Sunday, February 13, 2011

Importance of Playing Review Pieces

Rita Hauck titled this Parents as Partners presentation The Importance of Playing Review Pieces.

The importance of playing review pieces well:
To learn to play with...
  • Excellent technique - good posture, hand position
  • Beautiful tone - music is first and foremost about sound
  • Appropriate tempo - a slow tempo ensures accuracy
  • Sensitive musicianship - phrasing, shaping, dynamics, ritards, rubato, the overall projection of the deeper meaning of music
  • Balance between melody and accompaniment (right and left hands of piano)
  • Development of intellect - memory
 Ability breeds ability - playing review pieces is more important than playing new pieces.

Benefit and value of playing review pieces well:
It is motivating to the students and parents to be playing something well.

The three stages of learning Dr Suzuki outlines:
1) Learn the notes and new techniques of a piece
2) Gain fluency, ease, consistency
3)Artistic stage - more focus on the musical aspect - the spirit and heart of the music

Playing common repertoire of Suzuki pieces allows for group playing locally, at camps, or workshops.

How do you accomplish the enormous goal of playing review pieces well?

Divide book 1 into sections  1/2 or 1/3 the book or 1/4 to be reviewed every day. 
Book 2 and beyond: "Special treatment."  Use a metronome.  A: hands separate up to tempo, next day B: hands together slowly, C: together up to tempo (for piano)

Review pieces at every lesson, with praise.

Have a graduation recital for each book completed - review the entire book daily for one month first.

Teachers, stay on the same page with parents and students:  not leading from ahead, pushing from behind, criticizing from above, but working together for common goal of beautiful playing, which will motivate everyone: student, parent, teacher.

"After the first piece is internalized, train some more, and add the next piece.  Master and add the next. Keep each piece learned so that it can be played at any time.  This is not just the power of memorization, but the power of internalization." - S. Suzuki (Ability Development)

"Just playing through many pieces is not good training if there will be no one piece that is really played with excellence.  Just being able to say, 'I can play all these pieces,' is in fact insufficient, if it results in not developing musical sense, fine interpretation, and beautiful tone."  - S. Suzuki (Ability Development)

“Create fine ability with an old piece—if this method is carried out correctly, every child will grow splendidly.”
—S. Suzuki (Where Love Is Deep)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Raspberry Cello

I promised I would talk more about the name of the blog.  A lot of the blog is about the cello as a means of further supporting students and their parents, not to mention a slight obsession, so I thought it would be good to have that in the name.  But I figured I'd also be sharing about other goings on around here, and "Compost Cello" just didn't cut it. Raspberries are one thing I seem to be able to grow... I mean, really, I can't STOP their growing ... they moved in before we did!

Besides, Raspberry Cello sounds almost as good as Raspberry Jello! 
Bright, fun, yummy, naturally fat free... and - I can't eat that anymore - allergic to red dye #40.  The thing I didn't realize was that Raspberry Cello already existed - a liqueur!  I did google it to see if it was already being listed anywhere and I found "raspberry cello recipes".  I really thought it was funny that they would accidentally spell jello as cello!  :-)

Suzuki Valhalla Institute

Just two hours south of Revelstoke at New Denver, BC!  Who's going???  See their website for details (bursaries available): SVI

Friday, February 11, 2011

Parent Talk (Practice Talk)

Carrie Reuning-Hummel's Parents as Partners' talk is labeled Practice Talk above the video and Parent Talk on the video. It's both.

Carrie has an interesting perspective, because she has been on all points of the Suzuki Triangle.  She was first the student (among the first Suzuki students in the US), even having some lessons directly from Dr. Suzuki, then she became a teacher, then a parent. Her children are now grown.

Her most positive experiences as a student were the times when adults could see her for who she was.  Even as an example student on stage with Dr. Suzuki, she always felt he gave that to her.  She encourages parents to strive to do that with their own children.  The old Suzuki term for a parent was "home teacher", but she feels that puts a bit too much on the parents, and they aren't as equipped to teach as the teacher.  She feels a better term is "practice partner".  This will mean different things with different children. She uses her own children as examples.  With one, being right there with the child's practice was too intense, she had to diffuse things by turning her back, being across the room, paging through a book...  With the other, if she had done that, he would have felt abandoned!

You need to learn what works best with your child to become the best helper for them.  See them for who they are.  This might start with learning to see ourselves for who we are.  What are our gifts, our motivations, our temperaments?  She sees talents and gifts as two different things.  A talent is something you are good at.  A gift is something which if taken away would cause suffering - your love, passion, what you must do.  So a talent is not who our children are.

How are your children motivated?  Externally or internally?  She thought she might motivate her daughter by saying things like, "Let's surprise your teacher with how well you will play this week."  But that did not matter so much to her daughter, she just loved the music, and that was what motivated her.

We need balance in our attitude, in our way of giving support and providing a foundation.  Some may do all the instrument care, packing, unpacking, rosining the bow, carrying the instrument, etc.  Then hand it to the child with a message of, "do this for me."  Some may be too detached, do nothing, and say, "I don't know why he doesn't practice!"  We should be detached enough that their instrument is their own - let them carry it and care for it - but BE there supporting them.

Supporting at practice time

When practicing, use questions.  Ask, don't tell.  For an older child you might ask "What do you need from me today?  A creative partner?  To sit quietly and listen?  What will give you the most help?"  With a younger child it might be, "How many times do you think you will need to play that before you get it right every time, 10 or 15?"  "Why don't you play until you hear it get scratchy?  Then we'll see if we both hear it at the same time."  These kinds of questions give the child more ownership and active role in their own practice.

Carrie suggests having a practice tray (or basket, etc.) - something movable if you might practice in different locations (which is nice to do sometimes!).  On the tray you can have several things to help give the child choices.  Dice (how many times), paint swatches (what colour would you like to play that Lightly Row?), things of different textures - fabrics, sandpaper, etc. (would you like to play that like sandpaper or velvet?), a jar with folded slips of paper naming review pieces, a jar with folded slips of paper with creative ways to play (while making a face, standing on one foot, etc.), and a third jar to put the review pieces in once they have been played to make sure that eventually all are reviewed before returning to the choosing jar.  Some people have used Apples to Apples cards for kids to draw for how to play (e.g. "fuzzy").  Have a metronome on the tray.  A student can then record a speed they are able to play something, and work to surpass it.
(My version of the tray - Just added the Apples to Apples cards - great idea!)

"Perhaps we only have one job as parents - to see our children for who they are, and show them we are game, we are interested in who they are, we want to be with them, we want to help them figure out who they are and how they learn.  Give them the journey of their instrument, not make it about us, but be there as a practice partner."  As Carrie's children are grown, she has the experience to say,  "the rewards are huge."  She can see how her kids have used the learning methods they started with in music lessons applied to other things, they have a close relationship, and the music is there.  "Every step is worth it."  And she commends you for embarking on the journey yourselves.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Making Playing Easier, part 2

In the second part of Working hard to make it easy, Nancy Jackson and Jennifer Burton discussed some strategies in Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code.


Nancy has each student (as young as first grade) take a goal card home at the beginning of the year to bring back the following week with three goals to accomplish by Christmas, only one of which can be related to which piece they want to be playing.  Some examples she gave from her own students' cards were: playing with a straight bow, have a more flexible hand, improve 4th finger vibrato, play scales with 12 notes to a bow at 50, improve sight reading of rhythms.  The teacher and parent support the students with the goals, but the students own the goals.  The teacher keeps the card, but the student has a copy in his violin case, so he sees it each time he gets his instrument out.  Half way through the term, they evaluate progress.  For the summer term, with irregular lessons in her case, she would have the students only choose one goal.

Coyle's book speaks about the importance of setting goals that are JUST beyond reach.  At the edge of your ability.  In lessons the teacher might test the student by setting a metronome at progressively faster tempos - letting her know in advance that they would be going to the point where it didn't work, and that it was okay to reach that point.  Then they could set a goal to work towards that tempo that is just beyond her comfort zone.

It's not just about struggling, but seeking out a particular struggle.  These are the steps suggested:

1) Pick a target
2) Reach for it
3) Evaluate the gap between the target and where you are able to reach
4) Return to step one - either choose a new target or the same one, tweaked a bit.

Deep practice

Another strategy from Coyle's book is deep practice.  His three rules of deep practice are:

1) Chunk it up - break it into small pieces, and slow it down. Football coach Tom Martinez said, "It's not how fast you can do it, it's how slowly you can do it correctly."

2) Repeat it. "By repeating it's like a sled run - the more you go down, the faster the sled goes."  Can I add to that?  Did you ever have your sled go off track?  And then have the sled get caught in that wrong track the next time, too?  It gets hard to fix the run! The more times you go off track the more likely the sled wants to follow that new, but wrong, route!  Careful about those repeats!!  BE there, to help your child should the sled start to go off course. 

3) Learn to feel it. It should bug you to play out of tune or with poor posture.  We can help the students to feel it by making sure they aren't depending on us wholly for feedback.  They might need to turn their back to us to focus, rather than watching us.  We can give them a reminder that, "You are the teacher for...." the one item we want them to focus on such as that pinky finger that wants to lean over, or that bow that wants to creep up.

Ask yourself...
In summary they offered these questions:
Do you have a rich listening environment?
Do you ask your child for feedback on goals?
Can your child evaluate their work?
Do you have a review routine?
Can your child play in slow motion?
What are you doing to ignite your child's desire to practice?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Making Playing Easier

Nancy Jackson and Jenny Burton in the Parents as Partners presentation: Working hard to make it easy. Part 1!

All children can learn to play with ease. Ideas from two books by Dr. Suzuki: Nurtured by Love and Ability Development, and two other books currently on the market: Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, and Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code. These new books show studies that support Dr. Suzuki's ideas of the 1950s.

1) All children have talent - every child can learn.
2) Given the right environment and opportunity, all children can achieve success.
3) Repetition is key to the ease of playing. Knowledge + 10,000 times = Ability.
4) Review of prior material makes things stick.
5) Success breeds success.
6) Never hurry, never rest. (Work hard, but go slowly.)
7) Parental support is paramount.

From Malcolm Gladwell's The Outliers:
"Exhibit A in the talent argument is a study 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."

Other case studies of those who worked hard to make it easy included the Beatles and Bill Gates.

Between 1960 and the end of 1962, The Beatles performed 1200 times in Germany. By the time they came to the US in 1964 they had all that plus more. They were not good on stage when they went to Germany, and very good when they came back.

10,000 hours - all but impossible to reach that on your own by the time you are a young adult - parents' encouragement is necessary.  Bill Gates' and other school mothers bought computers and started a computer club in their school.

Working hard is valued and nurtured more in some cultures than others. Rice patty agriculture - a year round effort of hard work to get a high yield from a small piece of land vs. North American agriculture of seasons - taking time off. Taking breaks result in things falling through the cracks, though. My personal experience - with myself and with students - is that if you take a break, you don't just not progress, you actually REGRESS in playing.

Speaking of people who succeed in math, "Success is a function of persistence and doggedness, and the willingness to work hard for 22 minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after 30 seconds. . . Success is not so much ability as attitude." Alan Schoenfeld (math professor)

Working hard to make it easy... part 2 to follow.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Meet Fido

Fido is not a complicated cat. He has few goals in life. One is to sleep in cello cases.

Usually I keep mine in the closet if the cello isn't in transit, but today I left it out. Because I wouldn't let him scratch at it to get inside, he settled for on top. Of course he started with just front paws, and since I let him get away with that he quietly rearranged himself while I was busy teaching.

A regular part of lessons is shooing him away from students' cases.

(A cat named Fido? Son number 2's cat. Nuff said.)