This is one of my favorite books about teaching and parenting, so I was excited to revisit it last month. As both a psychotherapist and experienced Suzuki teacher, Edmund Sprunger is uniquely prepared to address the obstacles Suzuki parents face when practicing with their child.
Helping Parents Practice is laid out in such a way as to be helpful whether you read it from front to back, just pick and choose the sections that apply to you, or as a daily “devotional” to keep your brain focused on what’s important. As a busy parent, I really appreciate how easy it is to jump in anywhere in the book and get the help I need.
Here are the concepts and quotes I think no Suzuki parent should miss.
“Practicing happens in a very close–often intense–relationship. When the emotional environment of this relationship gets either too hot or too cold, practicing gets more difficult, just as it would if the physical environment went to one extreme or the other. One way this upbeat book is here to help you is by acknowledging the darker, coarser side of the practicing relationship. This book understands that even though few things are more annoying than biting into a piece of dirty lettuce, lettuce actually grows in dirt. The dirt doesn’t make lettuce bad. Similarly, relationships often grow in conflict. The presence of conflict doesn’t necessarily indicate that the relationship is bad.”
Often, parents decide to leave my studio, and when I press for a reason, they tell me that the conflict they experience during practice must mean that violin isn’t a good fit for them. This is not the case! We will have conflict with our children regardless of whether we’re practicing an instrument with them or not, we may as well be investing our conflict time in something that will help us all grow and learn together.
“Always keep in mind that the goal of practice is to make things easier. When the goal of practice is to “fix things,” then a child’s performance tends to be limited to a hope that all the things you fixed stay fixed–not a set-up likely to give a child’s musical soul the freedom it needs to emerge. Practicing to “correct” things tend to have the effect of making children feel like they themselves are in need of correction for their very being, and they are more likely to be resistant during practice.”
I love to teach this concept, and another I find to be essential, to my students and parents by introducing a call and response routine in both private and group lessons. I ask, “What happens if we make a mistake?” and the children respond, “Nothing!” (I want to make it very clear that mistakes are not bad, and that they are a welcome part of our learning process.) Then I ask, “Why do we practice?” and the children and parents respond, “To make things easier!”
“It is the parents–the adults–who need to understand that merely pointing out corrections to a child doesn’t help the playing become fluent and expressive. But repeating things until they become easier and automatic–that’s the way to make playing grow. Adding easier to easier still requires work, but it’s more effective and pleasant than adding challenge to challenge, which ultimately can leave a child in knots.”
It’s our job to facilitate the repetition of manageable material so our children can grow.
“Things don’t get easier just for your child. The work that you, the parent, do during practice will also get easier over time, as you “practice practicing.”
The principle of practicing to make things easier applies to us parents, too! Thank goodness!
“If you want to communicate to your child that music is important, then by all means don’t tell him that. Instead, show him that by your actions.”
What can you do to show your child that music is important? Here are some things that we do in our family: attend concerts together, celebrate progress and consistency, practice daily, listen to our Suzuki recordings daily, listen to lots of music throughout the day, and I practice for myself, too.
“Just as a bow can only hold one arrow at a time, you’ll find that practices will be most productive if you remember that your child can only hold one thing to work on at any time. If you notice yourself wanting to give your child more than one thing to pay attention to, stop. Do some prioritizing. If you could choose only one of those things, what would it be? Ask your child to focus only on that one thing. This is not letting a child off easy. It’s asking the child to do appropriate work. Keep in mind that kids really do want to do a good job. When we give children too much to do we unknowingly and unintentionally sabotage them.”
This is essential for teachers too!
“When the parent–the most important person in a child’s life–stops barking instructions all the time, a child becomes less anxious because he no longer lives with the constant worry of coming up short in the eyes of the person who matters most to him.”
I really just adore this book, and it has been so helpful for me. As a parent who really has to work to stay positive and control my irritation, studying this book on a consistent basis makes a huge difference in my ability to make practice a positive experience for my son and for me.
Have you read Helping Parents Practice? What were your thoughts?