It’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed with school schedules as the winter months drag on. The goals we made in January might be overlooked. Or, we are simply in need of a bit of motivation.
Here are some tips on how to stay motivated when it comes to the daily work of music.
When students and parents ask how they can learn things faster I always say listen! It’s like getting at least 3 free lessons. Listen to the current piece or the entire book your child is currently learning, every day, at least 2x. This can be active or passive listening. Listening is the easiest thing to do, but sadly the easiest thing to forget to do as well. For more tips on how to make listening easier to do, please see our January 2, 2022 blog entitled January: Renew your listening habits!
Attend a concert
We are so lucky to live in an area that has an abundance of performing arts right at our fingertips. I guarantee that you can find some type of live performance every single day of the year within 25 miles of your home. Did you know that many professional orchestras have free or heavily discounted tickets for students and children? Please ask your private teacher for input on what you could go see this very weekend. Your very own OPSA teachers perform around the Chicago area regularly–go and see/hear/support their ensembles!
Play for loved ones
There is always someone who will happily listen to your child make music. Put on mini concerts often! Grandparents, neighbors, cousins, and friends are all excellent potential audiences and will love to be a part of your journey. This can be simple, like playing 1 song over Zoom to a far-flung loved one, or a more formal event such as a house concert for family and friends. Consider making and sharing your child’s favorite food after the concert!
Start planning to attend a summer institute.
Every summer there are dozens of Suzuki institutes held across the country. You can find one in practically every state and every week. Suzuki institutes are a fantastic way to get some external motivation that can carry you forward for months to come. You can find different types of institutes based on what works for you and your family. Want a rustic camp-like experience? That institute can be found. Would you prefer more of a resort feel? Or maybe you want to expose your family to what it feels like on a college campus? Want to look at mountains as you practice? All of these things are possible. Please check the Suzuki Association of America’s websiteto find a list of institutes, or speak with your private teacher to get more information on what they recommend.
Seek out creative performance opportunities
Can your child bring their violin to school for a talent show or informal concert? Can they contribute to the music at your place of worship? Do you have loved ones in an assisted living community? Ask if you can bring your child to play during their dinner service. There are many ways to get creative about finding other opportunities to perform.
Do a practice challenge
Commit to practicing every day for a certain length of time. Start with 30 days. Often, 30 days can easily turn into 100 days. If this is working for your child, keep going! It’s possible to keep going for a year or many years once you make the commitment. Don’t assume that this will not work for your family! Keep in mind that while we want to have a focused and productive session most of the time, sometimes we only have 10 minutes. That still counts as practicing! The point is to maintain the habit. Don’t aim for perfection–just do something every day.
While we are all dreaming of warmer days it is time to start thinking of summer Suzuki Institutes!
Many families and teachers look forward to Summer Suzuki Institutes every year! Institutes are events held all around the country (one in almost every state!) where teachers, children, and parents get together to learn and play music together. Held for 1-2 weeks throughout the summer, you and your child will attend master classes with highly experienced and skilled teachers, participate in group classes, and get to hear and participate in concerts and other fun activities such as talent shows or improvisation classes. Each institute has its own unique specialty and flair.
As there are many institute options all over the country (and the world!), some families even plan vacations around institutes in order to travel and get to know new places.
Whether this is your first experience or you are going back every to see old friends, summer institutes are a great way to immerse your child in a week of music, learning, and laughter. The connection and motivation provided by attending a week at a Suzuki institute are worth the time required. Memories, as well as new friends, are made sparking new energy to sustain a family’s practice throughout the school year.
Check out the links below for more about institutes in Illinois and surrounding states. Click here for a full list of Suzuki Institutes. Be sure to let your teacher know as they can help offer lots of useful guidance on selecting, preparing for, and thriving at an institute that’s right for your family.
This holiday season we have a few suggestions to help parents who are encouraging their children’s musical studies with gifts that support their efforts. Enjoy!
1. Music stand
Having a sturdy music stand available in your child’s practice area is a great way to show support for their music studies. A solid stand will hold all of their music books and because of its solid desk, it will support any writing you or your child might need to do during practice. (And who can resist these fun colors?!).
2. Practice Space makeover
If you already have a stand like the one above, try adding a few inspirational messages or images for your child in or around their practice space. You could consider framing images of famous violinists such as Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn or Sarah Chang and/or printing some nice quotes about practice such as,
“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good, it is the thing that makes you good.”—Malcolm Gladwell
“Only practice on the days that you eat.” -Shinichi Suzuki
“The slower you go, the faster you get there.” -John Link
Metronome.Every music student needs a metronome. While there are many metronome apps available, I am a fan of the ‘old school’ metronome placed on a stand or shelf nearby for several reasons. First, it is loud. And second, there are no distractions from other apps or excuses to wander into social media during practice. 😉
A great way to bring some humor and play into a hard working practice session is to use little trinkets and games to keep things light and the corrections impersonal.Can you balance a friend on your violin while you play your review piece? Can you move a bead for every “keeper” achievedin a phrase? Along the same lines, try adding a fun music game to your practice or for a family game night. Michiko Yurko, a Suzuki piano teacher in Washington D.C, developed these fantastic materials. Many of our students order the puppy pack. Try playing traditional card games like War, Solitaire, or Go Fish with these music note cards.
We are so fortunate to live in an area where there is an abundance of live music ready to be heard almost anytime. OPSA teachers perform in a many different places around the Chicago area. You can hear them in a chamber concert, downtown in an orchestra performance, in River Forest in a Bach cantata, and more. The Chicago Symphony has lovely children’s concerts like these. You can also find inspiration together by attending a Chicago Youth Symphony concert.
Here is a concert opportunity with OPSA violin faculty, founder & director, Meg Lanfear, and cellist and chamber music coach, Jean Hatmaker, performing at Grace Lutheran in River Forest. They will perform as part of the excellent Bach Cantata Series offered here every year.
7. Subscription to Spotify
Having access to music anywhere, anytime as well as the ability to share songs between devices and people (such as your teacher!) makes a Spotify subscription a great choice for music students. And, as you may know, the Suzuki albums are all available here. We prefer the Suzuki Evergreens playlist as this offers the Suzuki version of the violin pieces as well as the original version (e.g. a German children’s choir singing O Come Little Children).
8.A personal musical history file
I recently saw a great idea a parent had to collect their child’s funny sayings, some photos, messages from family, childhood artwork, etc. and emailed it to an email address in their child’s name. They turned over the account to their child when they graduated high school. I thought that a similar idea would be lovely for a child growing up playing an instrument. Keep a Dropbox folder of their images from concerts, a few videos, and a list of the repertoire studied and accomplishments achieved through the years. I also love the idea of briefly viewing this folder together in a time of low motivation to show your child how far they have come with their skill development.
9. Support building a routine
Students enjoy playing their instruments, but sometimes struggle to find a practice rhythm to their day. Sitting with your child at a time other than practice time and helping them sort through some of the obstacles to practicing can be time well spent. Are there a few moments before school that have previously gone unproductive that could be used to work through an etude or review pieces? When can listening happen? On the way to school? During dinner? Help to navigate these opportunities with your child. This support to develop and maintain a routine can make the difference between a frustrated student and one who feels they have strategies to help them conquer their day.
Some of my most vivid memories of my own young violin studying years involve my childhood home in Virginia. I recall being in our living room, practicing with my Suzuki Dad. He is sitting right in front of me perched on the edge of the wooden rocking chair, holding his notes from that weeks lesson in his lap. He watches me do an exercise several times in a row while checking to make sure that my repetitions meet the criteria set out in the assignment notebook. He is tired, having worked all day. He has an older daughter who wants to tell him about her day at school and a young son begging him to come and play catch with him outside. He also has a wife in the midst of starting a business, tired herself this evening and cooking dinner for our family in the kitchen across from the living room. And yet my Dad is there—giving it his all as a Suzuki Dad. I am forever grateful, both for the memories as well as the skill those moments helped develop.
…many great reasons to give the gift of music lessons this season!
At OPSA, our specialty is beginning children on their musical journey around the ages of 4 to 7 years old. If you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, or other loved one around this age, consider offering music lessons with OPSA as a gift this year. We have a fantastic music program that starts children out in both a private violin lesson as well as a group lesson. The ability and opportunity to make music with friends is truly the gift of a lifetime. Attending concerts where you can see all of the skills that your little one has developed through music will be such a thrill! With our Equitable Tuition Program, music lessons are accessible to all. Contact us today to inquire about our combined program of private lessons and group classes and to learn about class schedules. Now, enjoy this video of some of our current students performing in our annual benefit concert from December of 2019.
Welcoming a more economically diverse student body to OPSA.
In 2021, OPSA began what we call an Equitable Tuition Program. We believe that music education should be available to all families, regardless of income. In commitment to our values, we have structured tuition based on an equitable sharing of resources. When you pay tuition to Oak Park String Academy, you are not simply paying for your child’s music education. Your tuition is pooled with what each family can offer in order to keep the work of our Suzuki community going and growing. We all benefit from a school that reflects and serves those in and around our community.
We depend on this equitable distribution to continue our school’s mission, pay for our lesson and class spaces, and provide fair pay to our amazing and highly qualified teachers while keeping the cost of violin lessons within reach for all members of our community.
Families can take a look at the details of our program here.
How are those listening habits going? Are you listening *every day*? Have you figured out HOW your family prefers to listen–spotify? amazon music? itunes? On your child’s device? Your own phone? etc….
If you have fallen off of the Suzuki family listening habit wagon, you’re not alone–it happens to the best of us. But not for long! And we ALWAYS regroup and improve!
Here are 4 things to consider when trying to up your listening game.
It is *your* responsibility as the parent of a music student to make the listening happen. Don’t leave it up to the child. Whether your child is a 5-year-old beginner or a 14-year-old learning major violin concertos…turn on the music in the house! It only needs to be in the background and it needs to be on regularly so it becomes a part of their day.
Do you hear the music they are studying or are about to study? Make sure *you* hear these pieces as well. It will be enjoyable for you as a music parent to be able to recognize your child’s pieces and to hear whether they are improving and sounding like the recording…or not. Don’t use headphones for your child for this particular listening. This listening should be done through a Bluetooth speaker of decent quality. Here is the one we use in my house. We have two–one upstairs and one downstairs.
Speaking of technology….HOW do you listen? If we believe that music is a language (and we do!), then we must acknowledge that it needs to be heard and constantly present in our child’s environment regularly in order to be absorbed by their ears and therefore contribute to their learning process. While I have feelings about how the International Suzuki Association chooses to distribute (or rather, NOT distribute) the official recordings (newly recorded by the AMAZING Hilary Hahn!!), we can find ways to make this easy in our modern-day life.
Finding these links and downloading is only the first step in the process of setting up a successful (read: regular and frequent) listening practice for our child. The next step is connecting these downloads to a device that will play to a Bluetooth speaker. In our house, we have Spotify on every device. Anyone can connect their device (a parent’s phone, a sitter’s phone, a child’s iPad or other device) to the upstairs or downstairs Bluetooth speaker and get listening going this way. I come down in the morning and turn it on first thing when the kids come into the kitchen.