As parents, we love our children, despite any challenging behaviors they exhibit. Other people may tolerate, even like our children. But no one is expected to love them like we do. After seeing the patience Miss Piper and Miss Barbara had for a whole class of other people’s children the past 12 weeks it dawned on me how much love they actually have for the children they teach.
If another person’s child had demanded to be first for every activity, as mine did, I would have lost it with them by week two. But, Miss Piper often indulged Charlie. And when she gave others a turn to be first she was able to let Charlie down in a gentle way that didn’t end in tears. I can rarely do that!
This week, our last Suzuki Readiness Class, Charlie suggested lying down on the floor for a musical exercise to demonstrate low and high notes. Where I would have demanded that we stick to the lesson plan, Miss Piper and Miss Barb said, “Why not?” and it was still an excellent learning opportunity.
Suffice it to say, I am not cut out to be a teacher of any kind. But, Miss Piper and Miss Barbara were built for it! I expect all the teachers at Manchester Community Music School are blessed with a special blend of love and patience for other people’s children.
During our parent/teacher time at the end of class this week we talked about next steps for our children. Suzuki Readiness 2 is an option as well as group or private Suzuki lessons. I was honest with Miss Piper. I told her I have been sold on the Suzuki Method. I understand how it teaches children so many positive life skills besides playing an instrument. I know the patience and self-awareness it teaches will make my child a more content individual and a better student.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is me! I still don’t know if I’m ready and able to devote the amount of time it takes to be the parent of a Suzuki student. If Charlie was an only child, and not the oldest of three little ones, I would have him choose an instrument and sign him up for private lessons today. But, for now I’m still learning to master this parenting juggling act and I’ll have to stick with group classes that aren’t as much of a commitment.
I have felt so blessed to have been introduced to the community here at Manchester Community Music School. And while I don’t know what the next steps will be for Charlie’s musical education I do know the staff at Manchester Community Music School will play some role in our family’s life for many years to come.
With only two classes left, Miss Piper has decided to let the kids try each of the four instruments – piano, violin, harp and flute – one more time. This week we did both string instruments, and boy did I forget a lot since the last time we used them.
The technique for holding the violin properly seemed so simple, but if Suzuki has taught me anything, it’s that even something that seems simple needs to be practiced over and over again for it to be mastered. The students had fun holding the violin up with just the weight of their chin, and playing low, high, and middle notes. Many of them can find the right strings without direction, but it’s still difficult to make them sound beautiful.
The harp, on the other hand, sounds beautiful no matter what you do to it. I finally realized why Miss Piper likes the instrument so much. She said when she was a child learning to play, her father would often ask her to practice when he got home from work. I doubt the parents of percussion students make that request often.
During our parent/teacher discussion at the end of this week’s class we talked about the ability to focus. Miss Piper said a lot of parents mistakenly think their child is born with short or long attention spans, when actually focusing is a skill that has to be learned through practice. In the Suzuki program a student has to be able to sit still through the entire Mississippi Hotdog song before they can even pick up an instrument. If they can’t, they’ll never be able to focus enough to learn technique.
Parents who have children with ADHD or a similar diagnosis may think this means Suzuki could never be for them. But their children could benefit from it the most. The daily practice of focusing on technique and learning what’s expected of them during lessons and practice time can help them learn to focus in other areas of their life. In a world where technology is turning us all into inefficient multi-taskers, I think the Suzuki Method could be beneficial to everyone.
I’ve never really thought about Charlie’s learning style, or learning styles at all, before this week’s Suzuki Readiness class. During our parent-teacher time at the end of class, Miss Piper told us understanding our children’s learning styles can make practice time much easier for ourselves and our children.
Learning styles we discussed included Visual, Aural, Verbal, Physical, Individual and Group. My husband and I are still trying to figure out which style of learning benefits Charlie most. He seems to remember everything we’ve ever told him (like if we promised him a cookie after dinner), so we’re inclined to think he’s an Aural learner, but it’s too soon for us to tell.
Miss Piper said a good teaching exercise will incorporate several learning styles, but a teacher’s style of instruction is unlikely to change drastically enough to address each student’s strongest learning style. That’s why it’s important for parents to be cognizant of their children’s learning style so they can help them make the connection during practice time at home.
For example, an Aural Learner often needs to hear lyrics to a song in order to memorize how to play it. If a piece of music has no lyrics Miss Piper often has parents work with an Aural learner to make up lyrics to the piece so the student has an easier time remembering it.
After our parent-teacher discussion about learning styles, I realized exercises Miss Piper used earlier in the class incorporated Aural, Visual, Verbal, Physical, and of course, Group learning strategies. She had pieces of paper with different shapes and colors on the floor that she used to help the students clap the number of beats in quarter, half and whole notes. She also had the students climb a series of risers to help them identify the difference between high, medium and low notes. They were using their ears and eyes and bodies while talking through the process and helping the other students in the group. It was beautiful!
Katie is taking a break this week. We welcomed our 3rd son last week. “The Baby Milo”, as Charlie calls him came weighing in at 19.5 inches, 7lbs 6oz. Mommy is doing well and Daddy has a couple weeks off to spend some time at home. So for this week Dad will be writing the blog and offering his perspective on this week’s Suzuki readiness class.
We started off in art this week, studying some still life and attempting to recreate it with paint. In the words of Miss Barb (perhaps famous last words) this was meant to be a non-messy paint project. Charlie did what I like to call a de-constructed forsythia branch. Nice yellow stem, brown leaves and a big mess on the hands. I get the feeling most of the art projects end with that last part of the sentence. Something struck me though and this was a theme that would repeat itself through the rest of the lesson; Charlie likes to be in charge.
This is something fairly new to me. My old work schedule allowed me to be a part of more activities like this. I’d never say that in any of those Charlie was the one who led. Then I looked around and realized he was not just trying to be in charge but he was showing off for the girls! I mean he just turned 5. That’s way too young to try to impress the opposite sex. I didn’t start doing that until I was like 20 and even then I didn’t do a very good job. The lesson in the art class was that sometimes we need to be quiet and pay attention to details. Sometimes we need to study things a bit before we can re-create it. I think that lesson was lost on Charlie but it made a lot of sense to me when thinking about learning.
We then went to the music portion of the class with Miss Piper. The theme of Charlie trying to lead kept on. Miss Piper was a deep well of patience with him. She was trying to lead them in some rhythm exercises and though Charlie was doing a decent job of it, he kept wanting to decide what the next rhythm would be, “How about we do claps on the 1 and 2 now”, he would say while she was trying to get everyone to make the noise on the “1”. Eventually he started to try a little harder to take directions and I’m proud to say he kept the beat pretty well. I thank Miss Piper and her patience for that.
At the end of the class the parents got a chance to talk about what they felt their child’s learning style is. I’m still not sure what Charlie’s is to be honest. I know he remembers things enough to get me in trouble. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “remember Dad”, or when he’s accurately described something that he saw once when he was 3. I know that he can listen when he wants to, though I suspect that’s true for most kids. I know that he has a lot of his Mom in him when he takes charge. I know a lot of these things but still need to process it all into a definition of learning style. I know that music class will help us and him identify what that is and how we can nurture it.
Getting a 5-year-old boy to stick out his tongue and spit should be as easy as telling a dog to eat a T-bone steak, but not for my young perfectionist. Miss Judy was back with her flute exercises this week, one of which was to stick a grain of rice on our tongues and use our breath to blow/spit it off. Charlie was immediately fearful he wouldn’t do it right. But after realizing he could spit rice all over his mom without getting in trouble he really enjoyed it. Good thing the weather was beautiful and we were holding class outside.
Miss Judy said she has all her flute students, no matter their ages, first learn to blow rice off the tip of their tongue before ever trying to make a sound with a flute. This is known in the flute world as “pulling.”
As I wrote in my last post about the flute, it’s clearly a difficult instrument to play. The instrument is beautiful, but the buttons definitely look complicated and getting a sound out of it takes a lot of time, and air!
Miss Judy had a special child-sized flute for the kids to try today. The flute had a curve at the end where the mouthpiece is. She explained that a regular size flute is too long for short arms to reach all the keys. The curve allows children to reach the keys and make the same sound as a regular flute.
After practicing our breath exercises with rice and bubbles Miss Judy let the kids try the flute. She warned everyone in our group not to get discouraged because they probably wouldn’t be able to make a sound. She was right. Only one star of our group made a real flute sound. Logan had clearly mastered the art of taking a big breath and “pulling” his tongue to make a beautiful flute sound. We were all impressed!
After seeing how difficult it is to get a sound out of the flute, I wondered why anyone would encourage their child to play it. But during the parent-teacher time at the end of class Miss Judy talked about the importance of looking at our children’s natural tendencies when choosing an instrument, not the difficulty. She said children are naturally drawn to one instrument over another based on things like the sound they make and even how they look. They’re more likely to excel at something that they enjoy with those senses rather than something that is easy to play.
It seemed appropriate that we took a step back from trying out instruments this week and focused on the highs and lows of making music.
Sometimes Suzuki Readiness is an amazing bonding experience for me and Charlie, and other times it can be the longest 75 minutes of my week. Charlie, who is just turning 5, still naps every day. I know this is rare for many five-year-olds, so I decided to enroll him in this class at a time when he is usually napping. I figured he has to grow out of naps at some point, and skipping them one day a week for music class seemed like a good way to start. But sometimes I see his weariness making Charlie struggle to get a hold of his behavior and emotions during the class.
Miss Piper started off by illustrating low, middle and high sounds with a variety of activities. Later she brought out some small xylophones and had the kids take turns mimicking the notes she played. The importance of listening and having the appropriate environment for listening was really highlighted with this exercise. So while I sometimes ignore Charlie’s unruly and distracting behavior, this week I had to step in and take him aside to remind him of his manners. It was a struggle, but Miss Piper’s patience and understanding with him was awesome as usual.
The discussion during Parent-Teacher time at the end of the class made me realize that music class is never easy for the child or the parent. And if we’re going to make music education a part of our children’s lives we all have to be prepared for hard work, discipline and frustration that go into it. My own experience with Charlie this week and Miss Piper’s honesty about the “lows” of music education were a real eye-opener. She encouraged us to think about why we may want our child to learn an instrument. She said she doesn’t know any child who loves practicing every day, even those children that seem to be born with musical talent. But, every child she knows loves to succeed, and music education fills that desire by allowing them to succeed at their instrument and in so many other areas of their lives.
The “highs” I’ve experienced with my children at Manchester Community Music School definitely outweigh the “lows.” I think we’ll stick with it!
Gross fact of the week: Harp strings are made of cat gut. Well, at least they used to be. With all the things we learned about the harp in Suzuki Readiness this week, this fun fact seems to stick out. I want to know who the first guy was to say, “Hey, let’s use the inside of this cat to make music.” Miss Piper said the harp we played this week probably had synthetic strings. Whatever they were made out of, they made beautiful music.
Miss Piper started off the class playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and I don’t think anyone even breathed until she was done. I never thought such a simple song could sound so breathtaking, but I guess a harp does that.
I realized that I had never really seen a harp up close before today, and don’t really know much about them. The other parents in the class have realized by now that I like to ask questions. Here are some more fun facts (not as fun as the cat gut one) that I learned:
1. Harp strings are actually three different colors. The red, black, and white strings make them easier to distinguish from each other.
2. Harps are designed to have a point on which they can balance while being played. This ensures the instrument doesn’t rest too much weight on the player. The key is to sit the appropriate distance from the harp so it can balance.
3. Harps are heavy. The student harp we used this week was 48 pounds. Miss Piper’s own harp is about 90 pounds. Needless to say, her students usually use the harp at the school rather than traveling with their own.
4. Harps are expensive. The harp we played this week was $5,000. When I learned this my first reaction was to tell Charlie to stop touching it. Miss Piper said this investment is not unlike other instruments. A child who starts playing violin at a young age will go through many violins as they grow. Miss Piper has been playing harp since she was 4 years old. More than 20 years later she is only on her second harp.
5. Harps have levers at the top of each string. When the levers are up the harp plays “happy” sounds and when they are down it plays “sad” sounds.
6. There are just as many men who play harp as women. Maybe it’s the angel association, but the harp always seemed like more of a female instrument to me. But, Miss Piper said she knows many male harpists, including her brother who is in the army. And you don’t want to mess with him!
The kids all had plenty of harp playing time today. First they got to go wild and just test out the sounds the different strings make. Then they got to play all the C notes (red strings). Finally, they got to play around with the levers and make their own Glissando, which is when a harpest just goes crazy and makes the sound you might hear at the beginning of a movie’s dream sequence.
During the parent/teacher portion of the class this week, Miss Piper talked about how she encourages parents of young students who have no background with a particular instrument, to take a few lessons themselves. One reason for this is that visual learning is so important to children, and it helps to see parents play when they are learning. Second, parents need to be able to help their child practice at home, and when they have no reference to what the child has learned it’s difficult to help them. Finally, when the parent takes lessons it makes them realize how difficult learning an instrument it. Often parental expectations are very high (How difficult could it be to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?) But, when they’ve tried it themselves they are much more patient with their child.
SUZUKI READINESS – WEEK FOUR – FUN WITH THE FLUTE
Charlie’s favorite part about his introduction to the flute in this week’s Suzuki Readiness class was blowing bubbles. Yes, you read that correctly. Bubbles, feathers and pinwheels were some of the tools this week’s guest teacher Miss Judy used to teach the kids the difference between blowing hard and softly.
I’ve tried making a sound come out of a flute before and it is difficult. I imagine it’s even more difficult to teach a child how to do it. So I thought it was pure genius to start off by teaching the kids how to use their breath to blow rather than give them a flute on day one. I know my own child would just get frustrated and immediately be turned off by the instrument all together. The other instruments we’ve tried so far, piano and violin, make a sound no matter what you do to them. With the flute, there’s no guarantee.
As the kids blew bubbles Miss Judy walked around with her flute and made the kind of sound the children would have made if they were using the same kind of breath to play a flute. They learned the breath used to blow a bunch of smaller bubbles would produce a different sound than the steady stream of air needed to make one larger bubble.
I thought Charlie would be disappointed he didn’t actually get to try an instrument this week. But with all the fun exercises we did, he didn’t miss it. Miss Judy said she will return later in the session with a small child’s flute so the kids can try making a sound with the instrument.
My favorite part about this week’s class was in the art room. The visual art teacher, Miss Barbara, had an especially creative project that was almost “musical” in nature. The kids painted bubble wrap and then used it like a giant stamp to convert the paint onto paper. Of course we popped a lot of the bubbles in the process – always a great stress reliever.
When we signed up for the class I didn’t realize that visual art would be part of it. Manchester Community Music School has several early childhood classes that incorporate art and has a whole room dedicated to it.
Miss Barbara said the weekly art projects serve a couple of purposes. First, visual art uses the same area of the brain as musical art and the two activities kind of “feed” each other and help the children focus. Second, the visual art activities help the children get to know and feel more comfortable with each other. Whatever it does, it’s fun, and Charlie and I love hanging up our projects when we get home.
I remembered the feeling. It was that pit in my stomach when I didn’t do my homework or prepare for a test back when I was in school. I got it the morning of our most recent Suzuki Readiness class when Charlie and I couldn’t remember the choreography for the Mississippi Hot Dog song!
Last week when we first learned Mississippi Hot Dog, we couldn’t stop doing it. It’s one of those earworm songs you can’t get out of your head, and an elementary teaching tool in Suzuki musical training. Charlie and I continued to break into the Mississippi Hot Dog song regularly over the first few days after the class. It was like our own special song and dance, and we relished in the confused looks of friends and family who didn’t know it.
The tune (which is just a variation of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) and choreography (placing your hands at various positions on your body to reflect high and low notes) were too simple to forget…Or, so I thought! After just a few days of not practicing, we forgot it.
Of course, I knew Miss Piper wasn’t going to give us a pop quiz, and the Mississippi Hot Dog song came flooding back as we began class with a group singalong. But, my quick forgetfulness reinforced how important repetition and parental involvement are in the Suzuki Method.
After re-remembering Mississippi Hot Dog, this week we were introduced to the piano! I love how Miss Piper really got the kids to experience the instrument with all of their senses. They got to look inside the piano to see how it worked. Then they got to crawl underneath it to feel how the entire piano vibrated when played. Finally, they took turns learning the perfect ready position and then playing the piano.
Suzuki Readiness is for ages 3 to 6 so the kids all have different comfort levels participating. At 5-years-old, Charlie is one of the older kids in the class and may be a little too comfortable participating. I felt like I spent this week’s class telling him to quiet down and let other students have a turn going first and answering questions. But, Miss Piper is great at appeasing Charlie’s inner teacher’s pet without letting the others get drowned out by his “enthusiasm.”
I felt even better about Charlie’s behavior after watching an introduction to Nurtured By Love, a film about the life and works of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, during our parents meeting at the end of class. The film had a lot of great information about Dr. Suzuki and his revolutionary teaching method. But, my biggest takeaway was Suzuki’s emphasis that children shouldn’t be compared to each other. I guess if Charlie is determined to shine in Suzuki Readiness, there’s nothing I can do to hold him back. I just need to continue to encouraging him, and of course, practice Mississippi Hot Dog!
You can see learn more about Dr. Suzuki by watching the introduction to Nurtured By Love below.
All the Suzuki Readiness students were excited to actually try an instrument this week. The violin intimidates me, maybe because I know how delicate and expensive they are. But the children had no fear.
After starting class with a traditional Suzuki bow and the Mississippi Hotdog song (more about that in a later post) Miss Piper and Miss Barbara split us into two smaller groups. One group did a really fun and messy art project involving shaving cream and paint while the other was introduced to the violin before switching.
As a non-musical parent I love learning right along with Charlie, and I’m realizing why the Suzuki method encourages parental participation. If I didn’t learn with Charlie I would never be able to reinforce the concepts he’s learning at home.
We learned the parts of the violin and bow. (Charlie’s been telling everyone we know that a violin bow is made from a horse’s tail hair). We also learned proper foot placement and the ways to hold the violin when you’re waiting to play and when you are playing. Finally, the students got to run the bow across the strings to find out how it sounds and feels. The cameras came out as we captured our little ones looking very adult-like and making music that were actually pleasant to hear!
At the end of class, the parents and students were separated so Miss Piper could find out more about why the adults chose the class for their children and whether they had a background with the Suzuki method. I had never heard of Suzuki before, unless you count the automobile company. I was relieved that other parents, including a mom from Japan where the Suzuki method started, had never heard of it before either.
Our homework assignment this week is to go on Youtube to find some videos of people playing violin. And next week we will be introduced to…piano!
Besides a brief stint with the recorder in the 3rd grade, I have never played an instrument. But, I’ve always been envious of people who can sit at a piano or pick up a guitar and immediately change the mood of a room. Music is a common language that brings people together.
I wanted my children to have the opportunity, but wasn’t sure where to start. You can’t give a kid a keyboard for Christmas and expect to hear him playing a like Mozart on his own. (Believe me. I already tried that.) I soon realized that lessons would be in order, and Manchester Community Music School’s Suzuki Readiness seemed like the right fit for my son Charlie, who is almost five.
Suzuki Readiness, a newer class at the school, is designed to expose children ages 3 to 6 to the Suzuki Method of music education and an array of instruments. Over the next 14 weeks Charlie will learn how to listen for music, develop a rhythmic pulse of his own, and try four instruments – piano, violin, harp, and flute. (And, since parental participation in the class is required, I get to try the instruments too!)
Charlie is one of about 10 students and showed a lot of enthusiasm in the first class. After we all got to know each other and our two teachers – Miss Piper and Miss Barbara – we learned the difference between high and low notes. Then Miss Barbara and the children left to do an art project while Miss Piper spent time with the parents to explain her background and her goals for the students.
Miss Piper’s passion for music, teaching, and the Suzuki method were undeniable as she shared her own experience as a music learner. She is one of 12 children, with wide ranging interests and abilities, who all received Suzuki training. Her story taught us that we shouldn’t enter into Sukuki training with the expectation that our child will become a concert pianist. Rather, the Suzuki Method is all about the parent and teacher working together to build a well-nurtured and loved child.
In less than 10 minutes Miss Piper had me sold on Suzuki! Charlie may not be leading the family in Christmas carols around the piano next year (as I secretly envisioned), but I am looking forward to this time together each week as we learn about music and each other.
Katie McQuaid Cote is is thrilled to be able to share the magic of music with her children through Manchester Community Music School and share her family’s experience through the MCMS blog. Katie is a wife, mom, columnist, and lifelong Manchester resident. She and her husband Bill have two boys. Charlie is 5 and Joey is 1.