A new school year & Gretchen Rubin’s Strategy of the Clean Slate

Start the year off by

One of my favorite podcasters, and experts on making new habits, is Gretchen Rubin (http://www.GretchenRubin.com). Her book Better than Before explains how to make new habits and how to understand how you approach the process. It is full of useful tips – I highly recommend it.

As I have been planning my fall studio schedule and answering some questions from new parents about whether or not lessons will start the first week of school, I realized that one of the points in Gretchen Rubin’s book was my main argument for starting right away. The strategy of the clean slate . . .

The strategy of the clean slate explains the phenomenon that when we start a new routine (new job, new schedule, new school year) what we tend to do from the first day can be more easily turned into a habit because everything feels new and we are creating new routines that have yet to be established.

Gretchen Rubin writes “Any beginning is a time of special power for habit creation, and at certain times we experience a clean slate, in which circumstances change in a way that makes a fresh start possible-if we’re alert for the opportunity.”


You can read more about it on this blog post of Rubin’s http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2014/04/has-a-clean-slate-ever-led-to-a-major-habit-change-for-you/

And listen to her podcast on the subject:http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2015/09/podcast-29-why-elizabeth-and-i-lower-the-bar-use-the-clean-slate-to-change-habits-and-try-to-stop-wasting-food/

When a new school year starts and our schedule ramps up, it’s tempting to say “let’s get in the swing of things and get used to the school schedule, then will start practicing!”

Or to give students a week or two to adjust to the new routine before starting a regular practice routine. But, then we’ve missed this powerful opportunity to build a solid practice habit for the year.

To use the strategy of the clean slate – be sure you’ve mapped out when you will practice on each day of the week and at least get the instrument out and do a short session of practice during that time right from the start.

I think it’s fair to realize students might be tired that first week or two back but do a short session each day to build the habit from the start. You can extend the length of practice as your child hits their stride.

This way progress will still be made and you won’t have missed an amazing opportunity to use the clean slate of a new school year to establish the habit of daily practice.



Helping Students Get to Institute

Helping Students Get to

This summer I have spent a week at both the Oregon Suzuki Institute and American Suzuki Institute (Steven’s Point)  and they were amazing weeks of music, connecting with colleagues and fun! I want to encourage my students to attend next year and have been thinking about how to help make it a part of my studio’s culture that a group of us always go.

When my calendar of events goes out to families this fall I plan to put the week of Institute on the studio schedule with a note that a group of us will attend.

I understand that in order to make this work families need to plan early so they can arrange work schedules and other family activities in order to go.

Another thing that can stand in the way of going is the cost (it’s not cheap – but totally worth it!). I have been thinking about creative ideas to suggest so that families can raise funds to go if it is not in the budget to do so.

A number of years ago I used to meet a small group of my students at the Japan Seattle Institute and I helped them organize a few successful fundraising activities including:

Candy & Holiday Wreath Sales

[We’ve used See’s Candy Fundraiser (certain states only I believe) Sees Candy Fundraising]

Playing at Farmer’s Markets or outside local shops (with permission)

[setting out the instrument case with a sign: “Raising Money for Music Camp”]

Collecting pop bottles and recycling 

One fundraising idea that I may implement studio-wide this year is a Studio Practice-A-Thon – students can choose to participate in collecting donations if they plan to attend institute with each student raising money for their own institute costs (if students don’t want to add that piece we will treat it like a practice challenge).

Here is how I plan to structure it:

  • A designated two week period of time for everyone to track practice minutes
  • A spreadsheet for families to collect pledge amounts (either per minute or a flat amount)
  • A template letter/email for families to send out thanking people afterwards for their support and announcing how many minutes of practice they got in.

I know for some families just reserving the time in the family schedule (planning time off work and other activities) is the biggest obstacle but if the cost of going is standing in the way I think these are a few great ways to help families get there – I will report back after we try this and let you know how it works!

Have you done anything like this to help students get to institute? I’d love to hear what did and didn’t work for you! What creative ways have you found to encourage students to attend?



What You Practice Today is Not Important

The Suzuki Method is amazing . . . I could fill a whole book with stories about students, teachers and families who can attest to the fact that their lives have been changed for the better because of how this method has impacted them in musical and non musical ways alike.
Professional orchestra players and a number of well-known soloists got their start through the Suzuki Method – so there’s proof that it works for raising professional musicians and great adults who pursue other careers alike.
Suzuki parents: all the effort and hard work you put into this is worth it. There are a lot of must dos in order to parent a Suzuki student : practice everyday, attend lessons and group classes, listen to recordings daily, and attend recitals and performances. Teachers constantly ask you ” Did you listen this week?” “How many days did you practice?” “Are you able to come to X,Y, Z event/class/workshop?”
So much to do in an already busy life . . .
But it’s not really about all that – it’s not about what your child does today that is most important.
10 years from now the fact that your child practiced on a random Monday in July is not a life changing event.
It’s about who we are raising children to be.
10 years from now the fact that your child has both the self-discipline  to get what they need to done but the grace for themselves to know not everyday is going to be exactly ideal . . . now that is life changing.
10 years from now when your child encounters a big obstacle or goal in life and knows they can succeed if they just break it down in little pieces and work on one at a time – that is a skill that sets them apart.
When asked what they learned from studying the Suzuki Method – adult Suzuki students don’t usually answer with the names of pieces or by listing instrumental techniques . . . instead they list character traits: discipline, love for music, ability to break big problems into small pieces and keep going, persistence . . .  
This is the life changing stuff we’re really doing when we practice bow holds, attend institutes and practice those review songs yet again.
Character FirstAbility Second
As parents & teachers lets focus more on what’s important:

Practicing daily:  Yes – because of who we become when we do it (not because everything was done perfectly everyday)

Listening to our music: Yes – because we learn that when we need to learn something we can immerse ourselves in the knowledge of those who have already learned it & get a clear picture of where we will go.  (and we will gain an appreciation for beautiful music)

Attending Group events like group classes/workshops/institutes/camps

Yes – not because it’s required by the teacher or it’s the thing to do but because we learn about community, cooperation, and to go be with inspiring people and learn from them in every part of our lives

Don’t worry about doing it all perfectly – don’t worry that your child is going their own speed – don’t worry that today’s practice was short and you only got through part of what you should practice. It’s not what you practice today that’s important – it’s what you do over time with the bigger picture in mind.
Pat yourself on the back and be proud that you got the instrument out, that you haven’t given up – that you’re showing up and making this a part of your life. You are raising a future adult who will benefit from all this in ways you may not see for many years. It is so worth it!

Why do we Review?

To make hard skills easy

To have music ready to play with others

For mastery

To build confidence

To build technique


In our culture we tend to value novelty and consider anything new to be exciting. Especially as adults, many of us love variety and newness.

In the Suzuki method we emphasize mastery and review.  Sometimes, that can create a tension between this desire for newness and what you are being asked to do in practice with your child. However, it is this repetition that helps young players build skills on their instrument and connections in the brain.

“Repetition has a bad reputation.  We tend to think of it as dull and uninspiring. But this perception is titanically wrong.Repetition is the single most powerful lever we have to improve our skills, because it uses the built in mechanism for making the wires of our brains faster and more accurate . . . Embracing repetition means changing your mind-set; instead of viewing it as a chore, view it as your most powerful tool”    ~  The Little Book of Talent  by Daniel Coyle

Remembering why we review – rather than just seeing it as a list of chores on the practice list can be very helpful and summer is a great time to put extra focus on review, or get a review program going if you haven’t been doing one yet.

There are great review charts online if you do a google search.  One that is a favorite in my studio is the “Rainbow Review” chart that can be downloaded here AuntRhody.org for violin students up to Book 5.

Some ideas to get students motivated to review over the summer: 

Contact your local retirement home and put on a “Review Recital”for residents 

Go to the local farmers market and play – all those review pieces make a great set list 

Set up a lemonade stand and be the entertainment – play while waiting for customers and get in lots of review

Play a skype concert for family members

Practice outside and enjoy a new setting to practice in 

Sometimes having a reason to get pieces ready to play is good motivation for the student to get those pieces polished back up & makes it extra fun as well.

How do you keep your child or students motivated to review?





Life Lens: Seeing Your Children in Color [Author Interview]

I have never been a one size fits all teacher – I’m always trying to figure out what makes each student light up, learn more easily and be more receptive to my teaching. In my experience, the Suzuki Triangle works best when everyone makes an effort to understand and respect each other’s point of view. Because this is an important part of my teaching, I was very excited to hear about Michele Monahan Horner ‘s new Book Life Lens: Seeing Your Children in Color.
Michele recently gave a talk about her book at the Suzuki Conference in Minneapolis (May 2016) and was kind enough to speak to me by phone from her home in New York about the new book.
Life Lens: Seeing Your Children in Color is based on 9 elements of observable behavior that are fixed from birth.  Like the spectrum of the rainbow, there are 7 colors each depicting a different set of traits or type of person.  The ideas in the book have been tested out over the past 5 years with Michele’s students and in the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music where they have been met with much success.

The book is meant to be a fast read and a user friendly guide written from the Suzuki teacher’s perspective to help adults “quickly and organically understand the people in their lives and how to best work with them”.

Before her research for this book, Michele relied a lot on her instincts and trial and error to see what worked best for each student – this is a shortcut to all that.   Michele says:

  “People will say “It’s like magic!” But really it’s not magic – it’s giving each person the most amount of respect & dignity and really seeing them for who they are & communicating with them in their best way.” 
 While many psychological tests out there (Meyer’s Brigs, DISC Profiles etc) may suggest a person is a percentage of a couple of categories – in this system a person is only one color.  People may see traits they identify with in a few of the color descriptions and may in fact be able to learn in many different ways, but the color is meant to describe how a person learns BEST.  There is an easy to use reference section at the end of the book that helps adults with the “dos & don’ts” of each color type so that it can be put into practice in daily lessons and practice right away.

Here’s a real life example of how it works:
Michele had a colleague of hers call up and ask for help. A violin student’s family was really struggling with resistance in daily practice and the lessons weren’t going well either.

Michelle was able to ask some questions and identify this child as the color red. She knew that students who are red are physical learners, they are creative and problem-solving, and they are very aware when they are right or wrong and can be very sensitive to critical feedback.

Knowing all this she was able to give some of the following suggestions …

  • Use less stickers (visual) and more doing things, like practicing fingering on the right arm (kinesthetic) .
  • Have the student use their creativity & problem solving skills to help come up with their own practice games.
  • Use a finger puppet or a face drawn on the hand and have that object give feedback rather than the parent directly.
The results came in… The parent said they were in tears because things were going so well! The student was coming up with their own games and there was less resistance in practice . . .  the teacher was happy because lessons are going better too. This was a powerful example of the Life Lens approach in action.  The adults needed to learn to speak the child’s language, and then everything changed.
One of the more interesting things Michele shared was when I asked her what the most surprising thing she learned was while researching her book.  She said it was the realization that there are different types of visual learners – most people think of all visual learners the same, but in fact they do not all learn the same way.
The three main ways she discovered are:
  • watching and imitating
  • seeing something in picture or diagram form
  • reading something linear (like a story) that explains a concept
This was fascinating to me & knowledge I can’t wait to use as I work with my own students!

To read more about these ideas and how to use them in your own teaching and practicing with children Life Lens can be purchased from Amazon or from the website www.LifeLensInColor.com.
The official launch date for the book is July 12th but if you contact Michele through her website and say that you heard about the book from Christine Goodner, she will send you a copy with no shipping charges while her supply lasts.
*Disclaimer: I did not receive any perks for doing this interview or sharing about this book – it’s just a great resource I wanted to share!

Practice Spot Cards & Repetition

I’m always thrilled when a parent asks me for advice about how to practice better at home! I try to make it clear in parent education that this is something I like to help with & that parents need not struggle through alone. It’s always great when someone takes me up on the offer to problem solve together. Often I have ideas that I’ve come up with, that I’ve heard from wonderful colleagues or we try out new ideas together.

With that in mind, over this past year I heard from a couple of frustrated parents in my studio that their child only wanted to play through a challenging practice spot once in practice. Reminders from the parent about doing a number of repetitions, in order to practice well, were causing fights and making practice very unpleasant.

This was after us practicing how to practice in the lesson (often with dice, playing the echo game many times or some other way to practice many repetitions) and talking together about the need for this kind of practice at home.

The parent understands it needs to be played many times & the student was willing to try it many times in a row with me in the lesson but at home it is not happening without it becoming an argument . . . “help!”

Students very often react very differently to me telling them what to do in the lesson vs the parent telling them at home & I would highly recommend Edmund Sprunger’s book Helping Parents Practice for gaining a better understanding of why that happens.  Just acknowledging this is true can be very helpful!

In addition to re-discussing that topic with parents, I knew I needed to come up with a better way to teach my students how great repetition is for mastering new skills.I came up with a very simple way to get around the “only play it once” issue that I wanted to share on the blog – practice spot cards.


As an experiment I wrote down three ways to practice an assigned practice spot (there are endless variations of this, this is just the three I made up on the spot).  At the lesson I presented the cards to the student with these instructions: they could pick a card at random & be surprised or they could choose to pick one that appealed the most to them that practice, but they needed to use the cards for practice that week.  It worked!

The practice parent no longer had to act as enforcer of repetitions and the game also used one of my favorite parenting strategies! When my children were young, I learned the priceless strategy of offering them two acceptable choices rather than telling them what to do (especially if I thought it was going to start an argument or create resistance of some kind).

Do you want this pair of shoes or that one? rather than “Put on your shoes”

Do you want a salad or green beans?  rather than “You need to eat your veggies!”

This technique didn’t prevent every power struggle but it drastically reduced them & I felt like I was coaching them on good choices vs giving out instructions or orders (not my idea of fun!).

I think these cards do the same thing – there is choice involved and we can all be happy with the outcome . . .  which does not include play through once and move on.

Its a very simple idea but has worked for a few of my students this year and I hope it may spark a solution to a practice issue at your house or in your studio!

I’d love to hear what other practice cards you might come up with!

The To Be List

Being a Suzuki Parent can feel like a big to do list :

Attend Lessons
Take notes
Ask the right questions
Attend Group Classes & Recitals
Make sure your child has all the materials & equipment they need
Make sure to listen every day
Practice on the days that you eat!

The list could go on and on and it’s an important list for sure

However, on days where it all seems like a bit much – when you wonder if it’s worth it or if you’re doing the right thing . . .  I would challenge you to think of a TO BE list instead . . .

Having a lot to do is stressful . . . Having the chance to develop into who

Be present
Be a family that listens to beautiful music
Be a part of the community around you
Be daily practicers
Be your child’s biggest fan
 .  .   .
 I am sure we could go on and add more (I would love to hear what readers would add!) but it’s a start at least.  As a teacher, I am passionate about the idea that if we focus on what we want to be: as a family, a parent (a teacher, or a student) then we can create an environment that helps students be successful.
Having a lot to do is stressful –  having the chance to develop into who we want to be is inspiring! I challenge you to give it a try!