Friday, August 13, 2010

Cornerstones of the Suzuki Method Part 2: Ear Training

Most piano methods begin by teaching the student how to read music. While it is important for all students to be able to read music, this often delays the begin of lessons for young children who do not yet know how to read. Beginning with reading also tends to distract students from learning proper technique by directing their eyes away from their hands.

That is why the Suzuki Method begins each student with ear training. The first songs a student learns are learned by ear, enabling both student and teacher to focus on developing the student's technique, so that when he does begin reading, his technique will be solid enough not to deteriorate when the eyes are directed up at the musical score.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Importance of Summer Lessons

I know that most piano teachers take summers off, but there is so much to be lost in doing so! I always encourage my students to continue throughout the summer for the following reasons:

1.Do the Math

Since summer break is only three months long, one would assume that three months is all that is lost when a student takes that time off, but it is really much more than that. It breaks down this way:

3 months of potential progress lost due to not having lessons for three months.
At least 3 months (usually more) of review work lost due to not practicing --or practicing very little-- for three months.
At least 6 months (usually more) of future progress lost due to the time it takes to re-learn the material lost over the summer.

Thus the 3 month break is actually the equivalent of at least 9 months of lost lessons.

2. The Frustration Factor

Most students look forward to having a long break, but once fall comes, they quickly learn just how much of their hard work they have wasted. It is so frustrating to a student to have to re-learn all that they had worked so hard to learn the first time, especially for students to whom learning new things comes with great difficulty. They are in so much of a hurry to catch up that usually the material is not learned nearly as well the second time, and it is often very easily lost. Students who are re-learning often have to be very careful to review their material every day, or else they forget it. It is a frustrating experience for the students, parents, and teachers alike.

3. Monetary Loss

As a parent (or adult student), you pay hard-earned money for your lessons. In taking a quarter off, you not only lose at least 9 months of lessons, you also lose 9 months worth of wasted tuition. You are, in effect, having to pay for the same lessons twice!

4. No One is Immune

You may be tempted to think that it would be different for you or your child, but don’t be deceived! Even my all-time most faithful and diligent students have not been able to keep all that they had learned over the summer. No matter how faithful you intend to be, summer is a busy time, and without the accountability of weekly lessons, practicing will always fall by the wayside.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cornerstones of the Suzuki Method Part 1: Review Songs

In this series of posts on the cornerstones of the Suzuki Method, it is only fit that I begin with review songs. Of the four cornerstones, this is perhaps the most essential.

So, why are review songs so important? Musically, they are vitally important because it is on review songs that good technique and therefore musicality are achieved. If you are skeptical, try taking a brand new song and playing it with 100% accuracy of notes and rhythm, as well as perfect technique and musicality. It is impossible to achieve all that at once. Review songs are a process, giving each layer of technique time to be polished and refined before moving on to the next.

Of course, the Suzuki Method is very much aimed at character development, which is another aspect of the importance of review songs. The hard work required to learn new songs builds endurance, but there are many more character traits that can be developed in keeping up review songs. The first traits learned are self-control and endurance, as a student disciplines himself to do what is assigned him, even when it seems tedious or boring or even pointless. Diligence and responsibility are needed for the necessary practice which solidifies each step, while attentiveness enables the student to grasp the details of each new technical layer. In addition to these, a student must have the wisdom to receive instruction, and the humility to be teachable.

If these reasons are not enough, one might consider the inefficiency of learning new songs without reviewing them. One puts hard work, energy, and time into learning a new piece. If the piece is never reviewed, however, all that work, energy and time is in vain. Think of the wasted hours spent learning new songs that will be finished only to be forgotten.

To learn a new piece is good, but one cannot be always learning the new without reviewing the old. So take heart, and stand firm through the difficulties, the tantrums, --whether yours or your child’s-- the tedium, and the character-stretching, and your efforts will be rewarded with greater musicality and firmer character.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Three Principles of Good Practicing

1. If at first you don't succeed, take a step back and try again. Practicing can be a painful and frustrating experience for a student who is trying to do something that is too difficult. Instead of spending the entire practice getting more and more frustrated, break the task up into smaller or simpler sections until it is within the student's ability. For example, instead of trying to polish a song by repeating the whole thing over and over, spend time drilling the trouble spots first, and then play the whole thing through.

2. Be Consistent. It is far better to practice 15 minutes every day for a week than to practice for three hours the night before lesson. The practice that counts is consistent practice. I always encourage my students to practice 6 days a week, even if they are only able to practice for a few minutes on their busiest days.

3. If at all possible, practice at least as long as your lesson is. The length of your practice time will determine how much you have to show your teacher at your next lesson. Your teacher gives you assignments based on the amount of time you have at lesson. Students should never run out of things to do during practice time. Between new assignments and review songs, there should be plenty for students to work on! --If you do run out, I'm sure your teacher would love to give some extra assignments!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Suzuki Method in a Nutshell

The Suzuki method was founded on the principle that music should be learned the same way one learns his native language. Students begin as babies do, not with reading first, but with learning to produce sound. They learn their first pieces by listening to recordings of their pieces and copying what they hear. (Basic ear-training) This allows them to lay a strong foundation of good technique, (What they must do with their instrument to produce beautiful tone) before adding in the difficulties of sight reading. As students master basic technique, they are taught sight reading as well as other music theory.