How Much Practice?

How Much Practice

How Much Do We Need to Practice?

Suzuki teachers genuinely believe that every child can learn to play a musical instrument. However, no one can learn to play a musical instrument without practice. And the most significant factor in determining how quickly, and how well, a child learns to play their instrument is the consistency, quality and quantity of home practicing. It is the parent’s – not the child’s – responsibility to ensure that practice sessions are both regular and successful.

Consistency

Dr. Suzuki said, “Only practice on the days you eat.” The gold standard is daily practice. Take a really hard look at your schedule, and work out when it is that you are going to be able to practice every day with your child. Many young children are fresh and most able to learn in the mornings…but if mornings are stressful already, it would be better to pick a different time, when you can be 100% focused on your child. It’s generally easiest to establish a routine if you practice at the same time every day, e.g., after dinner we practice, then we brush our teeth, have a bath, read stories and go to bed.

Consistent daily practicing is not easy to achieve, but it is the foundation for success, and it is the first objective that you, as the parent, must pursue. When daily practice is something you do, like eating dinner and brushing your teeth, then this makes the practice relationship easier. Until daily practicing is absolutely routine, you should always take your child’s instrument with you on holidays.

Just as important as consistent practicing is consistent listening. Children who listen consistently not only learn new repertoire more easily – they also retain the old pieces better. Make sure that you listen every day to the reference recording. Keep it in your CD player; on your iPod; in your car stereo. Just automatically put it on when you are driving anywhere with your child. You will know that you are listening enough when everyone in the family sings the Suzuki pieces in the shower.

Quality

As a parent, it is your responsibility to find a way to work with your child to make the home practice sessions pleasant and productive. This isn’t always easy. It will take you some time to work out how to work best with your child. Some children work best starting with tasks that they are familiar with, and feel confident executing, before moving on to the newest practicing assignments. Other children do best with the reverse pattern. Some children thrive on practicing games; others are more task-oriented. Your job is to use your creativity and parenting skills to figure out what will keep your child focused and ensure that they are able to complete the assigned tasks.

Practicing doesn’t ‘make it right’ – practicing makes it consistent. If your child consistently practices playing sloppily, then this is how they learn to play. So you want to pay attention to the quality of the practice. It is better to have your child repeat a task three times well rather than six or ten times badly. Children generally want to please their parents, so if practice is consistently sloppy you need to ask yourself ‘why?’ Are you practicing at a time of day when your child is just too tired? Is the task too hard? Is the practice session too long? There are lots (and lots) of resources available that will help you to become a more effective home teacher; don’t hesitate to use them.

Quantity

With a beginning student, consistency and quality of practice should be the biggest focus. So your first goal should be to learn to practice, every day, for 10-15 minutes.

Once you have the daily practice routine established, you can slowly build up the time spent practicing every day. It takes a lot of energy to practice effectively, and children vary greatly – even from day to day – with respect to how long they can practice without losing their focus. You may be better off trying to schedule two (or three) shorter practice sessions rather than one longer one: do the work on the new material in the mornings, and tackle review by having your child perform a bedtime concert every night for their stuffed animals. The best approach is the one that works for your child, and your family.

After consistency and quality, the quantity of practice time is the biggest driver of progress in learning to play the instrument. A child who practices 20 minutes daily is practicing twice as much as a child who practices 10 minutes a day and is likely to be learning more quickly as a result. With children from about age 6 onwards, the expectation is that they should be practicing every day for at least as long as their weekly lesson. A typical 30-minute practice session for a child in late Book 1 or 2 might involve 3-5 minutes of scales or tonalization exercises, 10 minutes of work on their ‘working piece’, 5 minutes of work polishing their most recent piece, and 10-12 minutes of review. Don’t skip review – this is absolutely crucial for solidifying all of the skills that your child is learning in each new piece.

By the time a student is in Book 3-4, they probably should practice between 45-60 minutes a day, and students beyond Book 4 generally need to practice at least one hour a day. Advanced students (beyond the Suzuki repertoire) often practice for 2 or 3 hours a day.

The Reward

Students who practice consistently and effectively do get a reward: they make more progress. Students who make more progress feel successful and self-confident. Students who feel successful and self-confident take pleasure in making music.

The goal of establishing a daily practice routine is not to turn your child into a virtuoso, or even a professional musician. The goal of establishing a daily practice routine is to create the conditions under which your child will develop a genuine love for music, and the capacity and desire to play music for the rest of their life. Dr. Suzuki said that “Where love is deep, much may be accomplished’….including daily practice.

Dr. Suzuki

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Was Auer the greatest teacher of them all?

Was Auer the greatest teacher of them all?

Leopold Auer is remembered as one of the most important pedagogues of the violin, and was one of the most sought-after teachers for gifted pupils. Many famous virtuoso violinists were among his pupils, including Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Toscha Seidel, Efrem Zimbalist,  Paul Stassevitch, and Sasha Lasserson. Auer also taught the young Clara Rockmore,[6] who later became one of the world’s foremost exponents of the theremin.
Like pianist Franz Liszt in his teaching, Auer did not focus on technical matters with his students. Instead, he guided their interpretations and concepts of music. If a student ran into a technical problem, Auer did not offer any solutions. Neither was he inclined to pick up a bow to demonstrate a passage. Nevertheless, he was a stickler for technical accuracy. Fearing to ask Auer themselves, many students turned to each other for help. (Paradoxically, in the years before 1900 when Auer focused more closely on technical details, he did not turn out any significant students.)

While Auer valued talent, he considered it no excuse for lack of discipline, sloppiness or absenteeism. He demanded punctual attendance. He expected intelligent work habits and attention to detail. Lessons were as grueling as recital performances—in fact, the two were practically identical.

In lieu of weekly lessons, students were required to bring a complete movement of a major work. This usually demanded more than a week to prepare. Once a student felt ready to play this work, he had to inscribe his name 10 days prior to the class meeting. The student was expected to have his instrument concert ready and to be dressed accordingly. An accompanist was provided. An audience watched—comprised not only of students and parents, but also often of distinguished guests and prominent musicians. Auer arrived for the lesson punctually; everything was supposed to be in place by the time he arrived. During the lesson, Auer would walk around the room, observing, correcting, exhorting, scolding, shaping the interpretation. “We did not dare cross the threshold of the classroom with a half-ready performance,” one student remembered.

Admission to Auer’s class was a privilege won by talent. Remaining there was a test of endurance and hard work. Auer could be stern, severe, harsh. One unfortunate student was ejected regularly, with the music thrown after him. Auer valued musical vitality and enthusiasm. He hated lifeless, anemic playing and was not above poking a bow into a student’s ribs, demanding more “krov.” (The word literally means “blood” but can also be used to mean fire or vivacity.)
While Auer pushed his students to their limits, he also remained devoted to them. He remained solicitous of their material needs. He helped them obtain scholarships, patrons and better instruments. He used his influence in high government offices to obtain residence permits for his Jewish students. He shaped his students’ personalities. He gave them style, taste, musical breeding. He also broadened their horizons. He made them read books, guided their behavior and career choices and polish their social graces. He also insisted that his students learn a foreign language if an international career was expected.

Even after a student started a career, Auer would watch with a paternal eye. He wrote countless letters of recommendation to conductors and concert agents. When Mischa Elman was preparing for his London debut, Auer traveled there to coach him. He also continued work with Efrem Zimbalist and Kathleen Parlow after their debuts.

The Bermuda Triangle

Teacher’s Corner:     

by Megan Graham

The Suzuki Triangle should not be confused with the Bermuda Triangle. Unlike the Bermuda Triangle where everybody gets lost, the Suzuki Triangle makes sure everybody stays on board and is equally confident in navigating the course ahead.

The Suzuki Triangle has three key participants: the teacher, the parent, and the student. The relationships among these participants must be cultivated and nurtured from the beginning of the musical journey. The relationship between me and my student develops organically over time; together we push and pull until we find our own way of relating to one another. There are sparks of playful creativity, happy accomplishment, and joyful playing between student and teacher. Learning to make music can be so much fun when student and teacher ‘click.’

From my perspective as a teacher, the parent is an essential partner in making each lesson successful. A parent’s work with the student throughout the week is a determining factor in the success of the next lesson. The parent is my ally and vice versa. If I do my job, I am able to translate the playful stories, practice cues and tips into tools that the parent can take home and integrate in to the practice routine for the other six days when I am not there. I consider the lesson even more successful when the parent and student are able to tell me how the ideas worked over the week and how they adapted to work for their home practice. I endeavour to raise both skillful students and skillful parents.

As a teacher, I am also well aware that practicing at home can be a challenge. The Suzuki Method puts a great responsibility on parents to be “at home teachers” for their children. Teachers know this job is not always easy. What do you do when your child refuses to practice? How do you get them to practice properly with the posture, bow hold, and intonation points that the teacher will evaluate at the next lesson? How do you handle your own frustration when the suggestion of practice precipitates a child’s meltdown on or off the instrument? What is the appropriate balance between work and play for your child’s music education, so they develop a love for music? And how on earth are you going to fit in practice every day with your already packed schedule and a tired child?

Fortunately, Ottawa Suzuki Strings has a wonderful community for support. Parents can talk to other parents about solutions to common challenges (everyone has been there!). Parents also have access to faculty members who have new ideas and innovative solutions (many of which have been passed along by past students and parents and other teachers).

For those parents who want to tap into an even broader community of support, the Suzuki Association of the Americas has a launched a fabulous program called, “Parents as Partners.”  You can talk with your studio teacher about possibly doing this as a group, or register on your own. You do  not have to be an SAA member to access this program. https://suzukiassociation.org/ parents-as-partners/ registration/

The Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) has a lot of interesting free information on their website: https://suzukiassociation.org/

Musical Memorization and Setting Priorites

Teacher’s Corner:     by Adam Cicchillitti

The Importance of Musical Memorization and Setting Priorities for Long-Term Learning

As most of you already know, memorizing music is fundamental to the Suzuki philosophy. Suzuki students are expected to recall a larger and larger amount of musical information as they grow older and gain experience through the process of reviewing older pieces while learning new pieces. It may seem like common sense at first, but when I was first introduced to the Suzuki method five years ago I had never made the conscious connection between the importance of reviewing music and learning new pieces simultaneously as a pedagogical practice, it was just something I did naturally. I cannot stress enough the importance of this duality. I will explain how this continues to be an important daily routine for me after over twenty years of playing guitar.

Though there are several applications of memorization and review in a plethora of fields, I will speak to you from the perspective of a professional musician. I have just completed my first semester as a doctoral student at McGill University. These first four months required a delicate balance of scheduling, practicing, performing, recording, teaching and writing. I am required to set short and long-term goals on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to ensure that I stay on top of all my work. I set these targets to prevent myself from getting overwhelmed throughout the course of the year and my musical memory plays a crucial role.

Currently I am working on two hours of repertoire for recitals in the spring, all of which must be memorized. Naturally, I have to approach my daily guitar practice with a plan. Not only do I need to attend seminars at McGill and teach nearly twenty students at OSS, but I just finished recording an album of Spanish guitar with Analekta and am currently preparing a doctoral recital of contemporary solo and chamber music. The only conceivable way for me to manage this large amount of music is to ensure that every day I have an idea of what deadlines are looming in the short and long term. As a result, I dedicate a portion of my practice to memorization of new material and then an even larger amount of time to review of recently-memorized material. Once I am satisfied with my progress, I begin reviewing older music and then alternate between improvisation, sight-reading, technique and composing, not necessarily in that order.

There is no way to “cram” in music. Musical memorization requires repetition over long periods of time as our brains need rest in order to consolidate the information that has been learned. It takes time for our brains to transfer learned motor behaviours from the short to the long-term memory-centers of our brains. This is why it is paramount that children develop the habit of memorizing from an early age so that it becomes just as normal as all of their other routines. Try consciously making memorization of new music a part of your child’s weekly practice schedule if you aren’t doing this already. If you are, work on bigger and bigger chunks and set more ambitious goals as your child becomes increasingly comfortable. Speak with your teacher about activities that encourage memorization and concentration and implement them as often as you can. I myself am constantly balancing new and old music just like a beginner Suzuki student.

Here is a link to my video of Tonadilla:

Musicians Are Athletes

Teacher’s Corner:  by Sarah Williams

Musicians Are Athletes

Musicians use their bodies extensively while playing. There are some instruments that are more naturally positioned for the body, such as the oboe or trumpet, where the instrument is simply held in front of the body, positioned in the centre. The violin is a different case. It is held on the left shoulder with the left arm suspended in the air out to the side and the right arm raised, moving horizontally as the bow is drawn across the strings. Although we can learn to relax as much as possible while playing violin, it is still not a natural position.

Many complications can result from improper posture while playing the violin, such as unbalanced legs, a curvature in the back, over extended elbows and many more. Some violinists develop stiffness in the jaw from clenching their teeth while playing. I saw a teacher once in a masterclass who asked the student to play with their mouth open to help relax the jaw muscles. Another good tip is to lift your head off the chin rest and move it around periodically.

With a good teacher and practice, musicians learn proper posture right from the beginning of learning to play the violin. By maintaining proper posture, they may be able to prevent injuries.

Similar to athletes, musicians train hours a day, and use their bodies strenuously with repetitive motions. The muscles and body tires after playing for long periods, and injuries can develop. I developed tendinitis at age 16, and had to take a year break from playing the violin. Thankfully, my muscles recovered and I was able to start playing again, but this is not always the case. Some musicians develop injuries and are no longer able to play because of the pain

This is why I would like to stress the importance of stretching before practising. Stretching helps relax the muscles and prepare them for the repetitive motions we create when playing. This will in turn avoid complications with overused muscles over time.

People don’t go to many concerts anymore

Teacher’s Corner: by Lance Elbeck

*People don’t go to many concerts anymore. *

These days parents, especially with younger children, are often reluctant to make the trek to the NAC to hear great live music. There is a wonderful orchestra here in Ottawa. The concert experience can be so very stimulating for a youngster. Make sure your child is old enough to enjoy the music, sit quietly and give it rapt attention.

For a family experience and a change of pace how about a weekend trip to Toronto, Montreal or Buffalo to hear their large orchestras or hear the COC? Instead of booking a cruise or going to Disneyland, book the same amount of time and go to New York to absorb the great art and music making!!!  The entire art immersion experience (concerts, art galleries, dance and theater) can produce unforgettable memories to our young Suzuki players and their parents alike.

I was very fortunate to live relatively close to a great city when I began my study.  Because we lived only 120 miles away (one way) my dad made a huge effort to find the best violin teacher he possibly could. This also meant his extraordinary commitment to drive me to my lesson every week.  Today I truly appreciate his interest, sacrifice and joy in helping me become a musician.

After lessons and Chicago youth orchestra rehearsals we would often go to an evening concert in Orchestra Hall. How exciting to hear Milstein or Oistrakh play in recital or with the Chicago Symphony. I have never forgotten these concerts.

Also, on another note: *I want to recommend today’s technology to all parents*

We live in a wonderful age of “apps”! I like “ins tuner” for pitch and Pro metronome for rhythm. There are many other wonderful ones available for cell phones or PCs. Of course, Korg has an amazing line of products as well as Dr. Beat.

The tone with which to compare one’s pitch must be loud enough for the student to hear properly.

I just bought a new Korg tuner for the studio and all the students today noticed it and asked me about it.  The sound it produces is LOUD and suitably annoying for tuning —a win win.

I expect parents and students to embrace these tools that with daily use yield technically proficient results.