Little Prodigy?

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Lydia Madrick said: Sep 13, 2013
 Piano
Santa Fe, NM
2 posts

I have a 6 yr. old piano student who I discovered has perfect pitch. He has take lessons barely one year and is playing Happy Farmer in Book 2 already. He is extremely agile despite his young age. I don’t want to dampen his spirit and energy by nagging him too much, but his tempos are erratic and he is sloppy when he first learns a new piece but he learns it in one week with lots of “misses”, wrong fingering, etc. Eventually he calms down long enough to play at a steady tempo and with correct dynamics (as he did for his Book 1 recital -after several extra lessons). He is amazing in how quickly he learns. He learns notes so quickly that I can hardly keep up with all the pieces he can play. He is reading from a method book which I hope will slow him down. I am breathless trying to interject ideas for him to think about rather than him just racing through the pieces. Any suggestions? In all my 40 years of teaching I have never seen such a precocious child. Should I expect him to play more musically at this immature age. What to do, say, teach at this young age?

Lydia Madrick

Sue Hunt said: Sep 14, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

This is where review comes in, not just playing through old pieces any old how, but reviewing with a specific goal in mind. When children are racing ahead, but not paying attention to technique or musicianship, I set them a review challenge. I set a goal for a review piece and give them specific teaching points with sequential directions for achieving it. Going on to a new piece is a treat for having achieved the technical and musical goals of an earlier piece.

Lori Bolt said: Sep 14, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

I like Sue’s post, and would add my suggestion to assign practice on a particularly messy piece at “half tempo”. I don’t have the student literally play half speed, but tell him it must be played very slowly every day. You could assign a section, one hand or whatever the need. Turn it into a game: “The Little Playmates are very tired after their fun time together. Let’s play slowly to show how tired they are.”

Maybe the parent can keep a closer eye on the learning of new pieces to make sure correct fingering is learned from the beginning.

Lori Bolt

Rose Lander said: Sep 15, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
55 posts

this note is for sue hunt. i enjoy your comments very much. i would like to purchase your book, begginer violin holding exercises. i found your website , filled in the order, and it keeps going back in loop. could you help?
gratefully,
roe lander

Carole said: Sep 15, 2013
Carole Kane
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Atlanta, GA
6 posts

Sightread duets!

MaryLou Roberts said: Sep 15, 2013
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Ann Arbor, MI
244 posts

Students need different things, this child needs to learn patience, persistence and details on things beyond the notes. If he needs variety, that can be done as well. It will serve him well later in life to establish these skills.

Sue Hunt said: Sep 16, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Rose, I have sent you a private message.

Heather Reichgott said: Sep 16, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

Hi Lydia,

Why move the student on to new pieces when the current ones aren’t being played beautifully yet? If a piece isn’t being played well, it isn’t finished, even if it’s just the Twinkles.

Here’s what I’d do. There’s no need to discourage a highly motivated student from playing around with more advanced pieces—but be clear with him that that’s an extra, “fun” activity, and that his working pieces are the ones he is still learning how to play well. Don’t put any more advanced pieces on the practice sheet until current working pieces are played well. Limit specific assignments to musical issues on those pieces (i.e. “play the first section of Chant Arabe with singing tone,” “play the middle section of Chant Arabe with an even left hand”) and expect those assignments to be completed in order to make progress on the pieces. Maybe make a “before” and “after” recording—if any family member recorded the Book 1 recital that might be a good “before” recording—to help him hear the difference and understand why learning music is not just knowing what the notes are.

Good luck!
Heather

Phankao said: Nov 2, 2013
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

I concur with Heather.

Learning to play any pieces on their own is up to them. THat’s their “fun” playing around time. My littlest son does that often. Although he mostly does that with songs he’s heard on radio, CDs, concerts, TV, etc. He would make up his own LH harmony for songs like Chopin Fantasy, Mozart Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Fur Elise, Clementi Sonatina, too. But usually I just leave him to have his own fun. All those are not considered part of his “lesson curriculum” not part of his “Practice requirements”. He still has to go thru the Suzuki syllabus as prescribed by his teacher. Not run ahead. And yes, he has to play the piece accurately, neat rhythm before he can go on to a new piece.

Robin Alfieri said: Nov 2, 2013
Robin Alfieri
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Maynard, MA
4 posts

I have a quick student, though not as quick as yours! I tell him that I’m “not interested” in hearing his new discoveries until after we’ve worked to fix things in his latest pieces or review pieces. I say “if this and this are good next week, then I might be interested.”

With some of my other students that have difficulty with review, I’ve made lists of important things to focus on during review: posture, tone, bow usage (which I realize doesn’t apply to piano!), tempo. I have them play a piece thinking of all those things and ask them how easy it was to think about them all. Usually it isn’t, but the goal is to be able to focus on a couple of those items, or maybe only one, while playing an older piece so we can make it more beautiful EVERY time we play it.

Kim said: Nov 7, 2013
 39 posts

I have a kid that was at a similar place at 6 starting at 5 1/2, also has perfect pitch. I will tell you what our teacher has done. He’s been extra picky on technique and he’s gone WIDE with repertoire. When we were in book 2-3, we did much, much more than the regular repertoire. I think we probably average 3-4X as much regular repertoire as just Suzuki at similar level drawn from many sources. He was also very definite about doing scales and sight reading every week. My kid just turned 13 and is finishing the repertoire now (while doing other stuff—he’s actually not working on any Suzuki repertoire at the moment, and is working on a concerto for a competition). He’s also taking lessons on another instrument now. We learned about phrasing and balance in book 1 and 2 and our teacher required it for my kid. He allowed creativity and playing in some fun books. We did not jump ahead in lessons,

We go to a large program and have attended many institutes and master classes, etc and I think it can be a mistake just to let a kid like this race through Suzuki repertoire at the expense of everything else. Ultimately, I would hope a child have strong sight reading, theory, an understanding of styles and periods, and the ability to analyze and play musically by the end of book 7, right? I’m just a parent, but I was raised a Suzuki kid and have been a Suzuki parent for many years now.

I also think it’s unhelpful to label kids as a prodigy. Meet kids where they’re at and challenge them individually. Chances are this child is also gifted academically and has challenges in other areas. Kids are individuals. He may also be a strong aural learner with a lot of confidence, and be challenged down the road in other ways.

I think this is an interesting story about a talented and hard working young pianist, that would not want to be called a prodigy. :)
http://www.npr.org/2013/10/01/227220351/dont-call-this-12-year-old-concert-pianist-a-prodigy

Christine Clougherty said: Nov 8, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
19 posts

Kim,

Thank you for weighing in as a parent on this topic, and for sharing your experience and excellent ideas. Many parents in my area would want the child to rush through so as to “show off” their child, and it is wonderful to hear how you and your child’s teacher handled the situation.

Victoria Telep said: Jan 22, 2014
 1 posts

Hi Lydia,

Your student sounds much like my daughter. She is 11 and has perfect pitch. She has been taking Suzuki now for a year and a half. Her teacher has held her back on pieces for playing sloppy. I agree with her not letting her move on until she has mastered the song. I understand that learning good technique is very important. On the down side of this is that I did see a significant drop in desire to practice. I think due to her perfect pitch she desires to move at a faster pace. I think going back in time I would have signed her up for an hour lesson and maybe discussed adding 1 additional song weekly or more with her teacher if she could handle it but only work on the songs assigned. I think that would have given her a variety and held her attention better. However in book two we are working on two songs a week, I think that is enough for now because book two is more challenging. We do not move on to the next song until she masters the current songs. At home in her leisure time she plays other songs (that we are not working on in lessons) by ear that she likes. Songs like Fur Elise and Rage Of The Lost Penny. She plays them with her own fingering though and a bit sloppy. She likes to transpose the songs and play them in different keys too. I wouldn’t be surprised if your student can do that too.

There were two things that I can think of we did to help her slow down and not play sloppy. Using the metronome and picking a steady beat that we wanted her to practice at helped her. The next thing her teacher did was draw a picture of two girls. She named one girl Jill and one girl Sally. Actually she let my daughter name the girls. Then she told my daughter that Jill played sloppy and she showed her what sloppy sounded and looked like on the piano. She then told her that Sally played beautiful like Bach and showed her what playing beautiful looked and sounded like. Then we told her that she wants to play beautiful like Sally. When my daughter plays sloppy her teacher never says you are playing sloppy but she reminds her to play beautiful like Sally. Sometimes we review sloppy versus beautiful. Also I think the warm ups have helped her to play better too.

Hope this helps,
Victoria

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