Inspiration/motivation for middle school students

Jennifer said: Jul 8, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
9 posts

I have a new student who is 12 years old and he has played viola for 2 years. He switched to me from a different studio because the parents believed he needed a different approach in lessons. He is extremely intelligent, homeschooled, part of a rigorous scholarshipped 7-year program we offer for musically gifted students. Although he was not started in the Suzuki method, he is working on pieces from the end of Book 2.

I have noticed in the 3 lessons we’ve had so far that he seems very uninterested in playing in general. He rushes into the room, won’t stand up from his chair unless asked to do so, and rushes through anything he plays. When asked to play his piece, he’ll sarcastically reply, “Oh goodie.” His bowhold was a bit of a mess when he started with me, so we have been trying to improve it. However, despite playing games to improve it and giving him some at-home practice goals, it isn’t getting any better because he just doesn’t seem to care. His mother sat in on a lesson once and things went a little better, but she can’t always stay because she has several younger children to keep an eye on during lessons.

What are some ways to help him enjoy playing and get him motivated? I want him to be able to enjoy himself and take pride in his accomplishments. I find it easier to motivate younger kids and high schoolers, but middle schoolers seem to be the most difficult to motivate and the most likely to want to quit.

Carrie Caruso said: Jul 9, 2013
Carrie CarusoViolin, Viola
AZ
1 posts

Middle school aged kids can be a challenge. So much change is happening to them; becoming teens yet still think like a child… First I would suggest to try not to take the students commentary personal. We all want our students to love us, but this age group, they are extremely sensitive and will convey a tough shell. To motivate I suggest giving “dessert music” which is in my studio fun music of their choice which we play together at the end of our lessons. I like to ask what is the students favorite song on the radio, and at the next lesson I will have arranged a violin part for them to learn and play. This works to get through these difficult years. Teaching a pop tune here and there also lends the opportunity for improvisation lessons. Good luck!

Carrie Caruso
Violinist | Teacher | Arranger
www.CarrieCaruso.com
480.343.3154
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Merietta Oviatt said: Jul 9, 2013
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

I have to agree with Carrie about adding-in some pop music into his routine. I had to do this with a girl last year. In order for us to work on her Bruno Mars piece we had to get through all of the other “stuff” (technique and Suzuki) first. One thing to keep in mind is that they really want to be older—like high school older. It is important to not present things to them like games for children. Like instead of referring to a position game as “candy drop” refer to it as “no fumbles.” Don’t speak to them like an adult, but don’t speak to them like a child. Try to know some terms that they can relate to (this may require watching certain shows for just a couple episodes…you can do it…just remember you’re doing this for the sake of your student), and use the reference when you can. If they think you are “cool” like that, they will like you and treat you better. I try to find out what their favorite things outside of music are and use as many references to those activities as possible (an accent is like pushing off of a starting block in swimming).

For some reason I’m in a position right now where I only have a few little ones and a few older ones and all of the rest are right in this age range. Just as Carrie said, you can’t take anything they say personally—they are just trying to be “cool” and as of right now, this is the way this particular young man has decided to do it. One idea for you is to record all of his lessons and tell the mother to view them when she is at home—so that everyone knows exactly what kind of practicing is supposed to happen all week. He may act better knowing that his mother will be viewing the video, and if he sasses off his mother will see it and can take some action of her own at home. Make a few adjustments in your teaching “behaviors” and he’ll be putty in your hands! Good luck!!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
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Lori Bolt said: Jul 10, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Carrie: I like the “dessert music” concept, and will use your thoughts, with Marietta’s to refine my use of lesson time with students who ask for popular pieces.

An interesting side note: I have a young man just going into high school now, who has been my student for about 4 yrs—strictly Suzuki until middle school when he needed some “dessert.” I recently asked him to choose a piano goal for next school year. Imagine my surprise when he said he wants to “power through” (I’m afraid to ask!) the rest of his current Suzuki book and not do much outside music. His reason was to build up his skills to be able to play anything he wants….so he recognizes the value in the classical pieces. This came without thinking it over for a week, and I don’t think the parents coached him on it. I can’t wait :)

Lori Bolt

Jennifer said: Jul 18, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
9 posts

Thank you ladies! I loved the idea about “dessert music”! I have already introduced it to a few students.

However, I asked the student in question if he had a favorite song on the radio, or movie music he wanted to learn, and he said “No, I don’t like listening to the radio. I don’t like music at all, my parents just make me do it.”

Lori Bolt said: Jul 19, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Hi Jennifer ~ play a couple of selections and let him choose? My piano students always enjoy the Pink Panther….but don’t know what to suggest for violin. This young man may just have been having an attitude when you asked.

Lori Bolt

Elise Winters said: Jul 21, 2013
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

You know, it’s rare, but I have to say I HAVE experienced students who really just don’t connect to music. I teach private lessons in-school at a middle school (so these are non-Suzuki) and ended up with one kid that wasn’t really connecting with his music. So we sat down in front of my iTunes, and went through about fifty tracks in every possible genre. The highest score he gave ANYTHING was 4 out of 10.

Clinically speaking, there are some people who literally do not find music enjoyable. I can’t remember if there’s a genetic component to this, but I do remember they found their trait to be a major source of judgment from others, and a significant social handicap, in our “music-centric” culture. It seems plausible that “loving music” follows the same bell curve as other traits (composers / performers on the high end), and that you may have found a kid that’s at the low end.

If his statement is genuine, then the kid can be forgiven for being a little frustrated for being made to pursue an activity which is not intrinsically rewarding for him. It does, however, sound like his way of trying to get his needs met is counter-productive. This is a place for us (as teachers) to model effective conflict resolution and sharing feelings in a vulnerable and respectful way.

I have found the best response for a disrespectful attitude is naming the behavior. For example: “I care very much about you as a student. When you say, ‘Oh goodie,’ I’m hearing that you’re not enjoying being here. I’d like to talk about this openly, so that your dissatisfaction doesn’t come out in ways that are indirect and hurtful.”

If the conversation is open-ended and the teacher is good at “listening between the lines,” it may turn out there is another issue at play besides lack of connection to music.

One of the gifts we can give our students is to hear their innate desires and help them give voice to needs that may be going unmet, or feelings they don’t know how to express.

Cheryl said: Jul 21, 2013
Cheryl Ball
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Dublin, OH
10 posts

Yes, I have had the same experience-unfortunately-might be better to ask what is their favorite movie-tv show-etc. as that narrows the field of options down a bit

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Jul 21, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

A few ideas: A big difference can be made in group classes. I’ve found that when I give middle schoolers a leadership role during group class, whether in some of the music games we play, or being given a chance to conduct or lead the music, they love it and rise to the occasion. They are growing and testing themselves. They are also learning from the high schoolers and adults, who have more experience. Of course the little ones are absorbing from everyone who is older. I find it’s motivating and helpful for everyone. (In these multi-age groups I’ve developed a way to work on technique, music games, conducting, review and performance of repertoire, but it takes planning and thought.)

Another way that diffident middle schoolers —who, finding themselves feeling distant or bored with the repertoire may want to give up—can be brought back into the swing, is to assign a specific practice routine that includes individual but fun challenges at their lessons. As a mother of three boys who are now grown up, I know that when teenagers become testy or bored, that is exactly when they really need more challenge, responsibility and higher expectations. For example:

We keep a weekly assignment page, and stick to it. For each lesson I have them prepare a tune, any well-known and recognizable tune that they know and like, to play by ear. They need to figure it out in their head, and be able to play it. Even if they are struggling to figure out a fingering or bowing, my students love this, and they feel challenged and engaged, and enjoy it greatly. We also go about singing the tune, to feel the articulation, the rhythm, the strong and weak beats. I have them figure out where the doh is, and what the rest of the sol-fa is. For those students who are right on top of it, I ask them to play it in different keys, and they get a huge charge out of realizing they can feel their way around the fingerboard! It’s a progressive, developing skill that gives ready feedback and satisfaction.

I also ask them to choose a poem of 4 or 5 lines; just a stanza of a poem that speaks to them, and be able to recite it for memory. We talk about cadence, pacing, expression, articulation, meaning and flow, all goals to incorporate into their presentation. Then I have them figure out the beat, and have them conduct it as a piece of music. I ask them to feel the strong and weak beats, the “rhetoric” of the lines. Boy does that equate to music! and they love it, too, when they get that idea. As soon as they’re doing well at memorizing one stanza, I have them continue to multi-stanzas.

(It’s odd, but in my school days we were expected to memorize poems. This was true from elementary school through 12th grade. I still remember the great impression my Civics teacher made on me, who as a wrinkled septuagenarian was still able to recite epic poems recounting this battle or that period of US history, that he had learned in his childhood. His mind held enormous amounts of information as well as wit, and we were so fond of him! Alas, the current mode in education does not include memorization of poems at any age, or much of anything for that matter, except maybe scientific formulae, instead of true understanding.)

If I sense a student’s mood or attention is slagging during a lesson, I suggest any one of a number of musical games that I’ve developed, involving listening and extemporizing to create a musical conversation with me, within specific formats. These games encourage accurate intonation and beautiful tone, expose rudiments of good bow use and left hand form, and other aspects of technique, while letting loose the creative juices. We might do this for just five minutes or so. These are always a mood picker upper, and allow the student to learn technique and free up, without feeling they’re being taught. My older students often just ask to play one of these games at any time (and one who has moved away with his family still asks to do these games with me via Skype).

By the time we get on to etudes, technical work, review of their old pieces, working on the new one and previewing the next, they are with the program, primed and happy to work! This kind of strict regimen has kept quite a few of my young teen players on, when they might have quit. Expecting more is good medicine, it seems from my experience!

Wendy Caron Zohar

Mircea said: Jul 22, 2013
Mircea Ionescu
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
Crestwood, KY
23 posts

These are good ideas! Thank you ladies.
I am not sure on your policy, Jennifer, but I would have the mom in on every lesson, I tell this to parents before we start lessons. If there are younger children around, I work with the mother and father to have something for the younger ones to do.
Also, if building character is important than dealing with his lack of respect is necessary. Most students will continue on with disrespectful words and conduct if it is tolerated. I also would not want this young man growing up thinking that disrespecting others is acceptable when he is angry and frustrated. I hope you all the best!

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