Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Studio Focus: Physical Environment and Timing

In a previous article about physical environment, I discussed the location of your teaching, practicing, and learning space and explored such things as setup, physical location, mood, and energy of the space. In today's article I want to discuss an additional component of physical environment, and that is the concept of time.

Many of us do not think of a physical environment in terms of the impact that time has on us physically, but I think that this is very important. I have various periods each day when I have more or less energy. I feel stressed on occasion to finish a list of tasks, or I feel relaxed because my day has not quite begun. So timing may be of great importance. Here are some aspects and questions about time that may impact on our environment and therefore bear thinking about on a deeper level.

Teaching Time

Well do I know that the time available to us teachers may not be the optimum time for a student's lesson. Unfortunately, private studio teachers are unable to do much about the time available for lessons if a student attends public school. Our "daylight" teaching hours usually encompass the time of day when students may be tired from a long day at school, in need of a snack or other pick-me-up before beginning the next segment of their after-school day, and generally needing a little downtime to unwind and get those wiggles out. For the very little ones, lessons may occur after nap times or perhaps during the optimum times for naps, and this situation brings out other problems of scheduling.

I have also been increasingly aware that some day's teaching schedules demand more of my energy than I might actually have. Sometimes during a season, I notice that particular teaching days demand more concentration, creativity, or physical exertion than other days. I try to be mindful of these different needs and schedule accordingly.

Practicing Time

These same time considerations impact on a parent and child's practice time together. I think the guiding principle should be to schedule practice times in a way that works for the child. Unfortunately, all too often we schedule activities based on the parent's convenience. We all wish that it were different, but in reality sometimes schedules need to reflect the parent's priorities rather than the child's, but wherever possible, I think it best for optimum learning if we were to put the child's needs before the adult's needs.

Sometimes it helps us to think "outside the box" and find creative solutions. Traditionally we think of practices occurring after school before dinner. What about practicing before leaving for school? Some families find that there is a good 10-minute window of practicing opportunity that occurs before everyone leaves for school. One family discovered that there was actually a time period during school that worked. In this case, the school was amenable to the parent coming and practicing with the child. Actually, in this particular case, more than one family was involved, and the parents shared the practicing responsibility. Even if this solution worked on 1 or 2 days, it would be 1 or 2 days closer to meeting a daily practice goal rather than no practices.

Another family divided its practice routine into different parts for different parts of the day. The morning might be for working on new material and the afternoon might be for review work. This practice schedule division worked well for the child because the practice agenda matched the child's energy levels and focus abilities.


This is an important issue and one that I wish more parents would spend time contemplating. I have noticed in the past decade that parents have been scheduling their children into so many activities, that the children have become more stressed (as well as the parents). They have also become less able to master any skill or ability development, because they have less time in which to do so. I understand that the current fashion in parenting is to expose children to as many activities as possible, but as a teacher I note that I have observed more tension in the way that children approach their physical relationship to the instrument. I have also observed more tension in the behavior of the family and parents in general, as everyone needs to be on an accelerated movement path. Families rush into the studio for lessons, having raced through school traffic to be on time for lessons, and then having to dash off to be on time for the next activity. I have heard stories of late nights spent doing homework assignments because there was little time left in the regular day due to extracurricular activities.

I remember myself wanting to add a sport to my high school activities. At that point I was already taking piano and violin lessons, participating in school orchestra activities, and rehearsing with the local youth orchestra. Do not forget to add driving time to all of those activities. I wanted to add the intramural sport of field hockey to the mix. After trying it for one week, my mother wisely pointed out how everything else in my life had begun to tilt as a result of carving out time for this new activity. I dropped the sport. Instead we found other ways to participate in sports as a family, and I look back with fond feelings on these family memories of tennis, biking, hiking, and swimming. I appreciate much more the family relationship bonds we forged than I ever would have appreciated the team sports bonds of an intramural sport activity.

When considering adding a sport or other activity to your child's day, consider the following things:
  • the time available for the new activity
  • the time that will be taken away from other important activities
  • the quality of time that will be available for the new activity
  • what the trade-offs will be (e.g., family time sacrificed for the new activity)
Please consider this issue carefully. There are many wonderful activities out there to spark a child's educational growth, but research has continued to show us that one activity does the most for using and developing all the brain's ability, and that is music education. Other activities have their benefits, but music learning is the one activity that does it all at once. There is also the added benefit of the gift of ability and skill development. Your child's self esteem will grow as your child learns and is able to show more and more skills.

How does time affect your environment in your studio or home practices? Do you have similar problems or different ones? How do you handle these issues?

If you like the clock timer shown in the photo at the beginning of this article, which shows the time period shrinking, you can find it here.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2016 by Paula E. Bird


  1. Wonderful article, thank you Paula! The "(Over)scheduling" portion is so relevant nowadays. I agree with you that children are feeling tense and exhausted and so do the adults who go crazy figuring out a real puzzle that may work most days but if anything goes wrong (a bit more traffic, your sport practice finished a bit later, you forgot your music and have to drive back home to get it, child falls on the way to the car and hurts a leg or something but there is no time to calm him/her down since we are on a tight schedule, etc)it all falls apart!
    Anyway, thanks again for always writing for the Suzuki community, it is very cool!
    Cecilia Calvelo

    1. Thank you, Cecilia! I think this is a difficult subject for many teachers and families. I would love to know what experiences other teachers have and what solutions they have discovered. I would also like to hear from parents and find out what they think. There are so many good reasons to do things. I am just writing to represent one side of a difficult subject. This subject area is probably difficult for many parents as well. I hope we can get a good conversation going about it. Maybe I should post it as a question on my Facebook page?

  2. Not possible before school where we are. Wake at 6.15am, leave for school at 6.45 am. :D

    1. We have that problem in our rural area as well. Fortunately, an earlier start to the school day also means an earlier end for us, so I am able to begin teaching at the studio a little earlier than other big cities.