The Parent's Role in Lessons, Practicing and Making Music

Saturday, August 13, 2022 by Heather Gardner | Uncategorized

The parent’s role in fostering their child’s musical ability

In his book “Nurtured by Love” Suzuki tells the story of the Ninjutsu warriors training to make their large leaps.  They begin practicing jumping over newly planted hemp crops and continue to practice each day as the hemp grows imperceptibly higher.  By the time the hemp is high the Ninjutsu trainees have mastered their high jump, not by practicing high jumps the whole season, but by repetitive practice, building skill slowly day after day.

Each week when your child comes to their lesson they will be asked to build on the skill from previous lessons. Over time you will find your child, like the Ninjutsu jumping over the growing hemp crops, has developed musical skill by taking these small, perhaps imperceptible steps, each day.

Your child will need your help developing this skill.  Think back to when they were toddlers and you were teaching them to talk.  Each day, each meal, each night before bed you would speak to them, read to them and help them learn to form sounds and attach a meaning to them.  Like language, the more frequent and immersive their musical experience, the more fluent they will become with their musical skill.

This musical immersion cannot be created during lessons alone.  Your job as a Suzuki parent will be to create an environment where music is being played, listened to, and practiced on a regular basis.  By immersing your child in the music they are currently learning, or will soon be learning, you are developing their musical literacy and their capacity for playing and appreciating music.

The parent’s role in lessons

You and your child are embarking on an educational and musical journey together when you sign them up for Suzuki lessons.  You will join them in each lesson, actively participating to learn all that they learn.  This will probably feel different than other educational settings you and your child have been in, where parents are usually asked to drop their kids off and leave the teaching to the teachers.

This is because we are teaching more than just notes and rhythms that add up to pieces of music.  Through music, you and your child will learn how the process of learning such a complex skill is the true work.  A successful musical performance is the consequence of regular work that happens at private lessons, group classes and at home practicing.  Learning to enjoy and foster development through the process will help them in whatever goals they make for themselves in the future.  

Think of your child’s lesson as having 3 participants- student, teacher and parent.  While we are used to the typical roles of student and teacher, the parent role may be novel.  The parent’s role during lessons is to follow closely what the teacher is asking the student to do.  They will take notes and write down any assignments given by the teacher to the student.  There may be times when the teacher will directly show the parent what they are asking the student to do so they can replicate a lesson at home.  When you are in a lesson with your child, ask yourself what is the teacher asking my child to do and why?

The answer will likely not be that the teacher is teaching your child how to play a song.  Rather, the teacher will be developing a skill that will be used to play a song, maybe today, maybe down the road.  These skills are the seeds that will someday blossom into beautiful music.  They will take patience and skillful cultivation to come to fruition.

Here is a list of teaching priorities Ed Kreitman gives in his book Teaching From the Balance Point:

  1. Teaching balanced posture of the body, including violin and bow hold

  2. Teaching balanced tone production or “tonalization.”

  3. Teaching perfect intonation.

  4. Teaching skills for developing artistic musicianship in performance.

  5. Teaching notes and bowings to new pieces.

These priorities will be helpful to keep in mind as you participate in your child’s musical development.  Balanced posture, tone production and intonation are necessary to develop artistry and learn to play new pieces of music.

The parent’s role in practicing

After you and your child leave your lesson each week your job as the parent becomes essential.  The first thing to do is to make sure your child practices regularly.  The best way to do this is to set a regular time each day when your child will know to expect to practice.  Some common ways to do this are practicing each day after dinner, or in the morning before going to school.  You know your child and your family’s routine best so try to figure out the time and place that will be the easiest to do regularly.

Now, what do you do once you have begun the practice session?  Your child will not know how to practice at the beginning.  Your job as the parent will be to guide them to review the material and exercises assigned by the teacher.  You do not need to feel responsible for teaching songs or going beyond the assignments given.  Simply, review and repeat the material covered in recent lessons and complete assignments.  You may find yourself wishing to “fix” other things about how your child is playing, but keep in mind that the teacher is guiding you through a process and that everything does not need to be learned at once.  In fact, everything cannot possibly be learned at once!

The most important thing is the time you will spend with your child and the confidence and appreciation for beauty that they will develop with your guidance.  Your curiosity and willingness to learn alongside them will set an example they will remember for the rest of their lives!