Suzuki teachers are amazing listeners. They listen deeply to each student, constantly comparing what they hear to their ideal of excellence. They also listen to what the student and the parent tell them, answering questions and paying attention to their expressions of frustration, joy, fear, and excitement. Their goal is to assess what the student and parent understand and what the student needs to move forward in their musical learning. 

But what if the teacher doesn’t hear the whole story? What if the connection between learning at the lesson and practicing at home is broken? We, a Suzuki teacher (Paule Barsalou), a Suzuki violin parent (Christie Zimmer), and a 13-year-old bright and enthusiastic violin student and daughter (Manon), encountered this problem early in our Suzuki experience.

Home practicing ground to a halt midway through Book 1. Once delightful practice sessions involving lovely bow holds and polished Twinkle variations became tense, unproductive repetitions marked by long arguments over sharps and naturals and up bows and down bows. Enthusiastic practicing of Song of the Wind was gradually replaced with frustration and resistance less than three bars into Minuet 3.

Worst of all, we didn’t know how to talk about it. There were three hardworking partners in our Suzuki triangle—teacher, student, and parent—yet discussions about practicing ended quickly in tears. After several difficult lessons in a row, we decided to start exploring ways to gather information to help us improve our communication around practicing. 

We, Christie and Manon, began taking detailed notes during practicing in addition to the notes we were already taking in our lessons. We also created a set of easy, straightforward prompts to help us record lesson assignments clearly so that we could easily replicate them at home. 

As a result of our note-taking, we have discovered that there are many ways to listen within the Suzuki triangle. Thoughtful note-taking provides us with a way to reflect, take problems apart, and verbalize challenges and frustrations. It facilitates discussion and opportunities for each of us—teacher, student, and parent—to listen to each other. For our triangle, listening beyond the music has become the key to building a strong, enduring connection between lessons and home practicing. 

Listening during the lesson

After each segment of instruction such as a scale, tonalization, a section of a piece, or a music reading assignment, we pause to write lesson notes. 

We’ve found that this can be the start of a conversation to further refine the instructions for home practicing. From the teacher’s perspective, they can listen to the student’s answers and assess their understanding, providing clarification as needed. From the student’s perspective, this is an opportunity to think through the assignment and feel confident they can repeat it at home.

The following questions from the teacher can help students verbalize each practice assignment in their own voice:

  • What would you like your parent to write down about what we just worked on?

  • How did we work on it? What are the steps you need to remember?

  • What should it look or sound like?

Here is an example of what a young violin student’s notes might look like in their own words after a teaching segment:

Working on:

G major scale, two octaves

How to work on it: 

Start on open G 

Play G 4x to get to full bows (watch video from lesson)

Remember that C and G are natural

Play 2 times with 1 note per bow

What to look for or listen for:

Watch second finger on A and E string to make sure it goes next to the first finger

Watch to see if the bow is reaching the tip and the frog

Listening at the end of the lesson

At the end of the lesson, we have another opportunity to listen to each other as we set a practice goal for the week that highlights the main point of the lesson. 

Writing the weekly goal in the notes serves two important purposes. First, it keeps the teacher accountable for sticking to Dr. Suzuki’s one-point lesson principle. Second, it helps the student and the parent look for and follow the main thread throughout the lesson. 

At home, having a concrete goal for the week gives the student a sense of motivation while practicing and a feeling of accomplishment when they see the goal being met. It also avoids overwhelming the student with too many focus points.

Here are some examples of questions the teacher can ask to help the student recognize the goal for the week: 

  • Was there a common thread in our lesson today?

  • Is there one thing we kept coming back to?

  • Let’s choose one goal together that you can work on this week in your practice.

And here are examples of weekly goals:

  • Listening for resonant tone

  • Focusing on balanced posture

  • Focusing on flow in all review pieces

This puts us on the same page about the practice priority for the week ahead.

Listening at home

We use the notes from our lesson as the practice plan for the week ahead. They let us know exactly what to work on, how to work on it, and what to listen and watch for. But that’s not where the note-taking ends. Taking notes at home offers a valuable opportunity to ask questions about how practices are progressing and listen carefully to the answers.

With younger children who are still learning about reflective dialogue and self-evaluation, we have found that specific questions about their playing are most helpful. Asking questions at home directs the student’s attention to their playing and helps them recognize what they have done well, which builds confidence and momentum. It can also help address the student repeating the same mistakes in multiple repetitions in an effort to finish as quickly as possible.

Example of a prompt before playing: When you’re playing Taka taka stop, stop, notice if you can hear a stop between the “stop, stop”.

Example of a follow-up question after playing: What did you hear between the “stop, stop”?

Listening carefully to their child’s answer allows the parent to gather information to decide on the next steps. If the student hears stops between the staccato notes, parent and child can celebrate the child’s effort and continue with the next repetition to solidify the skill. If the student doesn’t hear the stops, the parent can try different strategies to guide the learning, such as playing the rhythm on one note, isolating a shorter section of the piece, or noticing what the body needs to do to create the stop between the notes. 

“Now, let’s try it again,” is often all a student needs to be successful. From there, the parent can ask again, “Did you hear stops this time?” If so, the parent can ask, “What did you do differently? Should we write that down in your notes?” The student is then ready to start repeating to solidify the skill. The next day, when it’s time to practice the same spot, the student can review the notes to remember what was done to achieve the stop between the notes.

When the parent listens in a non-judgemental way and is open to every possible answer, problems are easier to solve. It encourages their child’s full participation in their practicing from the beginning and makes space for them to drive their own learning and experience their own success.

When the parent steps back and listens, they can also notice things about the practice environment that might affect the child’s learning:

  • Whether the child is too tired or hungry to practice

  • What time of day is the best for practicing

  • What choice of words motivates the child

  • What triggers frustration or resistance and what strategies help them progress

The parent can make note of what they notice too, which can be the first step in overcoming obstacles related to the practice environment such as difficulty focusing, resistance to practicing, and power struggles. The parent can also bring those observations to the lesson for discussion with the teacher about what happens at home.

It’s not easy to take that step back and give the child a chance to be in the driver’s seat. It can mean a lot of trial and error. The parent and student need to be kind to themselves and build in the time for experimentation, even if that means not getting to every item on that day’s practice plan. However, there is an amazing benefit to taking that time, as it supports each child in becoming a perceptive, persistent, and resilient learner.

With an older, more experienced student, open-ended questions help generate more nuanced, complex discussions about their practicing. 

Here are some examples of questions the parent can ask, or the student can ask of themself, during home practicing:

  • What went well? What did you like about that?

  • What would you like to work on next with this piece?

  • How can we simplify this section to make it easier to practice?

  • What have we done in the past to practice a section like this one? 

  • What practice strategy could we try with this passage?

  • What would you like to remember and share with your teacher at the next lesson?

These are opportunities to listen, to problem solve, to notice when they’re stuck, and spend some time figuring out what the next step is. As the child grows and becomes more independent, the parent can take a step back and give their child the space to think it through and develop their own strategies for overcoming practice challenges.

Listening at the beginning of the next lesson

Taking notes during home practicing turns the beginning of the next lesson into an opportunity to share the week’s accomplishments as well as any questions or roadblocks encountered. Writing notes makes it much easier than trying to remember a whole week’s worth of practicing on the spot and allows the student to drive the lesson according to their individual needs. It’s a way to hit the ground running and give direction to the lesson.

Here are some questions the teacher can ask to get the conversation started:

  • What were you working on this week?

  • Can you tell me more about it?

  • What was our goal for last week?

  • Did you write any questions in your notes?

  • Is there something you would like me to help you with?

  • What would you like us to work on today?

These give the student the time and space to answer questions about their practicing without feeling rushed. In our experience, when a student has written their questions down, they’ve already begun thinking about answers. With careful listening, the teacher will see opportunities to guide the student in their problem-solving. We’ve found that this facilitates an ongoing dialogue between teacher and student that paves the way for the student to answer their own questions down the road.  

Here is an example of a conversation with a student at the beginning of a lesson:

Student: “At home, I kept getting a squeaky note in this bar. How do I fix that?”

Teacher: “That’s interesting. Can you show me?”

Student plays and gets a squeaky note. 

Student: “See?”

Teacher: “Why do you think that’s happening?” or “What do you think is causing the squeak?” and “What have you tried at home?” 

Student consults notes.

We’ve found that notes from home practice have many benefits. 

  • They help the student adopt a more scientific and less personal mindset. They’re an opportunity for the student to gather information to help them and their teacher understand what’s happening during home practicing.

  • They help the student overcome frustration. When they’re stuck, writing down questions for the teacher and then moving on to the next assignment helps reduce frustration and keeps the momentum going to continue practicing.

  • Keeping notes at home helps to link practices from day to day. A question on one day can become a point of exploration the next and a new discovery about a piece or the student’s playing by the end of the week. Not only do the notes stimulate observation and progress at home but when they are shared during the next lesson, the teacher can gain much insight into the student’s learning process. 

Nurturing independent learning by pausing at each stage in the learning cycle (small blue circles) to create the space for discussion, encourage reflection, and develop a plan for purposeful action (triangles).

Listening to support independent learning

Our note-taking experience has not always been easy. It has taken time, patience, and a lot of listening to foster open, judgment-free communication in which each of us feels comfortable expressing our thoughts and observations and also feels heard. It has, without a doubt, been worth every moment of effort. 

The notes have become the foundation of our Suzuki triangle. They are a tangible record of the work we do together and facilitate important conversations between the different sides of the triangle. Note-taking helps us persist through the challenges we encounter. It has encouraged us to develop keen observation skills, recognize strategies for overcoming obstacles, and build trust between student, teacher, and parent. These are life skills that can be applied to learning situations outside music. Working through this process together has given each of us a voice and ensures that each of us feels heard. The notes have become a representation of our commitment to listening to each other as an essential part of nurturing each student’s journey toward independent learning. They have supported our work in fulfilling Dr. Suzuki’s vision of building character through music education.

For additional questions about our notetaking, please visit our website: We can be reached by email at [javascript protected email address]