Age and the group lesson level

Shirley said: Dec 5, 2012
 4 posts

My five year old has just graduated piano Book1. Compare to her group lesson classmates, she is much more advanced. Most of the kids (age 4.5 yr to 7 yr) are either playing Twinkle or still struggle with the first half of the book. My daughter usually get very bord and she really does not like her group lesson, and she kept asking me when could she join the more “difficult” group lesson. I have spoke to her teacher and her group lesson teacher to see if we can move to the next level, but both teachers against the idea. The reason is the Book2 group lessons are for students age 7 yr+. My daughter would be too young. They asked her to make friends in her book1 group and continue to stay with her own age group.

My question is why is the age factor so important? Why should we discourage a child to move to her appropriate level even if she is ready?

Irene said: Dec 6, 2012
Irene Yeong160 posts

Doesn’t seems fair to students who practice diligently and have to stay in Book 1 due to age factor. The message is , follow the crowd (age group) even if you practice daily, you have to stay behind if others in your age group are not practicing.
I feel and understand your frustration.

Mary said: Dec 6, 2012
 39 posts

As a parent, I can sympathize with your desire to have your child go into the group class that matches where she is in the repertoire. But I’ll just say from my own experience with my now 9 year old who plays the violin and is now halfway through Book 5, when he was about 6 we also had the opportunity to put him in the book 2 class with older kids versus having him in the book 1 class with a few more kids his age. We did this because we honestly wanted him to see music as a community experience that was about having fun with friends and sharing music and being generous and supportive of others. We wanted him to also learn to appreciate other kids’ playing and learn to be part of an ensemble. And as it turned out he picked up some leadership skills because as the more advanced kid in the room he was often asked to demonstrate a teaching point. I think overall it was a real self-esteem booster and he made really great friends. And being in the book 1 class didn’t slow down his own progress at all. If anything being in that class I think helped because it was fun and relaxed and helped to support the song reviewing that we did at home.

Basically every year we have had to make this same decision and some years we went with the more advanced class depending on the teacher’s teaching style and the age composition of the class. As long as I could see a peer group for him in the class I was ok with letting him move up. This year, we had to make the same decision regarding whether to put him in a book 3/4 class versus book 5+ class. If we had just based the decision on repertoire we would have put him in the more advanced class with kids who were pre-teens to early teens and I just thought that was not a great social peer situation for him. Still, we sat in on the book 5+ class just in case it would be a good fit and while it was a very well run class and he would have learned a great deal his social maturity was more appropriate for the 3/4 class. And again we’re reaping the benefits of him having his friends in the class and working on review. In his private class he continues to make beautiful progress with the repertoire as well as doing sight reading, scales and etudes, etc. so again no harm done to put him in the other class.

My younger 6 year old is now doing piano and in late book 1. His group class has children ranging from 4-15 who are twinklers to beyond the books and his teacher does this on purpose to foster community and respect across the ages and skill levels. Each child plays their working piece and then there are group games that are challenging but fun. The older ones are meant to help the younger ones and they work together as teams. To me what he is learning in this space is how to be part of a musical community rather than repertoire or technique. And most of all he is having fun with his little friends many of whom are twinklers or just starting on Lightly Row. He loves going to group class.

So my thinking here is that one could focus on the books as the sole criteria for determining group class placement but then you’re missing the point of Suzuki educating the whole child. I also think it is about parental and teacher attitudes first and foremost that really set the tone for your child’s learning environment. If you are enthusiastic and help your daughter to make friends and see the fun, community aspects of group class she may have a very different experience.

Gloria said: Dec 6, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Pianolinmom, 100% my thoughts as well. I also teach private lessons and groups to the same kids, and it is sometimes a little tricky to decide who goes where and why. I believe the most important factor here is the understanding of the mom and teacher of Dr. Suzuki’s plan, to let them grow in an environment where that can happen in all aspects, not just adding repertoire. Attitude is everything, and the kids usually follow the parents in this respect.

Mary Anne Polk O'Meara said: Dec 6, 2012
Mary Anne Polk O’Meara
Suzuki Association Member
16 posts

I teach in a Suzuki school that offers piano, violin, and cello. We struggle with this issue, as well, but at least for the near term we have decided for piano groups, where the children do not play together that much, to keep our groups together mostly by age. (In the older groups we introduce them to playing together, and teens are in ensembles, either with other pianists or the violin and cello. We’ve found with piano that a little maturity goes a long way with playing together, since most of their playing is solo.) Typically in piano group there are a number of group activities, not involved with playing, which reinforce rhythm and reading skills, plus in nearly every group meeting each child “performs” a piece for the group. We have found that having the children grouped by age means that we can keep all the activities age-and developmentally- appropriate. There are also a lot fewer complaints about inappropriate behavior. For instance, parents 4 and 5 year olds are much more likely to be tolerant of the behavior that comes with 4 year olds than parents of 8 and 9 year olds. When the children play their solos, it doesn’t really matter how far along they are in the repertoire. We have also found that sometimes a child who is ahead in the repertoire is not ahead in some of the other skills, such as reading, being a good audience member, being able to keep the beat when another child is playing, etc. So we discourage comparisons of “what is your child learning.” There are a few parents who think their children should be in a class with others who are at the same point in the repertoire. Sometimes they just don’t understand Suzuki method, but more often, if they observe the “higher” group, they see that their child would not be able to do most of the activities. And there is a lot to be said for developing leading and following skills.

That said, we group violin students more on where they are in the repertoire. This is because most of the classes consist of playing together. Members of the class need to be able to play most of the same repertoire

We only have enough cello students for one group; so this challenges the teacher to create ways in which the beginners can participate with those who are farther along. But I understand that Suzuki himself had very long groups that children of all levels attended, watching and listening until he got to a place where the child was able to participate.

Lori Bolt said: Dec 6, 2012
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

I agree w/ Mary Anne. There is much more to the group lesson dynamic than the level of study. As a teacher, I feel that staying in the lower level group for a while—even while working through the next book in private lesson—would be a fantastic Review tool….and we all know how hard it can be to stay motivated to review the earlier book.

Lori Bolt

Shirley said: Dec 6, 2012
 4 posts

Well, I do not against the idea to let the child to play with the other kids at the same age group. However, my 5 year old is a lot more mature than the rest of the group. Most of the kids’ behaviour in that class are unacceptable in my opinion, but I have to accept the fact that not all kids are as mature as mine. We don’t know any other parents in the class because the group has changed completely since this September. Most of her friends from last year’s group have dropped out. She is one of the two kids who stayed. So it’s a new class for her anyway. On the other hand, she knew some kids in book2 group since we have seen them often last year in the concert, group lessons. She wanted to catch up them so bad that she gave extra effort to practice and graduated book1. I felt it is unfair to tell her that no matter how hard she work, she can never join book2 group because of her age. That would destroy her motivation. Personally, I think age should not be the only factor to divide the group.

Irene said: Dec 7, 2012
Irene Yeong160 posts

In my teacher’s studio, we have adults, primary schools students, grandparents, playing in one group performance. As long as you are in the level, , you can play together.

In my opinion, the beauty of music is, there is no barrier in age, gender , race, nationalities .

Sue Hunt said: Dec 8, 2012
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

Chronological makes absolutely no difference. Mental and emotional age is another matter.

Lori Bolt said: Dec 8, 2012
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

s_piano ~ do you think your child’s teachers might be willing to let her join the Bk. 2’s for a few classes with the agreement that she would be placed where they decide after observing her?

Have you observed the Bk. 2 group to see whether you feel it’s the best for your child?

Lori Bolt

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