimes I have to think about what I am grateful for, and thankfully there is always something to find. I also find that I need to go through the exercise of turning lemons into lemonade, but that exercise improves my mental attitude overall.

Committed: I used to label this category "100% committed," but with time, for the sake of brevity, I shortened the category label to "committed." Here I write what I intend to accomplish the next day. I am careful here. I focus on my intention. I find that what I write here will get done, so I am careful not to over schedule my ambition. Rarely do I not accomplish something on this list, and when that happens, I mark through those items when I visit my lessons journal the next day.

I use my goal cards as bookmarks in my life lessons journal to mark my current time period. I will discuss what my goal cards look like in a later discussion. For now, I include them to keep my place in my life lesson journal because I visit this journal daily and want to see my goal cards daily as well.

I highly recommend that you begin the life lesson journal practice. It takes moments, whether morning or evening, and it is a useful and simple daily tool to review my life and reveal the important lessons that my life will teach me.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2020 by Paula E. Bird

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Begin the Journey

 If you are interested in listening to a discussion of this post by the Teach Suzuki Podcast, episode 223, click here.

Note that this article may include affiliate links. If you purchase an item using an affiliate link, the blog and podcast may receive a small benefit (at no additional cost to you).

In my last post, I discussed taking a look at our past year and planning for the coming year with a "best year yet" attitude and process. Before I begin with the ten questions that set us on this fruitful path of promise, let me first state that goal-setting is not the only result here, although we will undoubtedly set goals. I have many different avenues that I follow to set my goals, and I promise that I will share all of these different ideas with you. My purpose in pursuing the best year yet program each year is due to the rich results I gather from running my thoughts and past year accomplishments through the BYY filter. I encourage you to join me in this process because of the rich trove of ideas and discoveries you will reveal.

My listeners and readers know already how important I think it is to be involved in activities that encourage us to reflect regularly on our attitudes, actions, and habits. I have several mechanisms to tether me to a state of mindfulness and awareness as I live out my daily life. I encourage you to explore the many possible options available to you for reflection and discover which of those options speaks to you powerfully. I like journals. I like the way they feel under my hands. I want to watch the blank pages fill up as time passes. I like structured reflections. I also like free-form writing. I like to scratch things out as an act of defiance against perfectionism, and even scratching out things can be a struggle to perform. I have more than one journal for more than one purpose. I have spent decades discovering the "perfect" setup, and I still stumble onto new possibilities.

I encourage you to explore this mysterious world of reflection and journaling because of what you will discover about yourself and because you will find a rich sense of peace within when you commit your thoughts to memory by writing them down.

In 1994, I lost my first beloved dog, Zubin, a black lab mix. Zubin was the most intelligent dog I have ever owned, and I loved him fiercely. We went everywhere together. When he passed, I was devastated (so much that I did not get another dog for 20 years). One night I sat down with a glass of wine and an empty journal. I began to write everything I could remember about that warm-hearted animal: all the many tricks he knew, all the silly habits he had, the comical moments from his silly antics, and the beautiful memories of companionship and shared experience. It took me a few hours, and when I finished exhausting my mind and heart of their memories and emotions, I gently smiled, closed the journal, and put it on one of my bookshelves. I felt better. I did not feel so sad anymore.

That little journal of memories stayed unopened on my shelf for some time. One day I looked for it and opened it up to read it. To my surprise, I had chosen to open it precisely one year after having written it. What are the odds of that? I spent some time reading what I had written and smiling again at the wonderful memories. When I finished reading, I closed the journal back up and put it back on the shelf. I visited that journal a few more times over the years, and surprisingly these visits occurred each year at the same time. I find it interesting that our brains can compartmentalize that information in such a way. My journaling revealed this phenomenon to me, as it has revealed similar episodes related to other tragic events.

For this reason, I urge you to join me in this process. Take a bit of time now and consider how you will want to play in this process. Any notebook or writing apparatus will do: spiral school subject notebook, composition book, notebook paper and 3-ring binder, pretty journal, fountain pen, ballpoint pen, pencil, bullet journal. Pick something and play with it for a time. Try something else. All you need to do is note where you came from and where you are going. If you start one notebook and move on to a different one, note in the new one where you came from and note in the old one where you wandered to next.

Find the tools you will bring with you on this first leg of the journey. They do not need to be perfect. We will learn and make adjustments as we go. For now, the beginning is what is essential. Stay focused on what is important.

Begin the journey.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2020 by Paula E. Bird


Monday, November 23, 2020

Coming to the End

 If you are interested in listening to a discussion of this post by the Teach Suzuki Podcast, episode 223, click here.

Note that this article may include affiliate links. If you purchase an item using an affiliate link, the blog and podcast may receive a small benefit (at no additional cost to you).

It is nearing the end of what was a very trying and surprising year for most of the world. We began 2020 with hints of difficulties ahead, and by the end of the first quarter, we were in full throes of strange, new situations and complicated solutions to the problems we now faced due to a pandemic known as Covid-19. Life as we once knew it had changed drastically. For many, we could no longer perform our jobs in the ways we were accustomed to. We could not teach our students in person. We could not enter to perform in concert halls. We could not even meet family members without taking special precautions designed to protect our health and the health of others with whom we came into contact. Some were unable to visit loved ones before they died or after being taken to the hospital.

And it is not yet over. 2020 was a challenging year, and the problems we faced are still with us in the remaining portion of the year. We have been resilient and orchestrated new solutions for many of our situations, such as learning how to teach online lessons or navigating situations in person with the utmost care given to personal health and safety. We have flirted with restrictions, putting and lifting them in place as part of our regular daily routine. We have also experienced the damage that can result from ignoring the possibility of the virus continuing despite our defiant hopes and desires.

And still, it is not over. Rather than rail against the inevitable, let us instead look to the future. Let us now follow a designed course rather than suffer a reactionary lifestyle, as we have experienced most of this year. Let us journey together with an exercise to celebrate our accomplishments, learn from our difficulties and friction points, reconsider our future roles, and design our best year yet.

Join me in the next few weeks as we work together to craft something even better than in 2020. Let us create our best year yet.
A few years ago, I spent some time cleaning out most of my bookshelves in my den music room. I had reached the point where I had triple-shelved my books, and I just had no place left to add anything new. Many people would suggest that perhaps I needed to stop adding to my collection, but book lovers everywhere would understand my horrible gasp at this suggestion.

Instead, I decided to clean up my shelves and purge. I no longer needed to keep everything. Many books had served a purpose and a season of my life but were now no longer crucial to retain. In many cases, the books had long outlived their usefulness.

Now when I visit my shelves, which have slowly and assuredly begun to fill up again, I am amused to discover anew which books "made the cut." As I do every year, I discuss a book that has graced my reading shelves for decades. My book copy's copyright is 1994, and I can only surmise that I have had the book in my possession since that time or at least near that time. And I have found comfort and structure and purpose from using this book every year. I probably will never purge this book from my life as it has indeed been invaluable to my thinking and planning at the end of each year.

"Your Best Year Yet!" by Jinny Ditzler is a method for goal setting that is unique than merely making New Year's resolutions or setting goals, although I do engage in both those processes. This book is one of my treasures, and I look forward to revisiting its pages and exercises and sharing my insights and discoveries with my readers and listeners. This year — 2020 — has been a year like no other I have lived through, and I eagerly anticipate the work I will do in the coming weeks.

As I write this, we have reached the last week of November 2020. Six weeks remain in this unprecedented year of disasters, upheaval, and strange newness. Six weeks or about 11.5% of the year is plenty of time to make some important discoveries and decisions about approaching the coming year. I invite you to join me in this journey as I revisit the ten questions from Jinny Ditzler's "Your Best Year Yet!" As we near the end of 2020, I will include several specific goal-setting exercises I enjoy having in my process. These exercises come from notable people like Mel Robbins, Brian Tracy, and Jack Canfield, plus my suggestions for helpful ideas I have developed and used over my life's decades.

I invite you to join me. Grab your copy of this fantastic book, and let us get started creating our best year yet!
Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2020 by Paula E. Bird

Monday, February 17, 2020

Free Book Giveaway Celebration!

Little Things for Little Strings
by Eva Belvelin
The Teach Suzuki Podcast has recently published its 200th episode. To celebrate this 4-year milestone, Teach Suzuki wants to hold a giveaway of a fantastic book for teaching young beginners – Little Things for Little Strings by Eva Belvelin. Eva published the Swedish version years ago, and the book was so popular that Eva republished and rerecorded an English version.

To enter the giveaway event, here is what to do:

·      Go to iTunes and give the Teach Suzuki podcast a rating and a review.

·      Take a screenshot of the review you submitted and email it to me along with your contact information (name, mailing address, and email address) to paula@teachsuzuki.com.

·      You will then be entered into the pool to be randomly chosen to receive the book.

·      This opportunity is open to listeners in the United States (sorry I have to limit it this way).

·      I ask that you follow up with me later and offer a review of the book.

If you need further instructions about how to leave a review, click here.

Monday, August 19, 2019

How to Start a New Student and Parent | Resources for New Parents or Teachers

Recently the Teach Suzuki Podcast broadcast an episode about how I start a new student and parent. In this episode, I explore the idea of parent education and how that might fit within the studio program. I also discussed my 5-point lesson plan for Pretwinkle students and some basic types of activities that I might teach and games that I might include.

Here is the link to listen to that episode: Episode 176: How to Start a New Student and Parent.

To celebrate the start of a new season of music studio teaching, I am a list of resources to guide parents and teachers on the Suzuki journey, which include episodes related to Suzuki parent education and two short films that describe my book, The Twinkle Project.

The following two short films thoughtfully describe my book The Twinkle Project and explain why I wrote the book and what the book is about. The films include delightful pictures of students and parents to illustrate the importance of the material contained within the book.

The book is being offered at a 20% discounted price through September 2 (Labor Day). To claim the 20% discount, enter the code fall2019 at the final checkout.

In addition to the book, here is a list of Suzuki parent education resources on the podcast:

Helping Parents

Teach Suzuki Podcast

The 6 Suzuki Philosophy Points

Listen to This! (importance of a daily listening program)

Top 10 Things a Suzuki Parent Should Know

How Parents Can Help at Lessons

How to Take Notes at Lessons

How to Help at Group Classes

If you would like to know more about the podcast, visit the podcast website.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2019 by Paula E. Bird

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How to Survive the Summer Months

Similar articles about the summer challenges have appeared in previous years. The following article accompanies the recent podcast episode about surviving the summer.

Summer has arrived. Our temperatures have reached the high nineties, and schools in the US have been on hiatus for over a month. The studio feels the summer heat as well. I have noticed a trend among my studio families: the Summer Daze. Even my most regular families have been hit with this affliction.
Sleeping Dog
Dog Days of Summer

There was a flurry of activity in the studio during May as my students and their families prepared for the studio recital that marked the end of the school year. Then students came to their lessons about two weeks later all fired up with new material learned. Now a few weeks later, my students are dragging themselves into their lessons looking listless and unengaged. Sometimes the parents even forget that they had scheduled a lesson. Practice routines have fallen by the wayside, and practice goals have evaporated.

The Summer Daze is a slow down in commitment, routine, and action. The schedule is lighter than the school year and there are fewer demands on everyone's time. Unfortunately, if families spend the entire summer in the Daze, then the entire summer will pass by very quickly with little to show for it.

I am all for enjoying the free time and loose schedule. However, let us be very honest. Free time and a loose schedule do not mean that we will benefit from sitting around on the couch and doing nothing. Nor does it mean we will improve our lives by mostly lolling around a swimming pool and soaking up the sunshine. All of these activities are wonderful but not all of the time and not if you want to have something to tell others about how you spent your summer vacation.

I have written previous articles about this subject with ideas about how to survive this time with a modicum of self-respect. I have also published a podcast episode about 100 Things to do in Summer (click here), to help families and teachers find ways to stave off the summer doldrums. Today I will focus on commitment, routine, and action.


The summer is an excellent time to refocus our efforts. There are fewer competing interests for our time and attention. Why not use this time to think about the direction your next goal path will take? Recommit to your purpose to take music lessons in order to rear children with fine abilities and noble hearts. Reread some blog articles in the archives. I have probably written about every subject involved in music lessons. Search for a subject in the search box above and read an article a day to renew your enthusiasm and commitment.


Although I stress that routine is important in the summer, we do not have to be rigid about this. A summer routine does not have to be as jam-packed as the schedule that families maintain during the school year. Rather than schedule every hour as parents and schools typically do during the school year, why not schedule chunks of time that are designated for certain activities? For example, schedule a two-hour period first thing in the morning for breakfast, practice, and general cleaning chores (making beds, dusting, wiping counters). Then designate another two-hour block for major chores or errands (one major chore, such as vacuuming or laundry, or going to the library, bank, grocery store, or music lesson). Then schedule a lunch period, and the afternoon could include longer periods devoted to sports activities or swimming at the local community pool. Evening time blocks could be devoted to family activities, visits with other families, making craft projects, or special events.

If families maintained a schedule of time period blocks, families might take advantage of the loose feel of summer scheduling and yet have some structure to feel a sense of purpose and routine. Children thrive on routine and with this type of schedule would have a better ability to predict what happens next. Lessons and practice would be more productive and more predictable. Practicing is so much easier in general if it is a daily habit. My studio families will assure you that any deviation from the daily practice schedule often leads to practice problems: behavior issues, reluctance, and arguments. My studio families will also agree that it is so much easier to maintain a regular and consistent practice schedule and routine.


When we take action, something wonderful occurs. We overcome static inertia (the body's state of being at rest) and begin to build a new momentum (body in motion). Sometimes a small action, a baby step, will be enough to urge us forward through the doldrums. Like magic, even the smallest of gestures or activities may be enough to wake up our motion sensors and generate energy for further activity and accomplishment. So here is a list of a few tiny activities that you might add to  your morning time blocks:
  • Clean out the music bag. You have probably accumulated a lot of things that no longer need to be kept. Throw away the trash and broken pencils and rosin pieces. If you have loose papers, visit the local office supply store in your errand time block and buy a notebook or two to store your loose papers. The process of cleaning out the music bag will energize your enthusiasm for making music again. Invite your child to assist you. Watch how distracted your child will be about each discovered treasure in the bag. As these items spark memories, your child will likely want to play the instrument shortly after your cleaning chore.
  • Clean out your child's instrument case. Vacuum out all the rosin dust and other debris inside the case. Repair latches. Replace rubber bands and other worn-out teaching aids. If your child plays the piano, have the child assist you in really cleaning the piano. Dust all the legs and the underside and back. Your child will not mind climbing underneath the piano, which will make the cleaning chore so much easier for the parent. You might consider polishing and cleaning the instrument too. Be sure to use the special polish that is made for this purpose; do not use regular furniture polish. This might also be a good time to change the strings on your child's instrument or to have the piano tuned. Enlist the help of your teacher in replacing the strings.
  • Schedule a lesson. Nothing helps momentum and activity grow as having a lesson deadline. Call your child's teacher and set up a lesson. Even if you do not feel that you are ready for a good lesson, your child's teacher will help you to get back in touch with your momentum and enthusiasm for practice.
  • Plan an event. Schedule a music sleepover, a special house concert, or a pool party. There are many music-related possibilities for summer events:
    sleeping dog
  • Ice Cream Sunday: combine a music performance with an ice cream party.
  • Practice Picnic: combine practice with a picnic party, even if it is in the backyard. Keep the instruments out of the sun though!
  • Summer Talent Show: invite your child's friends and their families to participate in a summer talent show.
  • Pool Party Play Down: schedule a pool party that includes a group activity of playing the music lesson and group class repertoire from the most advanced pieces to least advanced songs. The child's teacher may also enjoy being invited!
  • Fiddle Friday: invite your child's music friends to join together for a fiddling afternoon or evening. Parents or other friends who play guitar, mandolin, or banjo will enjoy making music together. Students could plan to learn a new fiddle song a week.
  • Backyard Bar-B-Q: tie in a special performance or friendly gathering along with a Bar-B-Q potluck event.
  • Summer Camp. enroll your child in a university string or orchestra camp or attend a Suzuki Institute in the summer. If you are unable to travel, consider hosting your own music camp and invite your child's teacher to provide music theory, music reading, or other music-related activities.
These are a few ideas to get you going. Please write and let me know your special ideas to help you through the Summer Daze.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2019 by Paula E. Bird