Like They Say About a Lot of Things, Start Them Young
I don’t remember my first piano and organ lessons. What I do remember is being so small and having to sit at the very edge of the seat in order to reach the pedals. I remember the first time I had to play on a grand piano for a recital, the keys were so stiff it took considerable effort to get them to make a sound.
When my daughter turned four years old, I knew it was time for me to start her formal music education and violin lessons. Even though I had grown up playing the piano and would have loved her to learn it as well, it seemed like a more practical decision for her to learn a more portable instrument. It also helped that she was set on learning the violin as she had watched my mom and brother play. We had already been listening to the Suzuki Violin Book 1 CD and she was familiar with the pieces, so I contacted the local music school and found a teacher that made lessons fun (she had finger puppets to teach the right bow hold, and lots of stickers to mark accomplishments).
Encouraging the younger child turned out to be more challenging. I thought since he had been watching his older sister play the violin for years, he would eagerly want to do it, too. At first he would adamantly say “No”, and walk away. Then he would say that he will only play the violin “when I’m older”. Their teacher told me not to worry, that sometimes the younger child feels overwhelmed, thinking that they are expected to play at the older child’s level right away. We started by including him in the last five minutes of her lessons—clapping the rhythms of the pieces while older sister was playing. Slowly he got more interested until the day came where he was so excited to have his own lesson time.
I’m To Be a Teacher Too?
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki believed that every child can learn to play music, the way every child learns to speak their mother tongue. Since I had learned to play piano with the traditional method, it was also going to be a learning experience for me. This would not be one of the after-school activities where parents sit in the sidelines and watch or read a book. The parent has to be present at lessons, note needs to be worked on, and be the “teacher” at home with daily practice sessions.
I think back to when I was younger and how practicing was one of the last things I wanted to do when I got home from school. How do I get them to be interested and excited to play? Many of the activities I take from their lessons. I cannot stress enough how important it was to find a teacher that encourages the kids. There is so much discipline, effort, and hard work that goes into learning to play an instrument, making it fun gets them to want to practice. One of their favorites is the “sandwich” game, where the kids have to listen to a piece and figure out which parts are the same, which are different, and making a visual sandwich (out of play food, although we have tried real ones for fun). For example, the Twinkle song has 3 parts, the first and third are the “bread” and the middle part is the jelly.
The Group Experience
Group lessons are definitely ones that the children love to go to. Here they play with other students of all ages and levels. They also learn what it is like to play together as a cohesive group, to enhance listening skills, and respect fellow students. For the younger kids, they get a chance to watch the more advanced students and be inspired to keep practicing so they can improve and play more challenging pieces. For the older ones, it gives them an opportunity to assist—whether it be partnering up to check bow holds, or playing an advanced piece while the younger partner follows with bow movements. The group class is also where the kids learn to perform in front of an audience. Since the kids play regularly in front of people, they have less anxiety when it comes time to perform in recitals and concerts.
Giving Back and Sharing With the Community
The beauty in music is not just in creating it, but in sharing it as well. Aside from yearly recitals for family and friends, the music studio performs several times throughout the year for the community as well. They have played during the intermission at local symphony performances. They are always excited knowing they are playing at a professional concert hall, and they beam with pride when members of the audience come up and compliment them on a job well done. During the Christmas season the kids play at senior homes, hospitals, and fundraising events. I always remember my mother telling us when we were growing up that to be able to play was a gift to be shared with others. When I see the kids enjoying what they are doing, and how happy it makes the audience to listen to their music, I am reminded of her words and encouraged that they will glean important life lessons from this musical journey. In the words of Dr. Suzuki, “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens.”
Learn more about the Suzuki Method.