I know it might be hard to believe, but as of this week we are nearly halfway through the Fall ’19 Semester! This school year got off to perhaps the best start I can remember, with students and families across the board practicing consistently, listening to their CDs, attending group class, and making consistent progress. As we’ve settled into the school year, some of the early enthusiasm has waned, practicing, listening, and group class attendance have dropped off a bit, and progress has generally slowed. As we approach the midway point of the semester, I want to take a moment to pause, reflect, and offer a few words of advice and encouragement.
Dr. Suzuki used to say, “Practice only on the days you eat!” When I was younger, this admonishment from my teachers always felt like an impossible burden, but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that there’s actually great freedom in this mindset, for a few reasons:
- It’s easier. It’s much more manageable to do a little something every day than it is to try and do a lot every couple of days. You never have to “psyche yourself up” for a grueling practice session, you just have to show up and put in your little bit of careful, focused work every day and then be done with it. These little deposits of effort really add up, and without ever feeling like you’ve done a lot, you’ll look back 6 months from now and realize you’ve made a lot of progress, because…
- It’s more effective. Our brains learn better from high frequency than they do from high volume. Who do you think would learn a new language faster – a student who goes over their vocabulary flashcards for 60 minutes once a week, or a student who goes over them for 10 minutes every night? It’s the same with an instrument. Our brains are like sponges and can only “soak up” so much at one time. The more frequently we practice, the shorter, more focused, and thereby more productive we can keep our sessions.
- It feels good. No matter what else happens every day, you have a sense of having accomplished something when you’ve practiced. We shouldn’t underestimate the positive power of this sense of achievement and self-worth. Likewise, we shouldn’t underestimate the negative power of letting practice lapse. Students know when they’re not doing well, even if they’re not told, and if left unchecked these feelings can spiral downward and lead to wanting to quit. Small, frequent, manageable chunks of practice, along with free-flowing praise and support from parents and other family for a job well done are the answer!
With these things in mind, I want to issue the challenge to every family to seriously consider practicing every day from here on out. Often, this means sitting down as a family and looking at the schedule to see when students could realistically practice every day. It means supporting students by making scheduled times consistently available to them, and it means following up with students to help them develop and maintain the discipline to practice every day. I can’t say it’s effortless, but I can say it’s worth it. One thing I know is that if you’re here at West County Strings, it’s because you want your child to succeed – not just in music, but in life. Developing the habit of practicing every day is the most surefire way to achieve that success that I know of.
As many of you know, I start lessons off by asking students how many days they’ve practiced in the past week. I have done this for many years, as it gives me a valuable insight as to what to expect from the rest of the lesson, the pace at which I’ll be able to teach material, and much more. This year, I added another question: “How many days did you listen this week?” The answers have somewhat surprised me! As a studio, I would say we are listening 2-3 days/week, with a few students averaging closer to 5-6 days, and some averaging closer to 1. You’ve probably heard me say this before, but let me say it again:
Listening to your Suzuki CD (or other recording if you’re working on music outside the Suzuki literature) is the single fastest and easiest way to increase your rate of progress. Listening makes learning come easier. When learning feels easier, it’s more enjoyable. When it’s more enjoyable, students want to do it more. This is all positive, and leads to great places. Not listening makes learning come harder. When learning feels harder, it’s less enjoyable. When it’s less enjoyable, students want to do it less. This is all negative, and doesn’t lead to good places. If that’s not convincing enough, consider that one of the foremost string musicians of our generation says that listening until he can sing a piece through is the absolute first thing he does when learning a new piece of music. This is the Suzuki Method at heart, and people use it because it works!
I know there’s often a lot of pushback from students about listening to the CD in the car, at home, or in the CD player or iHome next to their bed when they wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night. They’d much rather be listening to whatever the latest and greatest thing is that they and all their friends are into. Sometimes, there’s pushback from parents, too. Trust me, I get it – oftentimes, I’d rather listen to NPR, or ESPN, or a podcast, or something else on the radio, too. We have to remember, though, that every time we put on the Suzuki CD on, we’re helping our children learn, we’re helping them have a really successful, positive lesson that week, and by doing that consistently over months and years, we’re helping them develop a discipline and a skill with their instrument that will train their brains to think well, give them a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-worth, and open doors to opportunities for them not only as children but truly for the rest of their lives. In short, it’s worth it!
So, I want to challenge every family in the studio to make listening to your Suzuki CD part of your daily routine, too. With today’s technology, it couldn’t be easier. I can only imagine how exceptionally well we would do as a studio if everyone listened to their CD every single day. If we all practiced every day, too? I think the results would exceed everyone’s expectations!
Stay tuned for Part II: Group Class & Recitals!