Playing too much in lessons

Jeremy Chesman said: Nov 8, 2011
Jeremy Chesman
Suzuki Association Member
Organ, Recorder, Voice, Harp
Springfield, MO
24 posts

I didn’t know what to name this thread. I have a few students who, when I demonstrate what to play, play that and then keep playing their piece without stopping. For example, I’ll play measure 1. Then they’ll play measures 1-4. Of course, since I haven’t helped them with measures 2-4, they can’t play them and they get frustrated. I’ve tried just playing my short excerpt again, counting the number of notes, saying “hands on your head” when they’re done with measure 1. Next week I think I’m going to bring a little hotel bell that they can ring at the end of the their measure to get their hands off the keys. Any other ideas?

Barb said: Nov 8, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

I think it takes a lot of self control to be able to play just one measure in the middle of a phrase if you know the notes that come next (even if it’s just knowing them in the head), or have them in front of you on the page to read. There is a strong desire to complete the phrase. My students do this as well. Even if I ask them to only play the phrase or a section, they want to keep going. Have you ever been part of or watched an orchestra rehearsal? Especially at an amateur level, how often does everyone stop when the conductor wants to stop? Some just don’t seem to be able to not keep playing to the end of a phrase.

Your idea with the bell seems like a good one to try. If they are reading, you can try covering the additional measures, or photocopy the music to cut up and only provide the part you are working on. I imagine, though, that you are not just talking about sight reading music, so they probably know what is coming next to a degree, which is why they want to play it?

What about having them play the measure they are working on, but letting you play the following one? Or playing one measure and singing the next one?

Look forward to hearing others’ ideas.

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Alissa said: Nov 8, 2011
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

This might be overly simple but I set a number of correct repetitions needed before we start practicing just a measure. Because they must play the same thing that I did for it to “count”, they are deterred from overplaying because it doesn’t count towards their goal. The reward for finishing the set repetitions is like what Barb described: they are allowed to continue on if they already know what comes next or I finish the phrase on my instrument. And yes, it works in my orchestras too!

Paula Bird said: Nov 8, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Sometimes I get a student from another teacher, and the student seems to have a wandering mind. Their eyes glaze over frequently. Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t just talking too much to students, and they are getting a bit frustrated about being interrupted. I try to be mindful of how much talking I do, but I am sure it could be less at times. We discuss what will be played, and then I ask them to stop at the end of the phrase. Sometimes we need to dissect a measure into much smaller steps. If a student has a perpetual problem of playing beyond where the teacher wants them to go, I wonder if it isn’t another problem the student has.

I have a young boy of about 9 or 10 who frequently does this. One day, an older woman came for her lesson after this young lad. After watching the boy do this as frequently as he does, she observed to me later that the boy showed signs of arrogance, that he thought what he was doing/thinking/saying was more important than anyone else around him. After giving that little nugget a great deal of thought, I discussed the idea with the boy’s parents. As it turns out, the family had been dealing with similar issues in other areas. Being the youngest in the family, the boy was accustomed to getting and keeping attention.

In lessons, we discussed this problem, and the parents and I made it very clear that playing over a teacher’s or parent’s correction or instruction is the same as interrupting a conversation. It is rude to interrupt, and we let the boy know that this behavior was inappropriate.

Now when the boy does it, one of us just reaches over and puts a finger on the middle of the bow. Have you noticed that the bow can’t move when you do that? Another option is to charge him a dime for every time he does that. His mom liked this idea. I like to use a balance of the dime and finger with the ringing bell reward mentioned by Jeremy.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Karen said: Nov 9, 2011
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

I do the exact same thing as Alissa. They catch on really quick and start paying better attention. It really helps training their focus overall as well because they have to listen to what they are playing instead of just going on autopilot, especially after the umpteenth repetition!

Julia said: Nov 9, 2011
Julia ProleikoViolin, Piano, Viola
Saint Louis, MO
22 posts

When I have a student with this problem, I play “copy-cat” with them: funny things like put my bow on my head or make a face, transition to playing a note on an open string, then follow it by one or two notes, followed by just the notes I want them to play. If they don’t copy me exactly, they get the same thing (I get pickier over time). If they copy me exactly, then they get something new—which gets them to really listen. It usually works without any talking being involved—just getting them to stop, listen and pay attention both to what I am doing and what they are doing. (Bells work great as well! I don’t see how people can teach little kids without them—my students and I are constantly coming up with new games and that one sounds like a great one! Thanks!)

Karen said: Nov 9, 2011
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

Oo I like that idea!! I am going to try copy-cat this week!

Cynthia Faisst said: Nov 10, 2011
Cynthia Faisst
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Irvine, CA
127 posts

Do you remember playing red light green light as a kid. You can make a game of learning to stop on a certain note to see who can do it. Choose different target notes to see who has the most control. Do it with an easy piece first until the student gains confidence. Stopping in odd places can be perceived as a musical joke. Ask the student to create his own strange stopping places that he thinks are funny. Appeal to his inner Victor Borge once in a while.

Mix it up with listening games like the ones we did when children played freeze when the pause button was pushed and music stopped. (Start with large motor skills before drilling down to the fine motor control)

Ms. Cynthia
Talent Education Center: Suzuki Violin
Director of Santa Ana Suzuki Strings located at the
Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center
Volunteer, bring music to under-served communities around the world. Create Sound Investments and Futures.

Jennifer Visick said: Nov 13, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

ooh, I like that “appeal to his inner Victor Borge”… Of course, it must be accompanied by showing Victor Borge clips… ?

The bell thing sounds like a good idea. I’ve used something similar to the copycat idea too.

I sometimes make a big deal about awarding or granting a student a “superpower”. We talk about how hard it is to stop things that are already moving. Superman (for example) can stop trains no matter how fast or big or how much momentum they have, but my students can stop something he never could—(and then I say this, usually, in deep, overly dramatic tones)

YOU have the POWER… to STOP the MUSIC, ANYtime, ANYwhere, on ANY note!

After which we laugh and then I ask them to demonstrate this new superpower.

Rachel Schott said: Nov 14, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

On the up-side, Jeremy at least you know they are listening at home! They are ITCHIN’t to play those pieces…way to go, teacher!

Sue Hunt said: Nov 15, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

Have you found out if your student can tell if you fail to stop at the end of the section. If they can’t, you have work to do.

I love Jeremy’s idea of hands on head.

What about hands off the instrument and exclaiming, “Ta-da!” at the end of your demonstration. You can make that part of a “copy-cat” routine.

Music in Practice

Jeremy Chesman said: Nov 15, 2011
Jeremy Chesman
Suzuki Association Member
Organ, Recorder, Voice, Harp
Springfield, MO
24 posts

Thank you thank you thank you for the tips! We had a great lesson yesterday. We even ended up going over because we were having do much fun. I started the lesson by placing the little bell on the organ (the kind of bell you see at a hotel front desk). Of course he wanted to ring it, but I didn’t let him and I didn’t tell him what it was for. I played a small part of his piece and rang the bell. He was anxious to copy and do exactly what I did. He got to ring it once after each rep. Then after 5 reps, he could ring it 5 times in a row. We got through more in this lesson than we did in the past month.

Since I was having so much fun with my bell, I used it in the piano lesson I had next. With this 4-year-old, we discovered the bell was magic. If he played the note and rolled his wrist, the bell would ring clearly. But if his wrist was stiff, it would sound like a thud. Of course, once they’re 6 they realize I’m touching the side of the bell when it thuds.

The last lesson of the day was a harp lesson. For him, I rang the bell every time I heard a finger buzz. If he got through it without buzzes, he got to ring the bell. This way they weren’t “mistakes” but things to laugh about. I don’t know if the bell would work for violin where both hands are busy holding the instrument, but I can verify the usefulness on organ, piano, and harp.

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