Competitive Atmosphere

Nora Friedman said: Jun 10, 2014
Nora Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Brooklyn, NY
38 posts


I teach at and help run a wonderful music school in Brooklyn and just have gotten terrible news: a family of mine is leaving the school because they feel that the competitive atmosphere in the school does not carry out Suzuki's vision. I was NOT surprised to hear that parents had made backhanded comments to the parent (Oh! She's only up to THAT?!) Meanwhile, in my opinion this child is demonstrating excellence at each level, and has a beautiful foundation. Her families care and attention to detail is setting her up for beautiful and easy playing through book 1. I'm so proud of her work.

Needless to say I'm distraught. We need MORE families like this one at our music school, not fewer. The parent made the good point that speaking only to the parents who made the comment doesn't resolve the systemic issue. I believe this is an opportunity to train our teachers better to handle feelings of competition among parents and children and to work with parents to remind them of the humbling goal of opening people's hearts with beautiful music. We need to change the culture around performances and refocus our parents' and teachers' vision not on the next piece but on the NEW technical and musical goal.

I would like to incorporate a unit on this in our parents class for next fall, and design a training for our teachers before the next school year begins.

Teachers/Administrators: How do you address these issues in your studios and at your music schools? What materials do you use? How do you train your teachers to discuss these issues?

Parents/Students: What do you tell yourselves when these feelings come up? What materials have been helpful for you and what do you think would be helpful for our families?

Much thanks for your help, in advance!

Rachel said: Jun 11, 2014
2 posts

I am so sad to read this. I am a Suzuki parent myself and immersed in a nurturing and positive Suzuki community. In my opinion, because the Suzuki program has a fixed series of books and repertoire, it is very natural to "compare" your child to others, however, I believe it is every parents duty to rise above "where each kids is in the repertoire" and embrace the journey of each child. I do believe that you can shift the culture in your music school, even if slightly and over time. Perhaps in parent-teacher group meetings these topics can be addressed.

I think these feelings, too, subside as children progress through the books. For example, I am much more concerned about tone, connection to music, and the love of playing rather than what piece my child is on. I think now I am focused on life-long music learning rather than a race through the books.

I do think you can nurture this community with love! The feelings might still be there but perhaps how your community embraces each child might be changed. Well wishes to you!


Fabio Dos Santos said: Jun 12, 2014
Fabio Dos SantosTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Campinas, SP, Brazil
12 posts

2013's Parent as Partners had a video – "Defining Progress". It is exactly on the subject of teaching parents how to measure their children's advance. Its a great talk, and very comprehensive about this particular important issue.

It is imperative that teachers explain to parents how they can measure the progress of their children, otherwise, the sequence of the book becomes (logically) their main instrument of measurement.

Here is the link to the transcript

Celia Jones said: Jun 18, 2014
72 posts

Nora, I think it is a problem throughout classical music.

With Suzuki method it's worse though, due to the very linear nature. If you mixed in non-Suzuki pieces then it would blur the differences somewhat. Also in the concerts, to be completely honest as a parent of a slow learner, the concerts feel like a shaming ceremony.

Our parents are all lovely, and I have never had a Suzuki parent comment rudely on progress, they are only kind and supportive. Where the unkind comments come from is relatives and friends.

But here are some good answers me and my daughter have used:

Q. Oh, but your daughter was on Minuet 1 last year, what happened? (asked kindly by a Suzuki mum who knows very well how hard my daughter works)
A. Yes, my daughter finds it so hard to remember the notes, she can't learn the teaching points at the same time, so we went back to the easy pieces to work on technique. Aren't we lucky to have such a patient, painstaking teacher?

Q. Why do you bother with these expensive lessons? She's not very good is she?
A. It's true that violin does not come easy to her, but it is good for her to learn how to tackle something difficult.

Q. Faster, faster, can't you play faster?
A. Never faster than lovely, aunty. (An Ella Fitzgerald quote.)

Q. Twinkle? That's a bit boring, can you play any Vivaldi? I like Vivaldi.
A. Not yet aunty, the A minor concerto is in Book Four, do you like that one?

(My gosh they are rude aren't they?)

Nora Friedman said: Jun 21, 2014
Nora Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Brooklyn, NY
38 posts

Thank you all so much!

So very helpful. We have already sent the Ed Kreitman piece around to all the parents and we read the beginning of it at our recital. Celia, you’re right about those concerts. I hate that aspect.

I was thinking of having a Play the Same Song concert where everyone plays the same piece and we all discuss the ways in which each child plays it differently. I also think it is very useful to have the children discuss each other’s playing, because they never say things like, “I liked how she is playing a higher piece than I am”, they say things like, “I like her long bows, or “Her scroll was so tall”. I think it’s useful to parents to identify and hear what really matters.

Celia, apart from your own solutions, are there things that your music school does to foster this lovely attitude you speak of? would be curious to know.

Thanks so much!

Barb said: Jun 22, 2014
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
685 posts

It may have been in a video or book by Ed Kreitman, that he suggested parents/students to answer the question, “What are you working on?” not with the name of a piece, but something along the lines of, “A beautiful tone.”

Thanks for that link, Fabio.

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

Celia Jones said: Jun 23, 2014
72 posts

Nora, I think if a parent is confident with the way their child is progressing, then nothing anyone says can hurt them. The reason why parents feel under pressure is when they feel they or their child is failing in some way. I think our teachers help by being incredibly patient, calmly repeating an instruction for the umpteenth time.

Also, lots of the children seem to take a number of years to get through Book One, and it’s the parents of those children who provide the most support. The parents of the other children are also well aware that their kids are unusual. I think a parent who is only aware of quick-learning kids could feel under a lot of pressure if their child was slow.

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