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Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Suzuki Thoughts

When I thought about what to write about in today’s Morning Morning Check-In, I thought I would focus on the wonderful material found at the beginning of each Suzuki Violin Volume. Since each book offers different material, I will discuss each book separately over the next few weeks.

In volume I, the Introduction contains information for the student, the teacher, and the parent:

Student: The volume is part of the Suzuki Method of teaching and contains a companion recording and piano accompaniment book.

Teacher: To be an effective Suzuki teacher, the book suggests that the teacher be involved with continuing education via teacher training courses (long- or short-term), conferences, and institutes. In addition, the book encourages the teacher to become a member of the Suzuki associations, whether  local, regional, or international.

Parent: The book states that credentials are essential for Suzuki teachers and recommends that the parent ask the teacher about his or her credentials and teacher training courses taken.

Let me comment on the information related to the teacher and parent. In all the years I have been teaching, not a single parent has ever asked me what my teaching credentials are. Now that I am listed on the Suzuki Association of the Americas teacher referral list on the SAA website, my credentials are listed, as they are on the Internet as part of my university and Artisan Quartet bios. In my case, most of my families are aware that I am a member of the symphony and the Artisan Quartet and that I teach at Texas State University, so obviously I have some credibility as a teacher and performer.

As a Suzuki teacher though, I am very much aware of how much I learned from my Suzuki teacher training courses. Most everyone in the world now uses the Suzuki materials, because the materials are an excellent example of graded repertoire. The materials are available to everyone, however, whether they have taken training or not. I know there are teachers out there who believe that they have the expertise to teach using the Suzuki Method by virtue of the fact that they were "raised Suzuki," but please let me encourage you to take teacher training courses. Despite my vast teaching experience, I still learn something every time I take a training course or observe another teacher or master class. Please, please, continue your learning by involving yourself in continuing education.

In the Foreword to the violin volume 1, revised edition, there is a brief statement from Dr. Suzuki entitled, "The Destiny of a Child is in His Parents' Hands." This statement tells us that the child's education is important and begins from the date of birth. Dr. Suzuki stresses the point that ability is not inborn, and that "[h]eart and ability depend entirely on the manner of nurturing." Dr. Suzuki continues to urge parents to be active and attentive to their child's development and not just be satisfied with the thought that "My child was born this way."

Does it matter whether my student's parents believe this philosophy? I believe it is crucial, and that is why this discussion point is one of the first points that I raise in my parent education course. If a parent believes this point, then they will do whatever they need to do to ensure that they are developing their child's ability. If a parent does not believe this, then they will use the excuse that their child isn't talented to avoid the work necessary to build ability.

During my parent course, I discuss this Suzuki philosophy of ability development and talent not being inborn, and I make it very clear to my parents that I expect them to share this philosophy with me. I stress the importance of this belief so that parents understand that the responsibility for their child's ability development rests with us and is not dependent on some twist of fate or genetics. I hammer this point home in my parent course so that parents will not quit at the first sign of difficulty during lessons or practice. I encourage parents to think about this point so that the parents examine their motivations for picking an activity for their child to learn, such as music lessons, and the purpose for doing so. When a parent completes my parent course, we are all sharing the same belief system. If a parent later decides to quit lessons, that parent will never be able to claim the rationale that their child did not have talent.

This may sound harsh, but consider that making the opposite statement unfairly puts the blame on the child, and how can this be? What child has the experience and knowledge to make an informed choice about whether to continue with lessons or not? I am concerned when I hear of parents allowing their young child to make decisions about whether to continue music lessons or practice. I'm reminded of a story I read somewhere, and I apologize to the person who wrote it for not recalling who that was.

A young man took violin lessons but pestered his mother to quit when he was about 13. Later in college, this young man attended concerts in which his roommate played violin. The young man called his mother and asked her why he never continued his violin lessons so that he could continue to play as an adult. The mother replied, "Don't you remember how much you complained and argued with me about taking lessons and practice?" The young man answered, "But you're the parent! Why would you let a 13 year old child tell you what they should do?"

I remember one of my young elementary school students (7 or 8 year old) telling her mother," "You're the mother. Don't let your daughter take your choice away from you. She's the daughter." Ah, out of the mouths of babes come such words of wisdom!

When I address a roomful of parents, I like to ask for a show of hands of how many of the parents took music lessons as a child. Pretty much all the hands go up. Then I ask for a show of hands of those parents who continued to play as an adult. The majority of hands go down. Then I ask how many of those same parents wish that their own parents had insisted that they continue lessons. The hands go back up again.

Now, which one of these parents do you want to be? The one whose child continues lessons or the one whose child wishes they had continued lessons.

There is so much more material in the beginning of volume 1. I will save that for next time. If you are a teacher or parent, I have added some more material to the teacher and parent pages. Please check that out.

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