Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The four-fold way

Fiona, summer 2006On the SuzukiChat e-mail list there's been a recent discussion about the challenges of getting started with productive practicing with young beginners exhibiting resistance to the daily practice routine. Particularly children who haven't yet accrued enough in the way of playing skills to find intrinsic enjoyment in what they can do, particularly children of Suzuki teachers or other accomplished musicians who have fairly sophisticated ideas about what "playing music" really ought to mean.

Someone shared a Four-Fold Way which she's used as a touchstone for many years. I was thrilled to discover it, because it encapsulates in a few simple words the core of what I've gradually come to believe over the years I've been a Suzuki parent.

The Four-Fold Way in Suzuki Parenting:
  1. Show up
  2. Pay attention to what is good, true and beautiful
  3. Speak the truth in love
  4. Do not become attached to outcome
Those ideas are pearls of wisdom that I expect will mean different things to parents dealing with different challenges, different stages and different children. Especially to parents new to to Suzuki game, or new to parenting a young Suzuki beginner, these guidelines can seem a little detached from practicality. They beg the question "yeah, but what do you actually do when it's time to practice and your 4-year-old is lying on the floor whining and complaining and refusing to get up?"

From my in-the-trenches perspective as a Suzuki teacher and Suzuki parent to a 4-year-old, here's what the four-fold way means to me:

1. Show up. If you're teaching your own, that means something a little different than cheerfully going to lessons. It means including your child in your community of students. It means making the time each day for practicing to happen. It doesn't mean anything about your child doing anything at all. It just creates the possibility and helps nurture the interest. You just keep creating that nurturing environment. Time works magic.

2. Pay attention to what is good, true and beautiful. One way of putting this into practice is to make it a habit of reflecting on every single practice session with the question "what is one thing that worked well here today?" Become conscious of those things -- you may have to dig deep to find them at first -- and do what you can to allow them to grow. At first the "good, true and beautiful" might just be your child's strong will, or boundless energy ... something in the "mixed blessing" category. But if you can become more aware of it as a potentially positive force, and look for ways to enjoy it and turn it to advantage, you'll gradually get more and more stuff that is true and beautiful. Eventually you'll find more complex stuff that's working well, things like "when I let her choose a legato piece to play after each left hand exercise, she remains happy and focused, and her tone stays good."

3. Speak the truth in love. For me this means relating verbally to my child in ways that are less about instruction and control and more in the style of positive yet honest observations and facilitations ... always spoken in an unaffected, genuine, loving tone. So rather than saying "please try to keep your eyes on your bow" I'd say "Your sound is much more beautiful when you watch and keep your bow on the highway." I would stay clear of praise and positive judgements designed to manipulate my child, because that stuff doesn't feel "true" to me. Encouragement rather than praise. Encouragement rather than criticism, nagging or instruction.

4. Do not become attached to outcome. Oh my, this is the toughest one for parents who are also teachers. We know what children are capable of in an optimal environment. We think we've got a pretty rich environment happening for our own child, so we expect pretty impressive results. We may not have shallow expectations like "Perpetual Motion by age 5" but we have many less tangible ones. We expect our child will become focused, will be motivated and will get some goal-oriented work accomplished, learning at a brisk pace that is right for her. If you figure out how to really let go of your attachment to these outcomes, you'll be three kids further ahead of the game than I am. I am only just beginning to get this down with my fourth child ... and perhaps only because she's making it easy by having a natural affinity for the sorts of outcomes I'm trying to let go of.

When things have gone off track with my young kids, I've always found it helpful to set myself a little Suzuki parenting challenge: that of doing whatever is necessary to end each practice session with my child being happy, for two weeks. And I truly mean "whatever is necessary." Extremely short, extremely silly, unexpected turns of events, doing only things which breed a sense of delight and success. If that means playing a joke on my child where she thinks we are starting practicing, and I help her get into rest position and say "Thank you, we are all done ... isn't that funny? Let's have a bow. Yes, we really are all done. No more for today. Violin needs to be fun, so I decided to surprise you with a crazy nothing-practicing." Two whole weeks of easy fun short sessions that end with a feeling of happiness and delight.

Whenever I've tried this I've found my kids' interest in the instrument bubbles to the surface again -- usually long before the two weeks is up. Young children are so forgiving. By day nine or even sometimes day four I'll hear my child saying "No, I want to do more! Let's do it again!"
It's a detour that turns out to be a short-cut.


  1. I think these 4 ideas can be extended far beyond Suzuki Parenting. They are a simply the backbone to parenting in general. Show up - you've got to be there. Pay attention to the good in all facets of life. Speak the truth. Do not focus intently on outcome. It's basically my whole parenting philosophy in a nutshell - I've just never seen it spelled out so clearly! I am not a Suzuki Parent, I am a Parent, one who was also lucky enough to be raised by a parent with the same philosophy.

  2. I see that Debbie already said what I was going to say.
    To put it succinctly the fourfold way applies to being a parent.

    This is a great post and I am making myself a little poster of the 4-fold way.

  3. Colleen Malloy9:10 am

    This is brilliant. Thanks for sharing. I think I'll institute 2 weeks of happy practices starting today! We need it!

    Also, would you mind if I printed this blog post to share with the other parents in my daughter's group class?


  4. Look at that B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L bowhold. (You can tell your dd I said that!) I have to agree with the others. When I look back on my childhood as a Suzuki kid, I realize that it was much more than just attending weekly lessons and practicing on the days I wanted to eat (thank you, Dr. Suzuki, for that pearl gem, LOL ;-) For our family, anyway, it was lifestyle, just as homeschooling is for my family now. My mom has an innate gift for helping break a skill down into the minutest steps, if need-be. She's not always patient, but she did help me learn a LOT, even if she had virtually no string background. I in turn apply the Suzuki philosophy of "a thousand solutions for every problem" in facilitating my childrens' learning experience.

  5. Anonymous9:56 pm

    I've been carrying this four-fold path with me over the last couple of days and realise that apart from being a wonderful set of principles for daily piano sessions with 2 new suzuki students (myself and my dd)and parenting in general, it of course is sound guidance for so much more...relationships, my intimitent yoga practice,gardening(#3 only relevant if you are into conversing to your plants!). Thanks Miranda for another pearl of wisdom.


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