By Jamey Mann
This July I had the privilege of studying with Andrea Cannon for my Suzuki Book 1 certification for guitar. The training is a humbling experience which made me realize how much more I have to learn and how the techniques used in Suzuki can be applied to not just the very young but with older students as well. One central aspect of the Suzuki method I have always believed in, which my week of training helped to reinforce, is the crucial role of parental involvement in music lessons. This is true even if you are not Suzuki trained or don’t plan on ever using the Suzuki method in your lessons. An open line of communication must be established with clear goals and realistic expectations of how lessons will progress.
Below is a list of points that I am going to give to all of my students’ parents. Many of these points are going to be from a Suzuki point of view, but can be applied to all students and disciplines. This is a work in progress that may be revised and added to over time.
Parental Involvement/Home Teacher- If a student is under the age of eight it is crucial/mandatory for a parent or designated home teacher to attend all lessons with their child. The Home Teacher is the caregiver elected to attend parent training lessons, student lessons, group lessons, and recitals. The practice parent is responsible for everyday practice at home with the student, daily listening assignments, and recording lesson notes and assignment from the instructor. It is important for one parent to be given this responsibility, however; loving encouragement from all family members is vital.
If it is not necessary for there to be a Home Teacher because of a student’s age or playing ability, it is still crucial that parents be involved. Listen to your child practice, make sure there is a daily schedule for practice, ask your child to play their lesson material for you, ask the child questions about the lessons, and feel free to come into lessons to listen or ask the instructor questions.
Parent Training Sessions- Depending on age and ability, it may be necessary for a parent to study with the instructor for the initial lessons or throughout the student’s time in lessons. In the sessions the instructor will teach the lesson material to the home teacher so that they may more effectively help the student. This is also a great opportunity for parents to understand exactly what their child will be experiencing while learning the instrument.
Listening- This is a central aspect of Suzuki lessons and all music lessons. The more the student listens to their assignments the quicker they will pick them up and progress. Students are encouraged to listen to their assigned song 10 times a day as well as the next 2 songs in their method books 10 times daily. This can be done during practice, play time, driving in the car, etc. Advanced students should also listen to their music multiple times a day and listen to different artist to hear to different interpretations and musicality.
Repetition- Once the learning process begins, repetition will be a necessary part of the student’s practice at home. This will help the student to memorize their music. In addition, through repetition the student will be developing and honing important technical skills that will help them progress effectively. Do not allow the mistake of running through lesson material once and ending the practice session. This is an ineffective way to practice which leads to difficulty and frustration.
Lesson/Practice Materials- Your student will need specific items for lessons as will the home teacher. The student will need an appropriately sized instrument, case, foot stool, and practice chair or stool for home (no arms). Parents and older students will also need a three ring binder, notebook paper for notes and assignments, tuner, music stand, and method books. All of these items are essential to the learning process and must be obtained before lessons begin or soon after the first lesson.
Consistent Attendance- Attending lessons consistently every week at the agreed lesson time is crucial to the students’ development. Attending lessons sporadically or rescheduling lesson times every week can be just as damaging as not practicing at home. Your student should have a full week of practice before the next lesson to do their best for the instructor. If a lesson is scheduled for a Monday but is rescheduled for Friday the student is going almost two weeks without a lesson with the instructor. This allows time for laziness (parent and student) and complacency to set in. Additionally, if the lesson time is still set for Monday, the student now only has two days of practice before the next lesson. This can result in the lesson reviewing or working on material from the Friday with not much forward progress.
Dedication- It is important for parents and students to understand that learning an instrument does not happen overnight. Every artist you listen to has spent many years developing there musical abilities to be where they are. The road to learning an instrument will have peaks, valleys, and plateaus. It is vital that parents and students stay on a consistent path to reap the full benefits of what learning an instrument offers. Too often some wish to quit lessons at the first sign of difficulty or frustration. Others may choose the path of instant gratification with other lesser learning methods that do not involve a qualified instructor. These methods are a musical form of connect the dots; although they may offer a quick song to play, in the long term they don’t provide any way of truly learning and excelling at the instrument. Regardless of the method or teacher, being dedicated to learning the instrument is the most important part of music. As long as parents and children are putting in the time and effort the student will be successful.