Student Stops When Performing

Eliana Haig said: Jul 7, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Saint Louis, MO
2 posts

I have a middle school aged student who started taking lessons last year. She has made a lot of progress and seems to enjoy viola, but she has a habit of stopping in the middle of performances, and I’d like some advice on how to deal with it. She has perfectionist tendencies, so I’m sure that’s a big part of it. I make sure that she runs through her piece several times before the recital, both in the lesson and at home, but no matter how well-prepared she is, as soon as she plays what she thinks is a wrong note or rhythm, she stops playing and sometimes can’t get back on. Any tips?

Christiane said: Jul 8, 2014
Christiane Pors-Sadoff
Suzuki Association Member
New York, NY
47 posts

Try working with her on improvisation. I directed a string program in the 80s and 90s where most of the string students were in weekly improv classes led by Alice Kanack (author of Creative Ability Development—Fun with Improvisation books). The students rarely had memory issues, and were very confident performers on their Suzuki (classical) pieces. Get a copy of her book—it explains her philosophy and gives 28 exercises to learn improv. Ideal for students in Suzuki. Good luck!

Christiane Pors
Mikomi Violin Studio
Kaufman Music Center
NYU Steinhardt

Robin Johnson said: Jul 8, 2014
Robin JohnsonViolin
La Crescenta, CA
14 posts

try having her start at the end, and then work her way back to the beginning, so she plays/knows the end/middle more than the beginning. also, we tend to “relax” once we see the “finish line: in sight, and that’s when we make mistakes. robin

Fabio Dos Santos said: Jul 9, 2014
Fabio Dos Santos
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Campinas, SP, Brazil
11 posts

Several things come to my mind:

  1. I make it clear to my students that there are “types of practicing”. One thing is to practice “technique” – getting all the right notes, all the right bowings, making a consistent sound, and beautiful tone, a relaxed posture, etc.. This is very important, and in the initial stages of preparing a piece, this is mostly what musicians do.

But there is a different kind of practicing, which is that of “performing”. In this case, performing could mean playing WITH someone (in group, or with your accompanist), or playing FOR someone. When you “perform”, one must practice getting through to the end “no matter what”. This means, that you have to practice “getting back”, and sometimes, practice ignoring the “technical” so you can get to the end of the piece.

This, of course, is not a license to just “play badly”. If you did have to overlook the technique during your performance, it means that there is more stuff to work on! The main idea is that there is an appropriate moment to “stop, go back, clean and repeat to consolidate”, and a appropriate moment to “keep going, and don’t stop until you finish”.

  1. I feel that students only “relax” when they feel that they can trust their instincts (and fingers) to guide them though the “tough” parts of the music. Its a challenge to teach them to hear their own feelings, expectations, as well as their practice routine.

  2. Especially with the teenagers, I have a moment with them to set realistic goals about what will be a “successful” performance.
    First, I talk about my “expectations”. They need to know why I think its important for them to play , and what will make me satisfied with their performance. (It never is “I expect you to play all the notes perfectly”, although most of them think it is.)
    Second, also ask them to share a little about what they think and feel are their own expectations. This takes maturity, and some students don’t really offer much. You don’t really have to press on the subject. But it is an essencial exercise to get them thinking about it. It will surely help you understand what is going on inside them.

  3. I always catch myself thinking about the “school experience”. Usually, when one is asked to perform – i.e. in a math test, or and english grammar exercise – what is evaluated is how many “right answers” you can get. And this, of course, becomes your “grade”, which is used as a measure of the “quality of your work”. This can easily become “the measure of your success”. To me, this can generate a lot of confusion in what students expect of a performance.
    I can think of many reasons why this is a horrible mistake in teaching. I can also think of many reasons why this is the wrong way to approach music teaching. Students need to know that performing is not an “evaluation” (except on a personal level), that they are not being “graded”. Furthermore that there are many incredible musicians – inventors, scientists, PEOPLE – that “play wrong notes”, but are still incredibly successful.

I hope these 4 cents help you, but I would also love to hear more insight from other people.

Gwen McKeithen said: Jul 10, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Sonoma, CA
11 posts
  1. Playing with the recording many times will go a very long way to developing the skill of not stopping during a performance.
  2. The ability to stop and start anywhere in the piece is important. For example, my Book 1 students must be able stop at the “red light” (end of every 4 measures) and wait for “green light” to continue.
  3. Throw the piece back and forth: teacher plays , stops, student picks it up at that point and can stop whenever she wants and throw the piece back to the teacher. I begin with stopping my playing at the end of a 4 measure phrase, which is the same place as a red light. But when students catch on, they think it is great fun to stop anywhere. This can also be done with more two or more students.
  4. Playing with your eyes closed. This way, the ears take the lead rather than too much thinking.
  5. Play a section of a piece with get smart dominoes: Put up 5 dominoes. When student plays with no mistakes, domino goes down. When student plays a mistake, domino goes up. Purpose is to get all the dominoes down. I saw a teacher do this with M & M’s at an institute once. When the student played with no mistakes, student ate the candy. When the student made a mistake, the teacher ate the candy. It was amazing how fast the student could play with no mistakes, including no stopping.

In my studio, a piece is not cleared for a recital performance until a student can do all of the above. These tricks are very useful when a student is learning a piece but are primarily useful for knowing a piece at a deeper and deeper level. These tricks are equally important for all levels.

Gwen McKeithen

Eliana Haig said: Jul 24, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Saint Louis, MO
2 posts

Thanks so much for all the insight, everyone! I definitely have a lot of ideas going forward!

I do have her play for her family, and that tends to go well, but she gets more nervous in the recital situation. Maybe part of the issue is she started in school, and didn’t get lessons until last year, so the recital experience was pretty foreign. I’m thinking of some ways to make it less intimidating for my students in that situation, maybe performing in a retirement home or having some smaller recitals throughout the year.

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