Frequently Asked Questions
Q. I’m not musical. How can I help my child when they practice?
A: Most people are more musical than they think! We encourage parents to sit in on their child’s lessons so they can observe what he or she is doing. Our teachers are happy to give parents helpful tips (such as “this is what correct hand position looks like”) to reinforce good technique at home. Even without formal study, most people can recognize when a student is improving in tone, pitch accuracy or rhythm. Encouragement is always helpful.
Q: What happens during lessons?
A: Since all lessons are individual, each lesson will be structured a little differently. Most lessons will start out with a warm-up exercise and/or a review of the last assignment. Students are encouraged to talk to their instructor about any issues they may have had in practicing or about any upcoming events they need to prepare for (such as a scale test in their school band class or an audition for a musical). After working through a student’s assignment, teachers will usually introduce the next assignment and thoroughly explain any new skills or concepts.
Q: Do I need my own instrument? (And do I actually have to buy a piano for piano lessons?)
A: Yes, you do need an instrument to use for lessons and practicing, but you don’t need to make a big investment right away. It’s a good idea to rent at first, and many places offer rent-to-own agreements with free repairs included. We provide state-of-the-art digital pianos at school to use during lessons, and piano students can practice at home on an electronic keyboard with standard-sized keys. If you want to rent or purchase an actual piano, Gist Piano Center is an excellent place to look. Guitars are available for rent at the Doo-Wop Shop for a very reasonable rate. Brass, woodwind and string instruments are available to rent at Mel Owen Music. Voice students must supply their own instruments, of course. 🙂
Q: Why do I have to pay for a lesson we miss?
A: Should your teacher ever miss a lesson you will be offered a make up or a refund. For lessons you miss, your teacher is still at work, even if you do not show up. If you are at work do you expect to be paid, even if you’re not actually doing anything? I guarantee it, when I have a no-show lesson, I still do studio work. I always ask that you give me notice if you are not going to come. Should you let me know a week in advance, I will do my best to give you a make up time. Any less time than that, I give no guarantees. You are still charged for that lesson. This is the policy of all music schools I know, as well as your doctor, dentist, etc.
FAQ About Suzuki Lessons
Q: When will my child learn to read music?
A: It depends on many factors, including interest in reading music, need (are they in an orchestra?), reading ability (as in their native language), learning issues, etc. We begin reading readiness activities at the very beginning, by learning the note names on our instruments. We then begin note identification by mid-book 1, assuming the child can read English already. I like all my students to be proficient readers by book 3 depending on age. Learning to read music is a process, one that takes daily practice – just like learning to play your instrument!
Q: Why is review important?
A: Learning to play an instrument is a cumulative endeavor, just like learning to read, learning math, or any other subject. You don’t learn your alphabet, and then forget the letters. Nor do you learn to add and forget it to learn to subtract. Every song in the Suzuki repertoire is carefully chosen to learn or reinforce a specific technique (or two) and is carefully placed within the books. Just like you can’t learn long division without first learning multiplication and subtraction, you can’t be expected to play a song with a G# before you’ve learned where G# is! Oftentimes in the later repertoire (book 4+), pieces will pull many techniques we learned in earlier books and put them all together. If we’ve forgotten how to play those earlier pieces, and thus forgotten the technique, we have to relearn things, which takes time away and slows progress. Wouldn’t it be better if we hadn’t forgotten them in the first place? We also use our review songs to work on artistic development, adding color and shading to our old songs to make them more musical. It’s much easier to add these to songs that are already well under our fingers, than to new pieces that we’re still internalizing.
And more succinctly, a teacher once asked me, “What’s the point of learning all these pieces if when asked by someone to play, you don’t have anything ‘ready’?”
Q: Why is listening important?
Children learn a lot of things aurally in their formative years. They can’t read, so they rely on their five senses to learn about their world, the ear being first and foremost. You wouldn’t expect your child to learn to speak by only talking to him for 30 minutes once a week, nor can you expect your child to learn what a violin sounds like for hearing one person play for 30 minutes a week. Listening, not just to your Suzuki cds, but classical music in general, is the only way to cultivate a ear for this music. If they don’t know what it sounds like, how can we expect them to reproduce the sound on their instrument?
Q: When will my child actually start playing their instrument?
A: How long do babies jabber and babble before they start saying words we understand? (I’ll let you know as soon as my 15 month old says more than “ball”!) How many steps does a baby go through from newborn to walking? First they roll over, then scoot, then crawl, then pull up, then cruise, and finally take a step! How excited do we get over each tiny milestone? That one step is broadcast across the world! We view every step in violin playing with a student the same way. There is A LOT that goes on to produce correct posture, and you must have correct posture to get good sound. This is the reason we spend months, perhaps even more than a year, cementing this correct posture so that when the bow is finally put to the string and wonderful sound is produced. And of course, producing nice sound is what this is all about. Any kid could pick up a violin and make noise, but we’re in the business of making music from the soul. We want to be sure the foundation is laid correctly before building the house – we don’t want the house to collapse.
Q: Why must I be in all my child’s lessons?
A: Because we like you! Because your child likes you to see them doing something well! Most importantly, we need you there because you are the home teacher. For younger students, I need you to guide them in their practice at home to be sure it is done correctly. If they go home and do it incorrectly we will have to revisit that idea for the next lesson, and this will hold up progress. For older, more advanced students, I need you to hear what they SHOULD be practicing so you can listen (even if from across the house) and encourage them to practice the right exercises/pieces. For older students with anxiety about parents being in the room during their lessons, I ask that you sit outside my studio so you can still hear what is going on and be a set of ears for me at home to, again, be sure the correct exercises and pieces are being practiced at home (and so you can be a cheerleader at home as well!).
Q: What is the point to group lessons?
A: First and foremost, group is FUN! Playing with your peers in a non-graded situation is just a blast. We also do a lot of fun activities in group that we don’t or can’t do in private lessons. Group is also where we learn social skills, how to play in an ensemble, play in parts (you may or may not be playing the same thing your neighbor is), learn to take turns, learn to listen and give helpful feedback to our peers, and learn to appreciate each other’s music. We also learn group pieces that we can perform at concerts! Group is also wonderful for the younger students because they get to see where they’re going. They might hear an older student play a piece they really like, and they make it a goal to “get” to that piece. It’s also good for the older students to realize how far they’ve come.
Q: My child can play this song just fine – the notes, rhythm and bowing are correct. Why aren’t we moving on?
Again, learning to play an instrument is cumulative. We are actually already previewing other pieces without the student knowing it. There also might be a technique needed for the next piece that is not ready to move on yet. We could also be learning some new tricks with an old piece, like vibrato or a new position, instead of stressing out about a new set of notes on top of the new tricks. The brain can only think of one thing at a time. Learning a new song is often overload on top of learning new techniques and tricks. It is much better to let the new tricks settle and become habit before adding the stress of a new song on top of it.
Q: My friend’s child is the same age, started at the same time and is two books ahead. What’s wrong?
A: My number one guess is always practice time/quality and parental involvement. A student with a set practice time every day and a parent that practices with them and guides them at home will always progress faster than a student who only practices infrequently on their own. There are also, of course, students who take to it more naturally, just like in school subjects. But everyone learns to speak, read, do long division, and graduates in the end, right? Try to not be bogged down by the “what song are you on” comparisons and instead look at the fact that x number of years/months/days ago your child didn’t even know how to hold a violin or make a good sound on it. We are trying to make music lovers; comparing them to their peers often makes them feel inadequate if they think YOU think they are lagging behind. Please try to avoid this, and as always, find something to praise in their efforts instead.
Q: Is it too late to start my tween/teenager/me as an adult with the Suzuki Method?
A: NEVER! The Suzuki approach was developed for young children, but the principles apply to students of all ages. No matter what age you start at, learning correct posture and how to create a beautiful tone should always be the goal of lessons. Also, many parents decide to learn to play alongside their child. This is a wonderful approach, and often makes the child want to play even more.
Q: Why is tonalization/scale practice important?
A: Why is stretching important before doing exercise? Playing an instrument is a physical endeavor. Stretching and warming up is important to help avoid repetitive motion injuries. Tonalization, as the name implies, is all about warming up and getting our best tone from our instruments. Is this not the goal of playing? Emphasis on beautiful tone production is what sets Suzuki students apart from their traditional counterparts. In traditional lessons and school orchestra the goal is often to move ahead to the next piece, the quicker the better. In the Suzuki approach, we don’t move on till it sounds as beautiful as possible. Tonalization practice is where we find that sound, then apply it to our pieces.
Q: My child won’t practice at home. I don’t want to force him/her. What can I do?
A: This is probably the trickiest. First, please let your teacher know of your troubles WITHOUT THE CHILD PRESENT. Please give me a call or email so we can discuss it without the child. After I am aware of your troubles, I will talk to the student in a lesson and try to discern what is going on. After that I will probably talk to you and give you suggestions. Every child is different and there are many different causes for practice difficulties. Sometimes it’s a family thing, sometimes they are “bored” with their pieces, sometimes they are frustrated with a piece, etc. If I can find the root of the problem we can usually work through it in a lesson and things go back to normal. If it’s a family thing, sometimes they need to practice when someone is not at home (often with siblings the younger one feels embarrassed or intimidated by the older one), or they are just “done” practicing with the parent in the room. If it’s just a motivational thing I have numerous ideas for putting a reward system in place, also. The number one thing to do is let me know so we can find the root of the problem. Remember, an acorn turns into a very complicated root system BEFORE a tiny tree appears above the ground! Their can be a lot of progress being made that isn’t showing up in the sound yet, so don’t worry!
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