Shinichi Suzuki

The Suzuki Experienece

From one Suzuki parent to another

How to be a more patient Suzuki parent

A dose of patience can calm frayed nerves in the practice room and mean the difference between successful session and all-out war.

Alan Duncan

6 minutes read

Of all the virtues that a Suzuki parent can bring to the practice room, patience may be the most important because without patience, it's hard to have a creative, fun, productive practice session. Impatience leads to tension, frustration, and unhappiness. And it casts an unhappy shadow on what should be an enjoyable process. Personally, I struggle mightily against impatience.

Patience defined

Patience is a willingness to overlook certain frustrating elements of another person or situation. The frustrations can come in a lot of forms. It's the child who wants to talk about something else during practice. Or the child who dawdles about taking out his instrument. Or the crushing sense of having too much to accomplish during the day but the child doesn't have the same sense of temporal pressure. Children aren't born with an innate sense of wanting to practice efficiently. Unless they're very unusual, they don't have the sense of urgency about time that we do. (Thank goodness, too!)

Patience and the working relationship

Carl Rogers, the eminent American psychologist wrote extensively about the prerequisites for a therapeutic relationship. Although he focused on defining the characteristics of a client-psychologist relationship, they are all relevant to any helping relationship, including the parent-child relationship. In his book "On Becoming a Person" he describes three fundamental attitudes that allow a helper to have a more helpful stance toward those whom they are helping:

  1. Unconditional positive regard

    Rogers thought that each of us has within ourselves vast resources for self-betterment and that by being accepting and tolerant of where a person is on their road to personal growth we can bring out the best in them. I've heard the concept of unconditional positive regard described as the attitude that "this person is doing the best they can at this moment with what they have available to them."

    In practice with children, unconditional positive regard can take the form of looking at a difficult situation with a more accepting lens. If a child is becoming distracted during practice, we can look at this as a skill they simply haven't yet developed. Our inner monologue can be something like: "I'm frustrated by her distraction. But she is here in the practice room trying and I appreciate that. A strong intentional focus is a skill she hasn't yet learned."

  2. Empathy

    In a previous post I wrote about the importance of empathy in our work as Suzuki parents. Carl Rogers also defined empathy as a necessary component in a helping relationship. It's the ability to accurately read another person's emotional state. Importantly, empathy is a noun but it embodies actions. In other words, it is not only an attitude of trying to understand someone's emotional state. Empathy requires a set of communication practices that guide us toward a better understanding of that state and letting the person know what our understanding is.

  3. Genuineness

    The final attribute of a skilled helper is genuineness or as Rogers put it congruence. When a helper is genuine, there is a consistency between what they say and what they do. They work with someone in a way that is not sterile and detached. It means to have an internal consistency between one's stated attitudes and actions. If my attitude about music education is that it builds character and introduces the child to a world of beauty, then if I'm genuine, the way that I work with my child demonstrates good character and an appreciation for the beauty that comes out of her instrument - in whatever form that takes.

20 Suggestions for being more patient during practice

  1. Dial back your expectations. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Smile! It's hard to be impatient and frustrated if you're smiling.
  3. Focus for a moment on your breathing. Take a moment for a micro-meditation by focusing on the physical sensations of breathing. Just a moment to "reset" can change the hair-trigger impatient response into something more constructive.
  4. Switch gears. Are both of you growing impatient with the same thing during practice? A passage that doesn't seem to be going the way you want? Do something different for a while.
  5. Run through a mental checklist of other factors that might be causing distress, both your own and your child's. Hunger, fatigue, stress?
  6. Take a time out.
  7. Learn to read the clues, verbal and non-verbal, about when it's time to move on to something different.
  8. Think about something positive that happened in practice and praise it.
  9. Be more authentic. Feeling impatient? Tell them. "You know, I'm really feeling frustrated right now. I'd like to have a good productive practice, though. Wouldn't you also?"
  10. A hug can help. My daughter naturally senses when it's time for a hug. She needs the reassurance that no matter how the music is going, we love her.
  11. Take a 30,000 foot view. Take the role of a "virtual" outside observer, or ask someone else to observe practice in order to figure out where the "hot spots" are. For me, it's getting distracted and talking about things other than music during practice. Have your own mini-brainstorming session about how to handle it. It's like going in for simulation training. When it comes up again during practice, you'll know just what to do.
  12. Spend time thinking about how patience can beget its own virtuous cycle. By being more patient during practice, we keep the energy positive and model the ideal of being less reactive to every adversity.
  13. Unless there's a musical or pedagogical reason for doing practice a certain way, let the child have their choice about the order and conduct of practice.
  14. Not everything is worth "going to the mat" over.
  15. Seek out support. Ask someone else, a spouse, partner or friend to help support your commitment to being more patient and accept their feedback graciously.
  16. Consider a more formal support system. The Orange Rhino community is dedicated to more gentle, patient parenting.
  17. Do your own rehearsal. Visualize practice scenarios in your head. Run through the scene in different ways. This is your practice for how to practice!
  18. Take care of yourself. Just as children care their worries and frustrations into the practice room, so do parents. By finding healthy outlets ourselves, we can diffuse a lot tension that we bring in also.
  19. Ask yourself: "What's the worst thing that will happen?" Impatience and perfectionism go hand in hand. Both cause us to raise the stakes unnecessarily. What's the worst thing that will happen if 5-10 minutes of the practice time is wasted on idle talk and noodling? Not much. Will this matter in 10 years? Nope.
  20. Count to ten. By giving yourself some space between the stimulus and the response, you can retrain yourself to react slower to problem behaviours.

See also

  1. The Suzuki Experience: Speaking of empathy - some advice on the practice of empathy.
  2. The Plucky Violin Teacher: How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk. - a review of the classic book on parent-child communication practices written from a music teacher's perspective. Some wonderful nuggets of insight here.
  3. Zen Habits: 15 tips for become as patient as Job - short, important common sense advice from Leo Babuata.
  4. The Orange Rhino Challenge - yell less and love more. What's not to like about that?!

Thoughts? How have you become are more patient practice partner? Comment on our Facebook page

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The Suzuki Experienece is a weblog focused on helping parents practice more effectively and joyfully with their children. It traces the progress of our experience from beginner to budding young artist.