Summer Institutes and Workshops

Are you thinking about attending a summer Suzuki institute? What a good idea! Here are a few pointers to help make your institute experience a positive one.

What is the purpose of a Suzuki institute?

A Suzuki institute immerses student and family in a rich musical environment for a week. Dr. Suzuki believed that a child needs the right environment in which to strive musically. Motivation does not come by itself from within but is acquired through positive enriching experiences. My son Stéphane, at age 16, was no different from any other teenage boy. He started cello at age four but never liked to practice much. It was part of his routine and he accepted it. Once in high school it became even harder to motivate him to practice, but he would always look forward to the summer months and would ask to attend one or even two Suzuki institutes. During a week at Southwestern Ontario Suzuki Institute, he told me, “You know, Mom, if I could be at a Suzuki institute every week of the year, I would become an amazing cellist!” Practicing at an institute is easy! Everyone is doing it and it is great to be sharing music making with so many other Suzuki students.

What will you learn at your Suzuki institute private lesson?

You will have an individual lesson in a group of three or four students every day. This type of mini-masterclass is also a way for your child to learn from his/her environment. During the hour, the institute teacher will teach each of the students individually while the others watch. By watching the other students your child will be motivated and will learn much about playing the instrument. Make sure you attend the whole hour with your child and take notes of interest even from the other students’ lessons.

The institute teacher will ask your child to play a piece from known repertoire. Your child should work on a review piece or one for which he already knows the notes and bowings well. The Institute teacher will work on improving posture, technique, musical expression and performance skills. Except perhaps at the upper levels of study, a student will not learn a new Suzuki piece during the institute week.

What else will fill my child’s day at the institute?

Your child will have a daily group class where she will play known Suzuki repertoire in a group of the same level in preparation for a group concert at the end of the week. She might have a technique class, movement class, a reading class or orchestra practice to fill in the third or fourth hour of instruction. Daily individual practice is also necessary. Other activities might include an opportunity to play in a solo recital; optional additional classes such as fiddling, musical theatre and chamber music; many concerts to attend; and other optional activities such as soccer and swimming. By the end of the week you will all be exhausted but happy and filled with a motivation that will keep you going until next summer’s institute week!

How do we make the most of it?

  1. If the institute provides an audition process for solo performances, whether auditioning prior to the institute or on the first day of class, choose a solo piece that is very polished and ready to perform (at least 3 or 4 pieces behind your child’s newest piece). It is best if your child has already performed this piece before. Remember that playing in an Institute setting is a new experience for your child and you want to make sure it is a positive one. Note that at many institutes only a small number of students will be selected to perform. It should not be the focus of your institute experience.

  2. Ask your home teacher about what piece(s) or techniques to work on at the individual lesson. You may (or may not) have an opportunity to suggest to the institute masterclass teacher points that your home teacher would like to have reinforced. My daughter Christine had great difficulty with holding her violin properly. Her institute teacher spent the whole week stressing posture and came up with creative ways to do this. The end result was that Christine never had another issue with holding the violin properly after that week.

  3. Parents, please take careful notes during the lessons so that you can report back to your home teacher. S/he will benefit from knowing what was worked on during the week.

  4. Remember that individual practice for the masterclass (individual lesson) is very important. Orchestra or ensemble music, fiddling and reading take second place, although this should be practiced as well.

  5. Remember that at institutes students may be asked to play things differently than with their home teachers. You and your child will want to be open to new suggestions.

  6. There is a definite advantage for your child to be placed in an easier reading group or lower level orchestra. If the experience is easy for him/her, your child will be able to feel confident and improve on technique, phrasing and musicality instead of desperately trying to play just the notes! If you feel that your child is struggling in the reading group or orchestra, you can ask to have him/her placed in a lower level group.

  7. Do not change instrument size, equipment (shoulder rest, chinrest or bow) without your home teacher’s consent. There will be many different opinions on when the time is right to change instruments but your home teacher should make that decision.

How do we prepare for the Institute?

  • Practice daily.
  • Review all known repertoire especially those focus pieces on the review list sent to you by the institute (if applicable).
  • Make sure your instrument is in good repair.
  • Emphasize the positive aspects of the week—meeting new friends, playing in a larger group, sports, swimming and having fun!
  • Do not stress the hours and hours of playing; your child will do that part willingly once they are there. (Believe me!)

What should we bring to the Institute?

  • CD player or MP3 player and all Suzuki recordings
  • All of your child’s Suzuki repertoire books
  • Music and piano accompaniment for any non-Suzuki solo piece
  • A music stand (Lightweight folding stand is best.)
  • Pencil and eraser for orchestra/ensemble
  • Parent’s notebook to take notes at lessons
  • Metronome for more advanced students (book 4 and up)
  • A bag to carry everything in
  • Your smile and a good measure of patience!

Have a great week!

Spending a week like this with your child will do so much towards building a strong relationship with him/her in the years to come. It is a great investment of quality time and it will make it easier to practice all year round! You might actually enjoy it! I treasure the memory of those weeks spent with my own children and hope to repeat the experience with my future grandchildren someday!