One of the major concepts in Suzuki philosophy is taking the long term view. Especially since the very young students do not have the long term experience yet to look beyond the moment, the parents and teachers have to help establish this. So let’s look at this in the long term. When you are in high school, the homework will take more time, and the extra curricular activities will also demand more time. Juggling homework and practice at this stage, when both activities only take a few minutes, is training for time management for high school and college.
When my daughter was small we juggled homework, practice , and the freelance schedules of both parents. If we knew the day was going to pose challenges for getting things done, we would discuss how we were going to schedule everything over breakfast (or in the car), come up with a few possibilities, and our daughter would help decide which one we would use. Then we would have to stick to it no matter what (which was sometimes very difficult) but we got it done (sometimes less than we wanted but enough to at least touch on everything). But now we have a kid in Grade 12 who has the next two years planned out in terms of what courses she will take at school, which ones she will do independently on line, and the timeline for which RCM exams she has to prepare in order to get her high school graduation, her ARCT diploma in recorder, go on tour to Europe with her choir and take a gap year before college.
That ability to plan ahead was developed in the car on the way to elementary school.
The million dollar lesson is designed to help young students learn what is and is not appropriate lesson behaviour. In my experience teaching, I have found that most young children eventually decide to “test the water” of lesson behaviour to see exactly what they can get away with. When this happens, the parent and teacher have the opportunity to teach the child that it is alright to manipulate the lesson, wasting everyone’s valuable time, and the parent’s money, or we can teach the child that inappropriate lesson behaviour is unacceptable.
First let’s define inappropriate lesson behaviour. Hiding under a desk, in the corner or under the piano is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Clinging to mother’s skirt with a thumb stuck in the mouth is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Acting bratty, and refusing to cooperate with the teacher is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Having an all out temper tantrum in the middle of the studio because you don’t want to play Lightly Row is inappropriate lesson behaviour.If we allow this type of activity to go on in our studios, the child will learn that he or she is able to control the lesson. I have had several who whined for 25 minutes until the next student showed up, then threw a temper tantrum because it was time to go and they couldn’t have a lesson. This type of thing never happens in my studio anymore. Years ago, I learned from my mentor, Jeanne Luedke, that we need to address this situation even before it happens. With every new parent that enters my studio, part of the parent education is to discuss exactly how we will handle any situation dealing with appropriate lesson behaviour. Our goal is to train the child quickly and easily to have a productive lesson. I tell the parent that eventually, the child will come to the lesson and be tired, or fussy, or just decide that today is the day to test the perimeters of my patience, and pull something that is inappropriate. When that happens, the parent and I have a plan. First the parent is asked to take the child outside of the studio and have a talk. See if perhaps they need a drink, bathroom break, or whatever, to try to get it together. If this does not work, we agree that the parent will remove the child from the studio immediately, with no discussion. I usually say something like, “looks like today is the day” with a smile. The effectiveness of this lesson is lost if there is discussion or delay. The child needs to experience that hiding under the desk this minute produces the result of being in the car on the way home the next minute. The important part about having this plan set up in advance with the parent is that there is no anger on the part of the teacher, and no embarrassment on the part of the parent. We are simply going through the motions together of a necessary routine which will bring about a very positive change in the child’s behaviour.
I would say that almost every child I have taught has had the million dollar lesson once. A few have had it twice, and if a child needs to have it a third time. I usually suggest to the parent that the child is not quite ready for formal instruction, and perhaps a break period of 3 to 6 months might be advised.
Incidentally, I call this the million dollar lesson, because one time as the mother was taking her screaming child out the door, she asked over her shoulder if there would be a makeup, or a refund for the lesson. Without thinking, I replied, “Oh no, you are definitely getting your money’s worth this week. This is the MILLION DOLLAR LESSON.”
And you know what? That girl played Bruch Violin Concerto on the solo recital last Sunday.
As I was practicing this morning, I realized that as I was warming up I was doing the same, or very similar things, to what I have my junior and intermediate students do. It made me stop and think.
Why was I doing these things that I have been practicing for years if I can do them already? Is this a waste of time? Am I bored? I don’t feel bored.
As I thought about it, my answer is: I do those things very well and very easily because I do them every day. If I didn’t spend a few minutes going over all the basics of violin playing every day they would all be much more difficult and I would be unable to successfully perform complex music with the necessary ease to communicate with an audience.
So when we practice we apply knowledge to develop skill. The easier it gets the more precisely we are able to apply the knowledge and the more finely tuned our skills can become.
To quote Shinichi Suzuki “Knowledge is not ability. Knowledge X 10,000 times is ability.
The urge to procrastinate is a good thing! I never thought I would say this, but I have been introduced to a radical new idea thanks to Seth Godin.
In his new book The Icarus Deception (which I highly recommend) he refers to the urge to procrastinate as a sign that you are about to make some really good art. Since creating really good art also makes you vulnerable, it also activates your sense of self-preservation. Your sense of self-preservation then activates your “fight or flight” response, which manifests as an urge to put off making the art. Therefore, the urge to procrastinate is a sign that you are about to create something really good.
That is the best explanation I have ever heard for the common experience of artists, writers, and musicians – that it is a joy to practice your art, but so very difficult to get started. So the next time I feel like procrastinating instead of practicing, I should paradoxically feel a stronger urge to practice because I know I will accomplish something really good.
Betty had always wanted to play the flute. As a doctor’s wife, she had been a patron of the arts and had always loved music, but she never actually played an instrument herself. When she retired, she started taking flute lessons. After a couple of years, her teacher said “That’s as much as you will be able to learn because you started when you were so old.” Being a doctor’s wife, she sought a second opinion. That is when she came to me for lessons. After a few more years of study, she was playing Handel sonatas at the level of the RCM syllabus grades 6 to 8, and enjoying herself immensely.
Brittany turned to me the other day and said, “When I have kids I am going to make sure they take music lessons. It is so important for them.” Brittany was finishing her undergraduate engineering degree when she said this. As a teenager, she was living with her single mother when various personal issues caused her to leave home and move in with her grandmother. Her grandmother thanked me many times for the stability that I offered Brittany by having her come to my home for her recorder lessons for many years. She learned to play very well.