Reconciling School Music Program (2nd instrument) with outside Suzuki Study

Mark Graham said: Nov 17, 2014
 1 posts

Our children are 8 and have been studying Suzuki for some time (violin—in her 3rd year, guitar—in his 1st year).

Next year our school asks every student to take on a wind instrument and participate in a mandatory music program.

I’ve asked that our kids be able to participate with their chosen instruments and the initial response was negative although further discussion was offered.

I admire the school’s program but our practice regimen is already challenging (the violinist is in Orchestra, Chamber and working on her Suzuki repertoire (nearly done with Book 2) in private and group lessons at an outside music school, guitar is less challenging at this point but our overall schedule is challenging. without adding 2 more (likely different) instruments. Both our kids love their instruments and have an ability to practice for quite a while and progress quickly as a result.

I’m reluctant to send a message to our kids that participating in the school’s program isn’t important or that they shouldn’t work to excel at the instrument that they’re assigned but if my kids continue to be interested in their primary instrument (as I expect), I’m going to do my best to structure any practice to be least impactful on our study (the school’s requirements are quite light—5 min per day….which I feel is also not something that leads to excellence although they’ve achieved decent results with the the first class to go through this program at our relatively young school).

In addition, I’m concerned what this looks like if the program extends into middle school (middle school will open next year) and that it becomes more problematic as time passes and demands on both sides become greater.

I’m curious if others have encountered this before and have insights, precedents of how other schools have handled it or helpful advice.

Many thanks in advance

Rhonda said: Nov 18, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Edmonton, AB
13 posts

I think that you should go along with the school program.

First of all, if the other children are learning wind instruments, your kids will be out of place playing their stringed instruments. The teacher may not appreciate having to create music for guitar and violin. Plus, your children aren’t beginners on their primary instruments, and therefore would be way ahead of their classmates in terms of skill level. The class will be boring for them, while they sit back and watch the others learn from the beginning.

Secondly, you might be overestimating how much extra work this class will create for your family. Your children are Suzuki students—they already have developed a keen ear for music. As a result, learning a wind instrument may be quite easy for them, once they get the sound production part. At the same time, if they have already been doing some note reading on their primary instruments, they will be ahead of the other kids in that area as well. Yes, they may need to take their wind instrument home and practice sometimes. But I would assume you won’t need to assist with the practice in the same way as you do with their Suzuki instruments.

I think this is a chance for your children to try new instruments, share in a musical experience with the school friends, and possibly excel on their “second” instruments. Don’t worry about being busy already—I bet all of the kids at their school are busy with other activities. I bet the speed of progress in the class will be quite slow, as it can take some time for kids to learn how to make a sound.

That’s just my 2 cents worth!

Heather Reichgott said: Nov 19, 2014
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
102 posts

Taking on a second instrument for ensemble purposes is a great opportunity for kids. They will learn quickly since they are already musicians, they will gain exposure to non-string music, they’ll be able to share music with school friends. And instruments are often like languages—once you know two, it’s much easier to learn several, if that’s what you want. Also, school programs don’t really demand home practice unless the students want to audition for solos or something, so the time commitment would mostly still be up to you.

By the way I played flute in elementary school band and then bass in middle and high school orchestras. As I’m primarily a pianist it was even more important to find some ensemble opportunities. I don’t play flute or bass anymore but I’m so glad I did—and being with those ensembles led to piano performance opportunities as a teenager that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Many of the professional music educators I know got interested in the field after learning a secondary instrument for school.

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