New pre-twinkler won’t play for me

Elizabeth Friedman said: Jul 11, 2011
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

I have a new student, 4 years old, who is super excited to play. She has been drawing violins ever since her first lesson, loves listening to her CD, and her mom is very involved and attentive. I always sit right at her level. We went through the box phase and now she’s on her real violin—she holds it beautifully, has a great bow hold, can do a great ’soapy arm’ with her rhythms, etc. etc.

But she won’t play for me. We’re working on the “Flower Song” (A-E-E-A with Variation A rhythm), and apparently she plays it at home just fine and has been practicing a lot. But once I set her bow on the string, even after I’ve bowed for her with her hand on the bow, when I say “your turn, ready, play” she just shakes her head at me. No amount of cajoling, game-playing, or even asking what’s wrong will do the trick. I’ve asked what’s wrong (to which I get the shaking head), then I ask whether she’s nervous, afraid, etc. etc. and get nothing.

I’ve been wracking my brain for the past two weeks trying to come up with games. Today, I even tried the old Suzuki trick of giving her mom a lesson, playing games with her mom, to see if this would help her to want to play. No dice.

Has anyone ever encountered this before? Or, at least, does anyone have extra pretwinkle games to play so that I can continue to develop her motor skills until she gets to the point where she’s not too shy anymore? I’ve been teaching for 15 years and can always get kids to play, even when they’re shy!

Betty Douglas said: Jul 11, 2011
 16 posts

Hello, Elizabeth! Have you tried having her play to a stuffed animal? She could either play to one at home and bring the same one to her lessons, or you could have a small animal just for her lessons. She could face the animal and, if successful, you could close the distance between you and the animal. Or- could she play something with her eyes closed? Even have her play her favorite note- just one- followed by uproarious clapping from you. Maybe you could even offer to close your eyes- just to get her going. Good luck!

Betty Douglas, flute teacher

Patricia said: Jul 11, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

What are you doing in group? Will she play her rhythms with the other students? I have had students who do this too. I have different things I do depending on the student and her family? In group—can she do the rhythm by herself—on her shoulder? on the e string? If so, perhaps she is having “solo anxiety?” Elizabeths suggestion is a good one—I have used stuffed animals to help out as well as dolls and puppets.
Does her mom say she can do it at home with a good tone? perhaps she likes the tone she makes when you help her better? If she does do it at home well—I would ask her mom to video it to show you….
The best thing that helps the students I see that won’t play for me—is to get a big brother/sister to play with them. (In my program new students have a big sister/brother to help them out.)
If she is a perfectionist, I play a game at group where I make many mistakes and the students have to help me—the students love seeing me be goofy and it lets them know it’s okay to make a mistake, just keep trying.

Brenda Lee Villard said: Jul 11, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Edina, MN
27 posts

All really good suggestions and ones I’ve tried, too. If you are working with the mom in the lesson, trying having the child be a teacher, too. Give her a job like to watch for a bent thumb—and have mom make the mistakes so the child can correct her. Have the child demonstrate how the bow hold looks or the posture looks….then move into Mom doing a rhythm but “having troubles” with the tone, or highway use. Perhaps you demonstrate it, then Mom, then ask the child what she thinks and could she help Mom—-the child could use her on bow on Mom’s instrument. Hopefully you can then move it towards the child being willing to demonstrate in Mom’s lesson on her own instrument, and some of the anxiety may dissipate.

My one question is have you checked in with Mom about what words are being used at home during practice? If the child is being praised with phrases like “that was perfect” or “that one was the best ever” it could set the child up for thinking that every time has to be that perfect. Make sure the mom uses phrases like, “that was a wonderful tone” or “I love your bent thumb on that rhythm—can you hold it for TWO rhythms?” And as a last resort? Gummy bears are the best. My kids will get two bears to eat at the end of the lesson for keeping their feet flat. Sometimes they earn a bear for every rhythm they play with a bent thumb, or bow in the highway, etc. I keep the bears on my desk and when they do one great rhythm for me, the bear jumps into the dixie cup for them to take home at the end of the lesson. Ages 2 to 18 will pretty much do anything for a gummy bear and with sugar free ones out there, the parents don’t mind either. You don’t have to have them every week either…my kids know that I don’t buy them every week, so it’s extra special when I pull them out in lessons.

I’ve also used another task (like coloring or stuffed animals) to find out what is really troubling the child. Eighteen years ago, one of my 4 year olds wanted to quit cello—just like that and out of the blue. Through playing on the floor with him with stuffed animals, I was able to steer the conversation toward cello—and what did his stuffed animal think about listening to him play? From there we went into what was great about the cello—-we drew a picture about it and then I asked what was hard about the cello—-bam, it all came out and it had to do with a particular Twinkle rhythm he was learning (Ice Cream sh More). I have also found out in “therapy play” that the children sometimes have fears—although it is usually their stuffed animal that has the fear. It isn’t too hard to get them to talk about the fears as long as it is Pooky the bear that has it and not them! :-)

Good luck and let us know what happens!

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