In my daydreaming moments recently I have been thinking about what makes teaching so fulfilling for me, in a time where so much feels like it is missing. In my answer to myself I listed the pros: the relationships I build with my students and their parents, watching the children of our communities learn the skills of awareness and artistry, dedicating my time to studying music and violin technique, and practicing problem solving. But one aspect of my teaching that stands out, because of its chance to build community, is group class. In the Suzuki method group classes are a fundamental pillar. Students play songs in their repertoire with others, and focus on aspects of technique, typically once per week in addition to their private lesson. Because many of us (teachers and parents) are over-scheduled and overwhelmed, group classes are the first thing that can be seen as 'optional.' However, without these classes, we are not fulfilling the method's plan as teachers. Dr. Suzuki intended for children to learn among their peers in addition to studying in a private lesson. There is so much learning that happens from watching and hearing others play - if a classmate plays something challenging beautifully, wouldn't you want to as well?
This year I have been teaching two different groups on Zoom. One of twenty-five middle and high school students learning how to play fiddle and folk music, and one of middle school students at the Suzuki Book 4 level. Although teaching these classes has been a challenge this year on Zoom, I still get that feeling of warmth and energy I did when I taught group classes in person. I am so inspired by all of the energy created by the group, and am reminded that so much is possible! Without getting out of our private lesson bubble, how do we know how our skills transfer? How can we feel just how enjoyable it is to play music with others?
I was at a jazz show once, and the violinist on stage was speaking to the importance of playing with others. And not just playing with others, but playing with others who are doing what you want to do - playing with professionals. There is an accepted mentality that we should not play with someone we look up to "until we are ready." But how are we supposed to learn? All of the work cannot happen in a vacuum. Being in the same environment as more advanced players is an incredible opportunity, and we should provide this opportunity to others if we have the chance as teachers. In my own studio I may not have the opportunity to bring guests to group class every time, but I am a big proponent of mixing levels and demystifying the skills that set apart advanced players. Everything can be explained when broken down into small steps.
In the past I taught a string class through City Strings in Denver, CO where I only taught students in a group format. The students know they are never alone in their challenges, and there was a group energy created at each class. Something that was not there if someone was missing, something that was a sum of the willingness each student brought to class. The work done in group environments prepares us to be patient, kind, and in turn can offer us support in ways that cannot be paralleled. In a recent class with Suzuki teacher trainer Edward Kreitman I learned of a program in Sao Paulo, Brazil where students begin with only group class, and then start private lessons after basic skills have been learned. So much can be accomplished in a group setting, yet I have found that I have needed to work to shift my perspective to value group settings more. Let's tap into our community!
If you are a Suzuki parent, congratulate yourself on that work! And, ask yourself if you would be able to get even more out of your work if group class was a bigger portion of the Suzuki education. I am shifting how I plan after recognizing the buzz I have after teaching group - I think weekly group class is something I could benefit from more often, and I know my students would as well. Hard work is fun when you have neighbors doing the same, and when you feel understood and supported by others.