Monday, September 30, 2013

October Practice Challenge!

Craig Schaeffer's String Workshop

Points for Parents: Practice Challenge Thoughts, Part 2: Ms. Elisabeth Weighs In

Weekly lessons at CYM cover quite a bit of material and it can be overwhelming trying to remember everything at home. It’s easy for practice to become unfocused, ineffective, and unnecessarily time-consuming. Here are a few general principles of effective practice that help to ensure student success:

  • Efficient and effective home practice starts in the lesson with accurate and detailed lesson notes. Write down the specifics of what you are looking for so that you know right away whether or not you are doing your assignment correctly. A good example of quality lesson notes deals with the bow hold. If your assignment is to develop a correct violin bow hold (and that is an assignment for every violinist!) your notes should include a checklist like this:
1. Bent thumb making a 90 degree angle
2. Two bumps on the curved pinky
3. Three spaces between the fingers
4. First finger “dangles his feet in the water”

If you have those four things, you have a good bow hold! If not, you know right away what to fix.

  • Research shows that the rate, depth, and permanence of learning are all dependent in part on the spacing between practice sessions. Practice will be much more effective if the practice sessions are spaced regularly throughout week (i.e. daily) rather than massed together into one or two big cramming sessions. Night-before-the-lesson-marathon-practice is not going to get you very far.

  • Listening to music is a huge part of developing music skills. Just like learning a foreign language, immersion in music will make learning pieces and developing musicality faster, easier, and more natural. Listen to the pieces you are studying (the Suzuki book CDs are a great place to start!) and find recordings of the great violinists and violists online. Ask your teacher if you would like further suggestions of excellent listening.

  • Make technique a priority in every practice session. Proper technique is the foundation upon which we build musicality and expression. Solid and reliable technique allows students to play the pieces they want to play and continue playing throughout their adult lives. Poor technique risks injury (tendonitis, carpal tunnel, etc.) and frustrates progress and development.

I hope these principles help you make the most of your practice time! And remember, your teacher is there to help you through any particular questions and challenges.

Happy practicing!

Elisabeth Graham

Points for Parents: Practice Challenge Thoughts with Mr. Ryan

Schroeder needs to practice, too.

A Suzuki Teacher Tries a Practice Challenge

Alright everyone, the secret is out.  My horrible, terrible secret. 

I have never done a practice challenge.  

Never.  Not in my whole life.  

 A Suzuki teacher--with a bachelor's and master's degree in cello--who's never done a practice challenge?   

Who ever heard of such a thing?  

This year, I think I am finally ready to do my first practice challenge.  In fact, I'm already finished with fifteen days of my planned 200.  But before I get much further into the project, I I think I should try to understand why I have avoided practice challenges all these years.  

As a child, I hated the prospect of practicing every day.  I liked to play the piano, and later the cello, but practice was hard work and was sometimes very frustrating.  What a terrible thought, to be trapped behind an instrument day after day!  My elders would encourage me with Suzuki's famous phrase, "Practice only on the days that you eat!" but I thought they were only trying to trick me with a clever joke.  I knew I did not have the dedication I would need to do something so difficult every day.   
Now, as a trained Suzuki teacher, I know Dr. Suzuki had much more in mind for children than their ability to play their instruments.  Suzuki said:

"Teaching music is not my main purpose.  I want to make good citizens, noble human beings.  If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance.  He gets a beautiful heart." 

How on earth could the heavy weight of a practice challenge help a child get a "beautiful heart"?  
Part of the answer came to me while reading an article by Tom Yang called "Compound Interest, Every Day Practice and Review" which appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of the American Suzuki Journal, in which Mr. Yang describes a complete beginner who practices every day.  "Because Bob's sessions are short (5 mins) and because the material is limited, he learns that practicing is not a hard thing (emphasis mine)."    

That was a new idea.  Practice is not a hard thing?  But practice has always been hard for me!  And five minutes a day is a preposterously short time.  How can anyone learn anything practicing so little?
Yet, I remembered something which happened to me recently.  A few months ago, I discovered a set of stairs along my jogging route.  It is very long and steep, and I thought I would try running up the steps.  I became tired very quickly, and because I was only running for enjoyment, I took many long breaks.  However, two weeks ago, I found myself at the top of the stairs much sooner than usual.  Without meaning to do so, I had run the whole staircase without stopping to rest.  I was so surprised! 
I hadn't forced my legs to do more than they could.  When they wanted a rest, I gave it to them.  But when my legs were ready, they easily carried me the whole way!  Suzuki must have been asking us to follow our children's natural pace of growth when he said "Don't force the child!" and "When the child looks up the lesson is over!"  Children grow, after all!

What would happen if I practiced like Bob--with short sessions and limited material--daily?  Would practicing become easy for me?  After all, deep down I am hoping that this 200-day challenge becomes something bigger: becoming not only a practice challenge winner, might I eventually transform into someone who practices every day?  I already have students of my own who do this. 
After 19 years of music study, it's time to see what this everyday practice thing is all about.  After fifteen days of daily practice, here are four things I've noticed so far:

It's a huge relief!  I did not expect this.  I didn't realize how much mental energy I spent wrangling over the decision to practice on any given day.  When things get hectic and my workload seems impossible, it's reassuring to know that I am going to practice  and improve my cello playing today. 

Some days are better than others.  Some days I'm eager and I make great progress.  Some days I have no motivation at all.  Some days I actually get worse.  But, after fifteen days, I haven't yet had a day in which I haven't discovered something--yes, I mean it--exciting about the cello, the music I am playing, or myself.  

I have a plan.  I write down what I've done at the end of each day and keep charts which tell me what I still need to do in my pieces and in my technical work.  I can increase my work if I'm falling behind.  I can also adjust to good days and bad days because I have a range of activities to choose from.  

It IS easy.  To get myself started, I leave the cello out of its case (in a safe spot) and I listen to recordings to warm up my musical brain.  I make my job small and specific enough that I can give my whole focus to it.  When my focus is waning, I change my activity or I stop.  I don't worry when I can't succeed right away.  Growing takes time, and maybe tomorrow I will have a new idea.  Overall, I am making steady progress, which gives me motivation.  

That's what I know for now.  I'll check in again with an update on this particular topic somewhere around day 50.  In the meantime, look for upcoming submissions from other members of our faculty.  Thank you for reading our blog, and I hope your time at CYM is spent happily and well!

-Mr. Ryan Ash, CYM Cellist

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Remember to... this Week at CYM

Don't forget! This week at CYM, pick up:
  • Your copy of the CYM 2013-2014 Family Guide 
  • CYM School Calendar
  • Workshop and Activities Schedule
  • How to Schedule a CYM Make-up
  • Contact Preferences/Media Release Form- please fill out and return this week! 
These items are also available in Wexford, Sewickley, and Shadyside locations and online in the Parent's Page under the Resources tab on CYM's website.

CYM Sweatshirt Pre-Order

CYM is taking on a fun new look!

Specially designed for CYM by artist Amy Kern, these cosy zip-up hooded sweatshirts will be the go-to accessory for everyone in your family this fall. Printed on medium weight American Apparel garments, these snugly sweatshirts feature a slim fit and kangaroo pockets. Available to purchase in Youth- Adult XXL sizing, pricing rages from $32-$40.

To pre-order yours, send us a line at along with your quantity and sizes!

Welcome Back to CYM

Welcome Back!

Happy September to all students, families and friends of the Center for Young Musicians! We are very excited to be starting a new school year of fun, friends and music making.
Just a few highlights:

We are pleased to welcome two new faculty members to CYM:

Elisabeth Graham, violin
Kate Schnieder, ECM

Please say hello to Elisabeth Graham and Kate Schnieder. Get to know all CYM faculty and staff a little better by reading their bios at the links above. Welcome, ladies!

Department group classes start this month

Please see the CYM calendar for dates for when your instrument group meets, and take advantage of a great opportunity to play with students of different abilities and styles. Classes are Saturdays at 9 a.m. and open to all private lesson students, please check the calendar for location.

Exciting performance opportunities are shaping up for the new school year

Just a few highlights of the fall concert season are the guitar group performing at the Young at Heart Benefit, a performance at WT North’s Applefest, our annual concert at the Wintergarden and our all school Ensemble Recital on November 2!  Please check our TakeNote blog and the website calendar for more information about all these performances, and more.  

Administrators’ Corner

In Wexford, please remember to back into your parking space. This is very important for safety with children around. Please refer to the parking diagram on the bulletin board.
Please return your Contact Preferences and Media Release forms, if you haven’t done so. 

Getting back to work!

Trading in the lazy days of summer for school work (and instrument practice!) can be a little rough even for the biggest of bookworms. Check out these tips on getting back into the school groove, and remember to fit your music studies into the routine!

Suzuki Workshop with Ms. Leah is rescheduled!

photo credit: Amarillo College Suzuki Strings program

Suzuki Philosophy Workshops

Saturdays November 16  and January 18

CYM Sewickley

Please mark your calendars to join us on Saturday November 16th and Saturday January 18th with a discussion of the Suzuki Method.  We will watch excerpts from Nurtured by Love, the Life and Work of Shinichi Suzuki (produced by the Cleveland Institute of Music) and talk about topics ranging from the genesis and development of the Suzuki approach, how it has evolved over the past 70 years, and how it applies to music study today.  This workshop is especially helpful for new instrumental and Early Childhood Music parents, but all parents are welcome!

Please RSVP to Leah Givelber at or 724-935-0505 two weeks prior to each event. See you there!