Thursday, January 28, 2016

Working with the Suzuki Parent

Shinichi Suzuki is famous for his "Every Child Can" saying.  I remember, though, during a teacher training I attended the instructor said the lesser known second half to that phrase was, "...but not every parent."  The gist of the discussion was not meant to be a discouraging one.  It was merely meant to underscore the importance of parental involvement.

The Suzuki triangle is a common image shown at training courses:




If you flip the image upside down, the teacher and parent sides are the ones supporting the student.  Every part needs to be functioning or the triangle is broken.  The parent and teacher are at an equal level in the Suzuki triangle.

While the child is there to learn a musical instrument, the success of that early musical career is entirely based on the motivation and persistence of the parent.  Therefore, praise the parent at every lesson. Affirm them.  Be open to comments from the parents. Be willing to listen and change.  Ask the parent "how are things going at home."

Most importantly, develop the parent's musicality from listening.  Give the parent the tools to appreciate the larger musical world outside of the immediate private lesson.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Defining a Student’s Repertoire

The Suzuki Method gets a lot of bad rap at times.  One issue that I've seen come up is the method's emphasis on the same core material.  If the Suzuki Method is separate from the books then why this devotion to those pieces?  Why not branch out?

Well the simple answer is that a Suzuki teacher could branch out.  A big reason why most of us adhere to the core repertoire is that the Suzuki Method is a worldwide entity.  It allows our students to be unified with others around the globe by giving them that same common ground.  But this doesn't mean that additional pieces cannot be added.

According to the dictionary, repertoire is: a stock of plays, dances, or pieces that a company or a performer knows or is prepared to perform.  This is exactly why reviewing old pieces is a cornerstone for Suzuki philosophy.  A piece cannot be mastered after just having learned the notes.  Just as a stage play is not ready for an audience after only one run-through.  The core pieces teach a student how to develop their repertoire.  The Suzuki books are merely a way of defining this.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Brian Lewis talks about his mother …



During the 7th European Suzuki Teachers Exchange Convention in Germany, October, 30 - November, 2 2015, teachers from 21 countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, USA and Canada participated at the conference, organized by the German Suzuki Association.

One of the conference highlights was the world-renowned American violinist and pedagogue Brian Lewis. As a child, he studied with and performed for Dr. Suzuki on many occasions.  As a dynamic and engaging teacher, Brian Lewis is committed to growing the legacies of the great pedagogues Dorothy DeLay and Shinichi Suzuki.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Brian Lewis Teaches Tonalization



During the 7th European Suzuki Teachers Exchange Convention in Germany, October, 30 - November, 2 2015 teachers from 21 countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, USA and Canada participated at the conference, organized by the German Suzuki Association.

One of the conference highlights was the world-renowned American violinist and pedagogue Brian Lewis. As a child, he studied with and performed for Dr. Suzuki on many occasions. As a dynamic and engaging teacher, Brian Lewis is committed to growing the legacies of the great pedagogues Dorothy DeLay and Shinichi Suzuki.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Why does learning music develop intelligence?

I'd like to continue the idea of exploring "intelligence."  As discussed in an earlier post, intelligence is the ability to perceive information, retain it and then later apply that information to a different situation.  There are lots of reasons why music benefits children and I am not going to pretend that I am a cognitive development expert.  I am going to explore the question posed in the title of this post from the point of view of a music teacher and nothing else.

Given the fact that intelligence centers on the application of knowledge, I think the best lesson taught by music is intense problem solving from an early age.  Consider all of the trials and errors a young student must process just to play a Twinkle.  If an odd sound happens during the piece, there are a dozen reasons why it could have occurred that the student must narrow down with lightning speed.  Was the wrong string hit?  Was the wrong finger placed?  Where was the bow?  Was the bow pressing too hard?  Too soft?  Is the wrong part of the piece being played?

And that's just to play a Twinkle!  Once the student graduates to more complex pieces, the problem solving increases exponentially.  To play a piece well with musical expression demands an awareness of self that is beyond the student's years.  Very few other areas of study place this kind of demand on a young person.

While the demands of learning a musical instrument are extremely challenging, the rewards are huge.  Consider again how much knowledge and problem solving goes into playing a Twinkle.  Now consider how simple figuring out a math problem would be by comparison.  Yes, the math is still tricky because it's new.  But the process, the intelligence, is already there.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Environment Develops Intelligence

It's kind of tragic that, in American culture at least, "book smarts" has fused together with the term "intelligence."  I feel that public awareness of the differences between terms has slowly been increasing these past few years.  But old habits die hard.

"Book smarts" implies an ability to memorize information and regurgitate facts.  It is unfortunate that our public school system relies so heavily on this term since it usually has very little to do with the challenges of post-school life.

Intelligence, on the other hand, has to do with one's ability to apply learned information to different situations.  An intelligent person is one who is able to perceive information, retain it as knowledge and then later apply that information to an environment.

I think that the most interesting thing about intelligence is that good genes alone will not determine the resulting human.  From what most studies have shown, environment must be there to develop natural intelligence.  Culture has the biggest impact on cognitive development, though research has shown that no one culture produces more intelligent individuals than another.

If you think about what this means from a learning perspective, the implications are huge.  It means that contrary to the popular notion that there are "smart kids" and "dumb kids," a child's lot in life is not set in stone.  Intelligence levels can change, even through adulthood.

Shinichi Suzuki was lightyears ahead of his time by introducing this concept that "every child can learn."  He turned out to be exactly right.  He didn't care about producing conservatory bound musicians, he just wanted to use music to help shape a child's life.  Even if a child chooses to eventually discontinue lessons, the shaping has still taken place.