6yo starting suzuki piano lessons

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Rowena Rong said: Mar 18, 2013
 6 posts

Hi everyone,

I’m Rowena. I live in Sydney, Australia. I cannot seem to find a good Suzuki parents forum in Australia so hopefully I can get some help here.

My family didn’t know anything about playing piano when we started my 6yo daughter Kai with a Suzuki piano teacher 3 weeks ago. We were given a piano 3 months ago and I thought why not try getting Kai into a piano lesson. I myself am interested in learning to play piano too. So the Suzuki method sounds very attactive to me.

Kai seems to be very interested in learning to play piano. I allocated half an hour a day for her to practice. That’s the maximum we can afford. We’re a busy family with two full-time working parents and two kids at 6 and 2. The only time Kai can sit down and do something during a day is 6:30pm—7:30pm, after dinner and before brushing her teeth and go to bed. She has other homework to do, so I allocated half an hour for homework and half an hour for piano practicing.

The first two lessons were ok. However after the third lesson, I find that half an hour is not enough for piano. In the last two days I had to spend over 1 hour a day with her on piano. We could do that long only because the first day was a weekend day and the second day was my sick day off work so we had more than half an hour to spare.

I feel that Kai now has too many pieces to practice as a student only finishing her 3rd lesson. The list of the pieces that she has to practice every day during this week is as follows:

  1. hot cross buns left hand
  2. hot cross buns right hand
  3. apple pie left hand
  4. apple pie right hand
  5. chocolate hot cross buns left hand
  6. chocolate hot cross buns right hand
  7. chocolate apple pie left hand
  8. chocolate apple pie right hand
  9. froggy froggy jump jump left hand
  10. froggy froggy jump jump right hand
  11. run mummy run daddy left hand x 10 times a day
  12. run mummy run daddy right hand x 10 times a day
  13. 5 finger exercise left hand x 10 times a day
  14. 5 finger exercise right hand x 10 times a day
  15. popcorn and icecream left hand
  16. popcorn and icecream right hand

This is pretty much the accummulation of what she has learned in the last 3 lessons and the teacher may check/test any few of these in the next lesson.

During the practicing I have to correct her postures etc which may make the practicing more difficult and more time consuming. Sometimes Kai gets so frustrated that she burst into tears. We could both get exhausted during the practice and at the end of each practice session we would both be so relieved that it was over.

I thought piano shouldn’t be so stressful. Something must be wrong. And I believe it is the number of the pieces that she has to do (as a new student) that has added so much pressure onto us.

I’ve asked a friend who also teaches Suzuki piano and she said she wouldn’t start teaching left hand so early. And the list does sound too long for her to be able to finish practicing in half an hour.

I wonder if other parents have experienced similar problems? If so how did you deal with it? And how do you communicate with the teacher? I am about to raise this issue with the teacher. But I wonder if Kai is not to progress so fast, whether it is still worth it to go weekly lessons? Maybe that is what a weekly lesson is supposed to have?

Any suggestions/advice?

Thanks in advance.

Rowena

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 20, 2013
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

coming from a teacher’s perspective—have you spoken to the teacher about this?

Sometimes it helps to find out what exactly the teacher expects you to do during a practice session, and how many minutes the teacher thinks it should take.

Perhaps also, you can make a chart so that you don’t have to practice everything every day, but can check off so that you make sure you get to everything every week, and be sure to ask the teacher which one thing should be prioritized each week.

For example, suppose the teacher wants froggy froggy jump jump to be the priority this week, in rhythmic accuracy or good hand position or tone quality or what have you. So you make a chart which has that down for practice 6 days out of the week. Everything else you can mark to practice a fewer number of days.

So, for example, take your numbered list of things to practice and on
- day one (the lesson day), practice the one thing your teacher prioritized for the week, plus one other thing.
- Day two, practice numbers 1 through 10.
- Day three, make a medium or light practice day so only practice the one thing your teacher prioritized for the week plus one or two other things that you think need the second most amount of work
- Day four, practice numbers 3 through 13.
- Day five, take a break from physical practice and do listening or musicianship practicing only, off-instrument…
- Day six, practice numbers 5 through 15.
- Day seven, practice numbers 6 through 16

Of course you can tweak that to fit your schedule, depending on how long each thing takes—and you’ll want to change the practice plan each week so that the one thing your teacher prioritized for that particular week gets practiced every day, while still giving yourself only half the amount of things to get through on any given practice session.

Kiyoko said: Mar 20, 2013
 84 posts

It’s okay to slow down. It’s not a race. Suzuki method is about developing the beautiful heart of a child and enjoyment of music along with learning to play an instrument.

Talk to the teacher about the challenges and expectations for practice. Ask what the teacher wants specifically prepared for the next week. Ask to review your notes at the end of the lesson.

Suzuki parents often try to integrate what they can into the day so learning music becomes second nature. Maybe find ways to do some of the finger exercises on the way to school or while waiting at the store or doctor’s office. Maybe have her demonstrate some correct posture while you are feeding your two year old.

Learning to practice is a process in itself. If it is still too much to cover at once, maybe try to break it up into two sessions—homework, piano, homework, piano. In the meanwhile, follow your parenting instincts. You know your child best and can tell when they have had enough practice.

Kim said: Mar 20, 2013
 39 posts

I’m a piano parent. My 12 year old has been taking piano since age 5 and is now in book 6. I have a violin kid that started at 4 too. My 12 year old practices like an hour+ NOW and is learning a 9 page sonata and doing plenty of other stuff.

I so agree that learning to practice is a process and an adjustment. As my kids age and advance, we need to keep adjusting. Really, if you sat down and did that list of things all in a row, it shouldn’t take anywhere close to an hour. My initial goal was not to learn any one thing, but to get the instrument 6 days a week, and try to make that time, whatever it was, fun. If you find this to be a horrendous chore, I think it can transfer to the child. When my oldest started piano, sometimes we’d spend time just seeing how long he could hold a ready position quietly. We’d play games with stickers and pennies. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Give your child a sticker (or just be tallying) for every repetition she gets through during that time. Stop when you’re out of time. When she hits some number like 100 or 500 repetitions, go celebrate in some way.

Is your child tired when you have time to do it? At that age, it worked best for us to practice before leaving in the morning. Practice went SO much better earlier in the day. Actually, it still does. How long does your child stay focused? I would start there. If she can do 5 things, and then falls apart, stop.

Suzuki is a time intensive activity and I’d pace yourself and ramp up slowly. There’s no race to get through these things. If your child shows up to the next lesson only able to play half those items well, it’s totally fine! A good Suzuki teacher wants you to be successful and not burn out. If you can’t manage more than 30 minutes right now, or your child loses focus quickly, let your teacher know.

Rowena Rong said: Apr 10, 2013
 6 posts

Thanks everyone for your replies.

The teacher is still overseas so I haven’t got a chance to talk to her yet. However in the last couple of weeks we have seen some improvements and I am grateful for all your inputs as they really helped a lot.

First of all, I did try to slow down, and try to lower my expectations. Kai has been much more relaxed now than before when I was very strict.

Then when she started practicing both hands, the number of pieces she had to practice reduced a lot (from both left hand and right hand to both hands). It doesn’t seem that we have a long list of things to go through everyday now, and both of us feel relieved that we do not have as much pressure as before.

Also I have started a new practice to make daily practicing fun. I write the names of each piece on a small piece of paper, and also write some fun things. Then crunch each piece of paper up and put them in a jar for Kai to draw when it’s practice time. She has become more and more interested in participating in the practice as she is always excited to know what next she will draw. Especially when she draws a “surprise” which is a fun thing to do, she will burst into laughter. It is just hilarious. Some examples of fun things are: roll on the floor three times; jump on your left foot three times; run downstairs and come back; hug your sister; kiss daddy; etc. They only need a few seconds to do, but it makes the practicing so much easier. When she is frustrated with a piece, she would always lighten up when she draws the next one, and her mood would change immediately when it’s a surprise. I have seen this practice changed her so much, that last night she would go to the piano to wait for her practicing session.

We are not normally able to practice in the morning, as I work full time and need to leave home at 7am to drop off the girls at school and day care before I go to work. There is no way we can schedule any practice in the morning. Even on weekends, Kai is not willing to practice in the morning. I think she is used to do it at night and she thinks it’s a thing to do at night only.

Anyway I am so glad that things have worked out so well and I hope it will continue. And thanks again everyone for your advice/suggestions/inspirations. I feel so much better now than 3 weeks ago!

Rowena

Barb said: Apr 11, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thank you, Rowena, for sharing the update with us! Very encouraging! Making practice fun and relaxed really helps!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Kim said: Apr 11, 2013
 39 posts

Yay—what a great update! :) Keeping it fun is huge at this age!

Kiyoko said: Apr 19, 2013
 84 posts

I too am glad to about how much more enjoyment you are both having!

Something that rung a bell is what you mentioned about the mornings. Like your family, my mother worked so there was little time in the mornings. For years, I fought my Mom about starting violin practice right after school, since all I wanted was a little down time—the rule was I couldn’t go out to play or do anything else like read until I practiced even on weekends. But when I started going to music camps on my own, I learned to enjoy practicing at other times the day. In high school, I had a lot that I wanted to practice (private lessons, school orchestra, youth symphony, improv workshop), and I found myself enjoying voluntarily waking up at 4:30 to practice before school, and then again in the evenings.

This might seem like a ton right now, but maybe you could teach her to take a few seconds to put some music on before she dresses in the morning? It may not seem like practice but listening is an extended part of practice.

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