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  • Writer's pictureElisabeth Hope

From Baby Music Class to Suzuki Violin Lessons

A parent's perspective

A mother and baby play a drum together at a SECE baby music class
Less than a year old, playing the drums with Mommy

When my oldest daughter was eight months old, we began attending Dolce Babies, a Suzuki Early Childhood Education class in Sugar Land, Texas. As a Suzuki violin teacher myself, I was curious about Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) classes and wondered how much one could really teach babies between the ages of 0-3. Within weeks, I could see the amazing impact that the class was having on Lydia’s musical, social, and academic skills. After a while, I realized that the class’s effect on Lydia was closely matched by the influence that it was having on my parenting and teaching skills.

Watching my daughter achieve mastery of the curriculum, one step at a time, and seeing the impact that the class had on my own family inspired me to take SECE training. Hope Violin Studio’s Baby and Me Music class began in January 2018. When Lydia transitioned to Suzuki violin lessons at 3 years old, I realized just how much SECE had influenced me as a Suzuki parent. Experiencing the SECE curriculum with my daughter and going through SECE training myself brought Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy into focus for me, helping me to apply the philosophy in concrete ways as a Suzuki parent. Here are just a few of the ways that our SECE experience has shaped our Suzuki violin lesson experience so far.

Taking notes about my child’s lessons and practices. Each SECE class helped me to learn to observe Lydia closely throughout each class, since I knew I would need to write about it at the end of class. During our violin lessons with Lydia’s wonderful teacher, Meredith Harris, it is second-nature to me now to take notes not just about Lydia’s assignments, but also to document small steps of growth that I see in her character, focus, love for music, etc. both in lessons and in our practice sessions together. This has helped me to figure out ways to make our practice sessions more successful, as I have learned to notice things that captivate her interest and motivate her to practice happily.

A toddler plays the lollipop drum during marching time at a SECE class
Playing the lollipop drum independently in class, 2 years old

Celebrating each small step. In our SECE classes, we were encouraged to celebrate each success, no matter how small it appeared. I have the feeling that this lesson was even more helpful than I realized throughout the year and a half that it took us to get through the pre-Twinkle and Twinkle stages of violin lessons. Even as a Suzuki teacher who knows to “never hurry, never rest,” I battled impatience within myself during these early stages. I reminded myself over and over again to celebrate each success, no matter how small it appeared, and to not get fixated on wanting to “pass” or “graduate” skills.

I have learned to celebrate when we have a positive practice, when Lydia spontaneously applies a new skill in another relevant spot in the repertoire, and when she carefully observes another student’s performance, just as much as I celebrate a great performance or receiving our teacher’s approval to begin learning the next song.

Appreciating the ideas of layering and mastery The constant curriculum of the SECE class was never boring to my daughter. Instead, she saw the next step of mastery that she could achieve and aimed for that next step, with the comfort of already knowing the previous steps. Whether it was alternating hands on the drum or playing the xylophone by herself, Lydia always seemed to have a goal in mind of how she could build upon what she already knew how to do. What an amazing lesson to learn before we began Suzuki instrumental training! The idea of reviewing old songs and adding new skills to make them even better is second-nature to us now.

Preschooler plays the xylophone by herself at a Suzuki Early Childhood Education class
Confidently playing the xylophone by herself, 3 years old

Nurturing the whole child As a parent in a SECE class, I learned to appreciate growth in areas beyond the songs. I felt joy when Lydia showed empathy by spontaneously helping a younger child with folding their scarf in class, demonstrated reading readiness by tracking left-to-right as she counted the ducks before “Six Little Ducks,” or held up the correct number of

fingers with the number she chose during “Pease Porridge Hot.” I feel the same joy now when she fearlessly volunteers to play Christmas songs for the elderly residents of an assisted living home, keeps her focus throughout her entire recital piece, or encourages the box violin students in her studio with the wisdom that comes from being a "big kid" working on Go Tell Aunt Rhody.

Her confidence, increasing focus, and empathy are even more important to me than which song she has reached in the literature. By learning to appreciate growth in areas beyond the songs, I feel more joy in the process.

Communicating positively with my daughter in general, but especially when it comes to her instrumental training. This came into razor-sharp focus for me during a week-long SECE demo class that we took in conjunction with my Stage 1 SECE training. By day 4 of the class, I noticed that Lydia, three and a half years old at the time, was consciously framing her comments positively rather than complaining about the early morning struggle to get out the door on time.

When I make a consistent effort to communicate positively with her, she responds with more positive communication and our whole relationship and home environment benefit.

Several months into her violin lessons, I realized that Lydia was holding back during a practice, and I began asking questions in order to get to the bottom of the issue. Finally, she blurted out, “I’m afraid that you might not think that I’m amazing at the violin!” Wow, my mother's heart was pierced as I realized that my unrelenting encouragement is still so essential for her musical growth. I vowed to

I now know that I should always tell her the great things that I’ve noticed about her violin progress, whether big or small. This enables her to be secure enough to be able to accept my advice for further improvement.

Appreciating the benefit of observing when she’s not ready to participate. Just as we had some great classes and some not-so-great classes during our SECE days, we have some great practices and lessons and some not-so-great ones—but I know that Lydia is learning through it all. Our Dolce Babies class teacher and my teacher trainer, Danette Schuh, reminded us frequently that children can learn more through calm observation than they can when they’re stressed out by being forced to participate before they’re ready. This knowledge helped me to have patience during the group classes that Lydia spent mostly on my lap during her first few months of lessons. “Maybe next time,” Danette’s voice and reassuring smile would echo in my head. Lydia has also internalized this lesson and applied it to many contexts.

When she’s overstimulated or feeling anxious, she self-regulates her emotions by taking a break and watching the activity around her until she feels calm and ready to re-join the activity. What an amazing skill to have learned so early in life!

I’ve now had experience on all three sides of Suzuki’s student-teacher-parent triangle, and I agree with the many people who have said that the Suzuki parent has the trickiest role. I’m thankful for the impact that taking a Suzuki Early Childhood Education class had on both my daughter and me, especially for how it prepared us both for Suzuki instrumental lessons.

Do you want to see what a Suzuki Early Childhood Education class could do for you and your little one? Sign up for your free Baby and Me trial class here!

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