Teaching breakthrough
Installing standards

Connie Sunday said: Jun 2, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Dear List:

I’ve had a sort of breakthrough in my teaching, where I realized that I could get students to play at a much higher level if I could somehow get them to hold themselves to a much higher standard. By this I mean that I’m wanting to get them to only accept a level of accomplishment which is not going to allow them to come to their private lessons without being prepared, or with not having made a good effort to learn the material. And when they play, audition, or take lessons, their efforts need to be at a high level.

The problem is—and I was this way myself when I was younger, so I understand it very well—if a student can do “okay” or even “better than most” without putting in much effort, they will very likely not do as well as someone who may not appear to have as much natural ability, but who works much harder.

Does this make sense? I want to INSTALL this interiorized sense of what is acceptable and what is not.

Connie

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Laura said: Jun 2, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Interesting.

I’ve always pondered how to build and maintain a “high standard” studio, and after much research, questioning, and experience, have concluded the following:

1a. I cannot hold my students to an extrinsic standard unless I am willing to both audition incoming students (accepting only those who meet a certain standard of playing, work ethic, and passion for their instrument), and “fire” the weaker ones.
1b. I need to have built up a certain reputation for higher standard teaching that produces higher standard playing, for this process to happen naturally. In other words, I would need to become a good enough teacher to teach good students well.
1c. Taken to the extreme, I could become “one of those teachers” in that only serious, high-achieving students who don’t mind the pressure will seek my instruction, and I will have my pick amongst them. (Dorothy deLay, for example.) They will be self-motivated because everyone will learn, practice and play to a very high minimum standard, creating a certain amount of unspoken competitive tension within the studio. This works for some, but not most.

  1. If I want to keep my doors open and embrace Dr. Suzuki’s credo that “Every Child Can”, I must accept that every child will come with their own unique blend of natural talent, natural intelligence, attitude and work ethic, supportive parenting, and musical home environment (or lack thereof, on any of these factors!). As such, there will be a wide range of playing ability, independent of my teaching ability. On the positive side, it is a very inclusive, low-pressure, “everyone is doing great” studio in which almost everyone is happy. On the negative side, there may be insufficient example (or too much negative example) and motivation for some students who could truly be outstanding players. Every now and then I’ll get a star who shines independingly regardess of everything, but this is so rare.

So far I am keeping to #2. 1a and 1b form a sort of catch-22 cycle that can be broken via either of these two points. I’d love to have a #1 type of studio, but haven’t bit the bullet yet to forge in that direction. I’m still getting so much out of teaching “every child”—although there are certainly ups and downs!

Back to Connie’s question, though. I think I get what you’re saying, in that you only want each student to give their very best musically. In my studio, that wouldn’t fly—I’d either lose some, or I’d have to fire them (whichever came first). But if you are running a #1 type operation, you only need to consider which types of students you would want to attract and maintain. Some kids simply don’t prioritize their music as much as others, and we may have very little control over that as teachers—unless you simply don’t want to be one of those teachers. If you have the reputation, you can call the shots.

Some local teachers in our area are well reputed to have an extremely high percentage of their students as top achievers in festivals, examinations, competitions. In fact, I went to one of those teachers when I was younger. But I have a very hard time believing that they have raised each one of these students from the very beginning with an open door policy. There has to be a weeding step, which I believe is contrary to Dr. Suzuki’s dream. Not that there is anything wrong with it at all. It is simply a matter of choice in how you choose to teach and build your studio.

Connie Sunday said: Jun 2, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

This will only work if it’s very, very specific, not a general philosophy. So in terms of playing small parts of a work, or learning a scale, or an arpeggio—doing it “kinda” okay is not the goal. It has to be repeated a lot, and until it’s really learned and felt and understood.

Hearing another good player can be very inspirational; likewise, watching a good teacher work is also inspirational to teachers. I find that my students do not listen to music enough, do not listen to great players and teachers online, like they could. And to play well, you have to have models, you have to listen to other good players, and you have to demand a similar level from yourself. Even my students who are very talented want to do an audition without really being prepared, or do an audition tape but allow mistakes in the tape.

Obviously, a teacher is not going to be able to get every single student to integrate this standard within themselves, but I do think it’s worth it to try. I think a lot of times kids get too much praise and not enough encouragement to do better.

And yes, initially it kind of feels like this impetus to get students to demand of themselves a higher standard might contradict basic Suzuki principles. But I don’t think it’s useful to weed out the ones that won’t, just try to encourage each of them to have this internal standard. It’s really not about competition or having the most prestigious studio.

my .02

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Laura said: Jun 3, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

So you’re talking about encouraging or requiring each student to reach their OWN highest level. That is certainly the core of Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy!

But as you describe, there are so many factors that can be beyond a teacher’s control. The best we can do is show each student and/or parent what could be—whether that would result from more practice, better practice skills, more listening and observation of good examples, better parental involvement, richer musical experience, or what have you.

I am constantly holding my kids to a higher standard, after praising them for the standards that they have already achieved. I take the line right from Dr. Suzuki: “Wonderful! You’ve done that and that. Now, we are ready for this and this.” Particularly with the more talented ones, there are so many glimmers of hope during the lessons that they “get it” and can do it. But sadly enough, it often fades away to oblivion during the week, due to lack of any of the factors mentioned above. Or even more sadly, often they are completely satisfied with what they have done, and don’t see the need to take it any further, so they become irritated at any suggestion otherwise.

Even as recently as last week, with a student I have had for over three years, I challenged her to improve a 2-bar phrase of eighth notes to make it completely even and fluent. I suggested this could be achieved if she were to practice that phrase alone, 10 times slowly and 10 times more quickly, every day. Mom jumped right in with, “Well, she doesn’t have that kind of time.” (No time for a 2-bar phrase, 20 times?) This tells me that the student either 1) doesn’t spend enough time on her instrument due to a very busy life, or b) her mom still hasn’t found an effective way to train her into the habit of practice through repetiion, even after 3 years of lessons. Anyone reading this will recognize instantly that this is a multi-facted problem that requires a multi-angled approach from me… and will work ONLY if student and parent are willing to accept and change. And they haven’t in three years, so…. !!!

You can lead a horse (or his parents) to water, but you can’t make him drink. Unless you only want to have keep certain horses. But like you, I don’t believe it’s about building a certain prestige in my studio, so I neither choose nor weed. So I just accept, and enjoy each moment for what it is.

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 5, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

This reminds me of a book I read recently, Carol Dweck’s “Mindset”. Some interesting ideas about how to talk to (and model) a mindset of “growing your abilities” wherever they are at. Perhaps cultivating the “growth-mindset” she talks about is a way to instill this self-motivation that you’re after.

Connie Sunday said: Jun 5, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

RaineJen

This reminds me of a book I read recently, Carol Dweck’s “Mindset”. Some interesting ideas about how to talk to (and model) a mindset of “growing your abilities” wherever they are at. Perhaps cultivating the “growth-mindset” she talks about is a way to instill this self-motivation that you’re after.

Thanks. It’s available on Kindle and I just ordered it.

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Barb said: Jun 9, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I was wondering HOW you were going to do this. Please keep us apprised of what you find that helps to install this in the students!

The discussion here made me think of this article—which I may have initially found on this forum a year or two ago? I’m not sure where I found the link.

http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/ (How Not to Talk to Your Kids/The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids)

I need to read it again, but the simple thing I took from it on first read is: Do not praise kids for being smart (or natural ability). Praise them for working hard.

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

Connie Sunday said: Jun 9, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

>> I was wondering HOW you were going to do this.

I’m not sure, exactly. For the little ones, it’s not so much of an issue; it’s the teenagers I worry about. Modeling better playing works better than lectures, I think. Long lectures will not work at all, since teenagers are going through so much anyway, in terms of their physical growth.

I remember reading that Zukerman said when he was —I don’t know—14, 15? That he realized he would need to really work if it were going to do this. I guess I want that to happen.

So much of what we do is not based on interior standards but on habit, the ego trip of being in the orchestra, of identifying with being a string player, etc. But sending in audition tapes with clinkers in them, playing an audition unprepared, coming to lessons unprepared—these are the things that need adjusting.

Not to diminish the efforts of home schooled children, but I have experienced the fear some of them exhibit if you raise the standards, if you insist on better work. In these cases, the parents have not challenged the children enough. One student, 16, actually shows fear on his face whenever I do that, however kindly I present it. His brother just flunked out of university, second semester engineering. But that, of course, is another topic.

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Barb said: Jun 9, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I was thinking, mostly for one of my teens, I need a poster which says: “Mediocre or magnificent—it’s your choice.”

Barb
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Connie Sunday said: Jun 9, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Barb

I was thinking, mostly for one of my teens, I need a poster which says: “Mediocre or magnificent—it’s your choice.”

Well the thing is, it takes courage to be good, to make the commitment, to risk failing. I have noticed that some parents do not expect high levels of achievement from themselves, and if they see that in my (not always successful) efforts, they belittle it. They see me looking much like a middle class housewife, and they think, she couldn’t possibly be a composer and a conductor and an author. They don’t demand high achievement from themselves and don’t expect it (and even in some cases would resent it) from their offspring.

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Barb said: Jun 9, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Okay, now I’m thinking of a book I’ve heard of (not read) called Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectation http://www.therebelution.com/books/

Written when they were 18 years old, Do Hard Things is the Harris twins’ revolutionary message in its purest and most compelling form, giving readers a tangible glimpse of what is possible for teens who actively resist cultural lies that limit their potential.

Combating the idea of adolescence as a vacation from responsibility, the authors weave together biblical insights, history, and modern examples to redefine the teen years as the launching pad of life and map a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact.

This is a Christian book—and not related to playing an instrument in any way I can see without having read it… but the thing is, is this part of our society? Is our culture limiting teens’ potentials? We home schooled for nine years, then put our kids into public school, partly thinking it would prepare them for the college classroom. But then we found high school was so slack! But at the same time, it can be difficult to hold them to high standards at home, too. At that age they seem to think if you demand hard things from them as their parents, you are simply out to make their life miserable. :)

I had a teacher in the 8th grade who somehow motivated me with his words, “strive for excellence”. His exact words, I still remember. I’m sure it was more than the words—probably mostly about the way I felt he believed in me.

Well the thing is, it takes courage to be good, to make the commitment, to risk failing.

So true.

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

Sue Hunt said: Jun 26, 2010
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Read “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. It has helped me engage my students and their parents in taking responsibility for creating their own talent.

Connie Sunday said: Jun 26, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

heartsease

Read “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. It has helped me engage my students and their parents in taking responsibility for creating their own talent.

Okay; it’s available on Kindle—I just ordered it.

I wonder if it isn’t much like the materials in two fairly recent NY Times bestsellers, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success and Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

Kindle ed., location 464-492:
Exhibit A in the talent argument is a stdy done in the early 1990’s by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music. With the help of the Academy’s professors, they divided the school’s violinists into three groups. In the first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. In the second were those judged to be merely “good.” In the third were students who were unlikely to ever play professionally and who intended to be music teachers in the public school system. All of the violinists were then asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?

Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing—that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better—well over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours.

[Similar studies on pianists revealed the same sort of data.]

The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

*From the Violin/Viola FAQ, How long will it take me to get really good at the violin?*

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Sara said: Jun 26, 2010
 Violin
191 posts

Not to diminish the efforts of home schooled children, but I have experienced the fear some of them exhibit if you raise the standards, if you insist on better work. In these cases, the parents have not challenged the children enough

Interesting you have this experience with “home schooled” children. Mine is the exact opposite. Because my home schooled students aren’t bogged down with endless and much of the time needless homework, they have the time, energy and interest to devote to more productive practices. Also, with my home schooled children, I am often their only, or at least first teacher outside of mom. As such, I have more of an influence to set the standard on assignments.
After working in the public school system for some time now, sorry, but I just don’t see that kids are any more challenged or anymore disciplined. It really depends on the training at home either way no matter what way they are schooled.
As far as your comment that the brother is flunking out, I’m quite certain that universities have public school graduates that also “flunk out”.

This is off topic, I know. But just thought I would share my two bits on my very opposite experience. This way in the future should you accept more home schooled students, you might not have such a pre label on them. Family dynamics, parental values and respect all will influence a student one way or another whether or not he is home schooled verses public schooled.

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Barb said: Jun 26, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Well said. My experience has been like yours, silverstar, but I have not had a lot of students. I have seen other home schooled students really excel in their music in our community, however. Not every one, of course. The student of mine who really shines is home schooled, and the parents in this case do hold high standards and ensure that practice time happens and that she practices what has been assigned. On the other hand, she has a brother who is not doing as well with his violin as he lacks motivation (not my student, but student of a well-respected professional teacher). It really does involve all three: student, parent, teacher.

Techfiddle, thank you very much for sharing that snippet from The Talent Code! I’m sending it to my parents and older students. I’ve heard the book recommended before. Looks like it would be a very good summer read. Thanks to Heartsease for the recommendation!

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

Connie Sunday said: Jun 26, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Barb wrote:
>> Techfiddle, thank you very much for sharing that snippet from The Talent Code!

No, no, no! The material I quoted was NOT from The Talent Code. Look again. It is from the other books I mentioned. To quote myself, I wrote:

I wonder if it isn’t much like the materials in two fairly recent NY Times bestsellers, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success and Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

See the colon at the end of the paragraph? What follows after that are some remarks about those two books, NOT The Talent Code.

Maybe my negative experiences with home schooled children here in TX have to do with the intense religious elements in the culture here.

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Barb said: Jun 26, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

whoops! Thanks for correcting me!

Barb
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Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 29, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

techfiddle

[box]heartsease

I wonder if it isn’t much like the materials in two fairly recent NY Times bestsellers, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success and Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:
[box]
Kindle ed., location 464-492:
[cut]
The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

*From the Violin/Viola FAQ, How long will it take me to get really good at the violin?*

[/box][/box]

Hmm… it seems I’ve heard the number 10,000 before… Isn’t one of Suzuki’s comments that “Ability equals Knowledge plus 10,000 repetitions”? Not quite the same as “hours”, I know, but it seems to me very similar in the idea behind it….

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