Advice on turning things around

Lisa June said: Nov 4, 2008
 Violin
23 posts

Greetings. I’m new to this site and have a number of issues with being both a violinist and a Suzuki parent, some of which I’d love some advice on.

My daughter Francie is 8. She’s been studying with a wonderful Suzuki teacher since she was 3. Unfortunately, she has a mom who has brought with her to the lessons and practice all manner of baggage with respect to violin playing and practicing—attitude, ego, preconceived notions, knee-jerk responses, and so forth. You name it: if there’s something you shouldn’t do as a Suzuki parent, I do it.

Francie is a good violin player, just finishing Perpetual Motion, When she and I are in a good space together she plays very nicely, happily and is proud and enthusiastic. We haven’t seen this in awhile, however, and I’m writing for help in turning it around. I know what I have to do, it’s how to introduce the changes to Francie that I would like to consult on.

You see, there’s one new wrinkle here. I have gone back to school for music, am training with a wonderful violinist and taking classes with the goal of becoming—wait for it—a Suzuki violin teacher. This means I have far less time to practice with her at a time that I know I need to create a sea change in how she and I work together.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, plan to do more, and listening to some of the advice on this site’s MP3 offerings. I need to a lot of homework, not only to better understand my role as parent partner, but how to put that understanding into practice. My feeling is that I’d like to have the change be palpable to Francie: Things are going to be different. Some sort of event, or celebration, or way of marking a new beginning. I know I have to do this because I have to combat the moans and groans that now accompany, “Francie, it’s time to practice.” I’ve been very open with her about my own struggles as a Suzuki parent, and I think she’d enter into such a new beginning with aplomb. She’s a very happy, loving, enthusiastic child who very much needs my love and approval.

If anyone has stories or suggestions on how to turn this around, I’d love to hear them.

Lisa

Sarah said: Nov 4, 2008
 Violin
11 posts

I think your idea of having a celebration to mark a new beginning is fantastic. Why don’t you ask her if she’d like to help you bake and decorate a cake? I imagine her response will be very enthusiastic. Then, have fun baking and decorating together and while you’re eating the cake tell her that you’d like both of your attitudes towards baking the cake (the initial enthusiasm, the fun you had together during it) to be the same attitudes you both have towards violin practice. Apologize to her and let her know that you are going to try your best to be as positive during violin as you were during the cake baking. Let her know that you’ll both have to be patient with each other and encourage each other but that you hope that violin will be a happy time for you to enjoy together.

That’s my sappy idea : )

Lisa June said: Nov 4, 2008
 Violin
23 posts

I like it! Have a completely cooperative and fun time making the cake, draw a violin on top, and usher in the new era. I realized from a couple of the audio clips I’ve listened to (I’m listening to Edmund Sprunger right now) that even though music is of tremendous importance to me, and I’ve told myself that Francie’s education has a priority position in our schedule, it’s really not true! Her practices are squeezed in and among all the other things we’re doing as a family.

What do you think this change will mean for her? Beyond the “more fun” and “less criticism” and “less of Mom telling you to raise your elbow up and stop playing neighbor strings and you’re on the fingerboard and you’re stretching to far with your pinkie.” How to introduce it? She knows she’s not enjoying it lately, but I don’t think she really has a concept of what to look forward to.

Laura said: Nov 4, 2008
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Wow, what a beautiful motivating post. I have so much respect for people with the humility of spirit to analyze what they might consider changing themselves, to improve a situation involving others. If only more people were like you!

I was thinking that 8 years old is an interesting age—definitely ready to be independent, if not already so! At least in our culture. Keep in mind that this is a typical age to be starting an instrument the traditional way.) My students around that age hate being told what to do by the teacher, never mind the parent! I’ve found it useful to change my relational style to that of a guide or coach, less of an authority figure. Ask more questions and conduct more experiments (even if you, of course, naturally know the right answers) to help your daughter discover for herself, what she will consequently want to do.

You could then declare, as a new beginniing, that she is henceforth in charge of her practicing, but you will be her helper.

As an example,
“We are trying to get that fourth finger in tune. Now, how do you know if it’s in tune? (depending on her response, you might also add, “Can I show you how I can tell when MY fourth finger is in tune?”
“Can you play me an example of a fourth finger that is NOT in tune?—Yuck! Okay, so I think you know what do do now. Why don’t you try again.”

Or: “When do you think you’d like to have this piece completely learned? I wonder how much many sections you’d have to practice each day to help you reach that goal. I can help you make a chart, if you’d like.”

… and so on and so forth.

Notice how this style involves more input from her, while at the same time you are secretly steering the discussion in the right direciton anyway. She might appreciate this new-found sense of autonomy and feel more positive about practicing.

Would you find that approach helpful?

I can’t say enough about Ed Sprunger.

Lisa June said: Nov 4, 2008
 Violin
23 posts

I think that’s all completely helpful! What I’d like to do is keep a kind of scrapbook of examples of positive ways to interact during the practice. The idea that she’s in charge is a good one; however, she’s a smart kid, and knows a scam when she sees it. In other words, I’ll have to walk the talk! When I feel comfortable with the new approach, I might be able to trust myself not to have a “script,” as it were. Right now I really feel like my instinct is leading me off like a car that’s gotten into a frozen rut in a dirt road (I live in Maine!).

My husband often suggests that I just don’t say anything. When I try to say, “What did you think?” or “What would you do differently?” she just looks at me helplessly and says, “I don’t know!” or “It was fine!” So saying nothing might be better than, as Sprunger says, giving her something that she can’t find useful.

I realize now that I can do the celebration thing; it’s the follow-up that I need help with. I hate to admit it, but my motivation is not only her development but my own…if I can conquer this, then I’ll truly understand Suzuki principles, and might be very well able to assist other parents in similar struggles. Honestly, if I wasn’t going for certification, I might have just said to my husband, “You do it. I can’t.” I have this theory now that being a violinist makes it the more difficult to be a successful Suzuki parent, but I’m sure there’s a dozen Suzuki teachers who can prove me wrong there. I have lots more to say on this…I think that I should have started her on flute. It could very well be that my being a violinist gives Francie too much to live up to—I think she listens to me practicing and thinks she’ll never be able to do that, so why bother?.

OTOH, if it works out well, I can see us doing the Bach Double someday, and that’s a lovely thought.

Lisa June said: Nov 4, 2008
 Violin
23 posts

p.s. I’m looking at the Suzuki store…besides the Springer book, any recommendations for one that would be of best help to me? I’d like them all but I can’t afford it! Also, if I join SAA now, would I get a discount on books, do you know?

Thanks in advance…

lisa

Sarah said: Nov 4, 2008
 Violin
11 posts

I like the idea of encouraging more independence. My 8 year old is rather methodical and really enjoys having a list of things to work through each practice. He likes checking off his list and working through it on his own. I “help” with things he is working on—but I try to do it in a non-intrusive way. I also try very hard not to spring new things on him. If I notice that he’s playing through a review song really fast or crashing strings a lot then I won’t say anything about that song, but before he starts his next review piece I’ll ask him if he thinks he can play it as though he’s at a concert. If there’s something big that needs to be worked on then I’ll often ask him if he thinks that we can add that in to tomorrow’s practice. Then he’s agreeable and the next day he’s already ready for it. I try to balance out my “helping” so that there are certain areas where he’s expecting me to involve myself more heavily and there are other aspects of practicing where I might throw out the occasional question or suggestion but I try to remain in the background.

My 6 year old is motivated by games. He’ll happily practice the same song for 45 minutes at a time if it’s part of a game. The box of Suzuki book 1 games has been a huge blessing in my home—not only because it’s fun for my son, but also because it has helped me to concentrate on only one practice point at a time.

Now is the time to figure out what would make practice enjoyable and effective for your daughter. Does she want to play games? Does she just want things clearly laid out so that she knows what to expect? Does she like a structure and a routine or is she a little more spontaneous?

Another suggestion—instead of asking her what she thought, prepare her before she begins the piece to pay attention to one thing. For example, suggest that she watch her bow carefully during the song and then ask her afterwards whether it stayed on the highway the whole time. Or ask her to count the string crashes while she plays a song and then ask her afterwards how many she heard.

Lisa June said: Nov 4, 2008
 Violin
23 posts

I like all these ideas. I also like the idea that the “new beginning” we’re creating isn’t entirely based on “mom sucks as a suzuki parent,” but “you’re 8 now and you can be in charge of your practice.” I think that’ll work.

I think maybe part of the celebration might be to bring her with me to my teacher’s solo recital in a couple of weeks.

How do you guys fit practice into a busy schedule? I’m at school all day and into the evening 2 days a week, and there’s all manner of other activities going on, and I am NOT a morning person :(

Lisa

said: Nov 4, 2008
 63 posts

Um, whose practice—yours or your daughter’s??

I do my own practicing at school (I am a freelance accompanist at a university), and my 5-year-old daughter has hers whenever we can, usually in the afternoon, or in pajamas. It’s a lot shorter than your practice, however! (I’m also a Suzuki teacher btw ;-) )…

Wherever and whenever you can! If it’s not a regular schedule, I’ve had busy/weird-scheduled parents attach it to an event (after dinner when Mom’s home)… it’s a busy time for all of your family. You will know that you are on the right track when both of you look forward to practice time as an oasis in your day.

Lisa June said: Nov 11, 2008
 Violin
23 posts

Thank you, Freesia, that is all very good advice!

lisa

Lisa June said: Nov 18, 2008
 Violin
23 posts

Thanks to everyone who made suggestions here…I’d like to invite you to my blog where I’ve been documenting my own and Francie’s violin progress. We had our first real breakthrough practice yesterday—the official beginning to our new leaf.

http://coollit.livejournal.com—Beads, Boards and Beethoven

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