Suzuki Piano Group Classes: A Teacher’s Reflections.
This is an article from several years ago that I still find relevant when discussing the importance of group class and group class participation. It was written by Joan Linklater, a Suzuki teacher and professor from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. It was originally published in the American Suzuki Journal, Winter 2007.
“The social element of group classes is one of the most powerful influences of the Suzuki piano experience for both children and parents…Bringing children together regularly in a group class setting plays a significant role in how children respond because they are profoundly influenced by their peers. Children learn attitudes and behaviors from each other. When they see other children responding positively and seriously to musical instruction, they will be inclined to react in a similar manner. Children also learn musicianship from each other. If they hear their peers playing beautifully and with great artistry, they will be inclined to imitate this model. One fine performance of a piece by a popular student can affect a child more deeply than multiple repetitions of the same piece on their CD. Similarly, children imitate poor attitudes and sloppy, unmusical performances by their peers. That is why it is essential that the group class environment be positive and supportive and that children perform accurately and artistically at all times.
It is very important for parents to support each other and to support all the children in the program. There are many ways that parents can show this support in the group class setting. Parents can watch the group class activities attentively and make positive comments about the children and the activities. Children are very aware of non-verbal messages that parents send during group class. For example, pleasant facial expressions, eye contact, nodding and smiling all send positive messages to the children. On the other hand, frowning, reading the newspaper, typing on a laptop, chatting with other parents, or nodding off to sleep send negative messages to children about how important and exciting the parents find the group class.
During group class, parents would like their children to be attentive and excited about what they are learning and to participate positively. Therefore, it is important for the parents to model the same behavior.
It is very effective if teachers include parents in some of the group class activities each week. This makes it easier for parents to stay alert and gives parents a direct opportunity to demonstrate their enthusiasm for learning. Children love it when their parents participate. One approach is to teach the children something and then ask the children to show their parents how to do it….
Group classes give parents a healthy perspective about their own child because they have a chance to see other children in the same environment…Suzuki parents can be a great resource for each other…
Weekly group classes provide every student with a regular and frequent forum to perform in front of an audience… These performances are so frequent that performance protocol such as bowing and walking to and from the piano becomes automatic. Furthermore, the audience is small and friendly so that students are comfortable and successful in this non-threatening and supportive atmosphere. Then, when the children play in a more high-pressure situation, in front of a larger audience and/or in a larger hall, they find it very natural and second nature and they perform with ease and success. Children who start playing in public like this at an early age develop outstanding ability to perform successfully for an audience…
Teaching music knowledge in group class is efficient because teachers can present concepts to everyone in the group at the same time and avoid reiterating the same thing over and over to each child in their individual lessons.
The presentation of a concept in group class can be thorough because teachers are not trying to squeeze it into the precious individual lesson times. Individual lessons can focus on the child’s piano playing skills
The group class presentation of concepts is fun and meaningful because children enjoy interacting with each other during group class activities.
Learning concepts in group class, away from the piano is effective because the child is focused totally on that one idea. If, for example, the teacher presents the reading of the quarter rest tot the students away from the piano, they can read examples of rhythms using the quarter rest in isolation.
On the other hand if the quarter rest is presented while they are playing a reading piece on the piano, the student has many other things to think about such as hand position, posture, correct notes, correct fingering, clef, time signature, in addition to reading the quarter rest.
Ideally, children will have repeatedly read a musical element correctly and with ease during group class before they meet it in a music reading activity at the piano. When they see the element while reading music at the piano, they will recognize it easily and play it successfully.
Group classes provide teachers, students and parents with a rich opportunity for learning and making music together. Classes are lively events, filled with joy and motivation for making the world a better place that is filled with beautiful music. What a wonderful way for families to come together and experience the satisfaction of raising their children to be fine, noble human beings, just as Shinichi Suzuki hoped…”