Dealing with Perfectionism in Suzuki Students
by Alan K. Duncan
Why is perfectionism detrimental to musicians?
Musical performance is an inherently subjective and interpretive act. Certain facts about stylistic interpretation of the composer’s intent are simply not known. On that level, perfection is unattainable simply because no perfect standard exists. But most young musicians in their early years are more concerned about the technical aspects of performance they develop in the practice room. There, practice is at first an exercise in learning the notes, then later an exercise in achieving a high level of consistency. Most perfectionism strikes here. As pieces grow longer and more complex, errors are statistically more likely.
How do I know if I might have a perfectionist for a child?
Perfectionists aren’t too hard to recognize. Child counselor and teacher Leah Davies, who has written about perfectionism in children, outlined some of the common features of perfectionists:
-They are usually self-conscious and easily embarrassed.
-They are very sensitive to criticism and react negatively to feedback.
-They may tend to procrastinate, dawdle or avoid doing tasks.
-They often have low self confidence and may be socially inhibited.
And of course they set high standards for themselves and are sometimes critical of others who don’t meet them. For many kids, the line between a genuine quest for excellence and perfectionism is blurry.
How can parents avoid teaching their children perfectionist traits?
Some of the elements of perfectionism are genetically-inherited. A child’s tendency toward positive or negative emotions and their anxiety levels are inherited to a great extent from her parents. Sorry kids, you can’t choose them…
But many of a child’s personality characteristics are learned. Even those that are innate can be modulated up or down by the parent’s interactions with their children. Some ways of interacting with children that can reduce perfectionist tendencies:
Since children often learn that perfect is the only acceptable standard from parents who demand the same from themselves, we can be better role model by replacing the standard of “perfect” with “perfectly acceptable”. The standard we should be interested in is the standard of working toward excellence. It isn’t a perfect outcome we should be interest in; rather, it’s the honest effort at achieving excellence. Did you work hard and give it your perfectly human effort? Then you did a perfectly acceptable job!
2. Make praise specific and low-key.
The risk of over-praising kids is that they begin to associate a specific action with a global state of being. For example, if the child plays a passage and the parent says, “Oh, you’re awesome!” Then the child connects playing with a trait that they must process. It’s better to say, “I really liked how you remembered the bowing pattern that time.” Low-key, specific, and process-oriented comments make for constructive praise.
3. Avoid comparisons with other children.
By comparing rates of progress, kids sense that parental affection is tied to progress and they will do everything they can do to hold onto that. Since the rate of progress is related to so many variables outside of their control, this sets up an impossible standard to meet. Most parents are circumspect about making direct comparisons, but we all succumb to more subtle versions of it by talking about who is in which book and who’s on what piece.
4. Embrace and teach a growth mindset.
In some ways, a growth mindset is the ideal antidote to perfectionism. The growth mindset refers to an orientation toward competence by growth rather than the result of fixed, innate ability. By emphasizing this orientation and the idea that growth and mistakes go hand in hand, parents can diffuse some perfectionist tendencies.
For more of this article & other ideas on parenting and Suzuki, go to:
A teacher at a summer festival once asked me, "What are you going to do with violin?" I had no idea what I could do because I had been taking lessons for only 2 years at that point. (story for another day). I sheepishly said I didn't know.... She excitedly explained what the Suzuki method was and I was immediately drawn to this teaching method. After that, I started teaching the Suzuki while I was in undergrad. I taught in homes, taught free classes in the inner city for a music ed experiment, and slowly began my early experiences as a teacher.
What are you going to do with violin?
I soon realized that my teaching bag was WAY TOO full as I kept anything and everything I needed to teach and engage students: practice sheets from the practice shop (an entire binder of them in fact), stickers, books on teaching plus the notes I took on students, file folders, blue jello cards, maybe even an extra box violin!
Each week, I like to 'shake things up a bit' and give parents engaging articles in the parent class, hand out fun seasonal practice guides, etc. But, I soon found my teaching bag overflowing. Each family was very busy and I found it difficult to educate families on the Suzuki method and the various techniques we were trying to learn in the lessons. I frequently had questions that needed more time to answer that I could with back-to-back lessons, so I decided to put everything into one book: The Handbook.
I have condensed it & will continue to try and condense it as much as possible!
(below is my current teaching back that I would LOVE to condense...) It contains the entire music mind games classroom pack! But its so helpful to have to teach theory each lesson, give a student an entire theory lesson if they forget their instrument, or start with some fun theory games if a child is just 'not feeling' like violin that day!
Printing the handbooks in advance is nice to do! If a new student contacts you, then you don't have to run to make copies that day. Staples paper discount is the best one I know of! They give a hefty bulk discount to small businesses. I made 20 copies of my handbook (60 pages front and back).. roughly 1,200 pages and cost $120.00! Not bad. Punching and binding these handbooks probably took 3 hours in total.. more than one would think!
I purchased a binding machine a few months ago for $50 to make supplementary materials for my students, and it has been well worth the investment! Clear protector sheets and also black card stock for the back of the binding was also worth purchasing.
In here one will find:
-all of my contact info, fb page, Instagram, etc.
-all the lyrics to the songs we initially sing (I kept feeling bad for parents writing paragraphs of these words down or having to dig through pictures and videos on their phone to find a lesson video)
-the angles of the bow arm with pictures, all the bow games we will do so they can turn to them at home
-practice guides for all the pieces in book 1, part of book 2 plus review sheets for books 1-4 (these guides have pictures underneath that relate to the words so that they can have fun practicing.. I also feel like the bunny ballad students needed these after coloring an entire book of rabbits and carrots for months prior)
-Lesson expectations, vacation policy, etc
-Break down of prices, plus discounts for: family members, referrals, first time discount, and also for yelp!
-Commitment to Music (an old student told me a teacher that did this and I liked the idea of a student signing a practice commitment- also great because the parent can go back and say: look, you committed!)
-The Million Dollar Lesson
-Listening: 50 classical pieces (a student in Tampa recommended I do this and it has been one of the best ways to encourage a love for music) + questions to ask when doing ear training exercises at home
-Tonalization: what is it? Tone animal classes + excerpt from Suzuki's book Tonalizations
-Practicing: How to do basic holds at home, how to care for your violin, how to start practicing today, notes on pracicing
-Suzuki's Philosophy: excerpts taken from Book 1 & Suzuki quotes
-Resources for parents
-Memorization: Italian markings and musical symbols in book 1
-Left Hand: Barbara Barber's Fingerboard Geography & Woody Waddy for Book 2 students
-Duets to play together at home
-Copy of the stand up symphony (great group class project)
-a few pages copied from 'I Can Read Music' so we have it right away!
This morning I woke up with a call at 8:15am (yes I slept that late) with someone calling about the summer camp. They wanted to know how much it would cost. I managed to get my most awake sounding voice out and give a few details.
After working on the music for the training next week, I taught a music theory class at a local school (also setting a few reminders since this was not a regular day for the class)... Violins arrived for the camp and I also may have to order more. Luckily, Shar Music gave me a great deal as a string teacher... the only discrepancy was that one violin case had a cello bow inside! If you've wondered the differences: http://www.bsmny.org/exploring-music/features/iid/viola/viola2.php
It was exciting to get these violins, especially to have these nice instruments to rent in the fall to incoming students. The only thing--- set up! Each violin case needs rosin, a cleaning cloth, shoulder rest or sponge, needs to be tuned.. also: tapes need put on for the fingers and the 'high dot', bow tapes on and also the 'pinky carseat'. It took 3 hours to set up 7 instruments. Only 5 more tomorrow!
Also, I need to order: name tags, rosin, more cleaning cloths.. running out of pinky carseats and need more sponges! It would be nice to have this finished before I have to leave!
I found these fancy rosins that I think the students will love! They come in their own velvety bag, are made in Greece, and have a tree inside. They are only $1 more than the Super Sensitive brand and can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Melos-Light-Violin-Rosin-Small/dp/B00YSSQCB6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1498195508&sr=8-2&keywords=Melos+small+violin+rosin
Earlier today I remembered that I have a lesson tomorrow because I want to try and hone in my skills and not get rusty on violin..
Gave a fun lesson to a new student today and our dog Valo happened to be roaming the house and also sat, or really slept on the floor, during the entire hour lesson.... this was a first and a last as the students are allergic to cats but possibly it carried onto the dog! It was fun and inspiring for myself to teach someone that wasn't just a beginner on violin. I think it's important to have students of all levels.
And on a note of pure human error.. I must confess that I messed up my schedule today and should've double checked with a student before letting myself get confused. I miss my online calendar, and will be implementing this again to avoid any more error on my part. This is so unfortunate, but occasionally happens. And how I feel so sad that a new student had such a poor experience with me!
it is 1:15am and I thought I would share how exhausting today was even though it doesn't seem successful in and of itself.
I also worked on the music for next week for 2 hours after dinner and just felt a deep inner exhaustion. Valo is now sleeping under my feet, my cat by my side, and I'm watching the BBC murder mystery, Father Brown. My husband, who is overcoming his bout with food poisoning, is sleeping and still fighting weakness from traveling while being so sick!
Checked the Groupon today.. and 4 more camp spots were purchased! Progress. Also, the helper is lined up to help for the camp and I'm very excited to have someone that will be a good fit. https://www.groupon.com/biz/charlotte/queen-city-suzuki-violinwww.groupon.com/biz/charlotte/queen-city-suzuki-violin
I also bought a new monkey for the studio, definitely a plus for the day! We play a song in the pre-twinkle series called 'Monkey Song'. He is very soft and huggable.
This is more like a journal entry, but I felt it necessary to write to give a very unedited view into starting a studio, a summer camp, and trying to prepare for training!
Bed for me and hopefully less mistakes tomorrow!
Oh boy. I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to finish my Suzuki training, start a studio, and also create a summer camp in one summer. For all of you musicians that have no idea what the future holds, I hope that this post will save you blood, sweat & tears. This will be the first post in a series that will document the makings of my new studio, Queen City Suzuki Violin.
Photo cred: (found it here: http://blog.adigo.com/bid/325887/7-Ways-to-Make-Brainstorming-Meetings-More-Productive)
I had been brainstorming how I would start my studio for years... and knew I needed to do a little bit of everything. Facebook marketing had not appeared to work-- at all. It gave me 200+ likes on my page.. but cost roughly $100. A few years ago, the book SEO 2015: Learn SEO Optimization with Smart Internet Marketing Strategies was too good to pass up at a mere $9.97 on amazon. This book opened the enigmatic codes of the jumbled inter webs to a coding novice like myself. My website was slowly flourishing in the dashing town of 241, 218, Winston Salem. As we embarked to Charlotte, I just KNEW that it wasn't enough to sustain the competition in a growing city.
Contacting a marketing agency and establishing a brand and logo were now on the top of my list. I assumed that this would be my largest investment and would take the most time to pinpoint.
Currently, the yard signs, flyers around the neighborhood, and word of mouth have been more successful than all the digital marketing (my) money can buy! Who would have thought! I had heard this exact story from marketers that I previously interviewed. In fact, to paraphrase.. Many businesses put too much capital into digital marketing early on and eventually run out, leaving nothing left for years to come.
If I did it all over again...
Disperse Resources. Digital marketing would be done in small amounts over a long period of time. Perhaps, I could have even found an agency that was willing to help me categorize and schedule when and where these allotments would be used. I can't say that we've hit rock bottom, but this was the steepest learning curve yet. I was too hasty to find a marketing agency and was too busy to find one that was willing to take on a small business.
Start Earlier than you think. Start any Summer Camp planning early in December/January the year prior (maybe even in the Fall). Luckily, the Recreation Center that the camp is being held at was gracious enough to talk the county into letting our camp use the space because it was offered late into the summer. The declines for camps are usually in February! (My applications was submitted in March and finalized at the end beginning of May.)
Don't do it all at once. Training is important to me.. to keep the skills sharp, find yourself challenged, and overall-- to better one's own teaching. Additionally, the Suzuki website graciously showcases the training that each teacher has taken. I confess that I thought this could be yet another area that would help my Suzuki page standout or even standup within the large scope of teachers in Charlotte. I have Books 1-3, but will now be undertaking Book 4, 6-10, and a class on teaching advanced students. Surely, I am neck deep.
Photo cred: This is featured on multiple blogs and I'm not sure who the original source is. If this is a picture you took or someone you know, feel free to contact me!
La Bolline, Valdeblore
Brahms Violin and Piano Sonata No. 1, movement 1
The church was built in 1649 during the Baroque era. The space was incredibly live to play in.
More info on the church here: http://montnice.fr/cartographie/fr/chapelle-sainte-croix-penitents-blancs-bolline-valdeblore.
The beach in Nice, France. Fun day of exploring this nautical city.
Nice was just as I pictured it to be- caribbean colors, sunny skies, fresh fish..
Panoramic view of Cagnes Sur Mer, France which overlooks parts of Nice.
Cannes, France. The water was super salty and the many locals loved soaking up the summer sun.
Had a pre-excursion after my early arrival in Paris. Finally saw Notre-Dame in person, Montparnasse tower, the Eiffel Tower from a long distance. Tasted croissants, cafe au lait, wine, and lots of cheese!
Both received high scores from violin olympics!!
Camel's Hump in Huntington, VT.
July 12, 2015
The hike was a bit rocky, but nevertheless.. extremely fun!
We had a great time playing Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 3 also known as the 'War Quartet' at a cafe in Burlington, VT. This quartet takes one through the ignorant bliss of the beginnings of a war to the eerie fourth movement 'remembering the dead'.
July 15, 2015