How do you help deepen a sense of community in your studio?

Shulamit Kleinerman said: Jun 2, 2016
Shulamit Kleinerman
Suzuki Association Member
Seattle, WA
9 posts

Hi teachers, these days I’m interested in what teachers can do to help both students and families enjoy a more substantial sense of connection to each other. I’d love to hear what you do to help foster this in your studio. My students enjoy knowing each other and working regularly together over a fairly long period of their growing up, so plenty of good stuff happens, but I’d like to help nurture it more directly. A couple of particular interests of mine currently:

  1. How do you help self-conscious middle-schoolers relate to each other more as allies than judges in solo recital situations? (Relevant here—many of my students were older beginners, age 8-10ish, so don’t necessarily have the same foundation that younger beginners have in performing comfortably at a pre-self-conscious age. I don’t see any overt comparison, just painful general self-consciousness.)

  2. How do you help integrate students who are substantially different, eg with developmental delays involving social awkwardness? I have a student who is a strong player and is socially warm and enthusiastic (thus very easy for me to model positive engagement with), just startlingly effusive in her enthusiasm. The kids are all polite and friendly, but I see other students’ uncertainty on their faces.

Delighted to hear what you do in YOUR studios, whether related to these specific points or just the general topic.

Elise Winters said: Jun 5, 2016
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

I love this question. It is something I’ve put a lot of thought into, but never thought to talk about it!!! With my pre-teen and teen students, I talk about the nature of “judgment”:

  1. We all have a voice in our heads that’s constantly telling us all the stuff we messed up … like, “I shouldn’t have said that,” or, “That was stupid,” etc.
  2. Interestingly, that voice rarely has anything nice to say!!
  3. The voice is part of our brain and isn’t going anywhere, but that you don’t have to pay attention to it … and if you stop paying attention to it it won’t be so loud anymore.
  4. When it feels like other people are judging us, it’s mostly just us judging us. Other people are way nicer to us than we are to ourselves!
  5. So, you have a choice. You can keep judging you, if it empowers you or if you want to. But otherwise, you can nicely thank the voice for sharing, and invent a more positive thought to pay attention to.
  6. When you are forgiving of yourself, it helps other people feel safe too. (Some students are willing to give up self-judgment for the sake of others, even if they wouldn’t do it merely for their own sake).

Having this conversation in groups is great. Each student discovers they’re not the only one who experiences the self-doubt and self-consciousness, and it is a relief for them to find out that everyone else has the same feelings!! Turns out even the very popular students experience it … the need for approval affects them whether they’re succeeding or struggling socially.

As a side note, my conversations with students about these important challenges are very influenced by the Landmark Education training (link). That curriculum is very much about empowerment and getting past the patterns that hold us back. It has given me amazing tools for the psychological aspects of teaching. I thoroughly recommend it for teachers & parents. :)

Laura Jones said: Jun 15, 2016
Laura Jones
Suzuki Association Member
2 posts

I like preteen and teens to regularly have group ensemble, group chamber, keyboard musicianship, group improvisation as well as group class. I let them choose which groups to participate and sign up.

I find that this age group particularly thrives on peer support. What Shulamit and Elise posed is good. Following each sharing moment, I like to request one good point and a wish point as we go around from each participant of the group. So that within each class I have asked for each participant to share and evaluate others performance within each class. That means I may ask 3-4 participants to comment with each performance.

Interacting with each other in a group when we are asked to evaluate helps increase our learning especially when it is a regular occurrence to hear each other play and progress.

Initially as a teacher, you may need to model or comment as appropriate to help set the atmosphere for an encouraging environment. Especially if you have late beginners mingled in with early beginners. It is great if a mentoring relationship can develop.

A limited observer might conclude, “Oh you are on such and such piece.” It is important that our goal our focus changes as we replay the piece so that learning is seen as continual and advancing regardless of what piece we are playing. When it is written down our chances of completing it increases 42%. It also lets us feel a sense of accomplishment when we achieve our goal.

Personally I like a sequence I learned in a band school system which I have adapted for string and piano performance.

Level 1: rhythm
Level 2: correct notes
Level 3: correct articulation (string: bowing)

Level 4: Phrasing
Level 5: Dynamics

Level 6: Musical Style (baroque, classical, romantic, 20 Century, modern, etc)
Level 7: Musical Expression (the story, emotion, question being conveyed)

So at a basic level 1-3, listening level 4-5, and a performing level 6-7

So what is your level? What ever your lowest level that is not completely done.
I tell the students it is like building a house. If your foundation is faulty (rhythm). The whole house basically is at risk.
The structure (correct notes string: LH)
The windows (correct articulation string: RH work)

Notice that Level 3, 4 and 5 in most cases strings: RH)

So forth then when you get down to colors, curtains and decor that is later level.

Elizabeth Erb Sherk said: Jun 15, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Recorder, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Guitar
25 posts

Laura Jones:

Thank you for that clear sequenced list of Music Basics that children can learn to discern as they listen to themselves and their studio friends perform their repertoire in group classes.


Shulamit Kleinerman said: Jun 16, 2016
Shulamit Kleinerman
Suzuki Association Member
Seattle, WA
9 posts

Thanks for the good reminders, all. Elise, I like #6 :)

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