9-year old student always tired

Katherine said: Mar 6, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Just as background…I am a new teacher (hoping to get certified in Book I this year). I am in a rural area with very little in the way of music resources.

I have a 9-yr old who started w me in the fall. She is working now on Lightly Row. Her challenge still with Lightly Row is that she is unable to play at an even tempo, mainly b/c she stops between string crossings and often between notes, even though she has been working on it now for about 2 months+. Also there are problems with tension that we are working on. I think she practices for short sessions only (maybe less than 10 min a day, probably not every day), her mom says they listen to the CD regularly.

At two lessons recently she has broken down in tears and thrown herself into her mom’s arms, while working on Lightly Row (specifically me playing a measure or two and having her echo back to me—with the goal of making her bow arm heavier and more relaxed and playing with an even tempo). Her mother has said , when this happens, that she is very tired—actually often says her child is tired.

I have a few other students right now of the same age and none of them have had breakdowns during lessons.
I think this child is easily stressed and I think perhaps she wants/expects things to come easily. I guess I am looking for suggestions to make lessons work for her without stress, I’d really love to avoid the breadkdowns, of course. Or perhaps there is more discussion needed with her mom.

I truly appreciate any thoughts or ideas!

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Mar 6, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

When you have gone to an institute to attend a Bk 1 course with an experienced teacher trainer, and have observed lots of lessons and group classes, you will see all the different ways there are to handle children of various temperaments and learning styles. When you get to be a more experienced teacher you’ll have more arrows in your quiver!

In response to your specific question however, playing a few measures in tempo and having her echo back is obviously not working for this one. She sounds like a perfectionist, and when she is unable to complete the task you have asked of her, she is frustrated and melts down in her mother’s arms. Actually, the fact that she is stopping before string crossings, which interrupts the rhythm, indicates that she needs more time to feel her way with her bow across the strings, lowering or raising the elbow. That is actually the right way to begin to learn string crossings. It shows that this young girl is an intuitive learner! Since that’s pedagogically sound for her early stage of learning, go with her, congratulate her efforts, and develop a new rhythm for those notes, Lightly Row presents the huge new challenge of going from open E to a 2nd finger C# on the A string. That is very difficult for many new players! After playing the open E have her slowly raise the elbow and lower the bow until it just touches, or “taps”, the A string. Do it on the open strings at first. Make a game out of it. Let her count how many good taps she can make in a row, etc. Until she is comfortable changing strings, don’t expect flowing and accurate rhythm! Once she can do that well, then show her how to bring herself to play the real rhythm of the song.

I’ve found that when a child has such high demands on herself and is easily frustrated, melting down in tears, I need to break down the skill into even smaller steps, and take them one at a time. Many children cannot concentrate on more than one thing at a time… let alone gaining new skills.

Good luck, and enjoy your first course. Come back to this post when you have had that experience, and please share what you have learned about this particular challenge!

Wendy Caron Zohar

Sue Hunt said: Mar 7, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

I would echo what Wendy said.

Here are a couple of other useful points.

-1 If she complains of being tired, she is probably overwhelmed by what she is being asked to do. Acknowledge her feelings, don’t argue with her, as that will make it worse. Then, this is the important bit, point out that she is standing in front of you, ready to try, in spite of the way she feels.

-2 This helps all kids try harder and is specially useful for perfectionists. Praise her for the effort she is making, not for the results she may be achieving. The latter is hard to live up to and enables perfectionism. The former encourages kids as they have nothing to loose by trying harder.

Katherine said: Mar 7, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Wendy and Sue

Thank you so very much for your very helpful comments.

Mircea said: Mar 7, 2013
Mircea Ionescu
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
Crestwood, KY
23 posts

Dear KGM,

Welcome to the Suzuki Teaching world, it is an exciting place to be! I concur with my colleagues, follow through with what they say. Thank you Wendy and Susan, these were good for me, too =)

Here are two other ideas to think about, try, and play with:

  1. Character Education - along with acknowledging feelings, congratulating on effort and progress, you can take these situations as opportunities to encourage her to grow in self-control and perseverance. I want to grow the student in their character, just as Dr. Suzuki says in his writings. I have noticed that teachers are tempted to avoid this important area of the student’s life. Students often look up to their teachers, help your student grow into a mature young woman that respects herself, aims high in life and perseveres. Parents have been thankful that I am a partner with them in developing the character of their child.

  2. Lightly Row Variations—I am with a student right now on Lightly Row and we are encountering similar obstacles. So, we are playing Lightly Row “pepperoni pizza” (variation 1) and the other variations. I first demonstrated the first line and then asked him to do it. He liked it, so we did another variation, this time two lines. If he would have struggled with the first line, I would go through just the first measure and build from there.

Amy said: Mar 7, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
50 posts

I can’t agree more with everyone about the importance of setting the child up to succeed. If we work in minute increments of progress and include much repetition of small successes, we prepare the student to be in the habit of playing well.

When teaching the tricky string crossing at the beginning of Lightly Row, I generally start by playing a Twinkle rhythm on E, take as much time as necessary to rock the bow to the A string and confirm that the 2nd finger is still in place, and then play the same rhythm on the C#. Once the student can play these two notes in the Twinkle rhythm with enough time to ensure a clean string crossing, we are ready to begin decreasing the amount of time necessary to make the string crossing. We play a game to see how quickly the student can get set to play the C# after finishing playing the rhythm on E. About this time I introduce a similar exercise with melodic thirds. (It’s a great opportunity to learn about AM arpeggios!) We work towards playing the Twinkle rhythm followed by a rest, where we spend the entire rest set and ready to play the next note. (I’m not sure that came out clearly. Let me know if I need to clarify.) Only then do we try playing the rhythm on the page. I do think it’s important that students know what they are working towards, so don’t be afraid to say: we’re doing exercise X so that you will soon be able to play the first measure of Lightly Row really well.

One more caveat: at this stage, maintaining a healthy relationship with the student and her parent is as important as learning to play Lightly Row. As you nurture the relationship, the student is more likely to want to do lots of repetition of what you tell her she does well, and she’s not as likely to feel like a failure for not measuring up to what she thinks your standards are.

Katherine said: Mar 7, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Mircea and Amy

Your comments and advice are very helpful to me. I have many ideas now on how to proceed and make her lessons more effective and enjoyable.

Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to answer me!

Sara Penny said: Mar 8, 2013
Sara Penny
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
Cedar City, UT
4 posts

Singing, marching, using simple percussion instruments to get the pulse of the music. Getting the rhythm in the big muscles so the little muscles have a chance.

Try a fun fiddle piece like Boil the Cabbage to give a break and build skills so when she tries again on LIghtly Row it will be easier.

The words I got from a workshop to sing for Lightly Row, years ago are. Sorry I don’t know who to credit:

Lightly row, fast and slow, up the river we will go
Mississippi, Mississippi, that’s the way to go, go, go
On our violins we’ll play, 1 2 3 4 5 Hooray
Mississippi, Mississippi, that’s the way to go, go go

Teach the mom and have some diversion for the child. The child will learn from hearing the mother learn.

Have the mother do the bow while the child tries the fingers and then switch. Isolating the hands helps. Try pizzicato.

If you’re having the fun the child will have fun. Smile a lot. Good luck.

Sara Penny

Emily said: Dec 3, 2013
 59 posts

It is a possibility as well that she may get her way at home by having meltdowns and then her mother feels bad and makes excuses for her so she doesn’t have to play for long periods of time. It’s possible she is testing you to see if you will do the same and allow her to get away with it. Mix things up a bit and try somethiing different, but don’t let her mom make excuses for her in your studio. Good luck on your lessons.

Emily Christensen
Music Teacher & Writer

Alexandra said: Dec 4, 2013
Alexandra Jacques
Suzuki Association Member
Mesa, AZ
35 posts

I agree with all of the above. I’ve also found that moving the lesson to an earlier time can be helpful, because being tired could contribute to the meltdowns in the lesson. When I was growing up (and sometimes still, haha!) I would become less focused in the evenings after the events of the day. Doing homework and practicing after a certain time wasn’t very productive, and I used to get extremely frustrated, more so than I would if it was earlier. I was much more successful when I had earlier lessons. Having lessons earlier in the week can help as well.

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