To Listen or not to Listen!

Heather said: Mar 16, 2015
Heather BradenViolin, Viola
4 posts

I love peeking in at the Suzuki Forums, but this is the first time I’ve posted for ideas. I’m finding myself super-struggling to get my students of all ages and stages listening to their CD’s. Encouraging them to put the music onto their cell phones or iPods or….whatever goes into their ears feels harder then pulling teeth these days! Even with the little ones, it’s feeling trickier and trickier to get the parents onboard with the listening. Any suggestions on how you get students motivated to listen? Any thoughts would be very “muchly” appreciated! :)

Shelly said: Mar 17, 2015
Suzuki Association Member
3 posts

As the parent of a five-year old guitarist (and soon-to-be three-year old violinist), I really do feel that it is my job to make listening part of my student’s practice time regardless of their age. I work all day and travel frequently, so I have to rely on others to see the importance of investing in my children’s learning, including Dad who’s more of a Hank Williams, Jr.-Three Doors Down and not a Go Tell Aunt Rhody kind of guy. It helped to pull out the bill and remind him how much we are investing monetarily, but it also helped to put the CD and radio in a strategic location for Dad to turn on during practice. I used to keep the radio and CD in my son’s room and played it softly at bed time, putting the player on a “repeat all” setting. That didn’t help Dad who practiced in another location during the day, so I have since decided to purchase a second CD and CD player, which is relatively cheap at Wal Mart, to ensure that I make the opportunity to listen easy on others. They (including older siblings who help with bed time activities) can now simply switch on a CD player from multiple locations in the house. We don’t listen as much as I’d like, but we do at least play through all the songs we’ve learned with the CD and listen to the one we are working on several times during our daily practice time. Dad was able to get on board with that because I made it easy on him to incorporate into his hectic home routine.

Melanie Drake said: Mar 17, 2015
Melanie Drake36 posts

I recommend Michelle Horner’s Parents as Partners ‘Listening Like a Maniac’ video. In this video, she provides evidence that listening will remove the pain from practice. Who doesn’t want that? It’s very convincing. This is an older video, but it was included in this year’s Parents as Partners lineup.

I have implemented a version of her strategy in my home. Each of my three kids has a Squeezebox radio in their room. Each kid has a playlist, which I continuously modify (from my iPad!) to include at least their working piece, their new piece, and a few pieces beyond that. When a child’s working piece changes, I update their playlist. Michelle’s magic formula is to repeat each song 10 times; I just use short playlists that repeat. Most importantly, this system allows me to control their music (e.g., turn it off after they’ve fallen asleep) from my iPad. It’s really simple and painless (although it can be maddening for houseguests to listen to three different playlists at once!).

Laura Burgess said: Mar 17, 2015
Laura Burgess
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
34 posts

Heather, I found that this has turned around for me by asking the student and parent about it, asking how they listen (CD, iPad, etc) and when they listen. I have gotten to where I can tell the difference in their learning, whether they are listening or not. Those who are listening soon are learning the notes and rhythms themselves, so I can teach the technique and teaching points of each piece. I also tell parents who rave about my gifted students how they listen and set up the home environment. It is like advertising, it may take several campaigns for some of them to make it part of their environment.

Laura Burgess

Sharon said: Mar 17, 2015
Suzuki Association Member
Voice, Piano
Eagle River, AK
4 posts

If it is not a part of the routine which parents have established it will fall through. This is very true with my teens as well. There is just too much media competing with our children and their interest for this is very high. I find that my best routines happen in families were the music is on in the common times and areas. Then it is shared together and becomes the fabric of the home life. For example playing the CD softly in the morning as the children comes to breakfast. They always wake hungry don’t they.

Another idea If the students are video gamers, the CD can be downloaded to the Xbox. They can listen instead of the crashes and booms and dialogues. This works wonders for the older ones that love that sort of thing. It is the choice downtime activity of many young people these days, unfortunately. Might as well make it work for those that would be willing.

Sharon Theroux

Carrie said: Mar 17, 2015
 60 posts

I’m dealing with this too. I was beginning to think I was a terrible teacher. Then I discovered my students were not listening to the CD’s. A while back, I implemented “listening like a maniac”. Now we’re working at it again.

I talk about it at group class. I talk about it at their lessons. I post funny posters of minions with expressions in having been caught for not doing what they are supposed to do. The caption says, “My students’ faces when I ask if they’ve been listening to their CD.”

First, explanation: I asked who knew the four tenets of Suzuki music. Then I asked who was doing each of those four tenets. I compared the tenets to the legs of the chair I was sitting on and asked them what would happen if one leg was missing.

Second, I told them about a teacher I recently had who was from India. She spoke clearly and carefully, but I had to have the book in front of me to figure out the more difficult words because I couldn’t understand her. She put the accent on the first syllable of every word. Perhaps she learned English from a book or someone who is not a native speaker. Then I explained to the students that no one had to teach them where to put the accent in long words because they have been surrounded by people speaking English all their lives.

Third, we sang Happy Birthday to a student who conveniently had a birthday that day. After singing it, I demonstrated how we all had given emphasis to certain words. No one had to teach them that the first beat in every measure was important because people had been singing it that way around them all their lives.

Fourth, I explained that my foreign exchange student from Italy did not make her voice go up at the end of a question, so I didn’t always know that she was asking a question. My students didn’t know that we do that in English. But they do it because that’s what they have heard.

Then I asked them how they would learn all those things about music if they were not listening.

I explained to the fathers of my twinklers that get annoyed at the repetition that they didn’t get annoyed when their children were learning to walk and talk. The twinkle variations are like learning to walk and talk. They need the repetition.

I have my teenage student text me when they are listening so I get an idea of how much they are listening. Then the first thing we do when they come to their lesson is sit down with the CD and their book (for those who are reading) and sing their current piece. I use a CD that plays hands together, right hand alone, left hand alone, hands together. We sing the right hand with the first two times and with the left hand the second two times. Then I tell them to learn the left hand so well that they can sing it when only the right hand is playing.

Some students have had instant improvement in their playing. Others have little sparks of improvement. All of us are enjoying their playing much more!

Also, I apologized for not realizing that they did not know how important that listening is. I do not want them to feel like they are in trouble. I told them we would work together to make listening a priority for them. This is a team effort of the Suzuki Triangle. Parents have called and I have talked them through getting it on iTunes and over to their phones. Others have brought their laptops and I have taught them how to get it to their iPads and how to make playlists. One family doesn’t have a computer, so we put their iTunes on my computer to get the music to their iPods. I’m trying to make listening as convenient as possible since it is truly the easiest way to improve their playing.

Just be creative and supportive. It’s worth the work. Don’t let up. Don’t let them off the hook. Make them listen at their lesson if they aren’t listening at home.


Jaki said: Mar 17, 2015
Jaki Treasure Berger
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Arvada, CO
2 posts

One thing I do specifically with my younger students that really seems to help is to come up with a dance that they can do with the CD—especially for Book 1 pieces. It helps solidify the rhythms, since they are using their entire body, and it gives them a way to practice without their instrument—which can be a nice break at times! I also encourage my parents to think of listening to the CD that way—as a break from practice, or as background music during meals and homework time. It’s definitely still a struggle, though!

Jaki Treasure Berger

Heather Reichgott said: Mar 17, 2015
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
102 posts

Most of my regular listeners have the CD on in the car. The car seems to be the best place for easily accessible CD listening these days.

The parents who will patiently sit and transfer CD audio to mp3s and move them to an iPod are rapidly dwindling in number. And many who never had any idea how to do that now own all manner of iPhones and iPads and whatnot—and they do all their music listening on Youtube. I hope someday our publisher gets with the program and puts the Suzuki recordings on iTunes—we are like 10 years behind the curve on that one!—and Youtube, perhaps the new streaming Youtube Music Key that’s coming out, which will provide revenue to copyright holders.

Heather said: Mar 17, 2015
Heather BradenViolin, Viola
4 posts

Thank you all So much for your thoughts and suggestions. I find that when I question them, I get a lot of replies like “I don’t have a CD player!” or “I don’t listen to CDs” and I’m still in the stone age with not having an iPod or any fancy device myself.
Jaki, your idea of having them create a dance is fantastic! Do you put the CD on at the lesson and let them show you? (I’m guessing it would change choreography every time, but still…it’s a great idea!)
Melanie, do you know if there is a way to get ahold of a copy of “Listening like a Maniac”? It’d be great to be able to have some of my parents hear it from someone besides just me!! And Carrie, while I have many other teacher’s students in my group classes as well, I think we’ll talk about it next week! Maybe the kids will give me some ideas!!
I think I’m just really needing some way to really convince them of the importance of listening…and some way to get some of these teenagers (who can probably sing me every word of the top pop songs!!) listening to their violin/viola music. again. Somehow it seems like it’s “not cool”! :(
I’ve been pondering the idea of doing some sort of studio ‘listening challenge’ but I haven’t got my head around the logistics of it yet! Perhaps if I can get some ideas going, I can implement it in September. It was just routine when I was young, but in this fast paced society, it seems to be getting lost. At least in my studio it is!
Thanks again so much for your support and ideas! You’re VERY “muchly” appreciated!

Alan Duncan said: Mar 19, 2015
Suzuki Association Member
81 posts

Heather -

The “Listening like a maniac” video is on the current SAA Parents as Partners online. I think families have to sign up for it. (Well worth it!) We have used the technique with our 6 y/o Book 3 violinist. Basically, it involves “saturation” listening. What Michelle Horner describes is putting multiple iterations of the same piece sequentially in a playlist. We put 10 iterations of the two most recent working pieces and the next upcoming piece in one big iTunes playlist that we call “Suzuki Maniac”. We put it on during meals, in the car, etc. It’s not constant—sometimes we do the maniac playlist, sometimes we do the current book start to finish. Sometimes we do the next book. Sometimes we do a really distant future book. I’l bet one your teen students could walk you through how to create a maniac playlist on the computer.

Our studio did a listening challenge back in the fall. It was a friendly competition with another studio. Students had to keep track of the number of times they listened to their current and upcoming books.

Right now our studio is in the midst of a practice challenge; but to get a gold medal, the children have to practice and listen. Both have to be done on any given day to qualify as having practiced that day.

Do you have a venue for parent talks? Our studio and another teamed up to give a talk about challenges for Suzuki parents, Q/A, discussion, etc. Maybe that would be an opportunity to bring up why listening is important.

With working pieces we were asked to listen to it, then play it, listen again, play again.

I think the listening deficiency boils down to: a) “busyness” and b) insufficient understanding of the role of listening. Just for kicks, it would be interesting to hear perspectives from parents on the foundational attributes of the Suzuki method. I wonder how many would cite the relationship to “mother tongue” acquisition. Just curious.

Heather said: Mar 21, 2015
Heather BradenViolin, Viola
4 posts

I just popped back on here and am really grateful for all your thoughts and sharing. :) Alan it sounds as though your daughter’s studio has some really great things going! And I think you’re exactly right in saying it boils down to ‘busyness and insufficient understanding…” Until I can get both the students and the parents recognizing what a difference the listening makes, it’s going to be a bit of an uphill battle! Oooh, if I was a school teacher, they would be all writing me a paragraph or two on why we need to listen!!!!!

I’ve spent some time poking online and have come across this article: I’m wanting to share it with my families, but I’m thinking I need to either post it on my bulletin board or photocopy it for each one as I have a feeling it will get easily skimmed or deleted on email!!! I might do some peeking in my old SAA journals too, but it’s feeling a little like looking for a needle in a haystack!

I’m debating putting something on my bulletin board along the lines of “What would it take to get you listening more?” and trying to get them to offer me suggestions. I’d even offer a prize if someone came up with a helpful answer!! ;) Any thoughts on that?

I’ve got one day left of my March Break…and I know what I’m going to be doing with it! Thanks again for all your thoughts! :)

Lori Bolt said: Mar 22, 2015
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

The “Listen Like a Maniac” PPO video is great! I had my parents view it during one lesson after it was posted. I’m encouraging them to listen as suggested in the video…gave the students a two week listening challenge to try it, but not sure how many are. It would make a great parent group meeting to view it together, but I knew I had a captive audience during lesson time, so was willing to let them miss their child’s lesson to watch. I like the idea Alan mentioned about an incentive to listen and practice in order to earn a reward/award.

Lori Bolt

Phankao said: Mar 23, 2015
 128 posts

I’m a parent. I’ve always made it a point for the music that the child is learning or going to learn or is in review is being played during car journeys.

I also search for the pieces on Youtube and create a Youtube playlist that I just hit on play all on my computer when they are playing in the room.

Heather said: Mar 30, 2015
Heather BradenViolin, Viola
4 posts

I’m doing some gentle kicking and nudging over here to get those CDs going! Thanks again to all of you for your suggestions and support! :)

Caitlin said: May 2, 2015
Merced, CA
41 posts

I sent this link to all my parents:

And told them this is why listening is important! It made a big difference for those who opened my e-mail! I’m thinking of making it part of parent training.

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