Four Ways To Teach Visually

My latest homemade visual tool - a Suzuki Book One graduation puzzle

My latest homemade visual tool - a Suzuki Book One graduation puzzle

I am constantly looking for new ways to teach visually.

The other day I sat down to see if I could figure out how many different visual tools I use in teaching. I listed over two dozen, and I wasn't counting them all. My latest creation is a puzzle that helps students visualize where they are in Suzuki Book One.

The Four Types

In trying to categorize the teaching tools, I found out that there are basically four ways I teach visually:

  1. Reading

  2. Showing 

  3. Imagining

  4. Mapping

In reading, we are looking at marks on a page. This includes traditional note reading, as well as any other method (such as finger charts) that involve symbols written out as prompts for what to play. See an example here.

In showing, we are demonstrating (usually with our body, but could be with a picture or video) how to do a motion or position. For example, when we show how our left hand looks when we shift to third position. See an example here.

In imagining, we are helping conjure up a visual image in the student's mind. This could take the form of a character (what does a happy farmer look like?), a story line (now what is happening to the French soldiers?), or picturing the actual process of practicing a fast passage or note pattern. See an example here.

In mapping, we are using some sort of visual chart, map, or other system to help the student track progress and goals (such as with a practice sheet or the graduation puzzle above), assist with understanding an aspect of music theory (such as the musical alphabet wheel) or learn any other complex information related to their learning (such as the form of a piece, or where to stand at a concert.) See an example here.

I've discovered that the greatest teaching power comes when we are actively using all four of the visual teaching types, combining them in a way that amplifies the student's learning, while simultaneously increasing motivation and engagement in practicing.

I'm excited to announce a new webinar, The Visual Suzuki Teacher, where I will be going into each area in more detail.

In the class I will present how I use visual tools in lessons and group class, and discuss practical applications for teaching. I will show how I use the tools to help beginners and young children get to Twinkle, as well as how they work for older children, intermediate students and adults.

The entire recorded webinar will be made available afterward for all registrants who can't attend the live session.

Developing Practice Independence

What can they do on their own?

Parents want to help. But we don't always know how to cultivate independence in practicing. 

Students can easily get stuck if left to their own devices. This results in missed practice sessions, and lack of progress between lessons.

But when I talk about this in lessons, it often results in parents telling their children, “See, you need to practice more.” The problem with this quick-fix approach is that they are expecting their child to be independent, without first giving them the tools.

We wouldn't expect a child instantly to know how to walk or ride a bike when first learning that. And yet we can stick an instrument in their hands and say "Practice!" as though they know what to do.

I want to empathize here with all the parents who are trying  to figure this out. I am a parent and I have children who are trying to incorporate practicing into their busy schedules. This is hard!

We try mightily to balance and multi-task, reminding our children to practice while attending a myriad of other responsibilities, including working from home, taking care of other siblings, making meals, managing households, figuring out transportation, and on and on.

It would be great if we had a clear, linear path to helping our children practice on their own. The good news is that this is possible.

In the next series of posts I will share seven practical steps that will assist you in guiding your child to greater independence:

  1. Set a start and end time and stick to it every day
  2. Have a strategy for tuning
  3. Use a timer for each element of practice
  4. Make a listening station in the practice area
  5. Use a practice chart
  6. Have a system for figuring out notes (click here to see finger charts for example)
  7. Know what to do when they run out of things to do

I'll take each of these in turn. Let's start with the first one:

Set a start and end time and stick to it every day

I believe that this is the first and most important habit in the journey toward practice independence. If a child knows when she is supposed to practice and for exactly how long, she will be more likely to do it, and do it consistently.

The three times that I have found are most effective are:

  • Right before school (have breakfast first)
  • Right after school (have a snack first)
  • Right before bed (as a cooling down routine)

Pick one of these that is the most realistic, and see you and your child can stay with it for one full week. If you find that you chose an unrealistic plan, that’s ok, just choose another time and try that for another week.

For example, I have a father and son who practice together at the end of the day, and really like this time. If done as a way to bring centeredness and calm to the child, it can be very effective. But if it feels like cramming one more thing in to a child's tired brain at the end of a long day, it would be counterproductive and stressful. You know your child best.

Managing willpower

Not knowing when the practicing is going to happen leaves too much to chance. Or better said, it leaves too much to a child’s willpower. We only have so much willpower in one day. A child often has to spend his willpower during the day at school, sitting through math class, or simply behaving quietly. It takes willpower to decide to practice, instead of watching TV. When you decide together to set a time beforehand, no energy has to be expended in the moment. The decision making is already done.

Taking care of your mental health

For your own sake, you need to set a specific start and end time for your child’s practice. This will give you peace of mind for two reasons: 1) You will know when the practicing will happen, so that you aren’t worrying about it at other times, and 2) You won’t have the feeling like practicing is in conflict with other things like homework, family time, down time, chore time, or bed time.

Use Rewards

You will go farther toward reinforcing good choices about practicing by using rewards. Every time your child honors the set practice time, be sure they know they have earned a tally mark or some other tangible item of reward. For more on this see Practice Tip #5 - Use Rewards

Remember, The time of day matters!

Empower your child to find an independence by helping them choose - and honor - a set time for practicing.

What has worked for you in the area of developing practice independence? Please share your feedback by leaving a comment.

How to Beat Performance Anxiety

We have all felt it.

The dry mouth, the shaking hands, the sudden loss of words. Performance anxiety is no fun. And when it comes to music, performance anxiety can kill good musical expression.

Here are five ways I've found that lessen performance anxiety:

  1. Adequate practice.  A "polished piece" is one that has been mastered to a level that can be played with ease. Sometimes this takes weeks, and sometimes months! Depending on the level of difficulty, you may need more practice to get to a level of polish than you first think. Remember, learning the notes is only half way.
  2. Plenty of rehearsal. A rule of thumb I have started to follow is to formally rehearse the piece twice as much as I initially think necessary. That includes scheduling extra time if needed with an accompanist (I say "no" to the performance if this is not possible), and playing through it at least twice in the space I am going to perform in.
  3. Memorization. Reading notes that are not well internalized is a distraction when performing. Over-reliance on note reading is a sure way to destroy good musical playing, because the brain is engaged in reading rather than expressing. Sheet music can be used as a safety net for a performance, after memorization has taken place, but only as a prompt for the real purpose, music-making.
  4. Routine. Do everything the same way as you set up, each time you play and rehearse. This applies to everything from checking your tuning to the initial placement of your bow.
  5. Take your time. When getting set, take time to play the beginning mentally, get back in touch with what you are trying to do musically. Breathe, allow your body to settle as much as possible.

Dealing with fear is another aspect of the process that I'll cover in future posts. But if you'll do these five things consistently, your performances will go better and you'll feel less nervous.

You can conquer the fear of performing. Remember, the more you do it, the easier it gets, and if you take the right intentional steps, you will get there.

Violin Angst