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Deliberate Participation

Over my years of Suzuki Method teaching, parent participation is a subject that comes up quite a bit.  The teacher, parent and student are the three parts of the triangle.  Each must work with each other in order to achieve the greater goal and each part is equally important.

Ideally, both parents should be at every lesson.  The teacher only gets to see the student once a week so the parents must become the at-home teachers for the other six days.  Unfortunately, it is not always possible to have both parents at every lesson.  Work or the other siblings create time constraints.  So it is suggested that one parent, preferably the same parent, attends every lesson.

Having one parent attend every lesson and then work with the child at home usually works out well.  But, inevitably, the other parent begins to feel left out which leads to what I call "random participation."  Random participation can easily become a bone of contention if left unchecked.

Before I go on, I feel it's necessary to explain that I don't view the non-participating parent in a bad light (quite the opposite, since usually it's supporting their family at work that makes them unable to participate).  The feeling of exclusion is also a completely natural emotion.  It stems from the frustration of wanting to be there for the child as they reach various musical milestones.

"Random" participation means that the non-participating parent suddenly decides to take the child to a lesson or to work with the student at home for a few practice sessions.  Sometimes this is not a problem.  The parent attends the lesson, enjoys watching, takes a few notes and then leaves.

But random participation can cause problems, especially for younger students.  To start, the parent has not been "trained" (as in they don't know what to look for when watching the lesson).  The bigger problem, however, is that issues will be taken out of context.  The parent may ask the student, "Why was that note out of tune?"  The note may have been out of tune but the teacher may have been spending several months working on intonation with the student.  So, yes, the note was incorrect but the student was playing on the whole better than they were months ago.  Progress has been made but impossible to recognize if only watching one lesson.

It is discouraging for the student to hear that type of critique after months of hard work.  It can also create unnecessary upheaval at home.  The non-participating parent reports back to the regularly attending parent that the student was playing wrong notes, failing to realize if it was poor intonation or if it was really just a difficult passage of music.  In a nutshell: things get lost in translation.

Therefore, it is crucial to discuss with the student's teacher how to be more involved in a child's musical education.  Be deliberate, not random.  Is there a teaching book both parents could read and discuss together?  What are some fun practicing games the non-participating parent could do with the student at home?  That way the time spent with the student is both positive and productive.

Raising a young music student is no easy task.  There will always be ups and downs in the learning process but what's important is that everyone is on the same page.  That way no one is excluded and current progress can continue as usual.

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