Kendra Zimmerman teaches local students Suzuki piano lessons using a xylophone.

Suzuki demo classes coming to Taylors Mill

Kaelyn Cashman's picture
Kaelyn Cashman

Kendra Zimmerman is looking to create a hub for the Suzuki piano community in the Upstate.

This Friday, she is holding two free demo classes to launch her new Suzuki Early Childhood Education program for babies and toddlers.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Zimmerman, with Toccata Music Studios,  said. “It’s time for parents and their children to bond.”

The demo classes will take place on Friday, Oct. 12, at 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. in the Model Train Station Classroom at the Taylors Mill.

“These are all skills that you want your child to learn so that they can succeed not just in music but in life,” Zimmerman said.

The Suzuki method is based on the belief that talent can be nurtured and developed in every child.

“I’ve had a lot of families over the last year since we started the business contact me for lessons for children that are three and under,” she said.

The program is designed for infants through age three and a half, and attendees of a demo class will be given a discounted pass to visit the Model Trains Museum that evening.

“This is a community demo event just to create awareness,” she said. “I’m excited about it.”

Community demo classes will last about 25 minutes each with space for about 12-20 people, and a sign up sheet will be available for those who are interested in regular classes.

“We’re going to give a sampling of some of the activities we do,” Zimmerman said. “We’ll have the opening that we normally do where everybody comes in and there’s Mozart playing.”

“We do this type of game where we roll a ball across the room, across the circle, and we’ll take turns because this is also social development and encouraging the children that when they get the ball, they can hold it for a second and then they roll it on to their friends,” she said. “We’ll have a greeting song. Then, we’ll have some opening songs, where we’re tapping the beat, perhaps on our knees or our head, and saying rhymes in rhythm.”

Following these two demo classes, Zimmerman’s goal is to have three classes with five children each in the new program by the end of the year.

“I’m always looking to add more piano students,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman has taken Suzuki lessons herself, started teaching piano lessons in 2009, began teaching the Suzuki piano method in 2012, branched out on her own in 2016, found her current Taylors location last year and officially registered this year.

“I had a lot of families contacting me for piano lessons for their children, and Suzuki piano lessons are best designed for ages five, maybe four, and up,” Zimmerman said. “Much before that, I find that children’s hands do not quite have the dexterity to be able to do that, but I had a couple of families that even came to me with 18-month-olds. I was like, okay, I want to serve you because you seem eager and excited.”

“So, this started a two-year journey of just trying to find who the leaders of the early childhood community were,” she said.

This search took Zimmerman to Canada and to conferences in Wisconsin with the American Suzuki Institute.

“It really is amazing what babies—I’m talking like eight months, six months—are capable of,” Zimmerman said, “Because they’re not necessarily responding like a five-year-old, you would think, what are they really taking in? But every moment is crucial; they are soaking it in like a sponge.”

The Suzuki curriculum, which uses folk music, is implemented for three years at a time.

“We’ll start simple and teach the songs,” Zimmerman said, “Then, as they get better at them, we’ll add props; we’ll add instruments. It’s a very mastery based curriculum. I think that that’s a good foundation for when they get older and they’re planning things like Mozart and Bach. That’s not the kind of piece you learn in one week and then move on.”

“Suzuki as a method is so focused on creating a team,” she said. “We call it the Suzuki triangle where it’s the parents, the child and the teacher all working together for one common objective—their success in nurturing them.”

The classes are based on observation with journaling time for the parents to write down positive feedback on their child’s reactions to the music, and a typical class will last about 45 minutes.

“We would have activities with this very large xylophone,” Zimmerman said. “They actually get to make their own little compositions each week and share with the class. It’s very exciting.”

“What I’ll be doing with the little ones, the classes I’ve taught and observed, usually lower than seven months, it’s going to be more where the parents might hold the shaker so to speak,” she said. “Once they get to about seven or eight months, then they can start actively doing things. As far as the xylophone goes, I’ll be giving the children a chance to try that.”

Some of the exercises include practicing high and low sounds by going up and down the xylophone as well as a call and response activity.

“People are going to get a chance to try these instruments,” Zimmerman said. “With the smaller babies, because they can’t necessarily manipulate that with their hands, we’re still encouraging the parents to rock to the beat; even that small, they’re internalizing a sense of rhythm.”

Toccata Music Studios is located at 3307 Rutherford Rd Suite A, Taylors.

“I have a fully equipped studio,” she said. “I’ve got a beautiful piano in there. The instruments I’m bringing to this demo class are just the tip of the iceberg. I have this wonderful library of books that my kids can check out.”

Zimmerman has been teaching Suzuki piano in the area for several years now, and young families often bring siblings along during lessons.

“I really try to create an environment in my studio that music is this fun, bright, positive thing that will bring joy to your life no matter what you do,” Zimmerman said. “I think the thing about Suzuki piano, even though it is true, some of the best concert artists were Suzuki students, which speaks well for the method and the quality, our goal as Suzuki educators is not to create professional artists; we just want to create people that love music and create good citizens.”

“If you give a child good quality art and good quality music and a loving, nurturing environment, they’re going to grow up feeling confident and positive and happy and willing to try new things without feeling afraid, and that sense of follow-through even if something is a little difficult is a good skill to have whether you become a concert pianist or a doctor,” she said.

Zimmerman sees potential for the Greenville area.

“There are so many people moving here from so many places, and there’s a lot of young families, and I love the potential this city has and what we can become,” Zimmerman said. “We can become a real leader here in the south. I feel like I’m a part of creating that, and I feel like the Suzuki philosophy and the education program that I have is going to contribute to making that happen.”

“Taylors is just this neat town,” she said. “I settled here after a lot of travel overseas and throughout the United States. I settled here in about 2009. This particular venue here, Taylors Mill, I remember the very first time I came here; it was a party that a friend was holding in what is now the Southern Bleachery; it was just this open space; we were like, this is very interesting. What it’s become, people coming here and investing in this community and building something that’s amazing and beautiful; that’s just been fun to watch, and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

Zimmerman started teaching for another studio in Greenville in 2009 right after graduate school.

“That was pretty much when I started to cut my teeth and solidify who I was as a teacher,” Zimmerman said. “I was there for about six and a half years, and during that time, I completed my first few levels of certification in Suzuki; I started a small Suzuki program underneath that studio. I learned a lot of things; it was a very positive experience.”

“Towards the end of my time there, because they were a Kindermusik studio, and I think there’s a lot of positive things about Kindermusik, but I really wanted to create a full scale Suzuki program, and I didn’t feel that that was going to be a potential possibility there, so end of 2015, beginning of 2016, I went out on my own,” she said.

Zimmerman currently manages and operates her own studio while employing contracted staff from time to time for larger groups.

“I’m hoping in the next two years that we can bring some other Suzuki teachers on for violin possibly, but I’d specifically like to hire more Suzuki piano and early childhood teachers,” Zimmerman said. “There’s a lot of Suzuki violin and strings teachers in Greenville. I don’t think there’s as much awareness that this is a method that’s for other instruments, especially piano. Hiring other staff on a long-term basis is in the works, but we’re still growing.”

“We’re teaching them to hear and imitate before we teach reading and symbols,” she said. “I think what I like best about it is that I’m creating a sense of bodily awareness and good technique early.”

Zimmerman also teaches traditional piano lessons.

“If you give the child too much written, symbolic stimulation too early, they’re so focused on what’s in front of their eyes that they’re not moving their bodies very well,” Zimmerman said. “If you can teach a child to listen to music and imitate and also listen to their body and what feels right and train them before you start putting symbols in front of them, I think that sets them up for success and heads off a lot of problems.”

“After the first six months, I usually start teaching reading because particularly as pianists, we carry such a leadership role in the music community,” she said. “We’re accompanists for choirs; we’re part of the bands; we help leading in musical theater, so it is very important that we read and we read well, so I don’t put that off for very long, but I do spend those first six months or so making sure that they’re moving naturally and that they’re listening to good music and that they can imitate it well.”

With a new Suzuki student, Zimmerman begins with exercises for students to hold their hands in a correct position while playing the piano.

“I was a Suzuki student myself,” Zimmerman said. “I started in 1991. I know this method inside and out from both sides of the piano.”

“I did not perform with the music until I was in my mid-20s in graduate schools,” she said. “I was taught early, when you play and perform, you play by memory; that gave me a very strong sense of confidence.”

Zimmerman currently teaches about 23 students from ages three to about high school with the program for babies to three and a half year olds beginning this fall.

“There’s also a need that I see from the window of about three, three and a half, to about five, five and a half, that I want to address next year,” Zimmerman said. “I’m creating kind of a Suzuki piano prep academy.”

“Sometimes, students are able to start full on piano lessons at three or four, but sometimes they’re not there quite yet, but the baby class and the toddler class is still too small for them; they’re easily bored,” she said. “My vision next year would be to have something where kids could come on a weekly basis to a 30 minute class with their other preschool friends, and we could do some basic Suzuki piano songs but also a lot of the fun music and movement that they remember from the baby class, basically a prep class.”

Zimmerman is eventually looking to grow her studio into a Suzuki school.

“We have the capacity to grow,” Zimmerman said. “I am not just teaching in my home. This is something where I’m looking to create a school, even if it’s a small one.”

“I do have some strong connections through different families to the Montessori community, the Waldorf education community, Classical Education community,” she said. “The Suzuki philosophy and how we educate, I think it gels very much with those other three philosophies.”

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