A few years ago, a parent in my studio inquired whether there might be an older student in our program who could occasionally practice with her daughter, Lucy. I must admit that I was initially a bit skeptical. I believe so strongly in the Suzuki Triangle relationships to grow successful students– would it be beneficial to have an outside practice partner? In this case, I had a feeling that my student, Tessa, who had just joined Allegro!!!, would be a good fit and that it was worth a try. Lucy and Tessa began to meet once a week to help Lucy practice according to her mother’s notes from the previous lesson.
Today, their relationship is stronger and more mutually beneficial than I could have
imagined. Tessa has experienced being a leader, a mentor, and a teacher. She has an opportunity to review pieces and technique that she previously learned. Lucy has gained a peer mentor–a trusted source of guidance and someone to make music with. When Lucy was nervous to participate in her school’s solo and ensemble contest, Tessa encouraged her and shared about her own positive experience participating in the contest. Lucy had seen Allegro!!! perform before, but took greater interest watching Tessa perform in the Allegro!!! spring show. They are both learning from each other and growing in different and important ways. Just as importantly, they have become friends. They share a love of violinist Lindsey Stirling and last week, both girls excitedly shared with me how Tessa helped Lucy procure a Halloween costume.
As the teacher of both students, I see value in having a student who has already had my pedagogy help a younger student. Tessa is the type of student who remembers teaching points from previous pieces, who contributes positively in group class, and who loves playing violin for herself and with others. She insightfully shared, “I learn even more about the pieces when I’m helping someone else learn them. Helping Lucy has given me a perspective on teaching, how to break down a piece, and that I really should use the practice skills I show Lucy on myself.” Lucy has gained a second weekly accountability check-in. She finds it easier to take criticism from Tessa than from her practice parent. And Tessa holds her accountable for completing her weekly assignment.
If this type of mentorship is to be replicated for other students, we should consider why this peer-to-peer practice partner relationship is successful:
A strong Suzuki Triangle. There is no replacement for the parent as practice partner. Both students should already have a strong relationship with their teacher and their practice parent.
Potential for rapport amongst the older and younger student, which can grow naturally over time in the right environment.
Consistency. Both of these students and their families should prioritize meeting once a week. Similar to weekly private lessons and group classes, this weekly accountability meeting seems to work best.
The right age and level gap between the two students. In this case, Lucy and Tessa are about 4 years apart and several books apart in the repertoire.
Support from the private teacher. Most weeks I briefly communicate to Tessa what I worked on with Lucy and which pieces I wanted to be sure they play together. I make suggestions to Lucy about how she could use Tessa’s help and I have also provided some duet parts for Tessa to play with Lucy.
I view this relationship as one outlet for ongoing personal growth and community development within our Suzuki program. I see an older student who is empowered to be a leader in our Suzuki community, two students who are both accomplished learners, and parents and teachers striving to help children build bonds and life long love of music and learning.