When I was younger, lessons were a year-round activity for me. There were no summers off. I grew up assuming that everyone else who studied an instrument, especially violinists, followed the same regimen. And then I started teaching. And found that most of my students, Suzuki or not, expected to have their summers off.
I do my best to encourage my students to take summer lessons. Some times it works, other times it doesn’t. But for the vast majority of students, summer lessons are a really good idea. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Less review in the fall. Classroom teachers on a traditional academic year see this all the time: at least a month of review is necessary for most subjects before new skills and ideas can be introduced without mass confusion. The same holds true with violin. A period of review is necessary to get back in shape, reset the practice schedule and routine, and refocus goals before new things can be added.
2. A happier teacher. Most students are super-excited to start lessons in the fall and are looking forward to working on something new, only to be asked for review pieces for the first month of lessons. Talk about discouraging! But take heart and save yourself some frustration: do your review over the summer, a little at a time, so that your teacher is impressed enough at your first fall lesson to assign something new. Your teacher would much rather work on new things too, than to hear Minuet Two for the umpteenth time with the same mistakes it had in May. What is she going to say about it that you haven’t already heard umpteen times?
3. Breaking a good habit. Practicing is a habit you want to keep, not break. Studies tell us that it can take up to 30 days to (re)establish a habit. Do you really want to spend time doing that?
4. Automatic response. Summer lessons are generally felt to be essential for beginners. The way the Suzuki series is structured, it usually takes until about the middle to end of Book Three for everything — all aspects of basic technique and their incorporation into all those pieces — to sound and feel automatic: natural, comfortable and easy. Like you were born playing the violin. (One of the highest compliments a violinist can receive is “You make it look so easy!”) The first three books stress preparing the student’s mastery of the fundamentals for the more difficult standard literature in books four through six, and beyond. It doesn’t get easy on fifteen minutes a day, or by taking the summer off. Review and sufficient clock time make it easy and automatic.
5. To be ready. You never know: someone, your teacher most likely, might call and want you to play at a demo, wedding, party or play-in. In order to do your best and not embarrass yourself (or make your teacher wish s/he hadn’t asked you), regular summer lessons are a really good thing. In this case, lessons translate into your teacher knowing s/he can count on you.
6. Developing a routine. It is really easy to make or break a routine. All you have to do is add or miss one day and you’re set. You might think that routine is the same as a habit. Yes, the words are synonyms, but I like to think of them as different sides of the same coin. A habit is something done unconsciously, done without necessarily thinking about it. Routine, on the other hand, is scheduled and done deliberately, with purpose. Is a dance routine the same as a dance habit? You can twinkletoe and pirouette all day without thinking, but a dance routine involves following a prescribed and very specific set of steps, in a specific order. If you’ve developed a practice habit, that means that you simply practice on a daily basis. A practice routine is a plan — the set of steps you follow — that helps you get better at the habit.
7. Routine again. If you haven’t established a regular practice habit and routine, summer is the perfect time to do so in a no pressure environment. Do it in baby steps, stick to the basics and make it non-negotiable. Dr. Suzuki said, “Only practice on the days you eat.” The routine part involves coming up with a set of things to do during your practice time. Don’t get too mired in details or try to get fancy. If you work toward mastering the basics — bow hold, intonation, and tone — you’ll have more than enough to keep you busy. Your teacher will be happy to help you make a fun plan.
8. Because the process of learning doesn’t go on vacation. We learn things whether we want to or not. Why did you decideto take lessons? Do you remember? Have your reasons changed? Take the initiative and be proactive about learning. You can teach yourself some very important and useful lessons about patience, perseverance and careful, honest, thoughtful hard work.