The Suzuki Method is based upon the way children acquire language. Think back to when your child was learning to talk. Did you correct him or her every time they said something wrong or would you smile, praise their efforts and repeat what they said back to them? My son, who recently turned two, is beginning to talk up a storm. He will say things like, “bus yellow” or “dog loud bark”. I don’t have to think twice about responding with a smile and saying, “Yes, you’re right, the bus is yellow.” or “The dog does have a loud bark.” I am thrilled to hear him speak and I constantly praise his efforts. We know that our child’s speech is developing and through their constant chatter, listening to others speak, and engaging in conversation with others, they will one day speak with a high level of proficiency. We do not nag and constantly criticize; instead we are encouraging and patient.
What I’m about to write next really hits home with me. Up until this point in my blog writing, I have been pretty good at putting into practice what I write about. I’ve written about things that are just part of me and what I do. Unfortunately, myself as a mother, as well as a practice partner for my daughter, can be pretty good at nagging about things like posture, intonation, bow distribution etc. and not long ago, Delaney called me out on it. While Delaney was playing through one of her review pieces I said, “Hold your violin up, your 3 is low, fix your bowhold.” She stopped playing, looked at me, and in a very upset voice said “I don’t like when you interrupt me and you did it three times!” I was stopped dead in my tracks and all I could do was stare at her. I knew she was right and I had blown it. I was nagging and it wasn’t helping create a positive environment. Luckily, four year olds are very forgiving, and after an honest apology we were able to finish our practice on a positive note. Later, while I was preparing to write this blog post I came across this excerpt from Dr. Suzuki’s book Where Love is Deep.
There are parents, who, at lesson time at home, interfere the moment the child begins to play until he can’t move a foot or a hand: “There, now that’s wrong;” “That’s an error right there.”
When you work in the kitchen, if someone is by your side in the same way criticizes every little move you make, there won’t be taste or shape, you won’t have the leisure to think with your own mind, and in the end you will find it a bother. It’s the same with your child.
Ouch! I am very guilty of nagging my daughter during her practice time. I know that I would never perform well if someone were hovering over me critiquing my every move. Why do I think that is helping my daughter? We as practice partners have the esteemed privilege of giving our children the incredible gift of music. Being a practice partner is also a huge responsibility. We can either build our kids up and encourage them to keep growing, or we can be critical and nag all the time, which robs them and us of the joy playing music can bring. I can tell you that I do not want to be the source of my daughter not liking violin.
Please understand that creating a positive environment or “happy brain advantage” does not mean that we excessively praise our children, telling them that their playing is excellent if it is not,or that we have no regard for high expectations and hard work. Suzuki says the following about praise in his books Ability Development From Age Zero and Where Love is Deep:
Praise them when they do as much as they can. Then their incentive will become stronger. If the parent or teacher then asks in the midst of praise, “Can you do any better?” the face of the child will light up as he answers, “I think that I can do much better.”
If the child is corrected after being praised, the correction is pleasanter beyond comparison than if given after criticism.
The big take away for me in all of this is that if I want to create a positive environment, one where my daughter’s brain has the happiness advantage and can be thirty one percent more productive, then I need to stop the nagging. I will help her make sure she is set up well before playing, discuss the goal for whatever she is playing and then be quiet and let her play. When she’s finished we can talk about her playing and give appropriate feedback. I will listen, encourage and take joy in her accomplishments. I will trust in the growth process and remember that nagging gets me nowhere. After all, my children have learned to talk (without the nagging)!