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Monday, February 20, 2017

Enliven Technique with Basic Goodness

I wrote the following article sometime in 2013, but the message strongly relates to the podcast episode that aired recently (click here to listen) and prepares our thoughts for future podcast episodes. So I dusted this article off and offer it again as a piece of writing with an important idea and philosophy that is worthy of our attention. Again and often.
"It simply makes no difference how good the rhetoric is or even how good the intentions are; if there is little or no trust, there is no foundation for permanent success. Only basic goodness gives life to technique." -- Dr. Stephen R. Covey (American educator and author, 1932-2012)
Dr. Stephen Covey wrote this in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (affiliate link) (Kindle version). Recall what Dr Suzuki wrote about music and character: "Beautiful tone, beautiful heart." Written in the Preface to Suzuki Violin Volume Two, Dr. Suzuki writes that "strings only sing the heart of the one who plays them. . . . because our entire personalities are revealed in the tone we produce."
"In human terms, if one lives in a self-centered, egotistical and immature way, one's life will be that of no joy and constant dissatisfaction. In other words, because of selfish needs, what one creates will be nothing but noise.
In contrast, when one lives by the principle of serving the hearts of others and learns to live for other people, one can enjoy a life of light, without discord, in harmony with others, and walk through life in pure joy. Similarly, the ultimate goal of music education, as well as the secret of violin playing is to guide others away from the world of self-centeredness to that of loving hearts in the service of others.
. . . The philosophy of violin playing is the same as that for life. Man, like the violin, can only sing the song of his own heart." -- Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998, Japanese violinist, educator, and founder of Suzuki Method of Talent Education)
It was Dr. Covey's words about basic goodness giving life to technique that spurred my memory of Dr. Suzuki's words about the violin singing the song of the human heart. I believe that both men would agree with each other. What we are inside is revealed when we play the violin, or whenever we play music.

I teach a string techniques course at the university, in which I teach music education students how to teach string techniques. I can work a few minutes with one of the university students and tell you much about that student just by how the student approaches the instrument, by the type of sound that the student produces, and by the type and amount of energy level that the student produces while playing. I am sure that the students think I am some sort of gypsy fortune teller because I am able to accurately describe the student's personality style within minutes of teaching the student. I can guess at the types of hobbies the student might pursue, the state of the student's clothes closet at home, and what sort of social life the student maintains. I can accurately guess what types of grades a student usually gets in classes and how uptight the student is.

When I listen to student recitals, I can close my eyes and envision the sort of person that is playing. I can hear whether the person is smiling inside or hurting. I can feel the student's instrument and music vibrating in the air, and I can tell whether the student is trying to communicate with me on some level or whether the student is playing "at me" or for their own inward purposes.

I know of several teachers who routinely assign special homework to their students during the week, which consists of character building exercises along the lines of doing things for others. The idea here is that if the students frequently perform acts of goodness or kindness, then the students will get into the habit of doing good or being kind. I think this is a great idea because it makes students and parents aware of the exercise. Hopefully, when one person sees another doing such good things, the person will admire the effort and will strive to imitate the gesture. The one act could exponentially grow to include many, many others.

What such an exercise will also do is help to purify and mature the heart and spirit of the person doing the exercise. We all know that "going through the motions" will not make a person good overall, but doing so will go a long way toward building such a person in the end. We have heard the adage "fake it until you make it," and this catch-phrase may say it all. We may have to go through the motions and build the character habit until we finally reach the point that the motions and the good strong character are instilled in us. I believe that good character is just another ability that we can develop by over learning.

What Drs. Covey and Suzuki are both telling us here is that good character is the foundation to good in everything else. For Dr. Covey, good character provides the structural framework for good attitude, good relationships, good communication, and good leadership. For Dr. Suzuki, good character will be reflected in a person's music, which is the performer's personal expression of inward emotion, attitude, and sense of beauty. Without good character, something is "off" about the person, and no amount of technique will change that. We will be dazzled by technique, but we will not be moved by it. We might admire someone for their technical skill, but we will not be persuaded to move mountains.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. -- Aristotle*
This week, let us contemplate the words of both Dr. Covey and Dr. Suzuki and consider what habit of character we build through our repeated actions. Let us strive for excellence. More than that, let us make the effort to repeatedly do the right things that will strengthen our character. Let us reach out to the world and build connections that will uplift and encourage our society and world to grow beyond itself in a good way, in the right way.

Go forth and do good!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird
*Although this quote is attributed to Aristotle, it may actually come from Will Durant and his work "The Story of Philosophy," in which Durant summed up Aristotle's thoughts.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Good Parenting

Recently I published a podcast episode about good parenting (click here to listen). This is a subject area that never gets old and that we all benefit from visiting frequently.

Some teachers are parents, but all parents are teachers. This is important to remember because of its impact and meaning for children. Parents are their children's first teachers. They teach children some very basic and important life skills: how to dress, how to feed themselves, how to behave. These are some of the initial lessons that a child will learn.

Most importantly, parents should remember that because they are their children's first teachers, that they are also helping their children learn one of the most important life skills -- how to learn and enjoy learning. Life skill?, you ask. Do you not agree? How parents expose their children to the learning process will impact in a big way how much children might enjoy and seek out further learning opportunities in their lives.

Parents, do you enjoy learning? Did you enjoy learning things in the past? What were your experiences in school? In the home? Have you made lifelong learning a life choice that you will continue throughout your life's journey? Have you prepared your children for this lifestyle as well?

These are important thoughts for parents to consider. How parents set up the learning experience now will greatly impact how children will approach learning and life. Let us give these thoughts a great deal of consideration to make sure that we are giving our children the best opportunities that we can to approach their lives in the best possible way in order to gain the most benefits and avoid the dangers that life will offer down the future road.

Have a listen to this latest podcast episode and visit one or two of the suggested resources. Let us determine to be the best parents that we can be for the sake and benefit of our children.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

Friday, February 10, 2017

How to Plan a Group Class

In March 2012, I published a popular article about how I plan a group class. Recently I recorded and aired two podcast episodes about the subject of group classes. The first episode discusses the benefits of group classes from the teacher, parent, and student perspectives. The second episode discusses the components that I generally include in my group class lesson plans and the many different types of resources that I might include in a group class lesson plan.

Here is a link to that earlier blog article: How to Teach a Suzuki Group Class.

Here are links to the Podcast episodes:
In my group class podcast episodes, I discussed many resources that I have found helpful for planning and structuring group class activities. Here are a few of those resources:


Go, Dog Go! (Do you like my hat?)
Oh, The Places You'll Go! (and be sure to read the book while listening to John Lithgow read it! (click here for the video)
Plastic Halloween Eyeballs (balance these on the hair and the bow stick)


Episode 15: Asking the Right Questions (the power of the "what" and "how" questions)
Music Listening Resource List Article (building your child's home listening library)
Recipe for Suzuki Review (YouTube) (how to build a consistent and regular Suzuki review program)
The above links are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them, the podcast and blog may receive a small benefit. You are never under any obligation to purchase anything, but if do choose to purchase something and use these links, I greatly appreciate it and your support.
If you are interested in my simple group class planning form, click here for my Group Class Planning Template.
I hope you enjoy these articles and podcast episodes. I love my group classes!
Until next time,
Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----
© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

Monday, January 30, 2017

90-Day Square Goal Setting Update

goal setting square
90-Day Square for Goal-Setting
Here is the end of the first month of my new goal setting tool, the 90-Day Square, and I thought I would share an update. I have really enjoyed using the square, not only because of the visual appeal of the square when I complete a task and color in a segment of one of the square quadrants, but also because I have found that the square and its components facing me daily has helped me to focus my efforts on the things that I decided a month ago were important to me.

As you recall, I decided to use a square to set some goal challenges for a 90-day period. I aired a podcast episode (There Comes a Journey) that explained why I found the idea of a square more useful than a circle, and the episode described my plans for this 90-day goal-setting tool. I blogged about it as well and included pictures (blog post).

Now my first month has passed. I still use my square. A lot. The document sits on my desk on top of my morning pages journal, so I see it every morning. The act of reviewing each day reminds me of the items that I included, and little by little, I continue to whittle away at the tasks that I outlined.

The above picture of the square shows the square as it currently looks. I have several more areas that I could shade in with color, because I have done considerable work on them so far, but I set these few items as things that would be completed when the 90 days were up, and so these things will have to wait until that time. If I could indicate a portion of a square segment to indicate a portion of the item was completed, then I did so.

Back Side
The picture on the left shows the back side of my square document. I wrote out a breakdown of steps for many items that show on the square color page. As you can see, I have marked an "X" or a "*" on many completed items. I review this side of my square frequently too, as it reminds me of the "little steps" that I might take to reach my bigger 90-day goals. I find that I enjoy ticking off items as I complete them, so this page is fun to look at as well as the color page. It helps me to stay on track with all of the little details and building blocks.

Maybe I would have completed all my tasks without the square, but I feel more confident that by using the square, I have indeed accomplished much. I assure you, there are few things as exciting as the opportunity to shade in a segment of the square!

For those who are interested, this is the spread that I have designed for my bullet journal. I use a hardcover, dotted, medium Leuchtturm 917 (affiliate link) with Frixion erasable color pens (affiliate link). I used plain highlighters (affiliate link) to color in the square segments. Bullet journaling is fun!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

Monday, January 16, 2017

Bullet Journals for Suzuki Parents (Taking Notes at Lessons)

Parents, take notes at lessons!

I go on and on about the importance of this, and still, it seems that parents have trouble with this advice. When I started out as a young teacher, I used to think the following questions to myself about this problem:
  • Do parents not understand how important note taking is at the lesson?
  • Do parents not realize that teachers have to steal lesson time in order to be sure that clear instructions and notes are put in the assignment book?
  • Do parents think that the teacher will leave thorough assignments when rushed for time to complete the lesson before the next student enters the room?
  • Do parents want the teacher to write skimpy notes about what happened during the lesson?
  • Do parents truly believe that the parents will remember everything that happened at the lesson and what the teacher expects to happen at home during practices?
Oh, I was so naive and young when I thought those questions. So arrogant and inexperienced. Today i look back and shudder at those questions. I do not really know what parents think. I hope that parents have taken my advice and are taking notes. Unfortunately, I do not always see evidence of this even in my own studio. I often wonder why this is. I know that many parents listen to my podcast (episode 6: How to Take Notes at the Music Lesson) and read the articles on my blog (10 Rules for Success for Suzuki Parents), and yet, I still find parents wandering into the next room and leaving me alone to handle the recording of lesson information and practice instructions.

I have a cluttered memory when it comes to what happens during a lesson. I find it very difficult to remember every step that I took during the lesson because I am quite busy thinking and evaluating and anticipating what the student will do, can do, and will struggle to do. I have not left much room in my head to remember all the steps that I took to reach my ultimate teaching place, and I would welcome help from an observer.

So I conclude that parents most likely do not understand how to take notes. Let me offer an easy solution, and one that parents may find to be quite popular. Let me suggest that parents start a bullet journal for note taking at lessons. Here is how it would work. I broadcast an entire episode about this subject, and you may find this podcast episode to be a great companion to this article, and vice versa (Episode 42: The Bullet Journal and Other Tools).

I use a Leuchtturm 1917 medium dotted notebook for my own bullet journal needs:

These journals come in many different prices and color choices. The one pictured here is one of the lowest prices right now (typically the usual price as well). This is perhaps the most popular choice for bullet journals right now, although some folks prefer moleskin notebooks, such as:

The original bullet journal concept was created by Ryder Carroll and you can find more information about how to use a bullet journal in general at There are many videos and Pinterest boards that provide more information. There is a Facebook group about minimalist bullet journaling too. And, Pinterest and Instagram material abounds!

For my purpose here, a basic bullet journal is all that is necessary, although I myself use one pretty extensively. My purpose here is to show parents how simple note taking can be at a lesson with a bullet journal. Perhaps a parent will be able to use the bullet journal for other needs, but for now, a bullet journal for lesson note-taking may be all that a parent needs.

Step one: open up the journal and set up a few necessary pages.
  • Index: this is generally the first 3 pages of the journal. The Leuchtturm journal comes with a preprinted index.
  • Future Log: After the index, turn to the first two pages that are blank. Count the number of rows on the page and divide by 3. Count down that number of rows (1/3 of the rows on the page) and draw a horizontal line across the entire two-page spread. Draw another line 1/3 of the way down the page. When you finish drawing the lines, you will have 6 quadrants. Now label each quadrant as a month. If you start this journal in January, you will now have January through June months represented in this future log. You can start a future log anytime, not just in January. Now note important information in the appropriate month of the future log. Include such things as the dates of group classes, studio recitals and performances, and other special notes, such as holiday breaks.
  • Monthly Log: Although I do not personally use a monthly log very much because I prefer a regular calendar planner for the detailed appointment lists, I do maintain 1-2 pages for a month, and I use these pages as a brain dump of things that I need to do in that month. I just list anything that I want to do this month on those two pages. I put an open square to the left of the item, and as I complete these items, I will fill in the square. If it is an appointment, then I draw an open triangle to the left of the item and fill it in. I use my monthly logs as a place to capture thoughts that occur to me about things that I need to accomplish in the month.
  • Weekly Log: For me, this is the most useful part of my bullet journal. I have a weekly spread that I prefer to use, but there are many different ways, and the fun thing about bullet journals is that you can change how you use it every week, or even every day. As a teacher, I use the weekly log to help me plan and control how my week's workload unfolds. I keep track of my appointments and things to do. I maintain a list of my top three things to accomplish in the week, and I keep track of things that I am waiting for (people I have emailed, packages that I expect, or phone calls that I anticipate receiving). I also have a habit tracker in one corner of my weekly log and another little corner where I can note important items or events that will occur in the future, such as the following week.
  • Daily Logs: I do not use daily logs in my journal, but I suggest that this would be a useful tool for students and parents. I have written before about the benefits of using a practice journal, and since the advent of the bullet journal phenomenon, I think that bullet journals would be the best tools for this. I do use a page spread called a "time ladder." This spread sets out a day by the hour, and there is room on one side for appointments and the other side for things accomplished or planned. And the beauty of such a layout is that if you run out of room, you can draw a line to indicate the appropriate hour that the activity or event occurs.
  • Other Spreads: There are other possibilities for the bullet journal as well. Here are a few ideas:
    • tracking practice challenges, such as 100 days
    • tracking lists of supplies
    • tracking instrument maintenance
    • goal-setting
    • names and contact information of classmates and other parents
    • lists of music and recordings to purchase
I have one other suggestion to make, and that is to use a lot of color in the bullet journal. I have seen some amazing artwork done in the bullet journals that I have seen on Pinterest and YouTube. I myself do not have the time or patience to practice such things, and so I use erasable color pens. I highly recommend these pens because you can erase mistakes! I love the color splashes in the journal, and I change colors all the time to suit my mood.

How to Take Notes at Lessons with a Bullet Journal

Now, here is how parents can use the bullet journal to take notes. I suggest that parents use the weekly log and the daily log. The weekly log would be helpful to plan practices in advance. With my own weekly logs, I can see at a glance how busy my days will be, and I can plan appropriately to suit my weekly schedule.

The daily log would be the heart of a parent's note-taking. As practices progress, parents could note everything that occurred during a practice, along with observations about difficulties and suggestions for what to practice the next session. These daily sections could be as short or as long as the parent needed them. They also provide a written record that could be shown to the teacher or referred to as needed at lessons.

At lessons, the parent could start a special two page spread that would list everything that occurred during the lesson. I suggest bullet points to set apart each item or action that occurred during the lesson. If there was something that happened that was important and needed special attention later, use a special signifier such as an asterisk or an exclamation point instead of a bullet point to set apart the item.

This spread could also include anything that occurred to the parent during lessons, such as questions or other thoughts. The teacher could also include notes on these pages for the parent as well.

The bullet journal is a simple tool and a very useful one. Many people rely on this tool to help them stay organized with their lives. I suggest that parents would find this tool to be quite simple for keeping track of the information that comes from their children's music lesson experiences.

Please comment to let me know how this tool works for you. If you are already a seasoned bullet journal user and have some suggestions to make, please let me know about it. I will post pictures of these various spreads in the next posts to come, so stay tuned!

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

Friday, January 13, 2017

Teach Suzuki YouTube Channel now live!

Have you seen the new Teach Suzuki YouTube channel? I uploaded a video that talks about the importance of a consistent and regular review program, and the video sets out instructions for three possible review plans.

Check out the video, and be sure to hit the like button, leave a comment, and subscribe to the new Teach Suzuki YouTube channel. Click here for more.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Let's Do a Twinkle Challenge!

Most of us had a holiday break recently. Family outings, travel, and social occasions may have tugged us away from our good intentions of regular and consistent practice. I sympathized with any of my students who reported a dismal practice record over the holiday break. I struggled myself to find personal practice time and energy to accomplish anything other than staying on top of my performance commitments.

So, I propose that we find a way to get ourselves on track, and what better way to do that than a Twinkle Challenge! Here are some ways to do a Twinkle Challenge:
  • Play through the Twinkle, Twinkle Variations every day. Focus on correct execution of articulation and intonation while maintaining correct posture.
  • Play through the Twinkle, Twinkle Variations at the next lesson, or perhaps the first lesson of each month for the next three months.
  • As students progress through the Suzuki repertoire, add appropriate challenges for the students' levels. I will make a few suggestions below to whet your creativity.
Here are a few basic ideas for challenging violin students as they improve in skill and ability development.

Book 1:
  • Play the variations on different strings.
  • Play the variations in G major, as suggested in one of my earlier blog articles (click here to read more).
  • Play a new Twinkle variation by using a new bowing style. For example, try playing Variation D with down-up-up, down-up-up bows, as in the bowing style used in the first measure of Minuet 1.
  • Use left hand pizzicato to pluck all the open E and A strings and play the other notes with the bow. This is a great pinky strengthener.
Books 2 and 3:
  • Play the variations in D or A minor, to mirror the finger patterns found in "The Two Grenadiers" and Lully's "Gavotte."
  • Play the variations in Bb, starting on Bb, as in the middle section of Mignon's "Gavotte."
  • Play a new variation using a bowing suggested by Paganini's "Theme" from "Witches' Dance." This variation example is actually found in book 2 already.
Books 4 and above:
  • Play the variations starting with up bow. The variations should sound as good as they would if played with a starting down bow.
  • Play the variations in higher positions or with shifts to stay on one string.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list but one to get you started thinking. I have done Twinkle challenges in the past, and I was amazed at how well the studio students sounded when we revisited the Twinkle Variations on a regular basis.


----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

Monday, January 9, 2017

Coming Out of the Closet with the Kon Mari Method of Tidying

On a recent podcast episode (1/8/17) (episode 41) I wrote about my experience with the Kon Mari method of tidying up. I promised photos of my experience. Here are the photos and links of the process:

Kon Mari method of tidying
Clearing Out Floor Space
This is a picture of the pile of things that I needed to pick up off the floor and move outside my room, in order to make room on the floor inside the room where my closet is located. I dealt with this pile at the end after I had completed my Kon Mari process through the clothes and restocked my closet with what clothes remained. most of what you see here was discarded.

Kon Mari method of tidying
Everything Out of the Closet
Kon Mari method of tidying
Everything Piled on the Floor
These next few pictures are a shocking look at how the pile of clothing looked once I pulled everything out of my closet. As you can see, I had to stock many things on my counter as well during this process. The open books on the counter are my notes about the Kon Mari process that I was to follow.

Kon Mari method of tidying
Smaller Pile After Sorting?
This picture shows how large the pile remained after I had completed my sorting process. The laundry basket in the background is where I placed my T-shirts, with the misguided plan of hanging on to them. As my podcast episode relates, I discarded almost all of those T-shirts after one month, and I explain how that came about.

Kon Mari method of tidying
Sweeping Up to the Right
Kon Mari method of tidying
Finished Closet

This is an amazing transformation, yes? The left picture shows how my closet looked after I finished the Kon Mari process on my clothes. The picture on the right shows my symphony clothes (black) tucked in the back of the right side of the closet. I have since moved them to the left side of the closet.

Kon Mari method of tidying
Winter Running Clothes

The picture on the left shows a different closet that houses my dresser at the moment, although my husband and I have tentative plans to move the dresser out of the closet to a different location. The long-sleeved shirts pictured here are my winter running clothes. I have discarded many of the hangars now and kept the specialty hangars because they look so nice.

Kon Mari method of tidying
The Other Side of the Closet

The picture on the right shows the other side of my dresser closet. This side houses my winter coat, jacket, and sweater, and my short-sleeved running shirts. I did not discard many of my running clothes or winter coats.

My dresser drawers were great fun! I enjoyed folding my clothes find great joy in admiring my handiwork each time I open a drawer. I have improved my clothes folding skills since I took this picture, and my drawers look even better!

Kon Mari method of tidying

See the little packages of folded items? See how nice my running clothes look? It takes me seconds to get ready to go for a run.

Kon Mari method of tidying
I have a lot more socks than I realized. And I found some socks that were still in there original packaging, which is definitely a no-no to Marie Kondo.

Kon Mari method of tidying

 These last two drawers are even better organized now. Because of the vertical storage idea, I can find what i need in seconds. And an added plus is that my drawers all shut completely closed now. No more drawers slightly ajar with clothes spilling over the edges. All neat and tidy!

Kon Mari method of tidying

The entire process did not take as long as I expected. I allowed myself an entire weekend, but I took part of one day. I was worried at first that I might backslide, but I placed my faith in Marie Kondo's promise that I would not. And, I have since discovered that instead of backsliding, I have continued to discard and sort other areas of my life. In fact, every time my hand touches something now, I intone out loud whether the item sparks joy or not and sort accordingly. My trash and recycle cans overflow with the evidence!

If you are interested in a video of the pile, somewhere in the middle of my Kon Mari experience, click the links below for short video explanations of my process:

Please comment below if you have your own Kon Mari experience to share. I will tackle my book project next. As you can see from the photos below, I have my work cut out for me!

If you are interested in Marie Kondo's books, click on the links here, or you can find these books (and others) in the Teach Suzuki Resources Store, located at the top in the right sidebar of the blog:

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird

The above book links are affiliate links (Amazon), which means that I may receive a small benefit at no additional cost to you. As always, you never need to purchase anything, but if you are in the market to do so, consider using the provided affiliate links in order to support the time and efforts of writing and producing the Teach Suzuki blog and podcast.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

90 Day Square Followup

I released a podcast recording on January 1 about my new twist to goal setting, and I posted a blog article the next day with pictures to explain my system. I thought my readers might be interested in how the process went so far this week.

I love the new system! I look through the form every day, so the items that I have listed on my 90-day plan stay fresh in my mind. I put copies of my completed plan in various places in my home so that I would bump into it on a regular basis. That plan seems to work also.

Here are the main lessons I have learned so far:
  • If I look at my plan daily or even more than once during a day keeps me focused on the things that I want to achieve.
  • The four quadrants help me recall that the four areas of my life need to be balanced. I need to do something in each quadrant and not work in one area alone.
  • The three columns of 30-60-90 days remind me that time passes all too quickly if I do not pay attention.
I have not yet put the finished product in my bullet journal because I am near the end of my journal. I would rather wait until I have a new journal to include the new plan. I may not even put the plan in my journal at all because it is all set out in a fine manner so far. I do not need to copy it once again. I did use my bullet journal quite extensively to create the plan, and I plan to use my bullet journal -- a new one -- when I formulate my next 90-day plan.

It is commonly said that you get what you focus on. I find that having my plan before me has encouraged me to keep my focus on my plan.

I hope that whatever system you have formulated for yourself this new year helps you to stay focused on your goals.

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird