Being a Suzuki Parent and Suzuki Teacher, “The Ideal and The Real”
Hi, my name is Jeremy, and as of this writing, I’ve been a Suzuki teacher for about six years, a violin teacher off and on for another 3 or 4 years, and parent for the last three. I was drawn to teaching music not only because of my intense personal study, but because I have a clear vision for what is possible with children, a vision of immense possibility that includes but is certainly not limited to the study of music. Part of this vision called me to be a father. Professionally, even after getting a masters in Environmental Engineering, I am drawn to teach music. The special connection between me and my former teachers is one I will cherish for my lifetime, and one that I wanted to give to others. Perhaps if my graduate teacher had been remotely aware of Suzuki principles he would have been a better fit and kept me away from my current love!
Having kids has only further galvanized my belief of the wondrous intelligence that kids hold. They adapt completely to their environment. My oldest knows every quirk, verbal & emotional cue that I exhibit, intentionally or not, and she exerts her will to ensure I act to meet key needs. At points in the past, I tried to direct my partner and in-laws to act a certain way towards her. But I thankfully backed off quickly and now I get to see how she adapts to their quirks and cues. She fits into her environment, and draws out of it what she needs. She treats me like me, and my wife like her, and surely know that they can get more treats out of Grandma. And as a parent, probably like you if you’re reading this, you can relate to some part of this. We all love our children deeply and want them to succeed to the best of their abilities.
So, as a Suzuki teacher, you might think that I would know exactly what I’m going to do with my kids as it pertains to their musical study, right? Oi! I have applied all of my early childhood education experience to my daughters, and while I’m very proud about her development in general, questions remain. Sophie’s positive behaviors of paying attention, taking turns, respecting boundaries etc. are developing so well, but but ‘misbehaving’ remains sometimes (she is only just recently three). How do we choose an instrument? Does she even get a say in the matter? How do I judge if it’s the right time to start? What behaviors exactly does she need to do to ‘earn’ lessons? How do I know if what she is doing counts as checking off those boxes? Which teacher is right for her? How do I balance a teacher being a 15 minute longer drive, with feeling like they are a better fit? Am I ready to practice with her everyday? How am I going to make that work when it’s just me and my two kids? I always tell parents, ‘set up a routine’, but my 5 month old’s routine changes quickly, and I can’t expect her to compromise. :o) What exactly am I getting myself into!!
And then it dawned on me, as I am dealing with questions such as these, I am connected to a sea of questions that every parent of one of my students has at least dabbled in across the years. I have answered these questions in the past according to my training. This blog is born with the intent to share my journey with you, to help me distill and refine my thoughts on the matter for my teaching, and in that process, maybe some aspect of it will be of encouragement or helpful for you as a parent. I know from experience that the first year of being a practice partner is particularly difficult. Committing to stay through it for a whole year no matter what is important. But I have only known it from the teacher part of the Suzuki triangle. (And as an aside, I technically experienced it from the child side as well, although not for very long, and that story will have to be left for another day)
I want to cover many topics, including our experience with early music programs, my experience as a parent including my hopes, fears and joys, the aspects of growth that I have seen directly related to her musical study, and of course, the day to day challenges of practicing as they arise. Of course, every child, environment, and caregiver are unique, which means there is no one size fits all solution. I will try to bring my professional experience and training to bear on the issues, and highlight the spots of real vs ideal whenever possible. As a teacher, I essentially ask that parents step into a role of an ideal support person, and as a parent myself, I know that is a work in progress throughout. I hope to use this venue as a support system as well. I have a strong introverted side after all!
And I also would love to hear from anyone who reads this. Tell me about you. What would you like me to talk about? What questions do you grapple with as a parent?
Do you get 20-30 minutes of 1 on 1 time with each of your kids each day? Have you considered instrument lessons for your son or daughter? If so, what is a question you have had? How was the instrument chosen? Have you thought whether you might have to give something up to be able to ensure the success of your child?
Do you believe that the parent plays a vital role in the child’s intellectual and emotional development? Do you wonder about the actual benefits of playing an instrument? Do you agree with Shinichi Suzuki that ‘it is the duty of the parent to create the desire to learn in their children’?
Please feel free to post a comment (pending me figuring out a spam filter!), or send me a message with any comment or question. I would love to hear from you. Thank you.
I just happened upon a video of Kobe Bryant, world renowned basketball star, narrating a video of WNBA star, Diana Taurasi. Copyright to the Musecage basketball network. I decided to take a transcription of his words because I thought they were applicable across every field, particularly those of performance like sports, but more important to here, music. Kobe asks,
“One simple question: what is confidence?
Is it believing in yourself—obviously. But where does this belief come from?
Is it the simple idea of having positive thoughts over and over?
Or is it a constant negotiation with yourself? [One voice] I can do it…[another voice] you can’t…[etc] I can do it…you can’t, I can, you can’t. etc.
[NO], That’s exhausting.
Unfortunately, this is the battle that most players deal with from play to play.
So I’ll ask again…
What is confidence? Where does confidence come from? What is confidence made of?
To me, the answer is simple, it is simple, it takes hours and hours to build and its structure isn’t made of straw, sticks, or bricks,
it’s made of time, sweat and purpose.
Practice how you play, I repeat, practice how you play.
I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times. But I don’t care. I will repeat. Practice how you play.
Work on the same shots in a gym alone that you will shoot in the game,
same rhythm, same speed, same shots over and over, and over and over again thousands of times.
The foundation of confidence is habit. Build strong habits and your confidence will be as normal as breathing.”
I believe Kobe’s words here apply beyond basketball, to the development of any skill, in any child. Particularly, I focus on his line that “Confidence is made of time, sweat, and purpose” as it relates to violin lessons. Who provides the purpose? For young children it is the parents who facilitate this, and is a family purpose, sometimes weighted towards child, and sometimes towards the parent. A child is driven by a variety of factors, sounds/music in their environment, social needs, feelings, beliefs, parents, siblings and more. As such, the parents can reinforce the child’s purpose with some creative interaction. They can play the soundtrack influencing what they hear. They can demonstrate the value of music with their actions. They can talk about their feelings. They can prioritize music classes for their siblings. They can play a musical instrument themselves, no matter how well, and it will all greatly influence the purpose of that child.
With purpose comes the desire to put in the time and effort to get through the work of practice. With parents repeatedly reminding themselves of the benefits to the child for the rest of their life after studying lessons, they can have confidence that the work of driving to lessons, paying for lessons, of attending concerts, and of making practice happen are worthwhile.
I think Kobe describes one reason why music lessons also build confidence. Lessons build up over many days, weeks, months and years to establish habits. When those habits are built the right way, the confidence spills over in to performance, and with success there, the confidence in the child spills over into other areas of their life. They identify with successful. That is the gift we can give them by practicing with them. The child doesn’t have the ‘purpose’ part to start, usually. The parents have to provide that environment. And sure, us parents KNOW that the child can, or even will, be successful, but us knowing does not build their confidence. Only time, sweat, and purpose can do that.