Private teachers know that things are, well, a bit different during the summer. I believe that summer lessons are crucial to continued student success and Christine Goodner recently wrote a great article about the importance of summer lessons over at the Suzuki Triangle Blog. While the majority of my students do continue lessons over the summer, many are also doing camps or taking vacations and I’ve noticed that consistent practice habits can start to slip in the midst of all those competing activities. To keep motivation and interest up, my studio will be participating in a summer “review-a-thon”, focusing on Suzuki review pieces. As many students are in and out of lessons, a review-a-thon will be more appropriate to the pace of the summer, rather than a time-based challenge, like the Viola Hero or Practice Wars challenges that I have held during the academic year.
I’m planning a longer blog post about why review is important, but suffice it to say that reviewing older pieces strengthens and reinforces technique and develops fluency and ease. In short, “Review Helps the New”. In the summer, because I am seeing some of my students less often, working more on pieces they already know, rather than new pieces ensures that they keep up their technique and don’t learn “bad habits” to their new pieces in between lessons. For example, if I have a student who is visiting family in China for a month and taking their viola, I would rather give them specific instructions for focused review, rather than rush to teach them a new song, only to have them come back having learned the bowings incorrectly.
Focusing on review also ensures that students will have a variety of pieces to practice when they have a few weeks between lessons, and both students and their parents will be more confident in their home practice because they will be working on pieces they already know. Throughout the school year, my students use a review sheet with days of the week, which lists all the pieces by book level, so that, for example, a student playing Perpetual Motion in Book 1 will also play through the rest of the book several times throughout the week. I know there are many ways of assigning review, but this strategy seems to work well for my studio families. In contrast, the summer review-a-thon will be more focused and goal-oriented, so that students will bring all the special review pieces to a polished performance level.
Here’s How it Works:
Based on the level of each student, in the lesson, we will spin a wheel (I use this app) for 3 special review pieces at one or more book levels below their current book. You could also use a bag with the review pieces written on a strip of paper. For example, a student in Book 3 will play 2 pieces from Book 1 and one piece from Book 2. This is in addition to any other review I assign in the lesson. Each student gets their own sheet where we write the weekly special review pieces. The goal for each week is that the student comes back with those review pieces polished and memorized. For my traditional students who started viola in a school orchestra program and began private lessons much later, the review challenge will be an opportunity to have them learn or memorize some of my favorite review pieces, such as perpetual motion, which I use often with practically all students.
Some students find review to be boring, especially if they have been playing the review pieces for a while. To add some fun to the review equation, I made a special “review deck” that includes special ways to play the review pieces, such as “hold the bow at the tip” or “play in a different room of the house”. In a previous blog post, I also listed lots of fun ways to practice repetitions. At the end of the summer, when everyone is back in town, we will have a special informal concert at a local retirement home, so the students can enjoy playing their review pieces together. In addition to being a great way to start the school year, a big group performance will add an extra incentive/reward for students to keep practicing.
What are you doing to keep students practicing over the summer? I would love to hear your ideas!