This blog is meant to be a forum for the teacher, parents and students to ask questions, seek out answers and learn from each other.  I welcome your questions and encourage your input.  

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Kendall's Book 1 Recital

Posted by gretchenleanna on March 4, 2014 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (253)

Giving a full book recital is one of the biggest undertakings a student will do as he or she progresses through the Suzuki books.  It can be daunting and nerve-racking, but it also marks a huge accomplishment and gives the student a goal to aim for and then an experience to be proud of.  In honor of meeting this challenge, I am excited to congratulate Kendall Humphres for her recital last Friday!  She played confidently and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing her play all the pieces that she has learned and mastered over the past years.  Congratulations and job very well done Kendall!!

Box Violins (with pictures!!)

Posted by gretchenleanna on January 22, 2014 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (185)

When a student is just beinning violin lessons, there is so much excitement and so many new things: new things to learn, new things to touch, new things to hear, new ways to move. All these new things make lessons interesting and engaging, but after a little while, they have the potential to become frustrating or intimidating. This is why I love the box violin!


With the box violin, students learn a lot of the basic principles from rest position, to the parts of the instrument, to how to ballance the violin on their shoulder. When they make it themselves, they also get an interactive experience learning parts of the violin, so the process is creative, fun and more memorable. Once the instrument is made, they work on how to put the violin on their "table" and how to keep it ballanced so it stays there effortlessly. There is no worry about dropping or hurting the insturment, to they can be relaxed and confident while they're learning!


While all of this is going on, the initial feeling of motivation and excitement continues because they have a clear goal of getting their real violin. Even as they are engaging in so many new and sometimes challenging tasks, they are excitedly looking forward and are driven to master each skill. They learn to keep their violin safe and how to move comfortably with the instrument, so that when they get their real violin, there is no concern of damage or worry, nor is there excess tension associated with the fear of dropping the violin. Then, when they earn their real violin, there is already a concept of respect for the instrument and an understanding of the joy of comes from meeting a challenging goal.


Every box violin is very different and allows each child to demonstrate his or her individuality right from the start. Here are some examples if you need a little inspiration!


Practice Tips

Posted by gretchenleanna on April 8, 2012 at 10:05 PM Comments comments (63)

Every child goes through the "I don't want to practice" stage, and without any guidence on how to work through it, that period of time can be frustrating and even downright defeating.  Just remember that they will get through this and will usually love their instrument even more once the start to hear how good they sound with proper practice.  It is my hope that these tips can help sooth tensions and even reenergize your child's desire to practice!

Have a Routine

The best way to avoid a conflict about practicing is to make it a non-negotiable part of your routine.  Just like brushing your teath or clearing the dinner table, it's not something worth arguing about because it simply has to happen.  Set a time where you can be focused on your child and when your child can also be fully attentive; if the student is hungry or tired, he or she probably will not be able to stay focused and positive.  If you have a child in school, try to practice either before school or right away when he or she gets home.  Playing a musical instrument is one of the only activities humans can do that uses both sides of the brain.  This means that if your child practices first, she will be connecting the two sides of her brain and making connections that can help her with problem solving skills needed for her homework.  On the other hand, if she practices at the end of the evening, she will be too tired from the day, brain tired from homework, to have the extra energy it takes to practice well.

Be Excited

Children learn by example and repetition, and you are their No. 1 teacher.  If you are excited and diligent about practicing and their involvement with their instrument, children will mirror that excitement.  On the other hand, if you're stressed out or short with them when you want them to practice, they will respond in kind.  Instead of telling them they have to practice, tell them you love to hear them play so they need to practice now while you can spend time with them.  

Look forward to your time with your child. In a busy day, take advantage of the chance to spend 30 minutes a day one-on-one with your son or daughter, and they will look forward to it as well.

Take a Bow


 At the beginning and end of each lesson, I will bow with the child as a sign of respect and as a mental cue that this is lesson time and everything else has to wait until after the ending bow. Parents are encouraged to bow during practices as well, so the bow signifies a time to focus on only the violin. 

Inspire Them - and Yourself!

Whenever you can, take your child to performances and concerts.  Whether it's a high school orchestra concert, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, a fomous soloist or anything in between, it will give a boost to the desire to practice while also shaping the goals for your child's musical future!


Make it a Game

The amount and variety of games one can play to keep practing fun and productive are endless.  Here are some of my favorites, but I'd love to hear what you have come up with!!


 Think how many times your son or daughter repeates a specific action when playing with their toys, or how many times they want you to read the same book over and over again.  They are wired to enjoy thoughtfull repetition, so don't shy away from it, us it to your advantage!!

Let's say your child is working on the "hops" section in Song of the Wind, and his focus is on landing his bow and finger on the string without a sound and with a soft bow hold.  You draw a tic-tac-toe board, and every time he does it just right, he gets to go, every time he does not land successfully, you get to go.  The game continues until he wins!


Though I'm not huge on bribing children, they have to really work to earn this, and it can sometimes take quite a while!  

1. Set out 6-10 (or however many repetitions was agreed upon in the lesson) Skittles - or any small candy - with two small bowls

2. Define the skill you will be working on.  Ex: Bow division and dynamics in the middle section of Go Tell Aunt Rhody

3. Put all the candy in the starting bowl and for every correct repetition, the child gets a candy out of the starting bowl and put it in their bowl - for every incorrect repetition, one of the child's candies goes back into the starting bowl.  They win when they get all the candies.  

*if it's a really tricky skill, you can give them or take away a candy for every successful or unsuccesful application of the skill instead of the whole passage or song.

    Memory Stations    

If trying to memorize what part of the song comes next is a problem, this game is jogs their memory and gets them moving.  

1.Choose a colored piece of paper or anything with a single bright color, and assign a color to each part.  For instance, Twinkle is bread (red) - cheese (yellow) -cheese (yellow) -bread (red).

2. Have your child put these papers - one for each section - any where in the room - creating stations

3. Play the CD and have them run to the station as the song plays

4.  Stop the CD before each new section and see if your child knows where to go before playing the next section.

5. Turn off the CD and have your child start at the first station and then move to the following stations as they play.  They can stop in between stations if they need to 

6. Line the stations up in a row and see if they can play down the row without stoping.

      Variation on Memory Stations

Simply hold  up the color and see if your son our daughter can remember how the section goes.  Don't hold them up in order, this is mostly to test their knowledge of the individual sections, not as much to test the cohesiveness of the song as a whole.

    Posture Friends

All of my students learn very quickly who Freckles is.   Freckles is my little hampster friend that sits on the violin while the student plays.  This not only encourages beautifully ballanced and tall posture, but it also gives them a place to focus their eyes, and something to smile about.  If it falls, the child usually laughs and wants to try it again and again until Freckles stays up the whole time.  

Can You Tell??

This is a great game for learning a new technique, especially with the bow.  Let's say you're working on keeping a smooth bow.  Mom or Dad has to close their eyes while the other takes turns with the child the play 2 or 3 bow strokes.  The adult moving the bow should make sure they are getting exactly the correct sound - you can try it in a lesson so I can help you if you like - and then the child has to try and match that lovely sound.  If you can stump the parent that's not looking, you win!!


Some times the best game is simply moving around.  If a child's getting stuck or frustrated, he's also getting tense.  Have him play while marching or swaying to help loosen up.  Some other examples might be to: let go of the violin with their left hand on open strings, exagerate bow circles with their bow arm, follow your motions of wiggling, squating, standing on one foot, or any other motion you think of without totally disruption their playing ;)

Suzuki Question and Answer

Posted by gretchenleanna on April 8, 2012 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (4083)

The Suzuki Method has become almost a house-hold name in America, but what exacly sets it apart from more "traditional" lessons?  In this post I will answer some of the big questions about what the method is, how it works and what is expected from the child and the parents.  Please feel free to ask additional questions; I look forward to your feedback! 

Q: What is the Suzuki Method?

A: It is a talent education program that is based on how children learn to speak and made up of three collaborating aspects: philosophy, curriculum, and technique.


- Philosophy: Every child can learn to be proficient at the violin


- Curriculum: There are 10 Suzuki Books, with a corresponding CD of a professional violinist playing pieces for the child to listen to at home


- Technique: The teaching technique has to do with creating the ideal environment for the child to grow in. This environment includes the teacher to guide the child's progress, the child to practice and listen to the CD, and the parents to take an active role in the lessons and practice, while providing continuous positive feedback to their child.


Q: What is the goal of Suzuki lessons?


A: The main goal of the Suzuki method is to allow the child to meet his or her greatest potential – to give them the tools they need to become anything they want to be. Dedication, perseverance, a positive attitude, a sense of accomplishment and self worth, and the willingness to be demanding of themselves are just a few of the qualities the Suzuki method tries to instill in children.


Q: What advantages does Suzuki have over a more traditional approach?


A: Suzuki works with the child's natural ability to absorb language and sound, the child will have an easier time learning and retaining new music.


* Will start younger students


* Child will learn to automatically memorize


* One-on-One time with your child


Q: How does the Suzuki method relate to language?


A: There are three main components in the Suzuki method that mirror language skills: Listening and repetition, positive reinforcement, and peer involvement


1) When a child learns to speak, they learn naturally from the stimuli around them. They hear language spoken all day long, and they hear certain words or phrases repeated over and over to them. The CD is what creates this aspect of familiarity and aural repetition. The CD should be played at least three times a day, whether in the background, or actively listening to it by singing, clapping, or dancing to the music. Children will learn entirely by ear at first, waiting to learn to read music until their ear training is fully developed. As in language, speak first and read second.


2) Another key factor in a child's language development is positive reinforcement. When a child first says something that might possibly be a word, it's a big deal and everyone is excited and encourages the child to say it again and again. No new word is ever just a word – it's always something special. It's the same way with learning to play the violin. Every new step, no matter how small, is a big deal, and should be praised as such. You would never say to a two-year-old who just told you her newest word that you were disappointed his or her word was so small or simple! To a violin student, no piece is ever too small or simple either – it is the beauty of the song (or clarity of the word) that is the goal and deserves praise.


3) The final component happens in group class. They make friends through their music and are encouraged to always do their best. The children see other students working on pieces they haven't played yet and are inspired to work hard so they can learn those pieces too.


Q: How old does my child need to be?


A: Ideally, children should begin the Suzuki program at the same time they are learning language skills, but also have the coordination to facilitate playing an instrument. This usually happens around 4 or 5 years of age. Some children will be ready a little sooner or need to wait a little longer, but generally, the younger they are, the more natural playing the violin will be for them. Older students are welcome to start, and depending on the student they will receive Suzuki lessons, traditional lessons, or a mix of the two.


Q: What is the parent's role?


A: The parent plays a large role in a Suzuki student's lessons and practice. The parent is at every lesson taking notes and making sure that the directions for the week's practice are clear. At home, the parent works with the child during practices, acting as "teacher" instead of Mom or Dad, and ensuring the child is prepared for each week's lesson. The parent provides the environment at home that is nurturing to the child's musical growth by playing the CD, exposing their child to various forms of music and art, and developing a positive atmosphere where their child can learn from his or her mistakes and feel a sense of accomplishment for each of success.


Q: What are the expectations of the child?


A: The child should practice daily, be respectful to the teacher and parent teacher at home, and treat the instrument with care.


Q: What is the time commitment?


A: The lessons are 30 minutes once a week, but will eventually be 45 minutes to an hour as the student advances over the years. Group classes, once the child is ready, will be an hour once a week, and there will typically be 1 recital/group concert each semester. Practice at home should be daily and last at least as long as the lesson so the student develops prolonged focus ability.


Q: What do I need to have for the first lesson?


A: You do not need to have a violin; the child will begin on a box violin until he or she is comfortable holding the instrument for a given amount of time. You will need to have a notebook for taking notes and the Suzuki CD vol. 1 for the first lesson; the Suzuki book is also helpful to take notes in, but is not required. Later, when the child is ready, you have the option of renting an instrument that is fit to your child.


Q: What does the lesson consist of?


A: The lessons are 30 minutes long and will differ according to the child's progress and level of playing. In the first lessons, the child will be working on developing his or her focus, learning how to sing the first song, rhythm, and holding the violin. Later, lessons will be spent largely on developing permanent skill. Games and challenges will be used to keep the child's focus while practicing a single skill or skill set many times. Once the child has learned several songs, these songs are played as review pieces every day so to help solidify skills and instill a sense of accomplishment in having a repertoire of pieces. In Shinichi Suzuki's words "Knowledge is not skill; knowledge plus 10,000 times is skill."


Q: How long until my child starts to play?


A: Children will begin playing a small violin when they can hold the instrument with beautiful posture all the way through Twinkle theme and four variations.


Q: How quickly will my child progress?


A: That is up to a number of factors. One is simply how quickly your child learns. I don't expect all children to progress uniformly, so though I will push your child, I will always work at his or her pace. Another factor is how much they listen to the CD. The more they hear and internalize the music, the more natural it will be for them to produce it. The final factor is the role you, as a parent, play in their development. The more involved, dedicated, and positive you are, the more your child will stay engaged and be eager to learn. It is very important that no matter how slow or fast children progress, they never be put down for not moving quickly enough; their success depends on doing their very best at their own pace.


Q: Do I need to sign up for group classes?


A: Eventually yes, but not right away. Group classes begin when children can reliably hold their instrument and can play the first song, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with all the correct posture and technique. This can take a month, six months, or a year depending on the child and the environment/practice at home.


Q: What if my child doesn't want to practice?


A: The best way to combat this is to make practicing a non-negotiable part of the child's routine. Another key to having peaceful practice sessions is the bow. At the beginning and end of each lesson, I will bow with the child as a sign of respect and as a mental cue that this is lesson time and everything else has to wait until after the ending bow. Parents are encouraged to bow during practices as well, so the bow signifies a time to focus on only the violin. Last, but possibly most importantly, look forward to your time with your child. In a busy day, take advantage of the chance to spend 30 minutes a day one-on-one with your son or daughter, and they will look forward to it as well.


Q: What if my child wants to quit?


A: All children go through ups and downs of any activity they are involved in, but the more they are encouraged to stick it out, the more they will develop a sense of accomplishment and perseverance. Learning an instrument takes dedication, so not allowing a child to quit at their first whim teaches them that they can make it through rough patches with a sense of pride and determination.


Q: What if my child is older and wants to begin lessons?


A: They are welcome, but probably would receive a mix of Suzuki and more traditional type lessons by learning to read sooner, working with a variety of repertoire, and not involving the parents as much.