by Lisa Szczepanski, Suzuki Niagara piano teacher
December can be a write-off for many people, with holiday parties, family get-togethers, shopping frenzies, and a million and one school and extracurricular functions to attend. While us music teachers are experiencing the same holiday madness, we’re also rocking back and forth in the corner of our studios biting our nails anxiously hoping our students will practice their latest musical endeavour. Suzuki music parents know they have an obligation in facilitating practice sessions when their youngsters are juggling many activities, so we gathered our top 5 favourite activities to assist you in keeping up the progress you, your child and your teacher have worked on.
1) As a teacher, there are many things we can do to motivate children to rush to their instruments before or after school. An easy way is to host a practice challenge in your studio (or between studios!). A little bit of competition can get students excited and feel obligated to contribute to some sort of quantitative and physical progress put in place. For example, this year, fellow Suzuki Niagara teacher Liam Calhoun and I are hosting a simple practice challenge between our studios. Students receive points based on certain activities they complete at home.
2) Another thing teachers can do is to host a holiday recital or a holiday party. Something I have done in the past is hold “piano parties” and theme the parties around certain things my students were working on. To spare the parents hearing the six renditions of jingle bells, only the students attended, sharing the music they were learning and playing music-related games together.
3) At home, students can have a have some kind of practice chart/counter to work from to get them through the month of December without too many interruptions. A great example I heard a parent use was an advent calendar. Yes, usually teachers should refrain from using treats to incentivize practicing, as we want to develop an intrinsic desire for students to play their instruments. However, having practice sessions tagged along with a little bit of tradition that they can look forward to every year can be rewarding and spice up the habitual routine we strive to set for our children.
Other crafty counting ideas could be filling up a snowman with cotton balls or adding ornaments to a special tree.
4) When I was a student, holidays meant performance time. I would practice more when I knew that every time a relative or friend walked through the door, it would be an opportunity for my mother to say “Lisa, play us something!” We ultimately want to teach our children from a young age that performing is a skill that will be used for the rest of their lives. Teaching them to be at ease with presenting their work to others (and never use the word “nervous”!) is one of the more valuable lessons that can be taught. Teachers and parents alike should encourage the young student to share their musical talents with others, and a performance opportunity is a great reason to brush up on Christmas carols!
5) Parents can create great opportunities for their children to present their latest piece as well (performer-willing, of course!). Set up a holiday party just for you and your family. Part of the itinerary will be to have a short full-out performance of all the pieces your child was working on. Get creative and make up programsfor the family, bring out the treats, invite “special guests” (neighbours, grandparents, a favourite stuffed animal, etc.). You can even prepare to record this session as a special gift to those who do not have the opportunity to see your child perform. After all, one of our missions as Suzuki teachers is to share the gift of music!
Remember, each part of the Parent-Teacher-Student "Suzuki Triangle" is equally important! With valuable instructions or opportunities presented by the teacher, taken on by the student, and supported by the parents, success in learning, whether slow or fast, is almost guaranteed.