"Getting ahead in the Book" by Susanne Beer
While I work with my students through the Suzuki books we also always study and play group pieces / chamber music pieces, which are not in the Suzuki books.
At every concert, we perform as a whole group two of those group pieces and at times also chamber music (duo, trio, quartet, where every student has their own part but 2- 4 cello students play together as chamber music ensemble).
These group pieces / chamber music pieces we practice during the weekly group lessons but they also need to be prepared at home apart from the Suzuki book pieces.
Parent: “Can we please prioritize the solo pieces ?”
The solo repertoire always has priority. However, in some cases where a parent has failed to prepare the group piece at home as the home teacher, I need to make up the missed out homework and practice the group piece with the child during the individual lesson as otherwise the child will be left behind in the group lessons/concert.
This is, aside from other reasons, a cause why group lessons can't be missed and are part of the teaching. Children who would not attend the group lesson would be left behind in the progress.
“My child hasn’t progressed enough in the Suzuki book in the last term because he/she had to learn other pieces which are not in the Suzuki book, can we please focus on progressing in the Suzuki book again?”
This question usually arises from a parent who worries that their child could advance slower in the Suzuki book than other children and that other children would overtake their own child in the Suzuki book.
To worry about that is understandable and only human but completely misses the point.
A piece of music is a piece of music. It does not matter in which book it has been printed.
(I have considered in the past to not use the actual Suzuki books anymore but use copies, tip-exing the number of the piece, so parents would not be able to see where in the book they are…
And if copies weren’t illegal I might have done it!)
Making “Getting ahead in the book” a priority isn’t good, it is, in fact, counterproductive. However, making the solo repertoire (whatever piece it is) a priority is correct.
That does not mean that the group pieces can be neglected.
If a student doesn’t spend enough time at home preparing the group pieces, I will have to do it with the child in his or her individual lesson as she or he will otherwise have problems in the group and will be left behind by the others.
“My child’s friend is already at ‘Go tell Aunt Rhody’, why are we still at French Folk Song?”
Some parents understand very quickly what it means to be the home teacher and how to organize their practice time, other parents take a bit longer to “get into the swing of it".
Reading books on how to practice -there are plenty on offer in the BSI shop (British Suzuki Institute)- is a very good way of learning how to manage your practice time and how to make your practice time efficient and effective.
Following the instructions of the teacher religiously is a definite plus. To learn how to practice is a skill and needs to be learned. Too often students and parents think that playing the piece from the beginning to the end is practice.
Playing the piece is not practice! Taking certain bits out of the piece which needs attention, analyzing them for what needs to be done to make them sound better and what the problem is and aiming for 5 CORRECT repetitions can count as practice.
Mindless repetitions are not practicing!
Dr. Suzuki once said:"You only need to practice on the days you eat!"
10 minutes a day are worth far more than 30 minutes three times a week.
The regularity is the key!
The parent is the home teacher and a child cannot practice on its own until it is old enough and has learned to analyze problems and knows how to progress in practice.
I recommend to read:
Helping Parents Practice: 'Ideas for making it easier' (Edmund Sprunger)
'Teaching from the balance point' (Edward Kreitman)
I have seen and heard children who are far ahead in the Suzuki books but who are actually not ready yet for the pieces they currently play as their technique still is insecure or unstable. They are not to blame but only their teacher, for letting them get ahead too quickly in the progression of the books.
From Book 2 onwards I integrate other solo pieces as the second book has more challenges than the first book and I don’t want the children to “speed through the book” and book 3 goes ahead so fast that most students can’t keep up with the speed of new technical points.
“Getting ahead in the book” is not a priority of mine but playing the current pieces really well with a solid technique and with ease is my priority.
Also revising the already learned repertoire is my priority and being able to play the group pieces with the same skill as the solo pieces is my priority.
When we revise pieces I sometimes get to hear from children: “Oh that easy piece! That’s early book 1! That’s far too easy for me!” If the child is, let’s say, in book 2, I then ask him or her to play it “like a book 2 player”.
When the student plays it but, for example, the sound shows that there isn't enough contact of the bow with the string and there isn't the desired ringing sound I would expect from a book 2 player, I say: “That was a very good book 1 player performance, now give me a book 2 player performance.”
The child quickly realizes that it not about what book we are on or what piece in the book we are on, but how well he or she plays the piece, what the sound quality is like, the intonation, the musicianship and not to forget the posture, the bow hold and the left hand position.
I always ask my students to revise a piece, which they have played and learned already a long time ago and play it to me with the skill and knowledge of their current level.
Edward Kreitman, the founder, and director of the Western Springs School of Talent Education and the Naperville Suzuki School wrote in his book ‘Teaching from the Balance Point’:
“It’s the first day of classes at the local Suzuki Institute, and I am following two young mothers, six-year-olds in tow, into the classroom building. As we reach the outside door, one mother stops the other to introduce herself.
“Hi! I’m Peg, and this is my daughter Claire.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Joan, and this is Jessica.”
I look at my watch and count the seconds “four, three, two, one”, because I know what the next question will be.
Joan looks at Claire and says, “And what piece are you working on?”
It is the classic question. Let’s get everyone pigeonholed so we know where we stand. We all know that we shouldn’t do it, but there it is- the need to excel in that common repertoire we in the Suzuki movement share. Well, what’s wrong with that? After all, we are really only asking if we’re going to be in the same class, right? Both girls are just finishing Minuet No.1 after struggling for a year through the Twinkles. They will be in the same class and will have a grand time together at the institute.
Perhaps that will be the case, but maybe not. Consider this conclusion to the conversation:
Peg sheepishly replies for her daughter, “We’ve been studying the violin now for three years and we’re so proud- we’ve just finished ‘Lightly Row’”
Joan proudly boasts, “Jessica is just about to start ‘La Folia’ in book 6. I guess we won’t be seeing you in class this week.”
Think about what this kind of interchange can do to a child’s self-esteem.
I coach my parents and students to avoid this comparison altogether. Our reply to the classic question “What are you working on?” is “Good posture, good tone, and perfect intonation. What are you working on?”
After that answer, learning the notes to any piece, at any level, seems pretty insignificant.”