Sue: I’ve been attending the American Suzuki Institute since 1999, and I had already registered and paid for flights before I heard the Olympics were happening in the same fortnight. Actually it was much healthier to be practicing, rushing to classes and using my brain, than lying slothfully in front of the telly, thinking, “If only I were younger.” Luckily I came back home in time for the Para Olympics, which I found really inspiring. These young athletes truly embody Suzuki’s belief that Every Child Can.
I try to get to the American Suzuki Institute at Steven's Point, Wisconsin every year for some teacher training. This year I took another opportunity to review Book One. As usual, the place was buzzing with enthusiastic families, so there were lots of opportunities to observe the dynamics in teaching and practice sessions. A special treat for the trainees was a series of three Skyped lectures on how the brain learns by Robert Duke from his studio in Texas. I can tell you, I've come home bursting with information.
Paula: You have come out with a new book recently that addresses the issue of review. What caused you to write about review as a topic?
Sue: I think that FRUSTRATION is the mother of invention. When my two children were small, I didn’t see the point of playing old repertoire every day. We did it, racing through the easy ones, avoiding Twinkle like the plague, and having tantrums (mostly parental ones) over the bits that always went wrong. Over the years, I have met many families who find review as difficult as we did, and after years of creating review charts that never got used, I decided to do something about the problem. Review – Making it Fun, Gets the Job Done is the child of my frustration.
Paula: Where did you get your ideas about what to focus on concerning review?
Sue: I published a survey online, to find out what really bothered parents and teachers about review and was overwhelmed by the response. Teachers were bewailing the fact that parents didn’t understand the importance of review. Parents were just as upset that their children didn’t take it seriously. They both reported boredom, lack of focus, rushing, lack of motivation, and memory lapses. A lack of communication came into it. Teachers blamed parents for not paying attention during lessons, and parents blamed teachers for not giving adequate instructions.
It seems that both teachers and parents have done everything in the book from nagging to charts, stickers, games, and rewards. Nothing seems to work for any length of time. It seems that everyone is desperate for a quick fix.
We are often told that review is the cornerstone of the Suzuki Method because of all the benefits that it brings, but we are not told in simple terms how to do it. When I was helping my two through their practice, we were told to review everything every day, which meant, as far as I was concerned, keep the pieces up to scratch. This became more stressful as we progressed through the books and the repertoire became larger. Charts looked huge. I think that giving a review chart to a parent can be very daunting, and I know that some of my families have been totally fazed by them. When a child clearly wasn’t reviewing, this is the first thing I would do, and I was always disappointed by the lack of ticked pieces at the next lesson. Some parents even moaned, “Oh no, not another chart!”
Paula: I know some of your background as a Suzuki parent before you became a teacher may have had an impact on your teaching philosophy. Would you mind sharing some of that history with us?
Sue: I was fortunate to grow up in Bermuda. The only fly in the ointment was that I desperately wanted to learn the violin and at the time, there were no teachers on the island. By the time I came to school in England at the age of 17, I was told that I was too old and should learn the viola. It was love at first sight and within 18 months, I got accepted into music college only to be given to the worst teacher I have ever met. That was that, till my children came along and I wanted to give them the chance I never had. This is where Suzuki came into my life with violin, viola, and cello lessons for all of us. It took me many years before I understood that the Suzuki Method is not about producing virtuoso instrumentalists, but about nurturing the whole child. I must have made every mistake in the book while trying to help them practice. Ooh, the tantrums and parental meltdowns! Well, in spite of everything, we have all survived, and I am the proud mother of two lovely, kind, and capable young adults.
Once I began to understand the philosophy of the Suzuki Method, I started to take teacher training courses at the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point, Wisconsin and with the British Suzuki Institute in Scotland. I became fascinated with the way we learn and the ways in which parents can optimize their children's education. You could say that my mission in life is to help other parents to avoid the mistakes I made and to help them to enjoy the musical journey they are taking with their children.
Paula: Tell us how your book about review came to be.
Sue: I'm insatiably curious about what works and what doesn't and why. Yes, I'm always the one with my hand in the air, asking too many questions in class. I love experimenting and finding out what makes things tick. My new ebook Review - Making it Fun, Gets the Job Done is the product of this curiosity. Why, when we are told that children like doing things that they can do well, are so many children and parents bored by review? What can we do to make the job fun?
Paula: Who would benefit from your book?
Sue: I wrote my new ebook for:
- Parents who feel that they are progressing too slowly
- Parents and children who are bored with the old easy pieces
- Parents and children who don't understand the point of review
- Teachers who are having trouble with parents not understanding instructions
- Parents who need help with specific review tasks for each piece
- Anyone whose children rush thoughtlessly through review
- Everyone who is fed up with review charts
- Parents who don't understand what the teachers want them to practice
Sue: My book contains ideas about why, how, and where to review along with ideas for fun focus. The operative words are focus, fun, and games, no matter how crazy. I'd like to quote Maria Montessori, who said, "Play is the motivation for the child's work." Although we tend to think of work and play as opposites, they are most effective when they are brought together. Games give lots of opportunities to practice lightning fast refocusing, as well as giving micro breaks in concentration.
The tools I included for getting review done include:
- Focus Cards for all pieces in books 1 through 3
- Review Priority Cards for all pieces in books 1 through 3 (so that parents can see how the bow circles in Song of the Wind lead to Gossec Gavotte and why Twinkle variation C is important for Allegretto and Andantino)
- Over 100 Variations on Twinkle and Perpetual Motion to use as previews for new pieces
- Review Challenge Games
Sue: When my children were learning music, my biggest challenge was how to make it fun and focused without forcing the issue. We were inspired by a friend who turned everything into a game. If you listen carefully to gifted teachers, they will use colorful metaphors and games to engage all of the senses. It's enhanced deep focus that we are looking for. We learn more when we pay attention. It is in human nature to engage with activities that are enjoyable. We all need to cultivate the art of making practice fun. There is a wonderful sign up offer that will explain how to use games. You can find the offer at: http://www.musicinpractice.com.
Paula: If anyone wishes to contact you for more information, where should they email you?Sue: I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paula: Thanks, Sue, for taking the time to connect with us and tell us about your new book. I am sure that there are other teachers besides me and other parents who could use some help with a review program. Please check out Sue's new book: Review - Making it Fun, Gets the Job Done. For more information about the new book, visit Sue's website at: http://musicinpractice.com.