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Interview with Chris Graber on Google Groups

Welcome to Rethinking Genius, Chris! Let's start out by having you introduce yourself. Tell us about your own musical background and why you ended up becoming a Suzuki parent.

My daughter and I have been learning Suzuki violin for about two years now. As a child I was always drawn to music, but never had any formal training. Throughout the years I've played all sorts of instruments in different settings, but in a very "self taught" way.

As a past kindergarten teacher, my wife has a strong background in early childhood development. We both thought it would be good to have our children start learning instruments very early on. She had heard of the Suzuki method through the grapevine, so when our daughter was turning 6 we did a little research and found a teacher in our area. We knew that learning violin required some structure and the Suzuki method seemed to provide just that. Our teacher was open to teaching adults as well, so I thought it'd be a great opportunity for my daughter and I to share a musical experience. From there we began surrounding ourselves with everything Suzuki and violin related, making it a regular part of our lives.

In your opinion, should there be a social element to music lessons? Why or why not?

Growing up, many of my friends had piano lessons involving a weekly meeting with a teacher. Except for a few really driven individuals, a lot of them disliked learning the instrument. It seemed so isolating and devoid of fun, practicing by themselves. With the Suzuki method, and especially with me learning at the same time, there is great interaction within the parent-student-teacher triangle. The parent is there to navigate daily practices and have that special time with the child.

The icing on the cake for the children is the weekly group lessons. All that hard work during the week pays off and the children's tiny violins sing in unison. The children feed off each other and learn a tremendous amount in group class, as each child has unique skills. The parents learn a lot by listening, watching other children, and seeing how the teacher interacts with them. It is a community where the children grow up together and many go to summer camps together and play in fair performances, etc. Their solo skills are showcased at recitals, but again, the community is there surrounding them, learning and listening.

We also make it a point to regularly attend concerts. It shows us where we can go musically if we stick with it.

Some of us adult students have group jams here and there as well, it is a lot of fun.

You run your Suzuki program's parent chatroom. Tell us about that.

Parents are busy! So are teachers. And children.

I started a "private" Google Group so that local parents under a few of our teachers could talk freely about anything on their minds. Teachers and children aren't a part of the group.

My brain was filling up with many questions when we started down the Suzuki path. Some of these questions were "What do other parents do to make daily practice fun?", "Did your child have difficulty learning XYZ technique?", "Are there any kid-friendly concerts coming up?", "Does anyone want to meet at park after group class?", "Can we swap lessons on Tuesday?".

I have a computer job and have been in many other useful Google groups so it just seemed like a natural thing to do. It isn't always easy to talk to other parents in person or remember what nagging question was on our mind, we have a lot going on. Most of us, do, however, have a few minutes to read some emails.

Why bother letting the parents have a place to chat? Isn't taking the kids to music class enough?

Parents want the best for their children. Being a Suzuki parent isn't always easy, the more support you have along the way, the better. It is great to learn from other's experiences and to not feel alone. Sure, you can ask your teacher many questions and they'll have great answers, but some things only a fellow parent truly understands!

The parent chatroom seems like it could be a good resource. Is it hard to set one up? How would one go about doing that?

Setting up a Google Group is very simple, and free. There is very little overhead involved with running one. You go and add a new group. You can add new members directly if you know their email addresses, or folks can request to join. There can be multiple "owners" and you choose whether to have the group public (accessible by everyone on the internet) or private. We used a private "email" type of group. Members can choose to receive individual emails, a daily digest, view on the web, etc.

Thanks, Chris!


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