I always mention to parents when kids first start flute lessons to play the Suzuki CD every day! Invariably somewhere down the line I forget to keep the reminders going and ultimately end up puzzled when kids just seem to be struggling more than I would have expected based on previous progress. It takes me longer than I’d like to admit before I ask – “Hmm…. have you been playing the CD lately?” Invariably, by the time I think to ask the question, the answer is that it’s been a very long time since the CD has been played much.
Whether you’re studying with the Suzuki Method or not, there is simply no way that I can overestimate the importance of listening to the repertoire you’re playing. I’ve just received new music for the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra and have just dug out in one case, and purchased in another, recordings of the pieces I’m starting to practice, and will be listening to these on my iPod this week while out for walks as well as studying the parts while looking at the score indoors. I know this saves me endless frustration and practice time – I will simply know going into the first rehearsal how I fit with the rest of the orchestra, and will be able to practice with that in mind.
For young kids studying with the Suzuki Method, the whole approach is based on learning music as a language. Imagine learning a new language without hearing it very much! Now imagine hearing it a good deal each day, including the specific vocabulary that you’ll be learning soon. Hopefully you get the idea! Listening is really, REALLY important! And will save untold frustration – I guarantee!
I consider playing the Suzuki CD a parent job. Even in high school and even when kids are not studying Suzuki repertoire, I recommend that parents be aware of making sure that your kid has access to recordings of the music they’re playing. At that age, hopefully they’ll be taking over the interest and action of playing and listening on their own, but it can’t hurt to check in and encourage them to play their recordings often, and encourage studying their written part at the same time, at least part of the time.
So what exactly is a Suzuki parent to do? Play the CD every day when your child is around. At younger ages, they don’t have to be actively listening – as long as they’re in hearing range they will absorb it. Of course it can be helpful, particularly as kids get older (especially high school and up) to do some active listening as well – but the starting point is just to play it while they’re around and able to hear it. Play the entire book that they’re working in – every day. Perhaps play the book that they’ll be starting soon in addition. Then program your CD or iPod or whatever you’re using to play the piece your child has just completed and is hopefully working on polishing, AND the piece they’re currently working on, AND the piece that’s up next – perhaps put those three on repeat. Is there a particular review piece that’s being hard to get back into the fingers or memory? Or are they having a particular challenge with the current piece, or some detail regarding that piece or another recent piece? Then put that one on repeat as well, either all by itself or together with a collection of other pieces. You’ll find that suddenly less practice time is required to accomplish the same result, there’s less frustration with the practice, and new pieces come much more easily!
But how do I fit listening into our busy life, you may ask? Different students/families have different strategies on this. One key is finding a way to make it a routine part of your day. Routines don’t seem to take much time – they just happen if we’re accustomed to them. Some families play the CD during bedtime routines or as their child is drifting off to sleep. Some play it first thing, during morning routines. Sometimes daily car trips can be a good time to make sure you pop the CD in. Or maybe after school, as part of the wind-down time. These are just a few ideas that I know have worked for some families. The important thing is to find the time and space to make it a daily part of your family’s life, and enjoy seeing the growth in your or your child’s capability!