Since for most of practice, starting at the top and playing completely through a piece, is one of the least efficient ways of practicing. Inevitably, then, it means the parent or child must learn to interrupt the proceedings in a way that feels less like an interruption. Having watched countless lessons as an observer, being in my own lessons, and reflecting on my practice, these are some thoughts about interruptions.

Why interrupt at all?

By interruption, I mean that your child is playing along and you stop their playing for some reason. The bow hold needs serious fixing, or their bow direction is off. The idea of interrupting is to take a break in the continuity of playing to talk about a technique or something that has gone awry to keep it from getting imprinted by practicing it over and over or to prevent it from distorting what comes next (failure to notice a change in key, tempo, and the like.)

Balance first

In all things Suzuki, there’s a concept of balance. When thinking about interruptions, the balance is between the child’s enthusiasm for playing the piece through and the work of getting all of the little details right. It’s a hard thing to get perfect; but if you are mindful in practice, the non-verbal cues can tell if your child is frustrated by being interrupted and just needs to play her piece. It’s a balancing act. If I’ve mentally committed to listening to my daughter play the piece through, then I can use it as an opportunity to catalog the things that need work. We’ll get to all of them in time, one-by-one.

When an interruption is less like an interruption

How to interrupt students during practice We can take clues from how spontaneous flowing conversation work. When people converse freely, they rely on cues - verbal and non-verbal about their conversation partner’s readiness to be interrupted. In most cultures, when a speaker takes a breath, that is an acceptable moment for interruption. Cultures vary by how long a breath is acceptable. In some cultures, it is acceptable to interject during a short breath, while in others it would be considered impolite. But in all, there are natural break points in the conversation where interruption is socially acceptable.

The corresponding moments in music are similar. The end of a section is an obvious point for interruption. Just before measures of rest is another. The ends of phrases can be interruptible moments; but they are fleeting.

If I’ve decided to interrupt the proceedings, then my first priority is find the best moment so that I’m not stirring up negative feelings in my daughter. After all, there aren’t any violin emergencies!

Signaling an interruption

I’m amazed at the variety and skill found among teachers. One of the pleasures of being a practice parent is the chance to sit back and take on the role as a third-party observer not only of what your child needs to do in practice over the next week, but of what techniques of teaching are in play and how they’re working. It’s a sort of meta-observation. One of these meta-observations, is an inventory I’ve made of interruption techniques.

  • “Good”, “OK”, or “Alright” - when the students arrives at an interruptible point, the teacher signals the desire to stop with a neutral or positive verbal interjection.
  • Shifting in the seat - when the teacher shifts toward the student or toward the music on the stand in a certain way, the student knows that she’s about to make a point concerning the last section played.
  • Conducting gestures - I’ve seen teachers using the “end of the note” conducting gesture to signal the interruption.

Watch how your studio teacher signals interruptions and try to emulate that because your child will already know what those gestures mean.

Alternatives to interruption

Sometimes things can be fixed without fully stopping the music. I try to make most of these non-interruptions into gestures. Verbalizing an instruction risks having the child stop playing completely even if it wasn’t my intent. So we have a library of gestures that have understood meanings. Pointing up or down means to watch the intonation in a particular direction. Making an “air bow hold” means adjust the bow hold. Sometimes merely craning my neck around to watch the right hand carefully is enough to convey “fix your bow hold.” And some of our non-verbal gestures are too hard to explain without seeing them, which is fine since the important point is develop something that is meaningful to you and your child rather than something that is universally understood.

Again, watching the non-verbal cues that your studio teacher uses to convey messages without interruption can be very helpful.

How about you, what techniques work in your home practice?

(N.B. These are links I’ve found in the last week that are of interest to Suzuki parents)

  • The Seinfeld Approach to Practice - I saw this mentioned on the Aber Suzuki Center Facebook page. The author, a flutist, talks about Jerry Seinfeld’s approach to productivity. (Believe it or not comedy is a form of work.) His approach is called “don’t break the chain.” In essence, to do lists are fine, but too many people get obsessed by the details and lose their effectiveness. This approach just says “every day I have to do something to move the ball forward.” So he has a calendar with bubbles where the user can place an X on each day where something happened. This blog post talks about applying the idea to practice. In other words, don’t break the practice chain.
  • Compare and Despair - a lovely piece from performer and teacher Claire Allen on the pitfalls of comparisons. Comparisons between students. Comparisons between yourself and some ideal. “To everyone: Be kind to yourself. Seek to be authentic, rather than unique. Focus on what YOU can do, and love yourself as yourself. Because you are worthy of all the love in the world, and we need you exactly as you are.” Sounds like good advice.

Immersion learning for Suzuki students Of all of Shinichi Suzuki's observations about how children acquire talent, I think the most seminal is the comparison to language learning. Even without empirical studies, the analogy is obvious. Both music and language involve aural and cognitive skills; but in both the aural precedes the cognitive. As children, we don't learn the complex rules and exceptions first, then begin speaking. Instead, we speak by imitating caring adults. Little by little, their patient, happy feedback shapes our spoken language. _Then_ comes the formal grammar. So it is with talent education.

But I wonder too whether another concept in foreign language acquisition might be helpful. The concept is immersion.

How can Suzuki parents immerse their children in the world of music; and what can it do for their musical development?

Foreign language immersion

The idea of foreign language immersion programs began in Canada in the 1960’s when language educators wondered whether English-speaking children could acquire greater cultural fluency, and hence appreciation of their Québecois counterparts through French classes conducted entirely in French. Since that time, the concept of foreign language immersion has exploded. Many schools worldwide offer immersion classes; and everyone is familiar with stories of children who move to a new country and rapidly acquire the local language simply by being immersed in it. In all, immersion language learning seems to be an effective way or learning a new spoken language

A Suzuki analogy

So what does immersion look like in Suzuki talent education? After all, given the similarities between language and music, you could reasonably expect similar effects of immersion in music. Here are some ideas for musical immersion from our life:

Ambient listening

Listening, a core Suzuki practice, can be done in all sorts of ways. One of the ways that we listen at home is by putting on the repertoire all the time. We may not be cognitively engaged with the music; but we trust that there’s some subconscious learning going on.

Listening beyond the repertoire

A program of listening isn’t just about learning the repertoire; it’s about developing a broad appreciation of the world of music. Just as language doesn’t exist in a vacuum, neither does the repertoire. Listening beyond the repertoire helps us become familiar with the periods and styles of music. It opens up opportunities to talk about music history, composers and their lives, what else was going on in history when the music was written. Remember the goal of early immersion education? It was about developing better appreciation of French culture by anglophone Canadians. Similarly, one of the goals of listening should be to develop a more holistic appreciation of the art.

Attending concerts

We’ve taken our daughter to concerts from an early age. By beginning early and carefully choosing what venues are the most forgiving to start with, I believe that she learned concert decorum early-on. Many people are afraid to take their young children to concerts; but increasingly local symphonies and other groups are welcoming kids, sometimes at more family-friendly times of the day.

There is so much to learn from watching live performers. How do they handle themselves on stage? What is their posture like? What can you learn from the program notes?

Artifacts

One of the ways that anthropologists study cultures is by looking at the artifacts that they value. Who knows - maybe it works in reverse? Maybe we begin to value things more by the things we surround ourselves with. For us, although we’re fairly minimalist about material goods, we look for books about music, stickers, pictures that relate to music. It’s a subtle way for us to communicate to each other how important music is in our lives.

Take advantage of every opportunity

Even every community there are dozens of musical things to do every week. While all of us need to strike a balance in our lives, try to take advantage of whatever opportunities are in your community. It connects your children with like-minded families and builds a social community around music. The richness of the musical community bolsters the sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself and is part of the immersion in the culture of music.

How about you and your family? What ways have you found to enrich and immerse yourselves in music?

One of the challenges of practice with children is getting them to play a passage slower. Slow practice is the only way to develop clear articulation, confident fingerings, and consistency in every technique. But how does slow practice jive with listening to the reference recordings? Afer all, the recordings are made at normal performance tempo. The recordings provide a wonderful target for phrasing, dynamics, and articulation. But as ViolinGirl has progressed through the repertoire, I’ve notice that she tends to begin a piece at the tempo taken on the recordings simply because she’s heard it so many times.

So I’ve begun to wonder whether it might be interesting to listen at a slower tempo than the reference recordings. This article isn’t about the effectiveness or even the advisability of listening to a lower tempo version of the recordings. Instead, it’s about the technical feasibility of doing so. One application might simply be to give the young person an example of the tempo that your going for in practice. I don’t think I’d make slower tempo listening the norm. With that in mind, here’s how I’d do it. Bear in mind, this is Mac OS X only.

Assemble your tools

To slow down the tempo without affecting the pitch, you’ll need software to do that. I recommend that you download and install Audacity. It’s a free audio editor that you can use for this purpose or others as you make recordings of your child. You can download it here and follow the installation instructions.

Find the original mp3 file

First, I’m going to presume that you ripped the original CD’s and that you have the mp3 files in iTunes. If not, see my earlier post on Tech tips for Suzuki parents. In iTunes, navigate to the piece that you want to work with, in this case we’ve chose the Bach Bourée from Book 3 of the violin repertoire.

Select the piece

Once you have the piece selected, right-click to bring up the contextual menu:

Right-click to show in Finder

This will bring up a Finder window with your piece selected.

Piece selected in the Finder

Now you just need to open the file in Audacity. Again, right-click the piece and select “Open with…” and choose “Audacity”.

Open with Audacity

Edit in Audacity

After the file opens in Audacity, you should see a window like this:

File opened in Audacity

Now, you want to select the entire piece to modify. Either press Command-A or Edit > Select > All from the Audacity menu. With waveforms of the entire piece selected, choose Effect > Change tempo… from the Audacity menu. That will bring up a dialog box like this:

Change the tempo

Move the slider to adjust the tempo by a percentage. I would start with small reductions in tempo from 10-25% before deciding on a final tempo. The slower the tempo, the more certain aberrations begin to crop up. For example, at very slow tempos, vibrato takes on a very wobbly effect. Having selected a tempo adjustment, Audacity will adjust the tempo and leave you with a edited file. The next step is to save the file that you’ve just edited. You don’t want to save it back to your original file; otherwise you will have clobbered the song. What you want to do is File > Export Audio…, select the Desktop for the destination, and mp3 as the file type. To close out Audacity, select Audacity > Quit. It will ask you whether to save the file, make sure to choose No or your original file will be clobbered.

That’s it. Now you can listen to the reduced tempo version of the piece. Again, I wouldn’t make this the staple of your home listening practice; but it can definitely help with illustrating the tempo at which you want your young person to practice.

Happy listening!

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(N.B. These are links I’ve found in the last week that are of interest to Suzuki parents)

  • Getting kids to practice music - without tears or tantrums. This is a thoroughly written article by Anastasia Tsioulcas on the NPR blog “deceptive cadence.” I particulary enjoyed her interviews with parents of teens who had appeared on NPR’s From the Top. It is fascinating that there is nothing magical about how they practiced with their kids. Games, challenges, and goals. That’s it. Well worth reading.
  • How do you encourage your kid without being a crazy stage parent. Another thoughtful piece from the same blog. Lots of ideas from both the parent’s perspective and the student’s perspective. Young pianist Hilda Huang offered unusually mature wisdom in the piece: “Often, parents who are musicians themselves can get too caught up in their child’s musical development. Living vicariously never did people too much good.”
  • Musicians’ brains really do work differently - in a good way. A TED-Ed video about neurophysiologic differences between listening to music and playing music. “Playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout.” Creatively animated and narrated. Fun. (The video is also on YouTube if the blog post about it goes away.)

Dressing up to practice with dolls.

It’s indisputable that the road of progress is paved with good consistent practice. But why worry about making practice more enjoyable? Much of Suzuki pedagogical technique is about making practice fun. But why? After all, at young age, we can simply impose our will and make practice happen.

Why make practice more enjoyable

There are three good reasons to make enjoyment a goal of practice.

  • A positive emotional state fosters learning. First, a positive emotional state fosters an openness to learning that simply is not possible otherwise. A child with a negative emotional state can go through the motions of moving the bow across the strings or the fingers on the keyboard. But real learning cannot take place when the child is emotionally closed-down or negative.
  • A positive emotional state sets the stage for independence. Secondly, even parents of younger children have to keep in the back of their minds that their children will not always be small. They won’t always be with the children at lessons or in the practice room. This is not a transition that happens overnight. There is nothing about turning thirteen that confers on children the ability to manage their own time. If practice has been a negative experience up until the point where children would otherwise gain their independence in practice, then they won’t continue. It is nearly impossible to sustain a practice that is imprinted negatively in the child’s mind. The sort of self-motivation that we want to eventually see as our children grow older is dependent on a long-term transition, one component of which is a positivity around practice.
  • A positive emotional state is simply more pleasant. Finally, we’re human. We seek out pleasurable experiences and avoid unpleasant ones. Why not endeavor to make what needs to be done a pleasurable experience by investing some energy into the creative construction of practice as an enjoyable one?

Fundamentals of an enjoyable practice

To get to the deeper levels of enjoyment in practice, you must solve certain fundamentals in practice. If the family still has arguments about whether to practice on a given day, the stage is not set for an enjoyable practice. It’s better to simply say: “We practice every day.” There’s room to compromise around what that practice consists of; but there isn’t room to compromise on whether or not to practice. Like Suzuki said: “Only practice on the days that you eat.” You don’t compromise on whether or not children brush their teeth.

Parents’ genuine interest in music is another fundamental. Children have a keen sense about what’s important to you. There’s a reason for the old adage about “the apple not falling far from the tree.” Your unwillingness to compromise on practice and your love of music in whatever form is an unwritten and unspoken curriculum for children about how to be a mature person. It’s not essential to be proficient on an instrument. All that’s necessary is an authentic interest.

Finally, I have to remind myself constantly to make practice a positive experience and to accept my own imperfections when it doesn’t turn out the way I should intend it. Once the fundamentals are in place, it’s easier to develop a more enjoyable practice because you’re not constantly arguing about them.

The 7 ingredients of enjoyment in practice

Having solved the fundamentals of practice, there are several key ingredients to an enjoyable practice. These are the raw psychological materials from which creative solutions emerge.

Novelty

We humans are programmed to seek out novel experiences. It is hardwired into the circuitry of our brains.This is an interesting bit of neurophysiology. A region of the brain known as the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA) responds to novel stimuli. A study using functional MRI (fMRI) showed that subjects shown novel images exhibited sustained increased activity in the SN/VTA region of the brain. The activation of this area of the brain yields the same sort of spike in dopamine as seen with pleasurable stimuli. Finally, the studies of novelty have implications for learning. The regional activation in the brain seems to increase neuronal connections in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in learning. So novelty not only increases the “pleasure neurotransmitter” dopamine in the brain; but it also enhances learning. We can make practices both more enjoyable and more productive by introducing novelty.

Challenge

We are more likely to engage in a task and find it pleasurable enough to continue when there is a challenge involved. It’s helpful to think about how video games are so addictive.[1] In video games, there is a constantly shifting balance between challenge and ability level. If the game is too difficult, the user will give up and stop playing. But if the game is too easy, the user will give up because of boredom. Somewhere in the middle is a balance between challenge and ability. The game’s computer code has to constantly adapt to the shifting balance between the two opposing elements. Similarly, in practice, we have to adapt to a shifting balance between the difficulty of a technical challenge and the child’s ability to overcome it.

Ability

Closely linked to the ingredient of challenge, is the ingredient of ability. It is the counterpoise of challenge. I’m having fun in a game when my ability is nearly matched to the challenge.

Progress

A game isn’t fun unless there’s a feeling of progression throughout. There’s a reason that the game of Life is laid out as a serpiginous pathway. It is a metaphor for real life’s journey. Similarly there’s a spatial quality in video games. For a game to be enjoyable, there must be progress and it must be evident.

Accomplishment

Progress alone isn’t sufficient to make a game fun. Instead, there has to be a sense of progress toward something. Or there must be intermediate steps along the way that have some value by themselves. Think of levels in a game. A long journey even when there’s progress is tough unless there are waypoints that mark the journey and are meaningful.

Lightness

There’s a certain amount of “lightness” to something that is enjoyable. It may be important but it is treated with an attitude of just allowing the activity to unfold. I think of this state somewhat like what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi described as flow, a state where someone is completely immersed and energized by an activity. This flow has a certain emotional lightness that enables it to happen.

Positive reinforcement

Extending our comparison of games to practice, we find that positive reinforcement is a critical piece of both. Without positive reinforcement through rewards that are almost always vicarious, players would quickly find a game unenjoyable and eventually abandon it. This concept is closely linked to those of progress and acomplishment. There must be forward movement or something akin to it (progress) that is marked by defined waypoints or goals (accomplishment); and there must be some reinforcement that marks arrival at these goals on the path.

Parent skills and attitudes

These elements are the raw ingredients of an experience that’s enjoyable, whether we’re talking about a table game, a video game, or practicing a musical instrument. To put these elements to use, we as parents have to have some prerequisites of our own. Must of us apply them fluently without ever thinking about them:

  • Flexibility. Flexibility is part of an authoritative (not authoritarian) parenting style. Parents who are authoritative say in essence to their children: “I’m confident about where we’re going, so follow me.” But they are also whilling to explain “why” and are willing to be flexible within limits, having the big picture in mind.
  • Mindfulness. Parents who are mindful have an ability to become an observer, making meta-observations to themselves about how practice is going. It’s an ability to step out of the role of being practice parent for a moment to become the practice parent’s advisor by asking oneself questions such as: “How’s the practice going?”, “Is it time to move on to something else?”, “Did I push too far with that one?” After engaging in this sort of self-observation, parents get very skillful at reading the non-verbal cues that children are emitting.
  • Self-compassion. Our children don’t expect perfection of us in the same way that we don’t expect perfection of them. We just expect them to keep coming back to try. Similarly, we make mistakes in practice. We use words that are less than constructive or we make assumptions about our children’s apparent lack of effort without first trying to understand. By being mindful, we can pick up on these moments and come back to work on it tomorrow.

Putting the raw ingredients to work

With the right preconditions of practice and the right parental skills and attitudes, we can put the raw ingredients of enjoyment to work in our practice:

  • Novelty. Nothing works forever. Whatever we bring into practice today may not work tomorrow or next week. By understanding how novelty fosters both learning and enjoyment, we can anticipate the need to switch things up.
  • Challenge. Enjoyable games are challenging. We can keep that in mind by designing practice games that are difficult to achieve. Most of the time, the challenge is evident from the lesson. There’s a 4th finger trill in the B section on the second page that needs work. There’s the challenge. We have to use our best sense about whether it’s a challenge that our child can face in one step. Or two. Or three. Maybe it’s a challenge that needs some intermediate points. Part of the challenge may be a competition - if you play it right, you get the card. If not, I get the card.
  • Ability. After practicing with your son or daughter long enough, you have a good sense of his or her ability. That way you can match the ability to the challenge that you build into practice games.
  • Progress. Everyone likes to see progress in some way. Make charts of how many repetitions have been done. Accumulate Skittles or M&M’s in a jar for every review piece played well. Make it visible.
  • Accomplishment. Mark the attainment of a practice challenge by some sort of reward. Children aren’t motivated so much by the material value of this marker as by the fact that they accomplished something. Think about video games again, there’s a currency in the game that has only virtual value.
  • Lightness. A lot of games and fun environments can be constucted around the idea of lightness. As a 7 year-old girl, she likes to set up dolls and stuffed animals to listen to her practice. She likes to explain to them what she’s playing and what to notice about it. Sometimes, I use a puppet to tell her what I liked about a piece and what we can work on more. The element of chance is another example of lightness. So we have many different dice that can be used in all sorts of ways. For shifting exercises, we use the 12-sided die to decide what string to play the exercise on (by dividing the result by 4 and taking the integer value.) Or dice can be used to decide on a number of repetitions. Or we play rock-paper-scissors to decide on what to work on.

Examples of enjoyment principles in action

If you look carefully, there are lots of ideas for practice games on the web. I took one of the resources and listed a few of the ideas, matching them up with some of the principles that the games illustrate:

  • Roll a die for the number of repetitions. A 1 means roll again, and a 6 means the parent can choose any number from 2-5. Principle: lightness. There’s an element of chance that makes it more like a game.
  • Light several votive candles. (his creates a fun environment. Allow your child to blow one out after each completed assignment. Principle: progress and accomplishment. The progress through the practice is marked by an event.
  • Write daily assignments on sticky notes. Let child stick on wall in desired order, then take them down or stick on you when completed. Principle: progress. The progress is made visible.
  • Divide a piece into 5 sections. Roll a die to see which section to practice. Do this several times. A 6 means the whole piece should be performed. Principle: ability and challenge.

Finally, by switching up games, you can introduce novelty into the mix.

Hopefully, by distilling the elements of enjoyment, it will be easier for parents to make up games and practice styles that enhance enjoyment and make it more likely that your child will associate positive emotions with practice.

Good luck!


  1. I'm not a fan of video games. But I've watched enough about how they draw users in that I think we can learn something from them.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite a few things in my practice kit - my bag of tricks that we use during practice. It’s quite a diverse collection of objects, some more useful that others. Let’s unpack it and see what’s in there:

Highlighting tape

We use highlighting tape to call out tricky passages to emphasize in practice. We have four different colors: yellow, green, pink, and blue. Because…why not? You can get it from highlightertapes.com.

Self-stick page flags

We use these constantly for marking pages in music books. Again, we have several different colors. Because.

Dice

The dice are in their own little bag in the practice kit. There are two different six sided dice, a six sided die with another six sided die nested inside of it. There’s a 30 sided die, a 20 sided die, and a 12 sided die. For deciding on the number of repetitions, the 12 sided version gets used more often. For longer term assignments, the 30 sided die may have more use.

Deck of cards

We use a deck of cards for practice games. For example, we may roll the dice to determine the number of repetitions. Then I’ll take out that number of cards. For every good repetition, ViolinGirl gets a card. Otherwise the card is mine.

Vibrato shakers

For practice the wrist motion of vibrato, we have several shakers. One is a repurposed plastic easter egg. Two are mini TicTac boxes. For the record, ViolinGirl long ago ate the contents. Now they are filled with rice. Another two shakers are decorative egg-shaped kids percussion shakers. Why so many? Because choice is good. Anything we can do to gamify practice the better. So we play rock, paper, scissors to decide who gets which shaker.

Quote cards

This is a deck of laminated cards that I made. On one side is a quote from Dr. Suzuki. On the reverse is a series of question about the quote. “What does this mean to you?” “What are some ways you could apply this to practicing?” Not something we do every day.

Affirmation cards

Another deck of laminated cards that I made up. On one side is her affirmation and on the other side is my corresponding affirmation. I pull these out if we’re feeling stress or there’s some potential for conflict coming into practice.

Peg compound

You never know when peg troubles could happen.

Listening to the reference recordings of the repertoire is a core element of the Suzuki method of talent education. And it’s a core determinant of progress because listening consistently means having a more clearly defined aural target in mind as you approach a piece. Teachers tell me that it is easy to discern a student who listens regularly because they have a seemingly more innate understanding of the pieces they are working on.

Here are some ideas for using technology to make listening convenient, consistent, and intentional:

1. Always be listening

OK, this one isn’t strictly about technology. But it’s about harnessing technology to make continuous, ubiquitous listening possible. Kids can get something out almost any type of listening. Active listening with our without the score in hand can focus kids’ attention carefully. But even what I call “ambient listening” helps in some subconscious way, by immersing them in a beautiful sonic environment. With the available technology there’s no reason not to always be listening.

2. Get away from the CD’s

The Suzuki reference recordings are distributed on CD’s packaged along with each book. They are also distributed as standalone disks. They are also available on the iTunes Music Store.[1] The problem with CD’s is that they really aren’t convenient. With the CD it’s harder to listen wherever you are. Just the extra step of having to bring the CD with you is a barrier. And CD players are becoming harder to find. In order to make listening more consistent, you’re going to have to get the music off the CD’s. That means embracing technology.

3. Learn to use iTunes [2]

To work creatively with the reference recordings, you’re going to have master some software. For a sizeable majority of us, that means learning to use iTunes. Over the years iTunes has become more cumbersome to use. But an investment of time in learning a few tasks in iTunes is well worth the effort. You need to learn to:

The rest of the tips are about creative construction of playlists.

4. Get creative: playlists with and without accompaniment

The reference recordings (other than piano) have two versions of each piece. One with intrumentalist and accompaniment and one with the accompaniment alone. For pure listening, you’ll generally be listening to the standard tracks. So make two separate playlists. Most of the time you won’t be listening to the accompaniment-only tracks.

5. Get creative: playlists by book

iTunes Recently Added playlist

It’s easy to build playlists by repertoire book. After importing a CD, look for the Recently Added smart playlist in the main iTunes window. Selecting this playlist will help you find the tracks that you just imported. After selecting the desired tracks, you can right-click on the selection to build a new playlist.

6. Get creative: Span multiple books

If your student is playing in Book 3, you can have a playlist that spans Books 1 through 3 of the repertoire. Or one that adds in the first few pieces of the next book so that they can begin hearing it.

7. Get creative: Mix it up

Although the repertoire was carefully arranged to build technical ability in a progressive stepwise way, there’s nothing to say that kids have to listen to the music in the same order. iTunes makes it easy to shuffle playlists, playing the tracks in a random order.

8. Get creative: Playlists by composer

Make a playlist with the works of a single composer - Bach, Vivaldi, Handel.

9. Get creative: Playlists by musical form

You can make playlists that contain all of the minuets in the repertoire. All of the gavottes. It’s a great way to learn the differences in musical forms. What makes a minuet a minuet, or a gavotte a gavotte?

10. Get creative: Playlists by musical era

Use playlists grouped by musical era as a way of learning about stylistic variations between them. It can be used to listen for interpretive differences.

11. Get creative: Playlists to listen like a maniac

Listening like a maniac

Suzuki guitar teacher Michelle Horner made a video several years ago for the SAA’s Parents as Partners video series about “listening like a maniac.” In the video she described a method for learning new pieces wherein you listen over and over to the same piece. The technique is easy to implement with playlists. Or you can modify the technique with playlists that have “maniac” repetitions of the current working piece, the previous piece and the next piece in the repertoire. So, if your student is working on Becker Gavotte from the violin repertoire, the playlist would consist of 10 lines of Humoresque, 10 lines of Becker, and 10 lines of Gavotte in D major. You can arrange the pieces in sequential blocks or in alternating fashion.

To make it easier to create “Listening like a Maniac” Suzuki playlists, I created an AppleScript that you can install. (Mac only) You can download the script here. To install the script, use the script menu in the menu bar to find the iTunes script directory and move the file there. After that, select the tracks and run the script from this menu.

12. Get creative: Weighted playlists

If you don’t want to do the full “maniac” playlist, you could create a weighted playlist where all of the pieces other than the current working piece are represented once and the working piece appears multiple times.

13. Get creative: Tough pieces playlist

Make a playlist of pieces that your student finds the most difficult to play or remember accurately.

14. Get creative: Interweave other music

The Suzuki repertoire doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Find other non-Suzuki pieces and interweave them with the repertoire pieces. You could do this by composer, by musical form, or just because you like the piece.

Listening to the repertoire is one of the cornerstones of Suzuki talent education. Without listening, it’s hard for students to develop a proper target toward which they are striving. As with the development of language by mimicry, beautiful playing starts with mimicry. On that foundation, students add layers of knowledge and skill. We are fortunate to have access to technology that allows us to creatively repurpose the reference recordings in ways that make listening consistent and enjoyable.

How about you? Have you used technology in ways that help with your kids’ listening?

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  1. Be careful about the iTunes Music Store. The Suzuki reference recordings are not well organized there and there are gaps. There are also multiple versions by different performers. For the violin repertoire, the most recent recordings are by William Preucil with accompanist Linda Perry.

  2. I don't particulary like iTunes and I don't endorse it over other products. But despite it's shortcomings, iTunes is at the center of the music technology ecosystem that I use and am familiar with.

  3. This is a legal gray area. Title 17 of the United States Code which spells out copyright law says that you are not allowed to make a copy of an original work without the consent of the copyright owner. There is no carve-out in the law for personal copies of digital media that you already own in another form. To be clear, shifting the format of music from a CD that you own to another form that you also own is neither explicitly forbidden nor explicitly allowed. In the UK, as of late 2015, the law is clearer: it is not permitted. All of that said, I believe the law and ethics are clearly disconnected here. Ripping is simply space-shifting the music. So long as you own the original format and you do not intend to distribute the ripped music, I see no ethical violation here, irrespective of what the law says.

Dedication to Lully

There is a little piece in Book 2 of the Suzuki violin repertoire that is entitled Gavotte. Structurally, it is a gavotte because it has a half-bar anacrusis. But it is most definitely not the work of Lully.

The piece is a Rondeau from Book I of a series of pieces for viola da gamba and continuo by Marin Marais. Marais was a student of Monsieur Lully; and it is to his teacher that he dedicates the work. But there is no confusion about the origins of this piece. He begins his dedication: “To Monsieur de Lully, squire, …, Secretary of the Royal House, Crown of France and his Finances and Superintendant of his Majesty’s Music. Sir, I would commit an inexcusable fault if, having the honor of being one of your students and you having so many obligations to me in particular, I did not offer you the works that I learned here in playing your learned and admirable compositions. I present therefore this collection, and as my supervisor and as my benefactor…”

If there were any remaining questions about the origin of the pieces in Marais’ Book I, the notes page in the manuscript gives performance instructions about “my pieces.” The manuscript can be found at IMSLP. The piece is question is labeled as a “Rondeau” and is found on page 30 of the linked document. A recording of this work for viola da gamba can be found on YouTube

Lully, of course, was a fine composer. But it’s time to give Marais his due.

So, who was Marais? He was a musician and composer in France, ultimately employed by the royal court. Best known for his compositions for the viol (viola da gamba), he wrote several books of compositions for the instrument.

Carl Jung on the unlived lives of parents

The closeness of the work between Suzuki child and parent inevitably risks drawing unresolved parental issues into play. Carl Jung[1] said:

‘The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.’"

I’ve heard from fellow Suzuki parents about their regrets over not taking music as seriously during childhood. Many quit lessons early and have held onto a lifelong regret over having done so. In my own case, I studied music seriously as a young person and ended up a serious amateur player. But I still wonder what might have been if I had taken my practice more seriously. I wonder how common it is that Suzuki parents have similar issues and how we can make better use of them to help our children rather than let it interfere with our work.

The issues that we as parents bring to practice can either be productive or unproductive. The risk in bringing unresolved regrets into practice is that we become less motivated by hope for our children than by fear that they might suffer the same regrets that we experienced as children.

Among of the signs of the latter is a tendency to push, to blame, and to judge. There is less joy, more fear, and a sense of urgency. All of these, of course are counterproductive to the development of a young Suzuki musician.

Our ability to reframe our experiences is the hallmark of personal growth. By reconfiguring our interpretation of past events we can develop lessons that can be passed on to our children as we practice and live together.

We can reframe regrets over our ‘unlived lives’ in our role as practice parents.

Instead of using our regret over not practicing enough ourselves as children to push our children, we can cultivate a sense of wonder over the power of the mother-tongue approach to talent education and an appreciation for our children’s hard work. For parents who are themselves musicians, we can set goals for our children that are not dependent of things beyond our control. We can place emphasis on life’s meta-lessons that Suzuki talent education gives children: persistence, appreciation for beauty, self-confidence, and problem-solving ability. Instead of wishing our children to be star players, we can wish that they reach their full potential whatever that may be.

Finally, despite all that we give our children as Suzuki parents, we have to hold something back for ourselves. We need to be able to live a life both together and separate from our children. By living simply, frugally, and in a goal-oriented way, realizing a solution to some of our old regrets is often within reach.

With introspection and self-compassion, we use our own issues in a positive way, one that helps both us and our young musicians develop.


  1. The Swiss psycotherapist, Carl Jung, wrote at length about the interaction between parent and child. He felt strongly that children develop under the shadow of the "unlived lives" of their parents. He noted that children "re-enact" under unconscious compulsion the unlived lives of their parents." As one author observed: "Without being conscious of it, without being able to articulate just what is going on, children pick up their parents’ failure to live authentically, and take on this burden." Link