Help with student who talks too much during lessons

Connie Sunday said: Oct 19, 2011
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

This is the first time I’ve encountered a problem like this in decades of private teaching. I have a student who, whenever I’m talking about the instrument, or technique, or something, they pop up with their personal reminiscences and/or stories—often the same stories, which I’ve heard from them before. And this is a pretty brilliant high school student who is going to be applying to several top schools.

It’s rude to me, but what worries me most is that if they do that during a private lesson at a university, the professor will not like it, at all. They might get handed off to someone else. I have mentioned it a couple of times, trying to dissuade them from this behavior, in a nice way, but it’s really not getting through.

This is a student who was homeschooled, except for this year when they started high school, was a spelling bee champion, makes all A’s, etc.

What should I say to them?

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Sue Hunt said: Oct 20, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Do you give her a chance to update you on news for one minute, before you start?

Sometimes very bright observant people have a compulsion to compare, contrast and comment on everything. You can help her become aware of her behaviour:

On the first and all subsequent interruptions, reply with a simple, “Not now. Tell me at the end of the lesson.” Keep it up, don’t vary it. This works pretty quickly. When you start to interruption free lessons, don’t forget to acknowledge and praise.

This is one more fun:

Everyone likes games. It sounds like she is achievement orientated so use this to your advantage. Set a timer to 2 or 5 minutes. If she hasn’t interrupted by the time it goes off, get her to drop a counter into a pot. If she comments while doing it, she will have to take it out again. Have a count up at the end of the lesson.

Music in Practice

Matthew said: Oct 20, 2011
Matthew Olson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Bellingham, WA
16 posts

I got to watch Ed Kreitman address this very situation. He had a student (of mine) who loves to tell stories during lesson. Ed asked a question and the student started to tell a story. Ed was clear but very nice. He interrupted the student and said, “No stories during lesson. That’s great that you can tell stories and like to tell stories—but not during lesson.”

Simple and clear.

Then the lesson continued. Since then “story telling” has never been a problem at this student’s lessons. We get so much more done now at his lessons!


Rachel Schott said: Oct 20, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

Kazaam! Thanks for posting, Matthew. That’s a good one to remember.

Also Connie…you may take this as an opportunity to evaluate your own story telling. I am CERTAIN that I am guilty of this. Is story-telling a conversational vice for you? Just a thought…

Connie Sunday said: Dec 13, 2011
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Rachel, I’m pretty much all business during lessons, but even if I weren’t, she’s the student. I learn a very great deal from students, but I’m not the student here, she is.

This problem persists and I’m thinking it has so much to do with her being homeschooled in a tiny little town her entire life; now she’s moved into a larger city and started high school and I think, though she is very, very bright—that it is a big adjustment, more than she lets on.

You know, it’s kind of like she is trying to teach me something, which sets my egoism off, though I think that then is a failing on my part. But what concerns me more, and what is more important, if she does this with her private pedagogy lesson in univeristy, it is apt to get her into trouble. She’s just not getting that she shouldn’t constantly interrupt and I’m at a loss how to deal with it.

She and her mother were 10 minutes late to a makeup lesson yesterday and were that late last lesson, as well. So I tried to gently explain that they should not be late. Turns out, mom was carping at her about something (you know that it’s not unusual for teenaged girls and their mother’s to bump heads). Maybe she was on her period, I don’t know; but she cried at her lesson.

Crying teenager, another mom had a bad accident (flipped her car on the ice over a medium and into an 18-wheeler—nobody died, but she has broken bones, broken nose), and a student with autism hit his teacher (for the second time) and may go to a detension center. Tough week in my studio!

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Lori Bolt said: Dec 14, 2011
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

CM, your last post shows that you are seeing that we, as teachers, do learn a great deal about ourselves as we teach—particularly the more challenging students. As a home schooling mom of 16 yrs., I think you’re right that part of the problem may be all the new adjustments this young lady is needing to make right now….but I also think that any young person who has not had private lessons before needs to be “trained” in proper lesson behavior regardless of age or schooling. It’s really no different from the 3-4 yr. old taking lessons the first time.

Try to get beyond your personal feelings of what you see as a challenge to your authority and knowledge as a teacher….dig down deep to those “inner” resources of patience and kindness while training her not to interrupt, save her insights, etc. Your nurturing w/love of this young lady may have much more of an impact than her progress in the instrument ever could.

I like Matthew’s suggestion, as well as the idea about earning tokens—perhaps dangle a small material reward out there for her to earn. Finally, has her mom given you any insights into why her daughter interrupts? Do you think mom being at lessons is part of the problem?

Lori Bolt

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