Help! How to help 3yo’s focus

Angela said: Oct 13, 2012
Angela Villanueva
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Viola, Violin
Naples, FL
25 posts

I just started teaching violin this year and it is going well but I am finding it difficult to help 3 year olds focus and still have fun while learning with the box violin and dowel. I have two of these precious ones and they are very obedient but show little focus, have lots of trouble maintaining a bow hold and good posture. I know in both cases it is Mom that wants them to play and so getting to the “real instrument” is not a motivator yet. What are some fun pre-pre twinkle ideas to use with them while they are mastering skills? I really want them to feel ssuccessful with what they are doing

Angie Villanueva

Ruth Brons said: Oct 14, 2012
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

I use a “Rule of Three” with my three year old beginners: lots of activities, three repetitions each.

I also shoot for three or more body positions [sitting, standing, jumping, standing on chair, cuddled in Mom’s lap, laying down, etc.]; & three locations about the studio.

For example, here’s a run down of yesterday’s 30-minute lesson with a three year old [her third private lesson, plus she has had three group classes]:

  • Beginning of the lesson bow
  • Praise and sticker awarded for last week’s practice chart
  • Bow Hold x 3 [ Bow Hold Buddies accessory works like a charm!]
  • Violin Hold x 3
  • Open E Var. A rhythm x 6 [I had 3 “turns” moving her bow, she had 3 “turns”]
  • Open A Var. A rhythm x 6 [I had 3 “turns” moving her bow, she had 3 “turns”]
  • Open A then E Var. A rhythm x 6 [I had 3 “turns” moving her bow, she had 3 “turns”]
  • Jumping break—3 jumps really high [lots of fun!]
  • Seated on floor activity: Left hand finger to thumb bounces -3 x each finger
  • Introduce F# Var. A rhythm x 6 [I had 3 “turns” moving her bow, she had 3 “turns”]
  • Var. A rhythm on A E F# E x 6 [I had 3 “turns” moving her bow, she had 3 “turns”]
  • Explore room activity: student placed three small toys about the studio and we played Var. A rhythm on A E F# E x 6 [I had 3 “turns” moving her bow, she had 3 “turns”] in each location [in a corner, under a table, and standing on a piano bench]
  • Final Game: Student had 3 turns dropping small toy on paper with pictorial depictions of each Twinkle rhythm to select which rhythm to use playing A & E x 6 [I had 3 “turns” moving her bow, she had 3 “turns”]
    Preview, with student in Mom’s lap: I played and sang the little song that will introduce B, C# & D next week, and we all sang it two more times
  • Instructed mother to aim for three of the above activities plus listening daily
  • End of the lesson bow
Sue Hunt said: Oct 14, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

I love taking my time over this important stage. We all know how vital it is to make both violin and bow hold second nature before complicating things by trying to play. The trick is to make repetition a desirable activity. Little ones tend to have a more vivid imagination than the rest of us. This helps them to respond very well when we make a game of it.

See 36 Beginner Bow Hold Games and 24 Beginner Violin Hold Games. The purpose of these games is to encourage stamina. The object is to maintain a beautiful violin or bow hold while playing the game.

Barb said: Oct 14, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Ruth, thank you! That model can really be of help to those of us new to teaching, or new to teaching young children. And Sue, I also believe in the power of games.

Angie, over the summer I read Ed Kreitman’s Teaching from the Balance Point—and plan to re-read it!

Here is something he says about developing focus (p. 26):

“I start to work on setting up the correct posture of the body at the very first lessons. Before we begin any work with the instrument, I want the child to be completely relaxed and centered. To achieve this, I ask the student to simply stand before me, hands at her sides, eyes gazing at mine for ten seconds. This is our first ‘lesson.’ It is a simple exercise in focusing the attention, bringing the mind to a quiet place for work. It is impossible to teach a child who is more interested in the toy that her sibling is playing with or who is distracted by the sights and sounds around her at the moment. Our first job, then, is to learn the skill of becoming quiet and centered. I find that the exercise of holding each other’s gaze is as beneficial to me as to the student, for it allows me the opportunity to release any “leftovers” from the previous lesson. I always find that the more calm and focused I am, the more drawn to me the student becomes.”

My own thinking is that for most three year olds we will need to build up to 10 seconds! Encouraging words for however long they can do it, with a challenge to try for one or two more seconds next time!

If there are still more suggestions out there, I would love to hear them. I have a special needs four yo slated to start lessons next year.

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