The Accomplished Learner – My Version

Accomplished Learner

The following is my vision of an accomplished learner and accomplished Suzuki family at any level of study. These are in no particular order.

  1. Balanced body to allow for ease of playing – Feet are flat, knees unlocked, spine is balanced, movement is possible and musically appropriate
  2. Balanced violin posture for ease of playing, allows for future development
  3. Balanced bow hold for ease of playing and tone production, allows for future development
  4. Balanced and free left hand, allows for future development
  5. Intonation – correct intonation with ringing tone
  6. Bowing – able to perform bowings, bow distribution, articulation, and dynamics correctly
  7. Memory – able to remember previous pieces and finds memorizing new music easy
  8. Listening – listens daily to recordings of repertoire including review and upcoming music; listen to other high quality performances of their current and upcoming pieces by professional musicians; they listen to other high quality music regularly (classical, fiddle, jazz etc.)
  9. Musicality – feels and plays music with dynamics, phrasing, breathing, beautiful tone, not just playing notes
  10. Tone – has a good concept of what tone is and how to achieve good tone; knows that they are able to achieve a beautiful tone in all of their playing
  11. Rhythm/Tempo – feels rhythmic pulse/beat and can keep pieces steady in appropriate tempo; performs rhythms of piece correctly
  12. Review Repertoire – reviews regularly; understands the value of review; reviews meaningfully (knows the purpose of review in a given practice session and improves piece rather than playing through notes); continues to improve review to new standards as they grow musically.
  13. Performance – willing and able to perform regularly; feels comfortable on stage; feels prepared for concerts, understands when a piece is ready to be performed; able to play concert pieces musically and without technical mistakes
  14. Learning process – is able to take direction and instruction from parent and teacher; is able to teach themselves through self-correction of pieces and exploring the notes of new pieces; understands that mistakes are a big part of learning and that it is okay to make mistakes but one must also strive to improve their ability so that mistakes are uncommon.
  15. Ensembles – performs well in ensemble; can hear others in the group; can follow the leader; can lead when called upon; blends musically with the group; upholds their part of the ensemble (group class, chamber music etc).
  16. Home Practice – plays, practices, and performs regularly at home; home practices are effective and result in improvement; practice sessions are long enough for age and technical level; an encouraging learning environment is created for home practice; parents are involved in the home practice until at least age 13; parents and students are clear on how to conduct an effective home practice; parent and student respect each other in home practice.
  17. Lessons – lessons and group lessons are attended regularly; students and parents are clear on their assignments before leaving the room; ask appropriate questions if the assignment is not clear; the parent and student are respectful of the lesson environment and the teacher.
  18. Feedback – student and parent are able to give the student meaningful positive and instructive feedback in order to help the student
  19. Music is a priority – the student enjoys music and feels that music is an important part of their life and their family’s life. Music is a priority for the student and the family. They have musical friends and role models to emulate. They have musical goals to strive towards. Music is a lifelong experience.
  20. Student and family are good musical citizens – the are supportive of other musicians; attend and perform in concerts regularly; they are good audience members, they are curious about, and respectful of, music of all types; they are role models for younger students.
  21. The student and their family has created an environment in which they learn effectively and enjoyably and continue to learn and play music throughout their lives.

Parent-Teacher Interviews

This week is for parent-teacher interviews in my studio. My school has been doing this for a couple of years now and I find it really helpful. It has taken the parents a little while to get used to the idea of having a lesson *just* for them but we must remember that parents are one full side of the Suzuki triangle. Without parents, the Suzuki philosophy wouldn’t work. I am really looking forward to this week, I hope to learn more about home practice and tips for helping their child in particular. Parents, I love your children as my students and I know a lot about how they learn, but as a teacher I only see them for for a short time each week – you can help me by letting me in on what approach works best, changes at home that might be affecting them, and just what they love/hate most about learning music! The student-teacher dynamic is very different from the parent-child dynamic but if we work together we can really create the best environment for your child to learn and have a rewarding life in music.

Below are some questions to guide our discussions:

Parent – Teacher Interview Areas of Discussion:

Home Practice – How is it going?Do you need any support, ideas, advice? How often do you practice, when, where, how long, what is the structure of your home practice?        How do you feel as home teacher? How can I support your home practice/lessons?

Group Lessons – Do you attend regularly?How are the classes?Which group are you in?Is it an appropriate level?Is what I assign in the lesson consistent with what is covered in the group classes?

Studio Lessons – Do I communicate well with the student?Do you have any suggestions or advice for communicating with your child?Do I assign reasonable amounts of practice for a week at home?Are my instructions clear for home practice?Do you have a notebook in which to jot down what is assigned?Do you feel engaged enough during the lessons? Do you have suggestions for how you’d like to participate more in the lessons?

Listening – How often do you listen?Do you have the CD for the next book?Do you have multiple copies of the CD in various places?

Review – Do you review during every home lesson/practice?Do you have the review-u-do sheet printed for reference?Are you clear on how and why we do review?How can I help support your review at home?

Concerts and Performances – Do you feel your child has enough performance opportunities?Any other comments about performances?

Musical Development – Why did you start music with your child?What are your general hopes for your child in the area of music and violin?Do you have any specific goals for your child’s musical development with which I can help?

General – do you have any other concerns or issues you’d like to address? (behaviour, communication etc.)Is your child enjoying the overall experience of learning the violin? Which areas does (s)he (dis)like the most?Are you enjoying the overall experience of helping your child to learn the violin? Which areas do you (dis)like the most?

Big Ideas about “6 Little Ducks”

Think for a minute… What does a good music lesson environment look like to you? What does good music teaching look like to you? … What does good music learning look like to you? How can you actually tell when either is happening? How are teaching and learning related? Does the student-parent go home knowing exactly what and how to practice their assigned work? Was the teacher clear? Even if the teacher was clear, was the teacher understood? What does the learning/practising in between music lessons look like? Is it effective? Do the parent and teacher have the same goals in mind? What are the motivations (large and small) of teacher, parent, and student?

These are questions arising from my attendance at a Suzuki Principles in Action (SPA) course offered by the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) and hosted by the Suzuki school of Newton, Mass. near Boston. SPA is intended as a course to explore how to teach rather than what to teach. I’d like to say that I consider it more about why to teach. The textbook assigned to the course is Robert Duke’s Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principle of Effective Instruction (2012). If Duke’s ideas are truly embraced by music teachers there will be no more debates about music being a “fluff” course with no innate value. His approach addresses why every good music teacher is in the studio to begin with – the idea of the “accomplished learner.”

Duke’s preface resulted in my exclaiming a very loud and excited “YES!!” on the Boston subway! Where I live in St. John’s that sort of artistic/new idea!/finally someone else said it too! outburst is not very out of place and probably would simply encourage people to find out what you are so excited about. In Boston, however it got me odd looks, uncomfortable shifting in seats, and perhaps a few thoughts about my lack of social skills regarding subway etiquette (sigh…big cities…).

What got me so excited was Duke’s distinction between learning discrete activities and strategies for teaching those particular songs/games etc. and the “big ideas” behind why we teach these activities. He questions the value of attending a conference to sing “6 Little Ducks” in a conference room with 400 of your closest colleagues if all you leave with is another song to sing. He states that to leave that experience with:

“no greater understanding of the fundamental principles of human learning that             make this activity and others like it an important part of music development, is to leave the room without having learned anything of lasting value (7).”

Duke continues by explaining that experts not only have a lot of information and skill in their discipline but they also organize that information and connect it to the “big ideas” they are working with. He states that “these larger principles should be the focus of intelligent discourse in every discipline, including music and music pedagogy” (7).

So what does that mean? Is “6 Little Ducks” not important? Yes and no. Here is where I stack hats as an ethnomusicologist and music educator. In the greater scheme of things, “6 Little Ducks” is not particularly important. What is more important is what the young musician acquires from “6 Little Ducks” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or any other piece including the Mendelssohn violin concerto. From my point of view it is the transferrable skills they acquire from a piece, not the piece itself that is important. At the same time it is really important that the student learns all these skills very well. A non-exhaustive list of skills a young musician can acquire from any of these pieces include:

  • Learning processes – how to learn this song and other similar songs
    • mental organization of lyrics, rhythm, phrases, melodic contours
  • Tone production, listening to the quality of sound
  • Developing memory skills and pathways for music
  • Physical motor skills required for instrument and/or dance actions
  • How to break a project/piece down into smaller, more manageable steps and then how to put it all back together into a whole
  • The value of repetition for acquiring, refining, and retaining skills
  • Working with others, accepting help as needed from teacher-parent
  • Independence/responsibility for one’s own learning (age and level appropriate)
  • Social skills for ensemble and/or solo performance
  • Sense of accomplishment and self-confidence from acquiring these skills and completing a project/song
  • Acquisition, preservation, transmission and, sometimes, innovation of musical knowledge
  • Facilitating an emotional response in audience members and other participants
  • Cultural capital of musical ability and knowledge

If we approach “6 Little Ducks” or any other piece in this manner, we can see the intrinsic value and long term benefit of learning this song. These skills can be learned from many different songs but perhaps they happened to be learned with this song. As Duke explains we are not teaching how to play a particular note in tune in that particular song but how to play that note in tune in every song they will ever play (80). For example, I spend a lot of time on preparing to pay the C-naturals in “Etude” in tune, but it is not just those notes I’m teaching, I’m preparing the student to play all C-naturals in tune for the rest of their musical life. This results in a focus on C-naturals for the remainder of book 1.

What I like about Duke’s book is his emphasis on connecting the details of a piece to the bigger reasons we play music as a whole. The SPA course asks us to not only think about the details of what we happen to be teaching at any given lesson (ie. the C-natural in Etude or Mozart), but also to think how this will continue throughout the musical life of that young musician. As Suzuki teachers and SECE teachers we are generally taught in our pedagogy courses to take a long term view of technique and musicality and Duke’s book and SPA will be a bit of preaching to the choir. However, we sometimes get bogged down in the details and can’t always see the forest for the trees. I know that this narrow view can contribute to a lack of student-parent motivation when they feel they have been trying to get those C-naturals and don’t understand why it matters if they get one note wrong or not, isn’t it good enough? can’t they just move on? For a teacher who also sees the forest, you can explain why that note is really important, and no, it is not good enough to leave it out of tune, but yes we can also move on while continuing to work on that note in “Etude” as it’s going to happen again in the following six pieces.

As an ethnomusicologist, I see the importance of this training (C-naturals in Etude for example) in the larger frame work of music education worldwide. In every culture there is a different system of musical training, acquisition, and participation but many of the ultimate goals are the same. Parallel skills are also being taught explicitly and non-explicitly in every other musical culture around the world. Therefore, Duke’s work speaks not only to the western music teacher but also to music education and good teachers everywhere.

For me, the value of Duke’s work and the SPA course is not necessarily in introducing wholly new ideas but in bringing together the big ideas I always use to guide my teaching and give me the courage to speak about them more frequently and effectively in lessons, and to re-evaluate my own teaching to see if I hold up to my ideals. More soon on the “big ideas” and my personal vision of an “accomplished learner.”

October Studio Newsletter

October 2014 Studio Newsletter

Hello Everyone

Happy autumn! So far we’ve had pretty good weather!

Now that the year is fully off to a good start I have just a few items to share with you.

1 Practice Tip! Schedule Your Practice Time

2 October Practice Charts

3 October Practice Game

4 Halloween Lesson Week

5 STEP Group Class Dates

6 STEP Solo Concerts

7 STEP Graduation Tapes

8 Thanksgiving Monday

9 Studio List



  • Practice Tip! Schedule Your Practice Time!

Now that everything has settled in please make sure you have formally scheduled your practice time every day. In our over busy, overscheduled lives we even need to carve out time for things we enjoy and are working towards – including playing music. Set it up like an appointment you need to keep. Even on days you don’t feel much like practising do it anyhow and it will all pay off in more beautiful and enjoyable musical growth. Growing as a musical individual is like a marathon and you won’t run the race if you don’t take all those individual steps! Your child won’t progress musically if they don’t take all the practice steps along the road. Remember that practice time is time that is meant for you and your child to spend together learning, growing, and connecting. It can be challenging but also very rewarding. Think about how much you are also learning about music, the violin, how to educate your child, how creatively you need to think to be the best home teacher you can be! Don’t miss the opportunity to spend this wonderful time with your child because of busy-ness. Practice makes progress!

  • October Practice Charts

I recently joined the mailing list for Music In Practice website. She has sent along a few seasonal practice sheets. They are attached here and look really fun!

  • October Practice Game – Scary Sounds

With all the different kinds of sounds a violin can make why don’t you take some time at the end of your practice to explore? Can you make a scary squeaky door? Some ghostly slides?

  • Halloween Lesson Week

Feel free to come to your lessons in costume! (We may have to adjust them so you can play)

  • STEP Group Class Dates
    1. October 4th and October 25th.
  • STEP Solo Concerts

The STEP Faculty has been assigned 4 concerts each this year. We need to sign up in advance for space. My dates are November 1st and 22nd, February 28th and April 11th. There is limited space in each concert so I will send in all the names right away and fingers crossed we will all get our picks. If you are not signed up for one of the concerts I’ve been assigned to you may not get a spot. Please consider changing to another concert.

Here is who I have signed up so far: – please see email

  • STEP Graduation Concert Tapes
    1. Tapes are due to STEP no later than October 25th but I’d like to review them as soon as possible. If you have recordings from last year please bring them along this week or next so that if we need to redo any we still have lots of time.
  • Thanksgiving Monday – no lessons
  • Studio List – attached
  • Twinkle Toes Solos – every group class I teach three early childhood classes and I am always seeking young soloists to play for the class. Many of you have done this last year. Please consider signing up this year as well. The solos will happen in the last 15 minutes of each class. Twinkle Toes 1 Solo slot 10:15-10:30; Twinkle Toes 2 solo slot 11:15-11:30; Twinkle Toes 3 Solo Slot 12:15-12:30
  • Parent Group Class – it looks like I will be teaching a parent group class (for parents to play for themselves!) likely at 12:30 on group class days. If you are interested please email

September Studio Newsletter

Dear Parents and Students,
I trust you all had a relaxing summer! As with the rest of life, violin and fiddle lessons are happily starting again with the fall air. I’m so looking forward to seeing you all and making lots of music this year! I’m pleased that everyone is back for lessons and we’ll be continuing to grow together!
This post is (most of) the email I just sent to everyone. I’ve made it newsletter style so you can read what is relevant.
1. Lesson Weeks
2. Parking/Construction
3. Tuesday Veggie Pickup
4. Studio Master List
5. Studio and Skype Policy
6. Invoices
7. Parent-Teacher Interviews
8. Music Camp! Atlantic Canada Suzuki Institute (ACSI)
a. Dizzolve Laundry Campaign
b. Evergreen Recycling Campaign
9. Blog
10. How to Prepare for Back to Music!
11. New Violin Sizes
12. Parent Lessons
13. STEP Registration
14. REAL Program
15. STEP Solo Concert Signup
16. STEP Optional Classes – Fiddle and Orchestra
17. STEP Graduation Tapes
18. STEP Dates 2014-2015
19. Draft Studio List
20. Other News

1. Lesson Weeks – My 2014-2015 studio will run from September 8 to June 25th following the school year. Within those 39 weeks I will offer 32 weeks of Monday lessons and 36 weeks of lessons on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
2. Parking/Construction – see email.
3. Tuesday Veggie Pickup – see email
4. Studio Master List – I will send the master list out by email after next week when I’ve confirmed all the emails. You can use it to swap lessons when you have a conflict and also to be in touch with other students for violin play dates!  Please see a draft schedule below.
5. Studio and Skype Policy – These will remain largely unchanged this year. There is a new add-on for black-outs. Please plan to be able to use Skype as needed (storm days). If you know of a similar program you’d rather use please let me know. Unfortunately, I don’t have an iphone so I can’t use FaceTime. I am asking that everyone sign their name on a hard copy of the invoice this year so I know you’ve read these policies. I will have the invoices and policies printed off for your first lesson. The policies are attached to this email.
6. Invoices – I will be sending these out individually to everyone in the next few days. I will have a hard copy for your first lesson. Payment methods and fees are the same as previous years.
7. Parent-Teacher Interviews – Last year’s interviews were really helpful for me to continue offering the best lessons possible for your children. Please note that there will again be parent-teacher interviews in January.
8. Music Camp! Atlantic Canada Suzuki Institute (ACSI) – ACSI will be held from June 29th to July 3rd 2015. I know many people were traveling last year but schedule it in now for this year! It really is a lot of fun and something to look forward to all year! I’m planning to have information out earlier this year and have earlier deadline dates so that schedules can be planned further in advance. If you have friends from away who play, invite them to ACSI! We love new visitors! Camp has a lot of options for non-STEP students too!
a. Dizzolve Laundry Campaign – Everyone does laundry! Spread the word!! The laundry sheet fundraiser is ongoing for ACSI. I’ve been using them all summer and they work wonderfully. Please consider supporting ACSI and reducing waste by ordering through our campaign
b. Evergreen Recycling Campaign – In order to raise funds for FUN extra activities at ACSI we have an account at Evergreen Recycling. Just bring your bag into the express area and print off the tags using the STEP phone number
738 – 2277. If you have any trouble, just ask for help.
9. Blog – I am still aspiring to write more on my blog – stay tuned!
10. How to Prepare for Back to Music – I realize that many people take the summer off of practicing but now is the time to get your schedule back together with new enthusiasm. As you schedule your other activities and homework time, schedule in daily practice too! If you make the commitment to play your violin every day you will find it easy to learn new pieces! To prepare for back to music, take out your review sheet and play everything on it up to the piece you knew in June. Follow the days so that by your lesson next week you’ve played all your pieces at least once. Don’t worry if it sounds squeaky and scratchy at first just keep playing! If your violin is dusty – it will sound dusty! But some review will get it sounding great again in a few days! Remember to bring all your books to every lesson! Parents don’t forget a notepad too!
11. New Violin Sizes – I will check everyone next week for sizing. If your child has grown a lot over the summer please be prepared to be in touch with Rodney deVries about getting a new size.
12. Parent Lessons – for those parents who would like to play this year there are several options. We’re hoping to have enough interest to run some sort of group class through STEP. The nature of the class will depend on who signs up. Private Lessons – I will happily offer private instruction to parents who want to play, just be in touch.
13. STEP Registration – STEP registration is happening this coming Saturday, September 6th from 9am-Noon at Irwin’s Court in the Arts and Culture Centre. The group class schedule is done and will be released in the next few days. There are some exciting changes happening at STEP and it looks like a great year! If you’ve been away from STEP this is the year to return!
14. REAL Program – The City of St. John’s and STEP have partnered to offer free group class and violin lesson tuition to families who are in financial need. This is only open to STEP students. If you know of someone who is interested please ask them to contact REAL.
15. STEP Solo Concert Signup – Solo Concerts will now be on Saturday mornings – no more Sunday afternoons! I will have a list of the STEP solo concert dates in my studio next week. Please look at the list below and pick your first and second choice. The sign up for concerts will be different this year. We’re asking everyone to sign up at the start of the year, there will be a limit on how long concerts will be, the last solo concert is in APRIL and there will be a two-week deadline for any changes. This will help everyone be really prepared for their concert and have a great performance experience! Plan to attend them all as audience to support your friends!
16. STEP Optional Classes – If you are not already in Fiddle or Orchestra consider it for this year. They are great fun and really expand your child’s musical experience! You can join fiddle once you can play Minuet 1 and Orchestra starts at Mid-Book 2. The Young Virtuosi will be for Book 5 students and you can join in January. Let’s get cracking on the Bach Double! Twinkle Toes (Early childhood music) is great for younger siblings ages 0-3. STEP Fiddlers is from 6-7 on Thursdays and Orchestra is Tuesday afternoons. Young Virtuosi will be on Saturday mornings. Websites:
Fiddle –
Twinkle Toes – and
17. STEP Graduation Tapes – if you are graduating a book this year, you’ll have to submit your graduation tape to me no later than the week of October 13th so I can review it before the STEP deadline of October 25th.
18. STEP Group Class/Solo Concert Dates – Here are the STEP dates:
• September 6th – In-person Registration
• September 27th – First Group Class
• October 4th – Group Class
• October 18th – Group Class
• October 25th – Group Class
• November 1st – Solo Concert
• November 8th – Graduation Concert
• November 15th – Group Class
• November 22nd – Solo Concert
• November 29th – Group Class
• December 6th – Christmas Play-In
• December 13th – Solo Concert
• January 10th – Group Class
• January 17th – Solo Concert
• January 24th – Group Class
• January 31st – Solo Concert
• February 7th – Group Class
• February 14th – Solo Concert
• February 21st – Group Class
• February 28th – Solo Concert
• March 7th – Group Class
• March 14th – Solo Concert
• March 21st – Group Class
• March 28th – Group Class
• April 11th – Solo Concert
• April 18th – Group Class
• April 25th – Group Class
• May 2nd – Spring Concert
• May 9th – Group Class
• May 23rd – Group Class
• May 30th – Solo Concert
• June 6th – Final Group Class
• June 13th – Final Concert
• June 29th to July 3rd – Atlantic Canada Suzuki Institute (Summer Camp)
19. Draft Studio List – a basic list – see email

20. Other news – see email for more
We had a nice summer playing with the cats and ducks in the backyard. All our ducklings are grown up and huge! Two of them are very friendly and may “love” bite you if you go back to visit. Be careful! They mean well, but it can hurt! They may ask to be petted, petting them on the chest is best but prepare for your toes/shoes to be nibbled!

Peter is still working on his dissertation, but is getting back to doing private birthday shows and starting to teach private magic lessons. If you know of anyone who is interested, please give them our number. Shows are for those 4+ and lessons for those 8+. He is extremely entertaining!

I’ve been head hunted to teach on the online violin website Violin Tutor Pro as their fiddle expert. It was nice to be asked! It’s a neat format and I’ll let you know more as it goes along.

My first book should be out sometime this year. My co-editor, Dr. Anna Guigne, and I are putting the final touches on The Songs that Nearly Got Away! Volume Four of Kenneth Peacock’s Songs of the Newfoundland Outports. For the past 4 years we’ve been working on this and it’s nearing completion. We’re very excited!

I’ve agreed to start writing another book with Dr. Mick Moloney from NYU on our common research about the McNulty Family, an Irish-American vaudeville group from the 1940s. I will also have several scholarly articles coming out in national journals and international edited collections.

I have several upcoming performances – please see my website:

There are also some exciting plans afoot for teaching but I’ll let you in on those as they progress.

Fall has been just ducky!

Wow I can’t believe it’s the start of November already! Fall has just blown by in the winds of busy-ness.  I’ve been having a great time with my students and a number of them are getting to graduate various violin books in a few weeks. Congratulations!

I’ve been busy this fall with setting up my studio, teaching, writing, and a new activity – raising ducklings!

We incubated a few eggs from friends and ended up with three cute little cayuga-pekin ducklings. I watched the eggs wiggle as they were getting ready to hatch. I sat around playing them Brandenburg Concertos while I wrote and watched the eggs wiggle! I’ll have to make a post about this whole process soon – it was amazing! now they are 5 weeks old and almost have all their feathers. Once they have their feathers they can live outside.

I also went to a wonderful conference in Cape Breton over Thanksgiving and now I’m preparing for the Society of Ethnomusicology meeting in the United States in mid-Nov.

I will start making blogging part of my regular activites, however i’m being kept quite busy!

Until Soon!