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An attainable New Year’s resolution

I resolve to [fill in the blank] for the new yar.

by Elizabeth Gergel

“To make a resolution and act accordingly is to live with hope. There may be difficulties and hardships, but not disappointment or despair if you follow the path steadily. Do not hurry. This is a fundamental rule. If you hurry and collapse or tumble down, nothing is achieved. Do not rest in your efforts; this is another fundamental rule. Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking a step at a time forward will surely get you there.” – Dr. Suzuki

The dawn of 2017 offers us the opportunity to have a fresh start and make resolutions that we hope to follow in the new year. Many of us will boldly make statements such as “I’m going to help my child to practice one hour every single day,” or “I vow to write in a journal every day of 2017.”

I encourage you to take a step back from such lofty goals. Let us take this opportunity to set attainable goals instead.

Perhaps the most important aspect of providing your child with music lessons is the gift of the playing of beautiful music. Remember to congratulate yourself each day for this—no matter whether you practiced for the intended 60 minutes… or the unintended zero minutes of practice.

An attainable goal for this year could be to listen to the Suzuki book recording more frequently.

Find ways to incorporate listening into your daily routine, whether it be while making dinner, bathtime, running errands, etc. There have been countless times in my teaching experience when I ask a student how many times she listened to the recording of her current book in the week leading up to the lesson, and I receive a less than desirable response. None. Once or twice.

Listening is perhaps the easiest and the best way for your child to learn their music.

As Dr. Suzuki emphasized in the quotation at the top of this Practice Corner, make a small, reasonable—and most importantly—attainable goal. This will do much more to further growth than far-reaching unrealistic goals. I also have to commit to listening to my repertoire more. It is easy to overlook creating the time and the space for listening. In our ever more hectic lives it becomes increasingly important to carve out a place for the activities that are more “quiet” and peaceful.

So this year, step back from the lofty and focus on the attainable. It’s a New Year’s resolution you can keep.

Image: BazaarBizarreSF

4 Holiday Tips for Guilt-Free Practice

It’s no secret that the holidays can be a challenging time for regular practice. School is out. Holiday activities pack the schedule. You might be traveling, or family and friends might be visiting from out of town. With so much happening during the holidays, how do you manage to fit in practice?

But there’s a crucial component that we need to address first: avoid guilt.

Sometimes a practice might get missed, or stress from the holidays might bleed over into practice. If this happens, forgive your child and forgive yourself. Above all, avoid guilt in both you and your child. Guilt saps motivation. Planning for practice and for practice breaks will help you avoid guilt and set you and your child up for success.

Practice is a meaningful quality time for parent and child. During the holidays, this can make practice a break from the hustle and bustle of the season. Not only will this help motivate your child, it will reinforce your motivation too.

Here are our 4 holidays tips to help you guilt-free practice:

1. Practice early in the day.

It can be harder to have a later practice than one earlier in the day. Usually,the further your day progresses, the more your practice time will have to compete with other activities. Try having practice closer to the start of the day, such as after breakfast. Then practice is done and you don’t have to worry about it slipping through the cracks. You and your child can also start the day with a feeling of success and accomplishment.

2. Set a minimum daily practice.

Just because the holidays are challenging, you can still set a good baseline. Set a minimum practice for your child (if they’re old enough, maybe they can negotiate this with you). A good minimum could be a current song plus one review song. Aim for more, of course, but on those days where time is tight and everyone feels rushed or squeezed, a simple minimum can still help make the difference between some practice and no practice. That regular practice will also set up your child for success and can make practice easier when that routine is maintained.

3. Make your Suzuki listening part of your day’s soundtrack.

In our house, we put on our Suzuki listening during breakfast. Incorporate your listening into a time that works well for you. It could be during a meal, as part of bedtime, or while traveling for an event, shopping, or a family visit. Having listening as a regular part of the day builds consistency, which can ease the rush of the holidays.

4. Agree in advance any practice breaks—and agree when practice will resume.

Yes, we aim to practice every day. But during the holidays, we also know we need some leeway.

If you’re traveling, agree in advance whether or not you’re taking your instrument. If you need to leave the instrument at home and take a practice break, accept that and don’t feel guilty. Also set when you will resume practice, so you and your child know in advance and can get back in to practice after your trip.

If you want to have Christmas or another time during the holidays be a practice break, discuss it with your child so everyone is on the same page. That will also make it easier to resume practice once the practice break is done.

There is so much happening during the holidays, but the joy of music and learning are another fun time that can be part anyone’s busy season. Use these tips to help you and your child work together on practice and listening, and that can help put more joy and less stress into your holidays.

Bead chain practice challenge

Jodie is also earning beads for her 100 Day Practice Challenge!

Jodie is also earning beads for her 100 Day Practice Challenge!

ESMA’s 100 day practice challenge

Students aren’t the only ones who need regular practice—teachers need it too. I recently started a #100DayPracticeChallenge with some fellow Suzuki teachers. It’s simple: practice 100 days in a row.

And you know what? That’s something I’ve (surprisingly) never done.

As I was preparing for the challenge, I realized that it was something the entire studio could share. A practice challenge—whether it’s 7 days, 30 days, a 100 days, whatever—is a great way to encourage practice, inspire learning, and get back into a good practice groove after a break (such as summer or the holidays).

My whole studio is now counting up to 100 days of practice. Some students are doing 100 days in a row like I am, and other students are just counting each day they practice.

How do you keep track of practice? Bead chains!

Each participating student has their own bead chain hanging in the studio's welcome room

Each participating student has their own bead chain hanging in the studio’s welcome room.

To help each of us keep track of our practice progress, I’ve set up bead chains in the welcome room at the entrance to the studio. The chains are simple—just a length of string with a name tag at one end, and a loop tied at the other end for hanging on a small hook. (I’ve hung these pretty high so our Little Notes babies and toddlers can’t get them.)

When a student comes in for their weekly lesson, we go over how many days they practiced during the week since their previous lesson. At the beginning of their lesson, the student picks out their new beads.

Practice challenge bead jars and name tags

Practice challenge bead jars and name tags

For days 1-4 that they’ve practiced over the past week, they get a round bed. For days 5-7, they get special star beads. After we finish the lesson, the student strings on their new beads as they leave the studio for a new practice week.

What happens when I get to 100?

First, congratulate yourself! You made it. If you’ve been keeping notes, take time to look at the progress you made in 100 days. Or take a short video every 10 days of what you’ve been working on. Too often, we are putting in hard work and it’s hard to see the progress. Celebrating those successes can be a huge motivator.

For our studio, we’ll be celebrating our 100 days of practice with a party in April after Spring Break. There will be prizes for anyone who does 100 days in a row as well as for the first 5 students to reach 100.

If you haven’t started your practice challenge yet, let’s talk about it in your next lesson! As for me, I have a bead to earn—time to practice!

Practice Corner: Review Chain


What happens when you combine strips of construction paper with the review songs you play in practice?

You get a review chain!


All term we are making a paper chain for the studio. For every review song played, take a strip of construction paper and make a new link for our chain.

Making a Suzuki review song chain needs just some construction paper

Making a Suzuki review song chain needs just some construction paper

I have strips of construction paper at the studio that you can take home, or you can make your own. Here are some other ideas for things you can do with your review chain links:

  • Have one color for each Suzuki book you’re reviewing songs from
  • Let your child pick a color that’s their color
  • Write song names on the paper, put them in a hat, and choose a piece at random for review
  • Play a review song, then write the song name on the link


Every few weeks, bring your links to the studio and I will add them to our growing chain.

Cozy Friend Practice Game

Image: Outsanity Photos

Image: Outsanity Photos

Want to try something new in your child’s practice? Here’s a suggestion from Julie, whose daughter and son are ESMA violin students:

In our family, stuffed animals are called cozy friends. In this practice game, 8 cozy friends “compete” against each other to see who is the best at guessing which of 2 practice spots the child will play.

The child gives each of the practice spots a color, such as green and pink. The cozy friends line up in 4 pairs. The first pair chooses colors and whispers them to the child’s parent. The child does not know which color each one chose. (In our family, cozy friends have personalities, and it isn’t always difficult to guess.) Sometimes the cozy friends even fight over which one gets to be pink! (As parent, I step in and tell them sternly that one of them must be green).

The child plays one of the practice spots. The cozy friend who chose the right color wins and goes into a “winners line.” Losers get to snuggle with the parent.

When all the pairs have had a turn, the 4 winners line up in pairs and do it again. Now 2 finalists are left. Which one will win? The child plays a spot one last time, and the winner gets some kind of prize, such as sitting in a seat of honor or wearing a crown.

This game can be varied almost endlessly. Usually we choose colors, but sometimes the colors are modified by polka dots or stripes. Instead of colors, sometimes we choose ice cream flavors or flowers, whatever the child wants. Have fun!

Practice Corner: Live Performance

Attending live performances can be inspiring and motivational. Summer can also be a time of low motivation since lessons are not regular and we don’t have group class. Summer is also a great time to enjoy concerts, because they are often family friendly. Check out these great opportunities for your family:

Eugene Symphony in the Park. A community favorite, join the Eugene Symphony for a free evening concert on July 21 at Cuthbert Ampitheatre. Tickets available starting June 21. Be sure to get them right away. They go fast!

The Oregon Bach Festival holds many free events and youth concerts, such as:

  • On the House: Young Chamber Players Thursday, July 12, 2012
  • OBF Kids: Buzz and Crow Saturday, July 7, 2012
  • OBF Kids: Peter and the Wolf Saturday, July 14, 2012
  • “The first family of five siblings ever to all attend the Juilliard School,” The 5 Browns play Thursday, July 12
  • Violinist Joshua Bell also plays Eugene, Friday, June 29

Of course, this is just a fraction of the musical events at this year’s OBF. See the Events page for more.

Concerts in the Parks. Parks in the Eugene/Springfield area offer free events and concerts throughout the summer. These are a great way for family and friends to take in an evening’s entertainment and spend time together. See the Eugene, Cascades & Oregon Coast Calendar of Events for concerts and more at a park near you.

Portland! Of course, many of us also spend time in Portland over the summer. Kid-friendly events happen all summer long, all over the city, such as:

  • Portland Summer Free for All Concerts in the Park
  • Portland Kids’ Weekend Events: June 15-17

Have a musical summer!

Practice Corner: The Importance of Performance

Every once and a while (usually around recital time) someone asks me the same question: why do we need to perform?

Some students are very comfortable with performance. Others get nervous. Regular performance can make the difference between a fun experience and a feeling of failure. No matter how a student feels when performing, there are many things to learn and benefit from through performance. These are reasons why we perform and why performance is important:

  • Confidence in Front of a Group: Learning how to perform violin or cello in front of a group can also help with speaking skills and group confidence.
  • Learning How to Think Fast Under Pressure: While performing, unexpected things happen. Figuring out how to deal with them quickly and not let it affect the rest of the piece is important.
  • Practice Performing: Performing only gets harder if you don’t continue to try. Performing regularly is an important factor to make it easier.
  • Setting a Goal: Having a performance as a goal often helps push a student into the next level of playing. A performance can be an excellent goal and motivator.

Tips for recital success

When getting ready for a recital or other musical performance, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Try to set up your child for success
  • Pick a piece the student is more comfortable and confident with
  • Play that piece for as many people (or stuffed animals) that are willing to sit down and listen
  • After all the hard work put into learning a piece, it’s nice to get the chance to perform it many times
  • Instead of presenting the performance as a test, keep the recital a celebration of hard work. That will bring out your child’s confidence, and their joy of music will show.

That’s why we perform. See you at our next recital!

Practice Corner: Listening

Most parents start their journey of being a Suzuki parent without very much knowledge of what the Suzuki Method is. Often they’ve heard about the Suzuki Method in passing, but the philosophy is something new. When we start talking to a new parent about music, the first thing we tell them about is listening.

This is one of the major points of the Suzuki Method. Way before the “Mozart Effect”, Suzuki was working with students by having them listen. Historically it was a prime time to introduce this into music education. Recordings were widely availible, and we no longer had to rely solely on printed music to discover how a piece sounds.

  • How can listening help?
  • Train a sense of melody and understanding of the relationships between notes
  • Train a sense of harmony and how parts fit together
  • Train a sense of rhythm, length of notes and steady beat
  • Hearing the difference in bowings
  • Dr. Suzuki talked about listening 3 times as much as you practice! Set yourself up for success by having a designated place and routine around your listening. Here are a few ideas:
  • While the family eats breakfast
  • In the car
  • During daily play time
  • With friends
  • During homework
  • While getting ready for bed
  • Make sure your recording is convenient to play and listen to. Make a copy for different CD players or put it on your iPod. Need to mix it up? Add some different violin/orchestra/chamber music/fiddle pieces to give your ears something fresh.

Practice Corner: Bow Holds

We have spied some excellent bow holds over the last few weeks, and we’re spending the rest of winter term brushing up on our bow hold technique. There are many reasons that a good bow hold is important:

  • Get a Big Sound: Having a flexible and curved bow hold is one of the easiest ways to get that big sound. This helps get a natural weight in the bow. If you force the weight, it squishes the sound, which won’t project as far.
  • Prepare for Advanced Techniques: Many off-string and advanced bow techniques require a flexible bow hold. Bows are built with a unique balance and bounce that a good bow hold can utilize.

Here are a few tips for working on that bow hold:

  • Check That Pinky, Check That Thumb: Are they curved? Beyond that, are they flexible?
  • Volcano vs. Soccer Field: Keep those knuckles flat (like a soccer field) with curved fingers.
  • Tap That Pinky: Tap the pinky on top of the stick to make sure it’s in the correct place. Make sure the pinky is curved. Tapping the pinky makes sure it can’t get too stiff.
  • Review! Working on techniques is best with review songs. Have a lot to re-learn and fix? Pick a song that uses a small amount of bow to start.

Practice Corner: Motivation

When talking about practice, motivation can often be the elephant in the room. What motivates us to play music? Why do we spend hours and hours practicing our instruments? Often people who have not had experience with learning music believe it is full of passion all the time. However, when you talk to any musician, they will tell you they have had ups and downs with the practicing motivation. Both the parent and the teacher can help create the environment for learning and motivation.

  • Be ready for occasional dips in motivation. This does not mean your child doesn’t want to play. It simply means it may be time to change the learning environment in some way.
  • Are all your practice games stale? Check your bag of tricks to see if you can rotate games or try something new and different. Even a slight variation of a practice game can make practice that much easier. Also, don’t forget old games. Something you haven’t done for a few months may seem brand new.
  • Check out live performance. Whether it’s a fellow group of young musicians or a professional group, seeing other people play can be highly motivating. It can also help establish goals.
  • Listen to music in the home. No matter what type, connecting to music is important. Want some suggestions for classical pieces to listen to? Your teacher will be happy to share some of their favorites.
  • Balance praise and critique. During your practice make sure you’re letting your child know what they are doing well. A good formula is to start with what they are doing well, then talk about what to work on. It’s especially great to find the things they were working on a few weeks ago. This also helps you observe them in a different light. Instead of always look at what needs work, start with what is going right!
  • Give a little TLC to your motivation. Parents need help with motivation too! Connecting with parents before group class, attending workshops or institutes, checking out the Suzuki Association website, or watching videos on Parents as Partners are all good for your motivation.
  • Communicate with your teacher. Your teacher may have some great ideas on what to do at home or show you a few new games to try. Make sure you address motivation issues way before the “Q word” even gets mentioned.

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