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Showing posts from 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.

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.

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 har…

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 natu…

Watch a Suzuki Lesson

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The Physicality of Music Part 3

Yes.  Disc golf taught me how to practice.

And it looks like this:

I started playing ball golf casually while in college.  So when I heard about disc golf it was a very natural segue.  Honestly, when I first started playing disc golf, I enjoyed it enough to keep playing sporadically but little else.  Throwing the discs is challenging so I made an effort to try and improve mostly so I didn't lose them.

The thing is about disc golf is that it has a very grassroots feel to it.  Tons of people play it--it's the fastest growing sport in the USA--but it doesn't have the "snooty" factor of ball golf.  The general mechanics of throwing are simple and then after that it comes down to style.  There are tons of different throwing styles and they all work.

After sporadically playing disc golf for a year my musical training finally got the better of me and I decided I wanted a lesson on how to throw.  This was easier said than done because, as mentioned before, there's th…

The Physicality of Music Part 2

I was never a big organized sport person while growing up.  I did kung fu and I would shoot hoops outside but the coordination of a team effort somewhat eluded me.  I liked doing "my thing" rather than going to practice and doing drills for a "team thing."

I played in youth symphonies.  While you are playing as a group with the symphony it still felt like I was doing "my thing" rather than a "team thing."  If you don't know how to play a section of music, it's up to you to go home and figure it out.

The long story short is that I never placed myself in a position where I had to really examine my own mechanical proficiency.  Kung fu taught me endurance but I relied on a teacher to tell me if I was ready for the next belt or not.  Same for private music lessons and progressing through pieces.  Orchestra gave me that team experience but I only ever had to push myself hard enough at home so as to avoid messing up too much in rehearsal.  I ne…

The Physicality of Music Part 1

No one ever questions the physicality of a sport.  And it's really no wonder.  The results of a physical game are more black and white.  You either make the basket or you don't.  There's certainly an emotional element to sports but this is secondary to physical performance.  Baseball is a prime example of this.  Every professional sport has stats but baseball fans love statistics.  Every run, hit or strike is accounted for.  You could replay an entire game in your head by just looking at the numbers.

Music is a little different.  It's less black and white.  You don't win or lose at your performance, you feel like you sounded "good" or "bad."  Even worse is that this concept of sounding good or bad is even more vague because it boils down to personal taste.  What one person views as "good" music might be different from what someone else views.

Yes, there might be some general consensus on what is held up to be good music.  But this is …

A Sense of Quality

I've noticed another subtle change in my students after the introduction of the review chart.  I find this change the most interesting so far because it was something that bothered me as a teacher but I didn't know how to word exactly what it was that was bothering me.

The issue boiled down to having an internal sense of quality.  Before I go any further on this topic I'd like to clarify that I have completely realistic expectations when it comes to children and their artistic sensibilities.  In no way did I ever expect an 8-year-old boy to feel the romantic yearning undercurrent to Brahms' Waltz.  Girls are still totally gross... I get it.

But as I teacher I do feel that it's my duty to plant the seeds of quality in their brain.  In other words, it's important to establish a standard.  They need to know how far others have pushed the boundaries of an instrument in order to have something to strive for.  I don't feel like musicians should berate themselves …

From Japan With Love - Suzuki violin teacher Yasuki Nakamura

The Power of Review

I'm almost ashamed to admit this but it wasn't until recently that I really got the purpose of review pieces.  It only took me seven years to figure it out but I guess better late than never, right?

To clarify, I have always had all my students do review pieces.  I warm up with review pieces in every lesson.  I would use review for exercises and drills.  I would have my students do review pieces only (never current) when performing at our solo recitals.  So it wasn't as if I didn't understand the value of review.

What eluded me up until recently was why a student should really maintain all her review pieces.  When a book three student came into a lesson unable to remember book one's Happy Farmer, I didn't ever sweat it.  I would tell the student to clean it up at home and maybe the student did and maybe she didn't.  The end result of this was an entire studio full of students reviewing only the pieces they liked and remembered how to play.

I admit that I d…

9 MORE Tips for Observing Your Young Musician

There are two different teachers present in a young student’s private music lesson environment: the parent and the teacher. While the private studio teacher is there to offer expertise on the instrument, the parent will be the one that has the most lasting impact on the child’s musical career. Consider that the teacher usually only sees the child once a week while the parent will be there for the young student the other six days.

Learning a musical instrument is no easy task. Besides the obvious physical challenges there are a great many emotional hurdles to overcome. This means that the parent must play an active role in the child’s learning if he is to become successful.

The parent must learn how to observe the home environment objectively since this is where the child will be doing most of his playing. It is also the area where the teacher has no hand in anything that goes on. If issues crop up then it will be up to the parent to report back in order to figure out a solution.


I've reached an interesting point in my teaching career.  After nearly seven years of teaching I finally have a batch of book 4-becoming-semi-advanced level students.  From a teaching perspective it means that I am finally faced with the task of producing an artist rather than just someone who plays with a very basic level of control.

This is a daunting prospect.

It's one thing to start a beginner.  The worst I could do is render the student frustrated and unable to play.  It's quite another thing to try and explain to a twelve-year-old how this sonata she is playing needs more emotional depth.  Where does one even begin?

I ask these questions rhetorically, of course.  Like just about everything else in teaching there's never one clear solution to a problem.  But as I explore different ways to help a student learn musical depth I've noticed that it's actually starting to change my playing.

Like every other twelve-year-old on the planet, I never gave much thoug…

The Promise...The Challenge: A Suzuki Teacher's Pledge

Why Play a Smaller Size Instrument?

It is a cornerstone of Suzuki Method philosophy to teach a child with the "one point lesson" in mind.  In other words, information and technique adjustments should be given in small, able-to-master bits.  This is why sight reading is taught as a separate skill.  The task of understanding the value of a dot on a page is removed from the task of producing a sound.

It is with this idea in mind that Suzuki teachers tend to size a student down rather than up on instruments.  The teacher's goal is to give the student the tools to play fluently or, as Shinichi Suzuki used to always say, "with beautiful heart."  This does not happen if the student is struggling to support the instrument itself.
Fractional instrument size should imitate how the instrument is held by an adult with a full size instrument.  This means that wrists should not have to be hyperextended or torsos twisted into painful shapes in order to produce a sound. 

The Expanded Suzuki Triangle: Nurturing the Student within the Community


I studied Music Therapy in college.  Upon completing my classwork, I ended up choosing not to pursue the two year internship that would have eventually led to me becoming a board certified music therapist.  I picked the private teacher route instead.

Even though I never ended up practicing music therapy in an official capacity, I never regretted my choice of studies in college.  Had I known then that I wanted to be a private music teacher I might have decided to take more of a music education route instead of therapy.  In retrospect, however, I feel that the therapy aspect prepared me more for the challenges of private teaching then anything else ever could have.

I think the biggest difference between the therapy approach versus standard music education is that in therapy you are assuming that your client is not a normal functioning individual and then working from there.  Whether it's cerebral palsy or autism or anger problems, the issues are seen as the primary concern and you u…

Intricate Plots

Something that's really cool about being a private music teacher is that you get to watch your students grow up.  It's something I started appreciate a few years ago when the cute little four-year-old suddenly walks into my studio and issues a sarcastic retort to my sarcastic statement.

Umm, since when did you become twelve?  I thought you were still four!

It's not that bad, actually.  But it really makes you reexamine your teaching strategy.  And something that seems to come up a lot is a need to readdress listening.  To be clear, I never stop telling students to listen to their pieces.  But many of them reach a point where they think they've outgrown it.  Listening was all well and good when they were in book ONE.  But now they are in book TWO and listening to a piece once should totally be sufficient, right?


If anything, listening should become more important the more advanced a student becomes.  Longer pieces are like reading more complex books.  Consider a…

Why Start Children on Music at a Young Age?

The ideal age to start children on music is something hotly debated across several fields of study.  Neuroscientists research brain development before and after musical education...teachers study a student's attention span after music exposure...math experts wonder if music students are able to understand fractions more quickly... the list seems endless.

I'm going to take a slightly different approach to this topic.  I wanted to talk about longevity.

Honestly, I feel that that the best reason to start a child on music at a young age is so the child can start forming the habit of music.  Playing an instrument is complicated. Any number of hurdles will hold back a musician's progress.  And the sad fact is that even if a child starts young only a small percentage of children ever "make it" (I mean this in the loosest of terms: mastering the instrument enough to have a degree of fluency).

Music is a lifestyle.  In order to be truly successful at learning an instrumen…

Venturing into Viola

I am a violist at heart.  It's a sort of cruel irony that violinists usually switch to viola to avoid the higher sounds but then you have to primarily teach those higher sounds to students until some of them decide to join your viola ways.

Besides just being a less commonly heard of instrument, the reason why violists are fewer in number is a physics problem.  The C string (the lowest string on the viola) is much thicker than the G.  In order to vibrate and make a sound the string must be a certain length.

This posses no problem on tiny cellos because even the smallest cello is about the size of a full-size violin.  However, the fractional violins are much smaller than that.  The shortest viola strings manufactured fit on a 12 inch viola (or a 1/2 size violin).  So the student starting the viola needs to be physically big enough in order to make the attempt.

In a nutshell: it takes awhile before a teacher can start to acquire some viola students.  You either have to wait for stud…

When Seven Steps Become One

John Kendall was a cornerstone in the early days of the Suzuki Method. You can read more about him on Wikipedia but, in a nutshell, he is credited for helping bring the approach over to the U.S.A. In addition he was a violin teacher of more than fifty years.

Something that always stuck with me when hearing about stories of his teaching was his "seven steps" approach. The concept boils down to the idea that your short term memory is capable of retaining, on average, seven items.   The short term memory is fast but not powerful.  There is a limit to how many items each person can remember in his/her short term along with a limit to the duration the short term memory retains this information.
Obviously the goal is to make those short term memory items make the switch to long term memory. But in order for this to happen the items must be reinforced and repeated.  This means the exact action needs to reoccur multiple times.
This is extremely important to understand when working…

What is Intelligence?

A subtopic in the field of education I find especially interesting is the idea of "intelligence."  I love Howard Gardner's books on his theory of multiple intelligences.  Definitely worth a read if you have not already done so.

The word itself is commonly understood as being synonymous with "book smarts."  As in, someone who can regurgitate facts quickly and accurately must be deemed intelligent.  Furthermore, the intelligent children in the classroom are generally seen as those with the highest grades (read: test well).

This is not intelligence.

The literal definition for intelligence according to Merriam-Webster:

"The ability to learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations."
This means that intelligence has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with tests an an ability to accurately determine the correct multiple choice question.  Those skills are a part of intelligence but not intelligence itself.

Intelligence is determined b…

Principles of Sowing and Reaping for the Suzuki Parent: Working for the Future Harvest


A harvest always comes after a lot of work. It comes after seasons of sowing and tending. Sometimes these seasons are intensely long and tiring. Acquiring musical skill and ability has continued to defy our love for the fast, easy, and convenient.

One of the wonderful things about skill development is that it gets easier. I think the sowing and reaping process builds on itself. As Dr. Suzuki aptly stated, “Ability builds on ability.” As a student develops ability, it gets easier to develop more. The harvest compounds. And, if you have a vision of what the future could hold, it can give you motivation for the present.

Let’s examine some of the things that you and your child could harvest in the future.


Imagine your child as an adult and possessing a love of music and deep enjoyment in playing music. Think of them having a love of learning because they had a positive and engaging learning experience in Suzuki lessons.

Think of your child fondly treasuring the good and …

Principles of Sowing and Reaping for the Suzuki Parent: Tending Your Crops - Ideas for Continued Growth

Principles of Tending

As a Suzuki parent, maybe you can relate more with a time of tending. You are further along in the
Suzuki journey and you have seedlings or young plants that are growing. This may primarily be a season of watering, fertilizing, pruning, and nurturing your budding young musician.

Water Often

Facilitating and fueling your child’s continued growth and motivation is an important parental job at this stage. One way to encourage your child’s motivation is to attend concerts. As a child, I loved watching other children play and especially enjoyed going to concerts. I would always be inspired to practice after these events.

Sometimes recitals and concerts were a special date with my Mom or Dad. I will never forget the first time my Dad took me to see Yo-Yo Ma perform. The evening fueled my relationship with my cello, but also created a wonderful memory with my dad.

There is a payoff for the time and motivation instilled from an evening at the symphony or attending a reci…

Principles of Sowing and Reaping for the Suzuki Parent: Misguided Parental Approaches in Music Study

Are You Sowing the Wrong Seeds?

There are some seeds that you can unwittingly sow that will bear a poor harvest in the future. This post examines four misguided parental approaches that may produce unintended consequences in the future.

1. Cutting Corners

Let’s say the teacher gives a challenging but doable assignment. Sometimes, the student comes back the next week and the parent has decided that the assignment was not realistic. Maybe the parent thought, “Was it really necessary to do the exercise 10 times a day?"

I am not talking about the difficult practice weeks when you or your child gets sick. I am talking about something more subtle. It’s where the parent decides consciously or unconsciously that it’s just too much work. This can unintentionally undermine the teacher.

Your child will succeed the most when you and your teacher are allies with a unified front.
More importantly, if you cut corners on posture, review, or polishing a piece to get to the next one, it ultimate…

Principles of Sowing and Reaping for the Suzuki Parent: We Cannot Reap What We Do Not Sow

Perhaps no one told you how much work it is to be a Suzuki parent. Or, maybe you were informed, but only experience itself has clarified how long and arduous the journey is. It can feel like more than you bargained for, especially in the early stages of the Suzuki journey where so much time and energy is spent in the pre-twinkle process.

Maybe your child is past the early stages, but he is now experiencing a plateau. Your child was progressing well, and now it seems that he isn’t making progress.

How do we persevere through these challenges?

Seeds Won’t Sow Themselves

It seems archaic now, but imagine a farmer without fancy machinery, forced to sow the seeds in his
field by hand. It’s a lot of work. Maybe he has to sow the entire field on foot. Long days, exhausting, dirty work. He has to sow more seeds than you might imagine, because not all the seeds will take root. The farmer may even have a time crunch of getting seeds sown before it's too late in the season.

Much of what y…

Principles of Sowing and Reaping for the Suzuki Parent: 5 Steps to Beginning Suzuki Success by Preparing the Soil

Last school year, I started a group of 4-5 year old students in a pre-twinkle cello class. One mother actively ignited her daughter Ella’s interest in the cello before enrolling in the program. Over the course of a few months, she helped Ella prepare to engage in a new learning process. They observed lessons, listened to cello music, talked about the cello, and actively built Ella’s excitement - all before starting lessons.

This experience allowed me to see how much a parent can cultivate their child’s interest, motivation, and readiness. It gave me a new appreciation for the parents’ role in preparing young children for a positive Suzuki experience.

Here are five ways to prepare the soil to help your child succeed in a Suzuki experience.

1. Build Your Knowledge

Parents are integral to the success of the Suzuki process. If you start a young child in a Suzuki program, your role as a parent will be very active. Your knowledge and education about the Suzuki method and philosophy helps y…