The goal of any music teacher should not be to train a batch of perfect robots. As tempting as it is to think that if we just went to enough training or read enough manuals we could formula the perfect system that cracks out perfect musicians every time. Unfortunately, this is not possible. Because we are human and we are working with other humans. And the only consistent thing we can count on is that humans change over time.
Consider a young student just starting out on the violin. Even IF you managed to get this four-year-old to have a flawless bow hold due to diligent practicing, this bow hold cannot possibly remain the same. This four-year-old will eventually turn five. He's going to get taller, his arm length will change, he will eventually need a different sized instrument, and, even if none of this happens, his bow hold will change regardless as he gets more comfortable holding it. The way you hold and pen to sign your name is not the same way you held a crayon when you were a toddler.
This is why flexibility should be valued over correctness. This is not to say that correctness is not important. It's very important. But correctness does not allow for the entire human to develop. Does the young student need 100 correct repetitions? Or does she really just need a hug and ten fun repetitions using a game? Does the teenage student really need to play the piece with mechanical perfection? Or does he need to be allowed to play with feeling? What's really going to teach the more powerful lesson in that moment?
There is no correct answer!
It takes practice to learn how to practice. Just like how some days we might feel more tired than others, some practice sessions might be more focused than others. It's all part of the learning process. Music is a life study.
Why is 'why' so important? William Fitzpatrick at TEDxSanJuanCapistrano - YouTube
William "Billy" Fitzpatrick
violinist -- educator
"Process. Life is a process. Process is from birth to death. It's about how you conduct that process, not about 'will I be successful' or 'will I be famous' or 'will I be rich?' Those are irrelevant to the process. If you are clear in doing the process well, if those things happen, that's just the way it is."
William has had a truly remarkable career, having graduated from the Juilliard School of Music, been first violinist of the New York String Quartet, and served as the director of Chamber Music at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France.
His musical experiences throughout Europe, Japan and the United States have led him to positions as conductor of the Nashville Chamber and Symphony Orchestras to conductor (and founder) of L'ensemble des Deux Mondes in France, and collaborations with l'Orchestre Symphonique Francaise and The American Symphony Orchestra of New York.
With such wide experience as a performer and conductor, William developed a passion for teaching and encouraging others. Anyone watching him interact with young musicians can see the care he has not only for the craft, but the individual. Balancing intense instruction with humor and humility, he challenges his students to better themselves instrumentally and personally.
This is always an interesting topic for me because not only is it something that changes with where you are in your teaching career but is also highly dependent on each student. As a teacher I have grown to consider it my job to "hold back" the student.
That's not to say that I won't move a child on to a more challenging piece when he/she is ready. But as school becomes more and more competitive and parents, naturally, want to make sure that their kid is "keeping up," it's almost too easy to focus on the numbers. Music doesn't have any truly quantifiable measurements... except number of pieces.
What piece is YOUR child on?
I'm on the FOURTH piece in the book. I've learned THREE Vivaldi concertos.
It makes a certain kind of sense why the piece number becomes the area of focus. It represents linear progress which is easier to grasp than holistic progress. But taken out of context this standard makes no sense at all. Consider any other skill:
What recipe is YOUR child on?
I'm on the FOURTH recipe in this one recipe book I'm working on.
In the context of cooking, recipe numbers are immediately scoffed at. You would never say someone is an excellent cook because that person can cook fifteen different dishes. You judge a cook based on the quality of food produced.
The same goes for writing. An author can have one published book or fifty. In no way does this reflect on the quality of story being read. Jane Austen isn't "better" than Charlotte Bronte because she has six books compared to Bronte's one.
As with any art, music should always be about the skills brought out in the performance. Good technique and beautiful tone can make even the most "beginner" pieces sound enjoyable.
I was contacted by the company nSpireMe to conduct a review on a new app called "Let's Play Violin." I'd like to preface that this review is coming from the perspective of a Suzuki teacher. So the pros and cons that I go over will be from the viewpoint of that particular approach to teaching rather than, say, a teacher leading large school classes.
At first glance the app does a good job of conveying a cute, game-like quality to practicing. There's a a monkey that gives you helpful tips and a 90 second tutorial will give you all the basics you need to know. I noticed that there was a built-in tuner so I decided to start with that. Suzuki students generally start lessons at a very young age so the parents are the ones in charge of tuning the instrument for quite some time. What I liked about the tuner was that it not only registered if the string was flat or sharp but also showed you which way to turn your tuners to fix it. This would be extremely helpful for a new parent that is still gaining confidence in the tuning process.
The tuner is just a side feature, however. The meat of this app is a play-along with sheet music feature. You select your level which, at the time of writing this review, is 0-4. I tried each level. You can select which collection of pieces you're drawing your level from. For example, level 3 as used in Suzuki would be book 3. There were other methods available as well such as Associated Board and Ševčík.
I tried playing along with Twinkle (more basic) and the Vivaldi a minor concerto (more advanced). As you play a red line moves along in the music, showing you where you are. I found this to be a bit distracting. More often than not I caught myself staring at the red line rather than the notes themselves. The line was also a bit laggy but generally did an "ok" job keeping track of where you were.
Once you conclude playing or just choose to stop (which can be done at any time), the app gives you a performance report with color-coded green, yellow and red areas. If you tap on the yellow and red sections it will tell you things like "rhythm short" or "slightly flat." There is an option to listen to the piece or even sections at regular or slowed down tempos.
From a Suzuki perspective I have mixed reactions to this app. A cornerstone of the philosophy is ear training. Students are taught sight-reading separately from playing their instrument at first (like how reading is taught separately from speaking a language). So the zero through one levels of piece options (twinkle-book one) would not be especially helpful for a four-year-old beginner. A child that age does not yet fully understand the value of symbols on a page.
So where this could be helpful is for more elementary-aged kids that have been playing for a few years. It would be useful to have an app that helps to establish early section work training. Starting in the middle of a piece is not easy! With this in mind, the app is still in need of a few updates. It could definitely use more book 3+ material, which is the level most Suzuki students are working from the book. It seems like the framework for this is already in place it just needs the actual content.
However--if elementary age is indeed the target audience--I feel the need to point out that this puts the app squarely against a huge competitor: SmartMusic. SmartMusic is well-established software that offers similar features that many schools subscribe to and use as a basis for grading. On the whole, SmartMusic is sleeker, offers more features and is more responsive than Let's Play Violin. But, it is also an expensive software suite. Let's Play Violin is a free download with some in-app purchase options (that are still not as expensive as SmartMusic).
So is there a market for this app? I would say yes with some tweaks. It's clearly targeted more at the students taking private lessons that maybe don't have access to SmartMusic. I could see it being quite useful once there is a bit more content and the bugs are a little more ironed out (like the laggy line tracker).
Hard to believe that we are already in our third year! Early bird registration is now open for SDSI's 2019 session. This will be our biggest year yet with lots of new class options.
Here is a sneak preview for 2019 offerings:
+Every Child Can (ECC) -introduction to Suzuki philosophy, prerequisite for all training
+Violin Unit 1 with Cathy Lee -amazing chance to work with a world-class violin pedagogue
+Cello Unit 2 with Alice Ann O’Neill* -one of the best in the cello biz *Cello Unit 1 is being offered at LA Institute this year; timing is such that you can do both!
+Supplemental Viola repertoire for intermediate students with Elizabeth (Betsy) Steuen-Walker -Betsy specializes in the rare field of viola pedagogy
+Teaching Alternative Styles—from improvisation to rock n’ roll—to Suzuki students with Avi Friedlander -Avi is a highly sought-after clinician who integrates jazz/pop/rock into his classical Suzuki teaching
+Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Stage 1 with Danette Schuch* -a rare opportunity to learn non-instrument specific teaching strategies for the very youngest students *children 4 and under may also be registered for this training as a class
Dr. Molly Gebrian touched on a concept called "the illusion of mastery" in her Rethinking Genius interview. Basically, it's what psychologists call it when you do something over and over again, giving yourself a false sense of mastery.
Wait... if you do something over and over again, shouldn't it be mastered?
Well, not always.
The true test of mastery is internalization. If you're still having to follow the directions for how to make chicken, you haven't mastered chicken cooking. Mastery means that you've cooked chicken so many times you're no longer worried about the basics. It also means that you are confident enough in those basics that you are able to add extra elements with some degree of certainty. For example, you know how the chicken should be cooked even after adding a sauce or extra seasoning.
In other words: you can complete the task under pressure.
The physical and psychological leap from the practice room to the stage is the biggest hurdle that any musician faces. Hours and hours of practice seemingly fly out the window when someone is watching and this leads to frustration. How is it that you could play something so perfectly in the privacy of your own home only to falter in the performance?
The key to answering this question is that you are playing the piece in your own home. In that particular setting--when you have the cookbook in front of you for guidance--you were able to cook the chicken perfectly. This is the illusion of mastery. You mastered the task in the more relaxed setting and this leads to the false sense of security.
Unfortunately the only true way to get used to performing is to actually perform (shocking, I know). But other techniques may be applied to help ease the transition from practice to performance (see Dr. Gebrian's interview for ideas). The point being made here is that you must first be aware of this issue and knowing is half the battle.
A violin maker in Israel has spent more than two decades painstakingly amassing a tragic collection: instruments played by Jews during the Holocaust. He calls them "Violins of Hope," and they will be displayed for the first time in the United States, and featured in a series of upcoming concerts.
The Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) is committed to Dr. Suzuki’s belief that every child can be educated and that high ability can be nurtured in every child. With this commitment in mind the SAA has designed a comprehensive Teacher Development Program to assist teachers in creating the best possible learning environment for their students, an environment that puts a priority on the development of fine character along with excellent ability and musicianship.
Training primarily occurs through summer institute programs such as SDSI. Teachers of all ages and backgrounds pay out-of-pocket to attend these training programs in an effort to increase the quality of education they can provide to students.
The proceeds from the purchase of a San Diego Suzuki Institute hoodie or cash donation will primarily go toward scholarship money for teachers in need of financial assistance as they make the effort to take this training.
To purchase a fundraiser hoodie, follow this link:
As of October of 2018 I have been teaching in an "official" capacity for ten years. It's crazy to think about! Honestly, I think I stopped counting after about six years.
However, it's fun for me to look back and reflect on how much has changed. I started teaching out of my parents' house when I was fresh out of college. At the time I was inexperienced with teaching and terrified that I would forever screw up the music careers of every little student that came to me in those early days. But every teacher has to have guinea pigs, right?
At the end of every lesson I bow with my student and say "thank you for teaching me." When they ask, I tell them that I say it too because the lessons go both ways. I teach them the violin and they teach me how to teach. Little kids think this is funny usually. Silly teacher! Adults don't need to learn anymore!
And now, ten years later, I'm teaching out of my own house pretty confident with students (but still always learning) and now worried about screwing up the music career of my new little daughter. I've heard from the veterans that teaching your own child is a whole other can of worms. And if she's anything like me she will most likely have a stubborn streak in her somewhere.
So we shall see.
Challenges aside, I'm looking forward to what the next ten years have to offer!
Teaching accessories are a slippery slope. Walk into any teaching store or browse through any specialty education website and it’s almost too easy to drop an entire year’s worth of income on supplies. It’s totally worth it if it makes the job easier for you and more fun for the students, right?
I’m always toying around (pun intended) with how much is too much when it comes to accessories. Like is that cute panda clip for the bow tip really necessary? Or can we get the same job done by only using the bow itself?
I tend to favor “simple” when it comes to teaching accessories. I dislike having to spend lesson time setting up some elaborate game. While these types of games can be effective, I can’t help but feel that more moving parts means more distraction. I want the students generally focused on their instruments and not which color of magic wand they are using.
Now this is not to say that I never use extra stuff during my private and group lessons. I just have a preference for keeping the number of items to a minimum and avoiding the Mary Poppins bags of tricks.
But I would be interested to see what others have to say on this matter. Do you agree that simple is best? Or do those extra accessories really help your lessons stick?