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Impressions of the International Teacher Trainer Conference in Matsumoto

Matsumoto, October 2023

Playing my recorder

at the feet of Suzuki sensei,

outside the Talent Education

Research Institute building

in Matsumoto.

See this article as printed in the January 2024 International Suzuki Association Journal here: https://internationalsuzuki.org/journal/ISA-Journal-20-2.pdf

Ever since I started Suzuki Teacher training (over 20 years ago!), I kept hearing about the Talent Education Research Institute in Matsumoto, the school founded by Shinichi Suzuki. Everyone who had been there said it was a wonderful experience it was to go there and study with Suzuki sensei and the other Japanese master teachers, at a school that was completely immersed in the implementation of his philosophy. So I was very excited when the the opportunity came to attend the International Suzuki Teacher Trainers Conference in Matsumoto!

The first thing I did after arriving in Matsumoto, was to make a pilgrimage to the Shinichi Suzuki Memorial Hall, his former house which is now a museum. I sat in the room where he taught his students, and in his office where he listened to all of the graduation recordings, and thought about the origins of the Suzuki movement. Suzuki’s goal was not to train professional musicians, but to develop character through the study of music. Developing the skill of self-expression by playing a musical instrument developed other other fine personal qualities that Suzuki termed a “noble spirit”. The approach that he developed to foster this goal also enables students to develop very high level of ability at a young age. Sometimes, the striving for this high level of playing becomes the primary focus, and overshadows the original goal of character development. 

So now I was ready to attend the conference. The main topics of discussion were:

  • International equivalency of training credentials
  • The importance of the beginning stages for a young student
  • Graduation protocols

The graduation discussions were the most inspiring. We had the opportunity to hear Suzuki’s own recorded comments from former students’s graduation recordings, which are archived at the Talent Education Research Institute. All his comments to the students were about the nobility of character, kindness, respect, and love that he could perceive through their playing. Any technical issues about any student’s playing were addressed to their teacher, not to the student. There was also discussion about how graduation recordings and events were handled by different Suzuki organizations around the world. So many different ways to inspire and encourage students to set goals and celebrate success! I came home inspired to revise my own studio and program graduation to meet the needs of the students in my community in a more flexible manner.

The discussions about the foundations of the Suzuki philosophy, especially in starting students at the youngest possible age, were not as clearly focussed as the graduation discussion. I learned that the implementation of the Suzuki Early Childhood  Education program was not as uniform between countries as the approach to instrumental instruction. Interesting questions came up regarding the cultural relevance of the curriculum, and age-appropriate activities for both early childhood and early instrument instruction. What impressed me about these discussions was how everyone wanted to know more about what everyone else was doing, so they could have more resources to do what is best for the children. I returned home with a sheaf of new resource material and many creative ideas for implementation. I think that as long as the teachers keep the needs of the children first, and keep the foundational tenets of the Suzuki philosophy in their work, variations in approach can only enrich our global community. 

When it came to discussing the potential creation of an internationally accepted standard of teacher training, that is when I learned the importance of good communication. There were lots of good intentions, but not everyone had the same experience or information. Presentations were made about the training programs in different regions before the discussions began, but each region presented slightly different information, so the people who did not have direct experience with working in different regions (European Suzuki Association (ESA), Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA), Pan Pacific Suzuki Association (PPSA), etc …) were still unclear on the differences in training programs between regions. So most of the discussions I participated in were filling in gaps in knowledge, rather than actually comparing systems and looking for differences and commonalities. There was a resolution passed at the conference to make sure that the lines of communication would be more open on this issue, especially for teachers who move between regions, so everyone knows what training will be accepted and what training will have to be added in the system that they are moving into. 

I realized, as people were exchanging information and filling in the blanks for each other, that most of the training systems cover the same material, just packaged into different course formats. The big difference is in the entry requirements for the teachers. It ranged from needing a music degree and an audition of upper level material to begin (ESA) to taking the course with no prerequisite, but playing an exit exam to show understanding of the material (SAA – Latin America). So I wonder to myself, what is the best way of helping teachers realize the benefits of implementing the Suzuki philosophy in their teaching, so that the maximum number of students can have the opportunity to develop their character and their musical ability? This is the question I took back to my fellow Suzuki Recorder teacher trainers. Our group of ESA and SAA registered teacher trainers are looking at ways we could potentially use the flexibility of our smaller community to merge training systems. 

As a flute, recorder, and Suzuki Early Childhood teacher, I appreciate being part of a smaller community. Most of the teachers and trainers know each other, and I have witnessed many innovative and flexible collaborations and solutions in small classes at Institutes and Conferences. But at the end of the conference, when you find yourself in a small room in the basement with the guitar, double bass, harp, and trumpet people, you wonder if there is a way to make the instruments with smaller student and teacher populations feel that their ideas are valued as much as the violins, cellos, and pianos.

The recorder teachers performed for the Talent Education Research Institute event that followed the conference, to demonstrate an instrument that was not part of the TERI offerings. Some of the European teachers who were there asked why there were not more recorder teachers and students? But the ESA presentation during the teacher trainer discussions stated that they were aiming for quality over quantity. So this took me back to my thoughts when I was sitting in Suzuki sensei’s living room, now a museum honouring his humanitarian goal of developing noble hearts through music. If all of us in the Suzuki community are all striving to develop noble hearts, do we need to segregate ourselves into geographic or instrument specific groups? Is there a way that we can promote and strengthen our mutual commitment to the Suzuki philosophy, and still be flexible to accommodate the variety of needs that are unique to the instruments we play and the countries where we work? I do not have an answer to this question, but I do know that continuing the conversation, both on-line and in person  at more international conferences will lead to more collaboration. I am hoping to be at the next one and  be part of this work. 

On Being an Adult Suzuki Student

On Being an Adult Suzuki Student

guest post from my student Andrea MacDonald

True musical joy could never have been possible for me without the Suzuki method. After over 15 years of playing recorder in duets and large and small ensembles, I started over agin at the beginning. But maybe I should back up a bit.

I have always been musical. Growing up I sang in choirs, in musical theatre, and in pop bands. I joined a Balinese gamelan where we learned entire concerts by heart. I memorized very quickly and retained very well. My ear was my superpower. I was the first person “off book” in choir and my friends delighted in my ability to name any popular song in the first note or two. But I could not read music.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried. I’d taken piano and sight-singing lessons but these ended in frustration. When my husband, a professional musician, suggested I try a “one line” instrument I took up the recorder and fell in love with it. I was already a huge fan of Baroque music and it seemed like a natural fit.

With only one stave to deal with, things improved somewhat. I joined a quartet and a large ensemble. My good ear served me well but I quickly hit a sight-reading wall. Despite having help “on tap” with my husband and years of faithful practice, things never got easier. I was frustrated and ashamed. It was emotionally difficult to practice and I felt stuck, always learning the notes and never getting a chance to work on the actual music.

Finally, at 52, I got some psycho-educational testing done and was diagnosed with ADHD and something called a “severe visual processing disorder”. My fears were confirmed; sight reading would never get easier for me. I needed a different approach. 

I didn’t think anyone would be willing to teach the Suzuki method to an adult but I found a wonderful teacher, Kathleen Schoen, in Alberta. We started lessons at the beginning of June and I burned through Level One on alto in about two weeks, easily learning two to three songs per day. We added the soprano book to my to-do list and I began working in both voices on Level Two. 

Here I received my first shock:  one of the pieces (Handel Water Music Bourée) was something I had just played with my large consort. How on earth could this be only Level Two? Of course the music got harder in Level Two but unlike before, I was not frustrated. I did not feel defeated.

I’m a teacher myself. I teach seniors how to use technology like iPads and iPhones and I spend quite a bit of time building good foundations before moving on to higher concepts. I was extremely impressed with the layout and progression of the Suzuki method, which had clearly been very carefully designed for a logical and gentle progression through the music. 

Kathleen then suggested I purchase the music for the remaining levels as inspiration and in Level Six I found a movement of Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto, a particular favourite, that I had long dreamed of playing (in fact I had memorized the entire thing) but never imagined I would ever be able to play. Now it’s on my long-term to-do list!

The Suzuki method changed everything for me. I no longer had to drag myself to the practice room and endure frustration and tears while trying to stay focussed for a scant 30 minutes. I was now forcing myself to stop after an hour to save my hands and arms from strain. My self-esteem soared! I was no longer dreaming of a future where I might one day be able to work on  music that I loved. I was already doing it! As I no longer had to work at interpreting musical text, I had the brain-space left to instead focus on interpreting the music. 

It’s fall now and I have about four songs to go in each of the soprano and alto books. Music is no longer an impenetrable wall but rather a puzzle to be solved and I know that with time and attention I will “solve” it. I would highly recommend the Suzuki method to any adult interesting in learning music. If I had one wish it would be for a place for adult Suzuki students to chat. Just like the kids, we need peers to accompany us on the journey.

Why I believe the Suzuki method is excellent for adults:

  • Very little time spent working on “kids’ songs” before moving to more engaging music
  • Much faster progression to more advanced pieces than traditional method
  • No written music to “scare” the student who may jump to conclusions with fears like:  it’s too low/high, I don’t know that time/key signature, I can’t do trills, etc.
  • No music books to “forget” so as long as you have your instrument with you, you can practice
  • The ability to practice without your instrument by listening, meaning you can be practicing almost always
  • Without needing to read/interpret musical text, the student can focus on the physicality of playing and the sounds they produce

Music is a Language – Listening is Important

If I was talking to you, and I suddenly paused in mid sentence, you would probably be able to anticipate the next ________ I was going to say.

This is because you know the language well, and you recognize common phrases and patterns instantly.

If I sang, “Happy birthday, to you, Happy birthday to you …..” you would probably be able to finish the song for me.

You learned this song the same way you learned your language. By hearing it often in the same context, you began to expect to hear it again in similar situations, and could predict when people would probably sing it. When it was sung, you always heard the entire melody, so you knew when it would begin, when it would end, and the special place in the middle that was always different depending on whose birthday it was. And it felt good to sing it, because it was in an environment of happy celebration (which often included cake!)

But why stop with just “Happy Birthday to You”?

You can learn any music the same way that you learned “Happy Birthday.”

You can understand where it begins, where it ends, and the special places in the middle where something different happens. You can start without being prompted, and pick it up at any point to finish it. You can do this with a simple folk song or with a piece of complex classical music.

All you need to do is listen to it.

In the same way that as a baby you listened to your parents talking and absorbed your native language easily and accurately, you can listen to music and absorb the vocabulary and grammar of the language of music.

Every person can.

All you need to do is listen.

But you have to listen more than just once. Just like babies hear words many, many times before they begin to imitate the sounds, you need to listen to music repeatedly, until you can anticipate the next sound as easily as you can anticipate my next _______.

Then you will recognize the same patterns in other pieces of music, and anticipate when they will happen.
And you will be pleasantly surprised if a composer does something slightly different from what you are expecting, and show you something new! In this way you will learn more patterns, the same way that we learn the meaning of a new word from its context in a sentence.

Congratulations! You can now speak the language of music.

Effortlessly, the same way that you understand what you are now reading.

OK, I get it. Now how do I do it?

Your teacher will have many resources for helping you organize your listening. Approaches will vary depending on the needs of individual students. Here are some strategies to make learning easy by setting yourself up with a comprehensive listening program.

Get your playback devices organized

Download your assigned playlist on to the device you will actually use to listen to it. Yes, download. Do not rely on streaming services. If your computer is in an office where you never listen to music, put it on your phone or tablet. Parents, make sure you both have all the music on both your phones. so it is instantly available at all times. If your child has their own device, make sure they have access to the music on it, but do not expect them to be responsible for doing all their listening unsupervised. Use decent external speakers or headphones – do not rely on the tinny internal speaker on most mobile devices. If you use CDs, burn several copies – one for the car, one for the stereo, one for backup when one gets lost or damaged.

Listen repeatedly

Set your device to play the same track or playlist on repeat. You need to hear the same tune many times before you can confidently anticipate what comes next. Set a goal – listening to a piece 100 times before trying to play it yourself is not unreasonable.

Listen ahead

Don’t just listen to the piece you are working on right now. Alternate between listening to your current working piece and listening to the entire playlist. This allows you to look forward to the pieces you will be learning soon, reviews your memory of past pieces, and avoids listening fatigue from too much constant repetition of just one thing. Listen to other pieces for your instrument as well, not just the assigned repertoire.

Consider your listening environment

Listening in the car is super convenient. It is a wonderful way to seize an opportunity, so do take advantage of it. But remember that inside a vehicle is a noisy environment – engine noise, traffic noise, etc. will mask many of of the expressive elements of the music. This is fine if all you want to do is get to know the pitches and rhythm. But if you also want to anticipate dynamic variations, articulations, vibrato, and other nuances of phrasing that are not always written in the score, you need to listen in an environment where it is quiet enough to hear them. I recommend having a quiet time at home when you make a habit of listening to music.

Use both passive and active listening

Let the music play in the background during quiet activities and meals, and when you are sitting in the car. This is passive listening. Active listening is when you engage with the music as it is playing. For a beginner, this can be as simple as beating time with feet or hands while listening, or moving freely to the music. More advanced students can alternate playing a section of the piece with listening to a section of the piece, or play along with the whole thing to feel how the melody fits with the accompaniment.

Listen to a variety of versions of the same piece

Listening to different recordings of the same piece will draw your attention to the variety of nuances used by individual performers. Imitating these different ways of playing the same passage help you make your own artistic decisions about how to play it yourself.

Did you find this article helpful? You can download it here as a printable .pdf

Review in practice: why and how.

Review in practice: why and how.

Reviewing previously learned material in practice:

When you are a beginner, you don’t know many things yet, and all of them are new. 

So when you practice, you practice everything. It doesn’t take very much time.

Then you get to a point where you know more than you have time to play in one practice session. This is when you need to organize your material on a rotation, for constant review.

There are two categories of review: patterns & pieces


These are the building blocks of music. Scales, triads, and other patterns recur in different contexts in every piece of music. 

We extract these patterns from the pieces and isolate them for individual practice. This is a very methodical and efficient way of practice to develop facility on the instrument and to train the ear and fingers to expect typical pitch and fingering combinations. 


Patterns, however, are meaningless unless placed in the context of an expressive melody. So we also need to review our pieces. 

You know how  sometimes you meet someone in the grocery store, and you feel you ought to know them, but can’t remember who they are? It may be someone you know from work, but in a different location you can’t recall  their name. (And feel slightly embarrassed.)

In the same way, you may meet a pattern that you already know in a new piece, but you don’t recognize it and need to learn it all over again because the new context makes it feel very unfamiliar. 

This is why we need to review all our known pieces, so that we can become familiar with all the different contexts where we have to be able to recognize a pattern. 

And we need to review them in different settings and venues: practice, lesson, concert, group, festival, exam … so that we can recognize these things in any setting, and not draw a blank like you did with your acquaintance in the grocery store. 


If we review both patterns and pieces, we become very good at recognizing known patterns in a variety of contexts. This makes it easier to learn new pieces quickly.

If we don’t review, learning new pieces takes a very long time, as you have to do everything as if it was for the very first time. 

OK, I get it. Now how do I do it?

Your teacher will have many resources for  helping you organize your practice time. Approaches will vary depending on the needs of individual students.

Here’s the  basic idea:

  • Take all the pieces and exercises you know
  • Divide them into groups based on the main technical point required to play them
        • e.g. high register, low register, fast scale passages, sustained tone, specific keys, etc..
  • Play a different one from each group every day
  • In this way, you will play everything you know over the course of a few days, while reviewing all your technical abilities every day.  

Some pieces may exercise more than one technical point. These ones can get swapped around between groups or become a group on their own.

Newer pieces can be in a group that gets played very day, until they are as familiar as the older ones. Then you can put them in a group where they get played after a longer interval.

If you find a piece that you feel that you have forgotten, you can add it to the every day group until it is back to being familiar again. 

You can combine groups into bigger categories and review pieces after a longer interval. This will exercise your long term recall. If you find yourself having to re-learn pieces after a long interval, make your categories smaller so the pieces rotate more often. 

I find this system to be a good indicator of when a student is ready to go on to something new. If the review of the known scale patterns and pieces is completed quickly and confidently, there will be time left in the lesson or practice to start a new project. If the review takes a long time, and spots need to be re-learned, that will use all the available time. And that is OK, because that is what that student needs to be doing before going on to new things.

Did you find this article helpful? You can download it here as a printable .pdf

The Three “Can”s in “Every Child Can!”

When I was preparing to teach the Every Child Can! class for the first time, I was also reading the book Drive by Dan Pink.  In Drive, Dan Pink reviewed much of the current (at the time of writing) literature about human motivation, and came to the conclusion that there are three things that an activity needs to have in order for people to feel motivated to engage in it. Those three things are: a sense of mastery, an sense of autonomy, and sense of connection (being part of something bigger than you are).

When I reviewed the basics of the Suzuki philosophy with this in mind, I realized that there are also three “can”s in Every Child Can!

  1. I can do it – mastery
  2. I can do it all by myself – autonomy
  3. I can share it – community

1. Mastery – “I can do it!”

This depends on the teacher’s training and creativity.

The teacher sets long term goals for the student, and then breaks down the path to those goals into the smallest possible steps. If those steps are small enough for the student to do successfully at that moment, then students will develop a sense of mastery of the immediate task at hand, as well as believe that they are capable of mastering future tasks.

2. Autonomy – “I can do it all by myself!”

This depends on listening to the reference recording.

If students have listened to the reference recording often enough to have an accurate memory of the music, they will receive immediate positive feedback when their efforts start to sound similar to the recording. This positive feedback is immediate because it comes from within the student,  instead of waiting for the approval of a teacher or parent. Students who can evaluate the success of their efforts with an immediate comparison to a clearly defined goal are the ones who will eventually be able to practice independently, and enjoy practicing more because they have a clear sense of progress.

3. Community – “I can share it.”

This depends on playing with other people.

Music is a social art – it requires an audience to be complete. A student’s first audience is the immediate family. Suzuki programs expand that audience in a very organic way as the students grow, beginning with playing for each other in group lesson. This eventually leads to preparing to perform out in the community, participating in other performing groups, attending institutes that draw students from a larger region, and possibly attending international conferences.

I am sometimes asked for tips on how to motivate a student who is reluctant to practice. If we look at these three points in that student’s situation, we will often find that there is a place where the implementation of one of these points can be strengthened. The Suzuki philosophy follows all three of these points for maximum motivation and participation, through teacher training, aural learning, and group lessons. If all three of these aspects of the Suzuki approach are implemented carefully, most students and their families will be highly motivated to participate fully.

Some thoughts on the implementation of the three “can”s:

1. Mastery: Mindless drill or developing skill?

The goal here is to help students become confident in their competence. Teachers need to analyze what the students are doing, to discover the root cause of any difficulty the students may be having. The problem may be as small as a transition between two notes. Isolating the problem and assigning a specific number of correct repetitions will solve the problem quickly, if the individual repetitions are short and students understands exactly what needs to happen for them to be successful. Short specific practice assignments are also easy to turn into games and make them more fun for students, adding to the enjoyment of developing mastery.

On the other hand, practice assignments that are long and lack specific goals can become very frustrating for students. Repeating an entire song takes more time, and if a student is not certain of why the repetitions are needed, there is less sense of accomplishment when the assignment is completed. Suzuki method places a large amount of value on review of known repertoire. Recent research in cognitive psychology confirms that recalling previously learned material strengthens long term memory. This also builds student confidence, in both performance of review material and in recognizing previously learned patterns in new pieces. Pattern recognition is a key aspect of learning. Teachers can help students develop pattern recognition skills  by assigning review  pieces that contain material that is used in their newest piece, or transforming old pieces by changing octave or key to create new patterns using older material.

2. Autonomy: Aural learning vs rote learning

Students need to be able to learn new things independently. Teachers need to teach students not to depend on the teacher. Aural learning is very good for developing independence. This requires regular consistent listening to the reference recordings. When students have a clear model of what they are trying to achieve in their aural memory, they can engage in some trial and error exploration confident that they will recognize when they have arrived at the correct result. To quote Dr. Robert Duke, “All learning is error correction”. A mistake is not a mistake, it is an opportunity to discover what you need to know.

It is very difficult for teachers (and sometimes even more so for parents) to allow a student to engage in trial and error  learning. It is very tempting to just give students the correct answer, to “help” them and speed up the process. All this does is help the student become dependent on being told the right answer. This is rote learning: being trained to follow instructions, not being shown how to discover how to do it  yourself. I am very distressed when I have a student stop abruptly in the middle of a piece, say “I don’t know the rest” and wait expectantly for me to provide the next note. Teachers can avoid this by providing a strong foundation of skills for the student. Pattern recognition skills will allow the student to hear groups of notes as familiar patterns instead of one note at a time, much in the same way they we recognize entire words when reading instead of having to sound out each letter phonetically. Pattern recognition includes common scale and triad patterns that indicate the key of the piece. The appearance of a note that is not in the key becomes an indicator of a key change, not an exception to be learned by rote. Students with these skills will limit their choices when figuring things out, increasing their chances of finding the correct solution more quickly. Students who have not had a chance to develop these skills will engage in random guessing with limited success, leading to frustration and a dependence on being given the correct solution by rote.

3. Community: Feeling our heartbeat together

Playing in a group is the one thing that will keep students playing music into their adult lives. Not all students will become professional musicians, but all do need to have the skills to be able to get together with a group of friends and play music together. It is this social aspect of music making that is most enjoyable, and it becomes most important when students reach adolescence and start to turn away from their parents and reach out to their peer groups. There are often community band and orchestra programs that are excellent for adult amateurs, but what happens if they meet on a night when you have a conflicting commitment, or there isn’t a program in your community? This is where playing chamber music can play a very important role. In chamber music, a small group of musicians lead each other without requiring a conductor. Much of the chamber music literature was written for home performance for the personal pleasure of the performers. Giving students the skills to access this extensive library of music to play with their friends will give them the ability to enjoy music making for their entire lives.

With chamber music as a long term goal, teachers need to look at which skills are required to play in small ensembles successfully. Feeling the pulse of the music as a group without relying on a conductor is an important one, perhaps more important than we realize, according to recent research by Dr. Laurel Trainor of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. Her study of toddlers and their caregivers demonstrated that engaging in synchronized rhythm activities increased demonstrations of empathetic behaviour. This training can begin as early as the Suzuki Early Childhood Education class, where infants bounce on their parents knees in time to the music. The challenge for the instrument group teacher is to continue with activities that develop a group sense of pulse and response to each other. Students also need to be able to hear that their individual efforts make a difference to the sound of the entire group. There is sometimes a tendency to rely on watching the teacher’s fingers for ensemble cues. Focussing on feeling the group pulse to anticipate the next beat and hearing the precise beginnings and endings of each note gives students skills that can be used when there is no teacher present.

And who knows, if feeling the rhythm together increases empathetic behaviour, perhaps this is how we can help music to change the world.

Longer lesson or more practice?

Where should I spend my time?

I recently had a parent ask me if she could pay for a longer lesson time. This surprised me for two reasons:

  1. Parents are usually trying to find the most inexpensive way to get music instruction, not looking for ways to make it cost more!
  2. The student was not at a level where I usually recommend a longer lesson in order to cover the amount of material.

So I began to think:

  • This parent obviously values the time I spend with her child in the lesson.
  • Because the child is still very young, we spend a certain amount of lesson time drilling spots to establish physical coordination and kinaesthetic memory.
  • If the parent took the extra lesson time that she wanted to purchase from me, and spent it doing a few more repetitions in a slightly longer daily practice, then the student would not need to do so many repetitions in the lesson.
  • This would leave more lesson time available to introduce new things.
  • Therefore, it would be more economical for the parent and more enjoyable for the student to increase their practice time instead of their lesson time.

That was the best solution in this case. But when do we need to increase the length of the lesson?

  • When the student has prepared the practice assignment well, but we run out of time in the lesson to hear everything that was assigned.
  • When we have enough time in the lesson to hear a well prepared practice assignment, but we run out of time to include a necessary next step (such as music reading, or scales, or supplementary study material).
  • When the student and his family struggle with finding enough time to practice consistently, and cannot come to the lesson with the practice assignment prepared well enough to leave time for anything else. In this case, their lesson may be the only time in the week when they can focus on their practice points for enough time to be able to notice improvements. So instead of teaching the same lesson over and over for many months, we can create some slow steady progress by ensuring at least one careful practice session each week as part of the lesson.
  • When a student’s learning style is such that she just needs a bit more time in order to absorb the necessary information. This is where a teacher needs to examine her approach to the lesson. Sometimes this situation is better dealt with by teaching in smaller steps rather than increasing the lesson length. (This approach can also help when there are economic barriers to lengthening a student’s lesson.)

So my equation for lesson length calculations might look something like this:

L(Lesson length) P(practice assignment assessment) T(time available for new material)

When T = 0 then we need to make the lesson longer

P is affected by two things:

  1. effectiveness of student home practice
  2. efficiency of teacher’s practice assignment

Changing the value of P can allow more to be accomplished in a short lesson before it needs to become longer.

“Perhaps it is music that will save the world.”

“Perhaps it is music that will save the world.” 

Pablo Casals said this, after hearing the students of the Talent Education movement in Japan, April 1961. 

I write this on Remembrance Day. This is a day when I reflect on the effects of war. Not just to appreciate the sacrifices and commitment of the military, but also to remember how war and other acts of violence affect civilians. In my immediate family, we count both WWII veterans and WWII refugees, people who have given me personal stories about their war experience.  Some years I am thankful for movements towards peace in the world, and other years I am worried when events start to look similar to past events that foreshadowed future conflict.

This year, my student groups met to rehearse on the evening before November 11. I was thinking about Remembrance Day, and following current events, and hoping for a peaceful future for my students. This brought to mind what Pablo Casals said to Shinichi Suzuki after hearing a student performance: “Perhaps music can save the world.” So I took a moment with each class to speak to the students. This is what I said:

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. On this day, there are certain things that we do to remind ourselves about past wars and our hope for future peace. This reminded me of what Pablo Casals said to Dr. Suzuki: “Perhaps music can save the world.”

Think about this, and think about what we are doing here tonight.

  • We are listening carefully to each other.
  • We are taking turns, alternating between leading and supporting each other.
  • We are anticipating what our colleagues are trying to do, and helping them achieve it.
  • We listen respectfully to suggestions to improve the performance of our group.
  • We are flexible, and often try different solutions before we solve a problem.
  • We share the same goals.
  • We are cooperating to create something beautiful and expressive.

Do you think, if our world leaders all did these things too, our world would be a better place?

We are not world leaders. Some of you may grow up to become one! But what we can all do here and now, is take what we do in our group class, and use it to make our own small corner of the world a better place. Take this thought with you tomorrow, for Remembrance Day.

Am I a “music vendor”?  No. I am a Suzuki teacher. 

I was recently called a “music vendor” by a school administrator who was searching for a term to describe the music teachers that were on the school’s referral list for lessons. But in my years of work as a  Suzuki teacher and member of many Suzuki organizations, I don’t think I have ever actually sold anyone any music. Thinking about why I disagreed with this term, though, was very helpful in clarifying my thoughts about what it is I do.

What I offer is a relationship with a family and a student that can be longer and deeper than any other teacher. A child can start with me at birth in the Suzuki Early Childhood Education class, take lessons on an instrument starting at age 3, and continue until they graduate from high school, or even continue into college if they wish to continue with advanced study or teacher training. No public school teacher can offer the gift of such a long term relationship with a child that also includes the parents.

It is the Suzuki training that gives me the skills and resources to enter into a relationship with a child and family so early, to best take advantage of the enormous amount of learning that can take place in early childhood. It is the Suzuki training that allows me to maintain that relationship with strong long term goals and the tools to present those goals in easily attained small steps. And it is the Suzuki training that develops independence through aural learning, so that the affirmation of achievement and goals eventually comes from within the students’ own experience, not from extrinsic motivation.

Yes, I do charge a fee for lessons. Until we have the utopian moneyless society depicted in Star Trek, I need to use money as a form of exchange in order obtain the necessities for living, including the time I require to devote to my students. And yes, that fee is set based on an average number of lessons or weeks of teaching in a year. But a lesson is more than just a set number of minutes alone with your teacher. A lesson can also be a performance, a rehearsal, a class, a workshop, an ensemble, or any other opportunity to experience the expressive and communicative power of the music you create.

I feel that it is my duty as a teacher to provide as many varied opportunities of this nature as possible. Not all of my students will be able to take advantage of all of them, but making them available is part of what my lesson fee provides. Some years some students may have many opportunities for extra learning, and other years some students may have fewer. But the choices will always be available, and if we all take the long term view of our teacher/student/family relationship, it will all work out evenly over time.

This is why I have stopped tracking the number of lessons for each student. I will teach for a set number of weeks, and offer several “extra lesson days” for those who need to reschedule. Those who take advantage of the extra lesson days  may end up with more lessons than those who choose not use them. Rehearsals, recitals, festivals, workshops, chamber ensembles, masterclasses, and groups are all included in the ongoing lesson experience. Students who attend these events will learn more than those who do not attend. Student families who are actively engaged with what I provide will get their “money’s worth” out of their fee, more so than by counting the number of lessons or the length of each lesson.

So if you want to go to a “music vendor”, and buy a set number of lesson minutes, go to a different teacher, not me. But if you want a long term relationship with a mentor who will provide you with many opportunities to grow through music, let’s get started!