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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Written by Paula E. Bird, ©2014

Happy New Year! It is time to get back into shape, eat healthy, and set up routines and systems to accomplish all that we want to do this year. Today is the first day of a clean slate, and we can make this year be anything we want it to be. Today is a good day for reflecting on our values and our accomplishments as well as thinking about those things that did not work out as well as we had anticipated.

I remember when a teacher asked master Suzuki teacher Ronda Cole what she does when one of her students starts slacking in her practice routine. Ronda Cole's answer was that she turns on the heat. "They will either cook or flee." The student will either become more serious about practicing and learning or decide to give up.

Sometimes we drift. We start out on a good road that is filled with momentum, energy, enthusiasm, and promise. Then life gets a little cloudy and muddy. We become busy with other concerns. We stop pressing forward and instead sit down for a little rest. We lose sight of the direction we were headed in the first place and why we even wanted to go there. We stop thinking about what we want and start reacting instead to the things and people that push and pull at us. We lose our power to decide what we want and instead begin working for other people's goals.

I propose that we turn up the heat this year. I propose that we make some decisions about whether to cook or to flee. I propose that we spend today thinking about the things that we want to accomplish this year, and that we come up with a plan to follow.

Parents, have you lost sight of the reason why you decided to have your child take music lessons? Perhaps it might help if you scrolled through the archives and revisited some earlier posts about the importance of music lessons and spending time working with your child as he or she works to develop an ability and skill.

Parents, have you lost track of your commitment to practice with your child on a regular schedule? Perhaps it is time that you set up a new calendar system that will help you to keep a solid practice routine that occurs on a very regular basis. You will discover that practicing daily and allowing no more than 1 or 2 days of missed practice will actually help your practice with your child. Many of my studio parents tell me that the time they have problems working with their children is directly related to the number of missed practice days, and that when a daily practice habit is established, practice sessions go smoother.

Teachers, have you lost the will to teach? When we teachers allow ourselves to get too busy, we open ourselves up to burnout and stress. We must remember to allow ourselves some time off for reflection, meditation, and rest. The fact is that when others are enjoying a holiday break, we musicians are working. From the end of the Thanksgiving weekend until today, I have pretty much been working nonstop with performances and rehearsals. I need to remind myself about taking breaks too.

Teachers, have you allowed yourself to fall behind in paperwork or studio upkeep? How about scheduling a work day (or half a day) to deal with these issues? I have stacks of papers and music that I need to file. When the studio had a new carpet installed, I had to empty my music cabinet in order to lighten the cabinet enough for me to move it. When it came to putting my music stacks back in the cabinet, I quickly stuffed things in and did not take the time to reorganize the cabinet. I have paid for that ever since. Now might be a good time to take care of that, before I fire up the studio for the coming semester.

Teachers, have you allowed yourself to continue with some students who might do better elsewhere? I have difficulty letting go of students and will do as much as I can to help turn around an unpleasant teaching situation. I try to encourage parents to make a serious commitment to music lessons and to the value of practicing regularly with their children at home. I have many resources and ideas to help parents with this charge. Unfortunately, there are families who do not share the same value and commitment to learning an ability or skill to play a music instrument that I have. Although I try to turn this around, these families do not work alongside me and seem to want things to be easy, when in truth, things like this are never easy in any area of life. Perhaps it is time to let these families leave the studio or seek another teacher elsewhere. I do not enjoy these types of conversations with parents. I survive them mostly because I remind myself that there are other families out there who do share my values and commitment to music education and who want to become members of my studio. By allowing families to remain in the studio when they clearly do not wish to be committed members, I am in effect denying these other families the opportunity to learn in my studio.

Today is a good day to think about these sorts of things. While we think about these things, let us reflect with the perspective of turning up the heat and really doing something about what we think. Let us really cook this year.


  1. Great article, Paula! I like the idea of turning up the heat!

    1. Thanks, Erin! The trick of course is deciding which pot we are going to heat up.