This summer I had the amazing opportunity to attend two different Suzuki Institutes and learn from some of the best Suzuki teachers in the country, some of whom had studied with Dr. Suzuki himself. One concept that was constantly reiterated was the importance of purposeful review. My teacher trainer for books 1 and 2 shared with our class that the beginning of every one of his lessons is used for bow games, looking at posture, and reviewing old pieces, even if it takes most of the lesson time. In fact, his early book 1 students play through every piece they know at every lesson up until Perpetual Motion. That means they play every twinkle variation and every song from Lightly Row to Perpetual Motion every single time.
A few weeks ago, I was reading through the latest edition of the American Suzuki Journal and guess what a major theme was in many of the articles? Review. Purposeful and effective review. April Losey wrote in her article, Spicing up the Most Important Part of Practice, that "Purposeful review on a daily basis is essential for keeping old skills fresh, achieving mastery of new skills, and providing repertoire in which to try out the newest musical and technical skills. While it might seem counter-intuitive, spending more time in effective review means the student will actually make far more growth." Wow!
Joseph Kaminsky, a violin teacher for forty years who studied with Dr. Suzuki, said in his recent article entitled What is Your Practice Efficiency Rating?, "Ease of playing and relaxed technique comes from repeating review pieces again and again. Rigidity comes from spending too much time on one's current piece at the exclusion of enough review." He goes on to say that, " Those students who spend an adequate amount of time on review play so much more relaxed and so much more musically," then those who spend most of their practice time on their current piece.
Since I have, hopefully, by now convinced you that review is essential to your child's growth as a musician, let's look at HOW we can use a child's love for repeating things over and over to our advantage. The key to effective review lies in the word purposeful. Each time your child plays a review piece there must be a purpose behind it. It can't be mindless or the review does nothing to help further one's ability. My daughter has been struggling with keeping her violin thumb straight so her goal for an entire week was to play through her review pieces while focusing on keeping a straight thumb and, sure enough, by the end of the week she barely had to think about what her thumb was doing. Of course, I had to get creative in how to help her pay attention to her thumb and make the review fun through games, but that is a topic for another time. When learning a new piece, the focus is on learning the notes and bowings rather than on making beautiful music. When we play a piece that we already know, we can listen to our sound, pay attention to our technique or posture and really focus on taking our playing to the next level. It is much easier to work on a specific skill, like making sure your violin thumb is straight, with a piece you already know then with a piece that is unfamiliar.
To assist in making everyone aware of purposeful review I have added the question "What's the purpose?" to the review section of your child's practice log. You can expect that we will discuss the purpose behind your child's review assignments at his/her lesson. If we don't, please ask! Dr. Suzuki is often quoted as saying, "build your ability with a piece you can play," so let's all work together to build our ability by being mindful about our review!