Which piece are you on?

thWhich piece are you on?

Ah, yes. The five word phrase that turns my stomach.

When a parent doesn’t correct a child for uttering this phrase, my stomach flips again.


“What piece are you working on?”

“Lightly Row!” Exclaims the child with a smile.

“What!? I’m working on May Song!!!” The child is overflowing with excitement about coming out “ahead”. Then this child starts playing May Song.

        …the child on Lightly Row looks back at the parent. The child’s grandfather died a couple months ago. It was understandably difficult to get practice in during that time and the child fell behind. Since then the child has been working as hard as they can to get “caught up”.

When faced with the question,”What piece are you on?”, it seams like all of the hard work isn’t paying off. What’s the point? The child looses motivation and is saddened by the comments.

Sometimes a student will ask me this question during their individual lesson:

“Ms. Glenda, did Jane finish this piece? What piece is Jane on?” 

“Which piece are you on?” 

Does this question come from a place of kindness?  No, this question comes from a place of JUDGEMENT.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen the look of embarrassment, sadness, frustration and  defeat on a child’s face when they are asked this question. 

I don’t think parents or students pause and reflect on where this question comes from. I don’t think parents realize the impact that it has.  I don’t think Parents realize that if they adopt this attitude, their children will also adopt the attitude of judgement.

Do I expect young children to be sensitive enough to know that everyone learns at different rate? Do I expect children to understand that things happen outside of our control making progress plateau? No, but I hope parents will help the child ask a better question, and to help develop a caring cooperative attitude…not to encourage unhealthy competition. 

 I’m not saying anything goes and children shouldn’t strive to become better. Some competition can be healthy. However, we need to teach our children to be cooperative, to be kind and to first worry about their own progress before they judge a friends progress. We don’t encourage our children to make other children feel bad.  So why don’t parents correct children that ask “What piece are you on?”

It is quite common for children, of the same age,  who start lessons together to separate in ability at some point. Why is this? It has everything to do with the home environment and the curve balls thrown at us by life.

  • Some children have parents who play the suzuki recordings everyday.
  • Some children have a single parent.
  • Some children have parents that don’t help with practice at home.
  • Some children have parents that don’t take notes at the lessons.
  • Some children have parents who are so strict and aggressive practice becomes a stressful or abusive situation.
  • Some children have learning differences.
  • Some children are dealing with a poor school situation.
  • Some children are so over extended with multiple actives that they don’t have time to practice, the energy to focus in the lesson, or time to simply play and be a child.
  • Some families are also going through major life events such as a new baby, moving, death of a family member or pet, a parent that travels a lot for work.


 Everyone has many facets to their lives and no one is performing equally in each one of those areas. For example, I’m an excellent and accomplished suzuki teacher who is respected in the Suzuki community. I’m doing very well in this aspect of my life.However,  I have started to write and illustrate children books and have not yet become as successful in this area. Does that mean I should give up? No, it’s simply a product of getting started. It takes time for the seeds you plant to sprout and it takes many more years of nurturing that plant before it becomes a strong tree.

The beauty of the Suzuki Method is the community it creates and the life lessons that present themselves through music study. If parents are paying attention to the big picture rather then getting caught up in the horse race of pieces and book numbers, the more important lessons will present themselves:

Let’s go back to the conversation I opened this post with. Let’s take a look at the life lesson in this exchange…

Going back to the child who lost a Grandparent. Yes, the child may have fallen behind from the children he started with. The lesson for him at this time is about perseverance. Don’t give up when things happen that are out of your control. Sit in the chaos for a little while and then get back to it. Yes, he will be able to “catch up” if he chooses to work hard everyday. The lesson of perseverance is quite a large lesson for a small child. It doesn’t need to be compounded by “Which piece are you on?”

I realize that the child who asked the question probably didn’t  know his friend was having a hard time. However, I encourage parents to use this as a teaching moment for their children. The parent could explain that asking the question, “Which piece are you on?” isn’t kind. The parent should explain to the child that we should always be kind because we never know what someone is going through. They should help the child come up with a positive and supportive solution. Perhaps the parent might suggest to their child to practice a piece both children are comfortable with.

Lets go back to Jane.

“Ms. Glenda, did Jane finish this piece? What piece is Jane on?” A student will ask.

My response, “Does it matter?

” I guess not” the child replies. “Well, I’m working on Perpetual Motion.”

I respond, “Yes, and are you ready to perform it at the concert next week?”

“Mmmmm, no.”, says the child.

” I see. Perhaps we should focus on your perpetual and not waste our lesson time with which piece Jane is on?” 

” Yeah, you’re probably right.” says the child.

Fish in the pond.

Big-Fish-Little-Fish-dreamstime_xs_8612498Children who ask “Which piece are you on” tend to be the “bigger fish” in their book 1 group class. When it’s time to move to the book 2 group class they are in for an awaking! It’s been so long since they’ve been the “little fish” they have forgotten what it’s like. I use book 1 and book 2 specifically because I rarely hear a child in book two ask “Which piece are you on?”  Most children learn a very humbling lesson from that book 1 to book 2 transition:  Everyone is the little fish and the big fish. You can be a little fish in one activity and a big finish in another. You will be the little fish again at some point, so be kind to all the little fish. 

I also think this is another reason why there is a high dropout rate from book 1 to book 2. Some parents and teachers inflate the child’s ego by telling them their work is excellent when it is anything but excellent. They also drag the children into the horse race, giving the impression that who ever knows the most number of pieces is clearly the best musician. This is not the case, and some children cannot recover when they find out that they will not always remain the big fish. 

Why are we comparing and judging our children against the progress of other children? What good comes of that?

Although I’ve never liked “What piece are you on?” I have realized that as a teacher I have contributed to this attitude by posting sticker charts and child’s work on the studio walls. The children often check what their classmates have accomplished before checking their work. To me, it was a system that made it very easy for me to keep track of each students progress and I had not considered it to be a negative thing. After coming to the understanding  that it does contribute to the attitudes I’m trying to avoid, I have decided  to make sure that I’m not unconsciously contributing to the situation. I will no longer post student work if it leads to “What piece are you on?”

We should be comparing a child’s progress against the child’s individual ability. 

Let’s choose better questions to ask our children. Questions that help us to learn who they are; questions that help them solve their problems; and  questions that help them become better people. Let’s stop asking children questions that imply their value is based solely on their accomplishments. 

“Do not hurt anybody’s heart.”-Dr. Suzuki

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