A frustrated Mom (I call them co-learners or heroes, depending on the day) writes:

My 8 year old daughter has been playing violin, Suzuki method for 3 years. She loves to play! Our struggle has become the constant focus on playing review songs. Once she passes off a song she tunes out and it is really difficult to get her to focus. She loves learning new songs and has no trouble focusing on that, as well as in school. Violin is becoming a frustrating battle purely because of the focus on review. Could a different approach be more suited to my daughter? Having to play 10 review songs a day plus scales, excercises, etc and learn a new song is a lot!
Any thoughts appreciated!

Why review is so important

This is a tough challenge for little learners and big learners alike. It can be difficult to go back and review songs you’ve already learned. For some, if the past songs are easy, it can feel like a step backward or like a punishment. Others just have a personality that wants to keep moving forward.

But review is such as critical component of learning to play well. Seriously…when I attend Suzuki seminars, I can pick kids out who do review, likewise, I can pick out the ones who don’t review. It makes a HUGE impact on their success.

Here are some thoughts I shared with the Mom who sent me the question. Since I hear this question a lot, I thought it would be important to share.

Ways to make review less painful

Priority number 1 is to foster and encourage your daughter’s love of playing the violin. We must not endanger it by using brute force to make her do what she doesn’t like.
The trick is to make her like to review past repertoire because it’s so important. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Let your daughter write up her own review schedule. Tell her to be honest about what she thinks she can commit to.
  2. Tell her that kids who review their pieces faithfully are the ones who excel and really go far, but that she should only commit to what she will really do.
    Even if she only reviews 3 pieces per day, THAT’S FINE. Just make sure you rotate her review pieces so that nothing gets left out.

The Jar Method for Repertoire Review

Here’s an idea that has worked really well for my students for a long time.

Make a list of all her review tunes on your computer using fancy font. Print it out, triple spaced and large font so that you can cut it out into strips. Put the strips in a REVIEW jar, and let her pick her 3 review tunes randomly.

When she plays each tune, discuss how she did, and make sure SHE is assessing how she did. Assign it an A, B, or C. After you assign it a letter, (A being the best, C being the worst, or needing work), then place that strip in a corresponding jar.
Have an A jar, a B jar, and a C jar. (If letters bring up bad connotations with school and grades, you can have a 5 star jar, a 4 star jar, a 3 star jar, or whatever works for you. We want this to be positive, self-guided, and fun.

If you want to be really cool, you could write the components on the back of the strip of paper that needed work, like “bowings”, or “posture”, or “bow circles”, or whatever needed to be better.

After she has emptied her “REVIEW JAR”, then her daily review should include 1 A song, 1 B song, 1 C song (if she has committed to only 3 songs per day. That is acceptable, but 5 would be even better)

Her goal is to move all the strips into her A jar, (or 5 star jar).

When she gets all her songs into a 5 star jar, it might be time for a celebration recital! Get her a new dress, have a cake with a big “2” candle on it, for Suzuki Book 2 (or whatever book her recital is for), and make a big deal and a huge celebration out of it.

I’m careful with “rewards”, like “when you get all your songs in the A jar, you will get ice cream.” That shifts the child’s motivation to work-for-external-reward, instead of the internal sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and praise from fans and loved ones being the reward. So be careful with that.

Yes, review is critical. But it is also critical that you come up with creative solutions to the problem of review becoming tedious. Hopefully these ideas will help.