Category Archives: Practice

S. Hunt: Praise Can Hurt

Praise is a two edged sword. Praise can nurture, but praise can hurt and handicap.
This is how I learned through a bad mistake, to praise with caution for success.

Many years ago, in my first year of teaching, non-identical 6 year old twin girls arrived at my studio for their first Suzuki viola lessons. Bella, a willowy, blue eyed blond, stepped forward and we played some beginner games together. I was delighted to see that she was going to be a very fast learner.

Having trained conscientiously, I was careful to use specific, non-personal praise. Being very careful to talk to Bella’s body rather than to her, I complimented her feet on how quickly they moved from rest position to playing position. Her bow hand got praised for making a nice soft rabbit.

“What a perfect bunny rabbit your hand has made. Your clever thumb is in just the right place, and just look at those lovely round hugger fingers.” We shook hands to the first Twinkle rhythm. “Wow, your hand did that perfectly, Bella. Well done!” Her lesson finished with a copybook bow and smiles all round.

Then it was Andrea’s turn. She was shorter than her sister with intense brown eyes and dark hair. As she stumped forward for her lesson, I thought to myself,  “On dear, I’m going to have to be careful here.”

Andrea fulfilled expectations while she made heavy weather of working out the difference between rest feet and playing feet. The rabbit, that we laboriously made together was more like a stiff little fox. I was at a loss as to what to praise, then inspiration struck.

“Your feet almost found playing feet that time. My, they are working hard. Well done, Andrea’s feet.”  “Look at the rabbit that your bow hand has made. Your hugger fingers are really trying to hang down like rabbits teeth. They are really paying attention to what we are telling them to do.”  We finished with a serious slightly awkward bow and the family trotted off home with practice assignments for the week and instructions for Mum to praise Andrea for trying, even if she didn’t quite succeed. “Yes,” her mum said, “Everything is easy for Bella. Andrea has to work so much harder.”

Next week, I was in for a surprise. Clever Bella appeared reluctant and halfhearted.I attempted to encourage her by telling her how quick she had been at her first lesson. She diffidently repeated what we had done and was obviously uneasy about trying anything new. On the other hand, little Andrea was eager to show me how hard she had worked. She was still finding it a bit of a challenge to make her hands do what we wanted, but I praised her fingers for trying.

So it went from week to week. Andrea continued to work with determination. Within two years, she joined the viola group on stage at the Suzuki National concert. “What a worker that Andrea is.” her mother would say.

Bella had long ceased to co-operate in lessons and mostly stood passively eyes averted. Her mother and I tried every trick we could think of. “Come on, Bella. You can do it. Why don’t you try, just this once, please.” After a year, Bella had switched to the cello in the hope that she would find it easier.  Her cello lessons lasted only a month.

Long after she had stopped lessons, I had puzzled about this ghost of a child, who while obviously quick and potentially talented, refused to try anything remotely challenging.

That was until I came across research by Carol Dweck at Stanford University. Dweck has shown conclusively that kids who are praised for “being talented” do less well subsequently than kids who are praised for “being a hard worker.” The “hard workers” have everything to gain in trying hard, but the “talented kids” had a lot to loose by not reproducing their good results.

This knowledge has made a huge difference to my teaching. In my studio, praising hard work and focus keeps us all moving in the right direction. Even my challenging pupils are beginning to work productively. On the odd times that I slip up and praise results and talent, you can bet your bottom dollar that practice will be skimped and the next lesson will be hard work.

Please remember, praise is a two edged sword. Praise can nurture, but praise can hurt and handicap.
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Sue Hunt was born in Bermuda and now living in the UK. She studied music at Darting College of Arts and the Conservatorium van de Vereniging Musieklyceeum, in Amsterdam.
Mother of 2 suzuki kids, now grown up, Sue teaches a small group of violists in South West London.
Sue is passionate about how the Suzuki Method develops the individual, helping to create great brains, healthy bodies and beautiful souls.

After many years of research into the best ways to help parents and children get full value from music lessons, she started the website, www.musicinpractice.com with the purpose of helping families to practice happily and productively together.

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S. Hunt: Music isn’t a Race

Learning an instrument is not a race. In music education, reaching higher playing standards is not about winning but about doing quality work. These strategies help me calm the competitive element in my music studio.

Parents and teachers who really understand, avoid asking questions comparing each other’s children such as, “What book are you in?” or,  “What music are you working on?” I am more interested in knowing what aspect of playing you are working on. This can mean posture, tone, shifting, et cetera. No matter where our children are in the repertoire, we are always aiming to bring them to higher levels of performance, whatever music they might play.

You can encourage this in your studio every time you put on a recital. Get each child to choose music at least half a book back from the one they are currently working on. Announce to the audience what specific playing technique the child has been working on. Ask children to focus on how beautifully they can play their music and not on level of difficulty of what music they are going to play. For instance, if a child has been working on a relaxed bow hold, I ask the audience to recognize and appreciate the hard work and effort this child has put into it. The music is the vehicle to demonstrate how well the child can perform this specific skill.
Choosing music from an earlier book allows us to play it more beautifully by adding more layers of skill, which we might not have been able to do when it was new.

On informal occasions, such as group music lessons where children have individual performance opportunities, I get them to play one of their earlier pieces. When the applause has died down, I encourage the other children to mention one good thing that they have noticed about the performance. They are getting really good at noticing improvements in posture and technique. It is lovely to see the performer stand slightly taller with each sincere compliment.

Sometimes, I get each parent at the group music lesson or concert to write down 3 good things that they noticed about each performer’s playing. I then compile the comments into affirmation certificates for each child. We present these at private lessons with the words, “You are such a hard worker!” I’m always delighted by the child’s extra efforts in the rest of the lesson.

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Sue Hunt was born in Bermuda and now living in the UK. She studied music at Darting College of Arts and the Conservatorium van de Vereniging Musieklyceeum, in Amsterdam.
Mother of 2 suzuki kids, now grown up, Sue teaches a small group of violists in South West London.
Sue is passionate about how the Suzuki Method develops the individual, helping to create great brains, healthy bodies and beautiful souls.

After many years of research into the best ways to help parents and children get full value from music lessons, she started the website, www.musicinpractice.com with the purpose of helping families to practice happily and productively together.

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S. Hunt: The Right Kind of Praise

Praise is a good thing, isn’t it?  We’re always told that the children should be praised. After all, we want to improve their self-esteem. BUT, did you know that praising your children for their intelligence can make a them anxious and unprepared to deal with failure, creating a generation of Praise Junkies.
Yes, praise IS good but it’s all about using the right kind of praise.
Sue Hunt on Praise 1a

Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck, researchers at Columbia University, conducted studies on over 400 fifth graders in comparing children who are praised for their intelligence and with those who are praised for their focus and hard work. One randomly selected group was told, “You must be smart at these problems.” The rest of the students were told, “You must have worked really hard on these problems.” Subsequent tests the students who are praised for their effort to improved their scores by at least 30% of the students who are praised for intelligence actually got worse by 20%. When children were allowed to choose a task, those who are told they were smart chose questions they knew they would do well on, whereas those who are told that they had worked hard chose harder tasks that they thought they might learn something from.

Next the students worked on some really challenging problems. Again they found the students who had been praised to their intelligence, lost confidence in their ability and they soon began to struggle. When the problems were made easier again these students still did poorly, whereas the students who are praised for their efforts and focus continued to improve.

Finally when they were asked to report on their scores anonymously, almost 40% of the intelligence praised students lied. Apparently they were so concerned with their performance that they couldn’t admit mistakes while only 10% of the students praised for their focus and hard work embellished their results.

Here are some useful strategies you can use with your own children. Make sure that you praise the focus rather than the results.  With a little work your repertoire will grow.

No. 1:  You really studied for your test and the marks show that you really read the notes, and tested yourself on them. What a result!

No. 2:  I like the way you kept on trying all sorts of strategies on that puzzle until you finally cracked it.

No. 3: That was a long hard bit of homework. You stayed there and gave it all you had. You really focused and kept right on working till it was completed. I’m proud of you.

No. 4:   I love the way you have taken on that tough project. It will take a lot of work what with all that research and practice you will need to do. Think of all the exciting things you are going to learn along the way.

No. 5:   For those students who gets top marks without trying: That piece was way too easy for you.  Let’s do something more advanced that you can really learn from.

No. 6:   Finally, what about the student who doesn’t do too well even though he works hard? I liked the energy and work you put in. Let’s have another look at it and see if we can make sense of what’s still puzzling you.

We want to keep students focused not on any “natural” ability that they may or may not have, but on the process of learning – their ability to stay with it and figure things out.  It is not with ability, but with focus and tenacity, that your children’s horizons will become truly unlimited.

“I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance.  It overcomes almost everything, even nature.”  John D Rockefeller, the world’s first billionaire, who was famous for being able to focus so deeply that no one could interrupt him for up to 5 minutes at a time.

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Sue Hunt was born in Bermuda and now living in the UK. She studied music at Darting College of Arts and the Conservatorium van de Vereniging Musieklyceeum, in Amsterdam.
Mother of 2 suzuki kids, now grown up, Sue teaches a small group of violists in South West London.
Sue is passionate about how the Suzuki Method develops the individual, helping to create great brains, healthy bodies and beautiful souls.

After many years of research into the best ways to help parents and children get full value from music lessons, she started the website, www.musicinpractice.com with the purpose of helping families to practice happily and productively together.

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S. Hunt: 10 Tips for Making Violin Lessons Fun

10 Tips for Making Violin Lessons Fun

Please imagine:
Your music school invites interested parents to present them their programs for preschoolers.
You have only 4 or 5 minutes …  to tell them about the most important points for Suzuki lessons and practice. Please look at the video below.

10 Tips for Making Violin Lessons Fun

Music teaching lessons can be expensive.  How can we make sure that it is a worthwhile investment.  We all know that music teaching lessons can make you brighter because of the workout that music gives the brain. 
Hang on a moment…… music by itself don’t make you brighter, it is the practice that does the trick. So, how do we stack the deck in favor of your child benefitting from music teaching lessons?

There are many things which you can do to optimse the process. The following 10 points will help make the most of your investment in music lessons.

No. 1: A small child will learn more easily with the help of a loving practice partner. Your job is to support and encourage your children, not to criticise.

No. 2: Attend your child’s music lessons and make notes. You can use these to plan practice sessions.  If you write each task on a card, you can use them for lucky dip games.  These really help empower children.

No. 3: Set goals. Keep a record, in practice book, of what you have done in each practice.  Your teacher will give you useful feedback during music lessons.  It will help, to put assignments on separate cards and write the practice points on them, as they come up.

No. 4: Keep the practice time short. You don’t want to strain vulnerable young muscles, or to make children feel trapped in a situation, from which they can’t escape.  Aim to stop before the first yawn.  If your child wants more, you can do another mini practice later in the day.

No. 5: Move at each child’s pace. Learning an instrument isn’t a race. Your children are children and when you remember this, it makes it easier not to pile on the pressure.  Focus on all the wonderful things that your children are achieving through music lessons and celebrate with them.

No. 6: Set aside time for reviewing old pieces. Children improve their musical ability by repeating what they already know.  The brain and body, both need about 10.000 correct repetitions to turn knowledge into ability.  What is learnt in early music lessons, is an important foundation for further development.

No. 7: Plan regular practice times. You will find it easier to make practices happen if they are linked to a regular event in your family’s daily life.  After breakfast is a great time as everyone is generally still fresh.

No. 8: Ask, don’t tell. Children who are engaged in practice, stand a greater chance of internalizing what has been taught in music lessons, unlike those who are just ordered around.

No. 9: Have a good collection of music practice games to hand and use them regularly. Children almost always respond better to games than to dry instruction.  Everyone learns better, when they are enjoying the process. There are lots of music practice games for making music fun.

No. 10:  Praise, praise, praise. Healthy praise is honest and directed towards your children’s efforts and focus, rather than the clever things they can do. Listen to how your teacheruses praise, during music lessons and copy at home.

Good luck with implementing these points. They will take you a long way, towards making music teaching lessons fun and profitable for both you and your children.

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Sue Hunt was born in Bermuda and now living in the UK. She studied music at Darting College of Arts and the Conservatorium van de Vereniging Musieklyceeum, in Amsterdam.
Mother of 2 suzuki kids, now grown up, Sue teaches a small group of violists in South West London.
Sue is passionate about how the Suzuki Method develops the individual, helping to create great brains, healthy bodies and beautiful souls.

After many years of research into the best ways to help parents and children get full value from music lessons, she started the website, www.musicinpractice.com with the purpose of helping families to practice happily and productively together.

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