Four years on book 1?

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Connie Sunday said: Oct 26, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I have a lot of respect for the dear people on this list, so please don’t take this as a criticism. But I’m curious about something. Recently I’ve gotten three new violin students, two brothers from one family, and a little girl from another. In each case they had been studying with a Suzuki teacher in another town, the little girl nearly four years, and she’s only in the middle of book one. I also have a new, adult, piano student, who played for several years in her childhood and plays rather musically, actually, but doesn’t read.

Is this unusual? (four years for 1/2 of book one?) This is a child with above average intelligence, bilingual, very well behaved and courteous. She reads not a note of music, did not know (for example) what a quarter note is, nothing. And her playing is not that good, either; if she played beautifully, I would understand more. Holds the instrument awkwardly, does not really know any of the pieces, even from memory.

The little boys are much the same, ultra sensitive, however, which is troubling in the sense that if I try to teach them my way, they cry at lessons (one 13 year old locked himself in my bathroom, accidentally, and had a terrifying screaming fit). I hate when children cry; makes me feel like the wicked witch of the east! Crying is always, I feel, somehow the teacher’s fault (?).

Your thoughts?

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Paula Bird said: Oct 26, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

What ages? Do they do regular listening? Public or homeschool?

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

Connie Sunday said: Oct 26, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

The two brothers are 9 and 11; the girl is 12. The adult is in her early 30’s. I don’t know about the listening, Paula. Regular, public school.

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Alissa said: Oct 26, 2012
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

There’s no way to tell what is “normal” in these students. In the case of the over sensitive children, that could very well be what held them back. There’s almost no way that behavior came from the teacher. As for the adult, it was unclear if she too came from this teacher. My adult students can be some of my slowest because of erratic practice schedules and a tendency to rush :-/ With the bright little girl, maybe it was a personality conflict? My point being, there’s just too many variables when you take over from another teacher! Unless you routinely observe this teacher through recitals or institutes and/or you talk to them directly, it’s best just to move forward and teach them the way you see fit. Of course it’s natural to be concerned when a student comes with bad habits. However, there’s nothing to do but repair and go on. When I first taught, almost all of my student were transfers for one reason or another. Some of them were less than ideally set up to be kind. Except in one case, all were from decent if not exceptional teachers. Alas, sometimes even our best doesn’t show in every student. It’s wonderful that you care so much for these students. I hope they really grow and succeed in your studio!

Connie Sunday said: Oct 26, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I guess what I mean is, _in general_, is it not unusual for a child to spend nearly four years studying and only get to the middle of book 1?

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Michelle McManus Welch said: Oct 26, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts

Four years to do half of book I sounds a bit unusual to me. Is the child listening at all to the CD? Are there some extraordinary family/home/learning issues that got in the way? Did the child actually stop taking lessons for a time due to the above? I think I’d recommend a listening chart to see how much listening is happening (that alone has fueled a HUGE change in one of my slower students). I do have a couple of students whose parents apparently ‘don’t want to push’ their children to practice {like hardly any practice happens at ALL} and their progress has been pretty slow. With the older children, I think I’d try leveling with them. You are NOT their previous teacher, and although you’d be happy to do some of their favorite games/activities with them and are eager to know how they feel they learn best, you are you, and everyone will have to adjust a bit! If you trade off for a piece and let them ‘be the teacher’ and fix the bad bow hold or whatever issue you are working on, that may help too. I remember in the case of a really sensitive student, she taped her practice, and mom corrected the tape instead of the child. Maybe taping the student and having both you and the student praise all the good things and pick just one thing to work on only would help. Then, tape the same piece/section again maybe the next week.

Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Janie said: Oct 27, 2012
 Violin, Recorder, Viola
Glenwood Springs, CO
16 posts

Wow! What a challenge. Everyone who has responded so far is right on—you don’t really know the history of these students. Is there a reason 3 students are leaving the previous teacher at the same time? At age 12, I think a student can be somewhat self-directed. Ask them leading questions like “What are your violin goals?” “What kind of music do you want to play?” “How does regular practice fit into your schedule?” “What other activities are you involved in?” “What is your favorite song so far?” “What is your least favorite?” This can show you their strengths and weaknesses almost as effectively as having them play for you.

Lots of times, students like this are playing because their parents are making them do it. That works for younger children, but these kids sound like they are old enough that the forcing from the parent will just set up defiance later.

4 1/2 years in early book 1 is definately slo-o-o-o-w. Something is terribly wrong. From your post, my guess is that the student is using a passive-agressive style with dealing with her mother or previous teacher.

Tears are not always the teacher’s fault. Many times, the tears are from frustration, in which case, the tears are good. It means the child cares. Sometimes they cry from embarrassment. Sometimes it’s a tool to get what they want. Whatever the reason, the teacher should let the child get hold of himself, then continue the lesson.

I love what Alissa said. You have what you have, and now you get to work with your new students in your own way. Hopefully the change in teacher will revitalize these students and you can turn them into competent players.

As for adult students, teachers have to remember that they have adult responsibilities—families, work, often health issues, other activities. Just do your best. If she can’t read, you can start teaching her. If she can’t practice a lot, let her put her pieces on her Ipod to listen to. If she misses a lot of lessons, place her in your schedule in a place where her absences have the least negative impact on your day. Just do your best. Encourage her and she will stay with you longer.

Best of luck to the 5 of you!


Connie Sunday said: Oct 27, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Except for the adult student (who is doing fine), the children had to change teachers because the parents moved from a different city to where I live, probably for job reasons.

I so much appreciate everyone’s input. When you deal with the public, there is always some new issue to face..

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Barb said: Oct 27, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

I think 4 four years for 1/2 of book 1 is unusually slow.

I’ve had two students take a long time in book 1. Neither were getting much practice help at home, but there were a few other issues. Both started at 6 years old.

One was very awkward and we spent a lot of time on set up. He had no musical sense, either, when we started, so it took a long time to keep a beat, etc. That one took 3 1/2 years to finish book 1. And we are STILL working on set up as old issues keep reappearing. I am okay with that rate for him.

One was not very cooperative, though he was already very musical. Had the ability for good set up, but didn’t want to hold the bow right, sit up, etc. At one point I stopped his progress, telling him he could not move on to the next piece until he held his bow correctly. That ended up being the answer for him. He WAS motivated to finish the book at that time. He took 4 years, and I felt he was capable of advancing more quickly had practice happened differently. (He gave it up at that point.)

The first practiced regularly, worked hard. The second, not. Very different kids, similar rate of progress. Another student I had at the same time, same age, finished about 2 1/2 books in same amount of time. A different child, and she practiced about twice as much as the other two. I do use additional material along with Suzuki, which might mean my students take a bit longer than some who might not play any additional material. It’s not about what they play to me (i.e. how far in the book), but how they play. So, yes, I understand that you would be more understanding if they played well!

I had an adult student for a time who was very musical but had always struggled to read. He thought he must have some kind of music dyslexia or something. ???

The boys’ ultra sensitivity probably has something to do with their rate of progress. Probably the other teacher struggled with it too.

And yes, it is sadly possible that they just didn’t have good teachers (maybe even on top of other issues).

Best to you all!

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