student who is losing ground

Rose Lander said: Oct 5, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
54 posts

i started teaching a four and a half year old several years ago. she seemed bright and motivated. her mom was suzuki graduated. although her set up was good, she had alot of trouble remembering the notes of twinkle. she finally got it after 2 years. the next year was slow going (about 4 months to learn the notes of lightly row). she attended our suzuki institute and was making good progress through o come. but after the summer in which she played her pieces with confidence, she has forgotten the notes of her current pieces. her mom is totally committed, has her listen for up to 30 minutes a day, works well with her, but it is such a struggle. her mom says she does well in school, but sometimes asks to have directions repeated. i suggested the possibiity of a hearing test, but am not sure that is the issue. even though she can sing all of the songs easily , and in tune , there is a disconnect between her internal song, and her fingers (or brain) remembering the notes. i thought of her playing the songs silently until she regains her confidence. i would hate losing this family.
any thoughts?
rose lander

Emily Anthony said: Oct 6, 2013
 Violin, Viola
Jamestown, RI
8 posts

It sounds as if this young student may not quite fit into the Suzuki mold.
Perhaps you could think more about what she does enjoy on the violin.
Maybe she just does not enjoy playing the Suzuki repertoire by ear! Maybe
she would have more fun playing different songs, and if need be you could
write the letters out for her. If the songs have words, you could sing them
with her until she knows the songs by heart; then she would essentially be
playing them by ear, which is the Suzuki goal. I think that there are more
ways than one to reach the same worthy end, which is to create a love of
playing the instrument.

Emily Anthony

On Sat, Oct 5, 2013 at 9:30 PM, SAA Teachers’ Corner Discussion <
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Anne Brennand said: Oct 6, 2013
Anne Brennand
Suzuki Association Member
Boulder, CO
37 posts

Hi Rose. Your student reminds me of a former cello student dear to me, but very unusual. She just could not progress through the Twinkles, but was very bright in many other areas. She particularly flourished in visual art, her paintings winning state awards while in preschool.

In an experiment, I one day showed her the written notes, with which string to play on and fingering indicated. It was astounding to all or us how quickly she took off, playing perfectly with great joy and ease.

I think some students may be so predominantly visual that even though musicians MUST orient themselves aurally, this one student had to have visual clues to be able to relate to that development.

I’ve read that learning is either aural, visual, or kinesthetically oriented in most people, with many of us a combination of all three. Your student may be either so visually or kinesthetically predominant, only the aural clues make learning far too difficult. I would be curious to know if she has any relief from physical or visual aids to help her musical progress. —Anne

Anne Brennand, cellist and cello teacher

Sue Hunt said: Oct 7, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

As Anne says, we all have our preferred learning modalities.

It’s important to give all children wider learning opportunities by increasing their ability to use all of their senses rather than squeezing them into a preconceived mold.

In the past, I felt very guilty about letting one family read the music at first, but the ability to learn by ear grew as the children progressed, through their exposure to other children in group lessons.

  • How about singing the fingerings, and pointing to them, or while tapping fingers against the thumb.

  • Recognise intervals “same,” “step up” and “Jump up.”

  • Also make a body map for a one octave scale:

  • The concept of higher and lower doesn’t translate well to the geography of the violin. Check that she understands that up means towards the bridge and down means towards the scroll. To move up past 3, you start on the next string.

Teresa said: Oct 7, 2013
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Sounds like this student is not all that unusual. I too have a handful of students that can hum our beloved Suzuki “songs” (!) do to the fact that they DO listen regularly, yet have great difficulty playing it by ear. I’ve always been of the mind that if you can sing it you can play it, which with these kids is not the case.
These students of mine have taken to reading music like a duck to water. They are HAPPY when they come to lesson and can play their piece. Eventually over time, (a LOT of time, I must add) they are able to play the piece from memory.
In group class however, I do not allow them to use their music.
Hang in there. As Suzuki said, “patience is the absence of expectation.”

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Jennifer Visick said: Oct 7, 2013
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

I agree—vary the method!
- introduce visual cues & note reading—if it’s been several years and you started the child at 4.5 years, she should be physiologically ready for note-reading by now (is she reading language yet? Are there cues that her schoolwork is being done more through visual learning instead of by verbal instruction?)
- try ‘by ear’ pieces for non-suzuki repertoire—especially non-baroque style music
- spend time specifically teaching what intervals sound like, and ‘how to’ pick out notes, a la Ed Kreitman’s introduction in “Teaching from the Balance point”. If this is a weakness, it may need continuous work at each lesson, coming up with very small step by step ear training tasks
- try introducing something like Alice Kay Kanack’s “Creative Ability Development” books: see if improvising by ear helps!
- I use Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory books for older students, which have ear training exercises in them. Maybe something along these lines would be helpful too?

Celia Jones said: Oct 16, 2013
72 posts

Have you been working with her on technique?

I noticed for my daughter, that when she is focusing on some aspect of technique, the notes often go all over the place. Conversely, when she is trying to remember the notes (and the correct order of phrases), her technique goes to bits. It took her about 9 months to learn Perpetual Motion, 1 year on Etude. We are 3 months and counting on Minuet 1.

The other day, I had her play Minuet 1 from the book, as she has completed Book One of “I can read music”. LIke Anne Brennand’s student, she played perfectly—that’s not an exaggeration, her teacher is wonderful and she has done so much technique work. With the stress of remembering the notes taken away, suddenly she could relax and focus on making a beautiful sound.

Since then she found it much easier to play from memory, like she now has the visual memory of the dots on the page to help. She gets cross if I say watch her bow, she says “I can’t remember the notes and watch my bow”, and you see her eyes are staring into space, what she is seeing is some kind of written record of the tune inside her head.

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