In August, I usually ask parents to prepare for the new school year by getting organized: ordering books, playing discs, setting routines in place, and establishing good habits. These processes are both important and necessary to provide a good environment for the child. However, with all of these extra things to do, along with taking care of other children, a job to attend to, and various responsibilities, it is easy to be thinking about everything except the child in front of us. Teenagers are often finally able to verbalize this feeling when they exclaim: “You don’t listen to me!”
When we give children our full attention, they feel acknowledged, empowered, important, and nurtured. Attention is totally different from judgment. With total attention we bring awareness to the child. Ultimately it is this awareness that develops through our attention that enables the child to change and grow.
As Dr. Kataoka said:
We must, with effort and perseverance, patiently nurture the ability to concentrate, listen and differentiate.(1)
So, if a parent is texting, e-mailing or other forms of non-attention to the lesson, the child has less awareness for learning. Part of the room is focused on something else. When it is the parent or the teacher that is thinking about other things, it becomes especially difficult for the child to remain focused. If another child is playing with a toy during the lessons it is distracting, however if the adults are focused on the lesson, the child can still concentrate. If another child is reading a book, they are engaging in a similar kind of focus, so it is much easier for the child having the lesson. However, when everyone is watching the student have a lesson, the child can really concentrate well. The child loves this experience and learns to communicate to the other people in the room through the sound of the piano.
The same is true at home. In the book Journey Down the Kreisler Highway (2) violinist and Suzuki teacher Craig Timmerman writes:
“Your children will always carry the memory of your working with them each day of their childhood. Can you imagine the warm memory that will be theirs to carry around in later years when they leave home? That memory and knowledge will provide a security and appreciation that will be deeply rooted…It seems that there is always a special bond within families who give this kind of gift to their children. Undoubtedly it will take years for your children to fully appreciate the gift you have given them, but when that realization does come, what strength it will have.”
Keiko Ogiwara, former student of Dr. Kataoka and Suzuki teacher says:
“The memories and abilities that the children gain through their music study will be their treasure when they are older, more valuable than anything you can buy.”(3)
This “special bond” is nurtured by the attention and focus of the parents without judgment on both their child’s home practice and lesson times. With this attention, children can develop a better awareness of their own sound and enter into a “flow” state.
This is a positive psychology concept developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. From Wikipedia: (5)
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation.
Csíkszentmihályi describes some specific parts of the flow experience. These include the following:
1. Clear reasonably reachable goals.
2. A high level of focus or concentration in a limited area.
3. A disappearance of self-consciousness. That is, a person’s ‘awareness’ joins with the action and that common experience of having a separate sense of observing the self disappears.
4. The subjective sense of time is distorted.
5. Immediate feedback is available to adjust behavior as needed.
6. There is an optimal balance between a person’s ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult). So, a person is not overly frustrated nor bored.
7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding. The activity is worth doing for its own sake.
This ‘flow’ state leads to the best performances when the child can fully express their self and communicate with their audience.
It is important to distinguish between attention that develops awareness, which fosters intrinsic motivation; and attention that accompanies judgment (be it positive or negative) which is a type of extrinsic motivation. In one of my earlier posts, “Affirm, Motivate, and Inspire” (4) I discuss how extrinsic rewards diminish motivation:
“I believe this is partially because the child looses their sense of autonomy and feels controlled rather than nurtured and supported. The question then is not whether to use a “carrot or a stick” to influence a child’s behavior, but how can we preserve and nurture intrinsic motivation? Think about a baby learning to walk. It’s great when parents are happy that the child is trying to walk, but it is also obvious that the child is trying to walk because they are driven to do so. I have never known a parent to give candy to a child if they took an extra step!”
Although it may seem contrary in terms, I would define this process of a baby learning to walk as a “flow” experience. Likewise, it is important that students are motivated intrinsically to develop their awareness and ability to communicate through music.
Providing the best environment means holding the space for concentration by looking and listening and noticing and acknowledging. This awareness enables you to give the child an affirmation or acknowledgment of what you are observing. This increases their their ability to learn and improve without the emotional roller coaster of good and bad. The intrinsic motivation to play the piano is strengthened through this experience. This is Positive Affirmation.
We can develop children’s music ability by fostering their inner awareness. In doing so, we will surely help them develop their Life Ability.
The resolution for the New Year is concentration.
The intention is the development of awareness.
“It is the readiness of the mind that is wisdom.” Shinryu Suzuki (6)
1. From Piano Basics Newsletter Volume 2.6 November/December 1997
in the article “Prince Shotoku and Pianists”
2. “Journey Down the Kreisler Highway-Reflections on the teachings of Shinichi Suzuki” by Craig Timmerman published 1987.
3. From a speech given at the Sacramento Suzuki Piano Friendship Concert-August 15, 2010
4. From this blog “Core Suzuki Piano”, the article “Affirm, Motivate, and Inspire“ published January 2010
5. Flow Theory:
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow from Ted Talks on You-Tube
6. “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunnru Suzuki, page 113
*Thanks to my daughter Bria Long for editing this post.