Help! My student is making me crazy!

Lauren Canitia said: Apr 17, 2012
Lauren Canitia
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
6 posts

I have a violin student who is in middle school. She has been playing for 3-4 years and isn’t making much progress. The problem is that she can understand rhythm, notes and bowings, but she is not able to do all 3 at the same time. We have worked through Suzuki Book 1 (very painfully), and through I Can Read Music Book 1. I think there is some kind of processing issue, but am not sure. Her parents have not informed me of any kind of learning disability.

After 3 years of teaching her, I have noticed some small improvements with intonation (hooray!), and small improvements with rhythm and bowing, however, if I have her do it 10 times in a row, she can’t do it. She can do something nearly perfectly 1 time, then plays it wrong a bunch of times, then plays it well 1 time, etc. Most of the time she is unaware that she is doing it wrong. How can I get her to pay more attention to what she is doing?

This is making me crazy! I don’t know how to get through to her. And memorization isn’t even an option. I know she doesn’t listen enough, and I remind her every week to do so, but I don’t know how to get her to do it.

Help!

Thanks,
Lauren

André said: Apr 17, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

Put your student in touch with others students of violin,
and if possible put it to public hearings,i hope to have helped.
Greetings
André Gomes Augenstein
Violin Teacher

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

Paula Bird said: Apr 17, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Sounds like a learning issue. Surely her parents see this during lessons also. Talk privately about this to them and tell them what you’ve noticed. Sometimes parents don’t volunteer this information. Teachers should ask.

One parent forgot to tell me the child was mildly dyslexic, which explained MANY learning problems I encountered. In another case the mom and I noticed something odd: older 7 year old couldn’t remember things we worked on for months, a processing issue it turned out. The other child is slightly hyper, but focus improves weekly.

Ask, discuss. If parent knows, hopefully they will tell you. One student’s mom would not face the issue that her child had what looked like Aspergers. I can’t help parents if they will not face reality. But I have a lot of experience I am willing to share.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Barb said: Apr 19, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Reminds me somewhat of a few students I have had. One as a middle schooler came to me with some reading/piano background and I continued to work with her on reading, but she couldn’t really play and read at the same time. Rhythms were the main issue, and though she memorized the earliest pieces, that got very difficult for her part way through book 1. She did have a good ear and could play in tune with good tone, so was able to process that. She joined the orchestra, and after two years I learned that she was largely playing by ear, even there. She was always very slow to answer questions, and sometimes after a long pause she would ask me to repeat myself. At first I thought she was just very shy about answering. I think it was in her third year I was asking about what classes she was taking in 9th grade and discovered she had a block of time for learning assistance. Aha! I now have a spot on my student/parent info sheet for any known or suspected learning differences. Eventually, her practice time petered out and progress pretty much stopped and she quit while working (but hardly) on the last book one piece (Minuet No 2 for cello).

I’m not sure why parents don’t always disclose this information. Maybe they are hoping their child won’t be treated differently, or that it won’t affect music lessons. Maybe they are afraid a teacher won’t take their child if they have a disability. Or maybe they are in denial.

I also had an adult student for a short time who thought he might be “dyslexic or something” when it came to reading music. It frustrated him because intellectually he knew how to read rhythms and notes, but couldn’t turn that into reading and playing music all at once. He plays by ear very well. He ended up giving up lessons again (as he had some years prior to coming to me) because his life is too busy with a medical practice and family right now.

I suspect one of my younger students has Asperger’s, and asked the mother, because he reminds me so much of my own son who has mild Asperger’s. She didn’t know anything about it. (Nor did I when my son was her son’s age.) I’d be interested to hear what you have to share, Paula.

In this case the student (at 8) may have alienated himself from other students by a few things he has said, I have to spell out when behavior isn’t appropriate sometimes, he takes everything literally and doesn’t understand idioms well, and most problematic, he is physically awkward and isn’t always aware of what his body is doing—it took a full year to get him to know if he was sitting up straight without leaning to one side. We are currently still working on left hand shape (which a cellist can’t really watch…. hmmm… maybe some 4th position work so he can see his hand?), and the bow arm is still pretty awkward, too. He has just started his fourth year. He focuses and works hard which is really great. His sense of pitch and pulse have developed wonderfully. He was reading music at a basic level when he started, and prefers learning that way, but I give him some assignments with no music and he can figure them out. I think focusing on the written music is probably one thing which keeps him from focusing on his body.

Oh—didn’t mean to hijack the thread… sorry.

Andre’s suggestions of getting her together with other students (especially if you have other beginners her age), and preparing for public performances have merit, if you aren’t already doing those things.

Hope you get some other practical suggestions here, too. If you are not able to access the Parents as Partners video on Listening Maniacs, I took notes on it for my blog. Maybe a listening challenge would be helpful?

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Susan said: Apr 19, 2012
 Violin, Viola
22 posts

I think it is a learning issue as well. I have had my share of students with all kinds of issues and I try to remember that every child can be taught. It’s just how much is the child capable of doing. My belief is that I do my best for every child because I never know what impact I’m having on the child. That’s why I don’t dismiss students. Just knowing that the child can come to a safe and positive environment every week could change their lives. I also have been extremely frustrated with the circumstances, but I keep in mind the possible benefits for the student and just do my best.

Paula Bird said: Apr 19, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Barb, I just watched the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” The child portrayed in the film had Aspergers, and the film did a wonderful job of showing us how special that child could be and ways in which to work with him. I knew a lovely young man from institute days here in San Marcos. I thought he was terrific. At first his social skills were a little stand offish and stilted, but after institute that week, where I made him my buddy and had a great time interacting with him daily, his mom told me that he improved a lot socially. He joined up with some chamber groups at home, and he became a regular member of the group. He was just brilliant with computers. The young boy I mentioned was fearful of everything. He would behave tearfully in any new situation. We had to tip toe around him. He wasn’t at all like most other kids, especially boys. It wasn’t just a question of being a little sensitive, this child was overly hypersensitive to everything. That’s what alerted the rest of us. So sad that the mom denied there was a problem. She was really missing an opportunity to learn more about her son and how to help him learn better on his terms.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

André said: Apr 19, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

The Suzuki method for those who do not know graduation
is automatic,and being with each student at their level and age
differentiated .What it is for the teacher to define what music
can be presented and who can run.
Greetings
André Gomes Augenstein
Violin Teacher

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

Barb said: Apr 19, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Oh yes, Paula, our son is extremely uncomfortable with anything new. And before I suspected anything, I took this student and his older sisters to a children’s concert without the parents. I thought at six he would be fine as he was comfortable with me, but he was teary—almost panicky at times—and just wanted to go home the whole time. I’ll look out for the movie, too.

Susan, yes, that is a great way to think of it—that we can influence any child by having a safe and positive place for them.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Julia said: Apr 19, 2012
Julia ProleikoViolin, Piano, Viola
Saint Louis, MO
22 posts

Even without processing or other issues, not listening enough will cause the same problems. Don’t talk about listening, spend the lesson listening! Don’t talk, just play…listen and repeat.

Also, on another thread just mentioned how turning out the lights inspired better listening (my studio is very bright, so I have not had the opportunity to try this out as much, but next winter I certainly will)!

Lauren Canitia said: Apr 21, 2012
Lauren Canitia
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
6 posts

Thanks for your help, everyone. I will try some of these suggestions. :-)

Elizabeth Friedman said: Jul 10, 2012
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

Hi Lauren,
Something else that might be helpful is what my Book 1 teacher trainer called the ‘chip game.’ Instead of having your student do things 10 times in a row, which can cause massive anxiety toward the upper repetitions, try this:

-Divide 12 bingo chips (or paper clips, or pennies, or whatever) into two sets of 6.
-6 of the chips are yours, and 6 belong to your student. I keep mine in a box, and use the top half to hold ‘my’ chips and the bottom to hold the student’s chips.
-Choose one thing to focus on—a specific string crossing, or correct finger placement, or correct rhythm, or elbow opening and closing, or watching the bow during one small section.
-Every time your student does the teaching point correctly, she wins one of your chips. She wins the chip if she accomplishes the task, even if something else goes out the window—i.e., if you’re working on finger placement but the bow goes the wrong direction, she still wins if she places her fingers correctly.
-Every time your student misses the teaching point, you win one of hers.
-The student also has to tell you whether she won or you won, and tell you why—this is crucial as it demonstrates that she understands what she’s trying to do.
-The game doesn’t start until the student does the teaching point correctly -i.e., the game must only start once the student has won the first chip.
-The teacher is not allowed to win the game, and the game doesn’t end until the student wins. (Obviously, don’t tell the student that.)
-If the student starts losing chips several times in a row, pause the game and re-teach the teaching point. Resume the game once the student regains her concentration.

This game should only be used on small teaching points that are easily accomplished by the student, and really is about concentration. I will often do two or three chip games in a row if a student needs to combine different skills—i.e., placing 3 fingers on A while coming from the E string while also opening and closing the elbow. I’d do that by starting with placing fingers correctly without the bow for 1 game, then adding the bow coming from the E string plus the 3 fingers for the second game, then trying to do that while also thinking about the opening and closing of the elbow for the 3rd game.

I find this game works for everyone, including adults… it’s like magic. Seriously. :)

Good luck!

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