new student wants to quit

Mary Wittrup said: Sep 10, 2014
Mary Wittrup
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
3 posts

I have a recently-turned 4-year-old who is not interested in playing piano anymore. I taught the mother for several weeks first, then started with short 10-minute lessons for the child. I emphasized praise, no negative comments, and using games and props to make practice fun. The mother is doing the same at home, but after 5 months, the child is ready to quit. She does not cooperate in the lesson, just pretends she doesn’t know how to do the things we worked on.

The mother thought that my asking the child to focus on piano for the lesson was too much and she should be allowed to talk about other things. I don’t have a problem with that as long as we can keep outside discussions short. The mother also thought I might have created some negative feelings when I asked the child if she wanted to end the lesson because she wasn’t focusing. I do that when I feel the child is tired and we aren’t accomplishing anything. I don’t want the child to feel she is being punished.

My thought is that the family has been traveling and there were several weeks over the summer when there was no practice at all.

Any ideas?

Danielle Gomez Kravitz said: Sep 11, 2014
Danielle Gomez Kravitz
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
59 posts

It seems like there’s a communication gap somewhere. Your goals and the mom’s goals may not be lined up. As in, you are trying to emphasize a point in the lesson but that point may not be getting reinforced at home.

Have you tried having them record their practice sessions? Either using a phone or a tablet of some sort. I think this would help a lot.

Katherine said: Sep 11, 2014
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
75 posts

Regarding the issue of the student wanting to discuss non-lesson material during the lesson…I had a 6 yr old student who often wanted to tell me rather lengthy stories that had nothing to do with his lesson, during his lesson. I would tell him that I really wanted to hear the story at the end of the lesson. I would jot down on a strip of paper a few words to remember what he was telling me, that I would read back to him, and then set it aside. It seemed to help assure him that I would hear the story, and it was important to me, when told at the appropriate time, and he would return to focus on the lesson. I also taught an older child w diagnosed ADHD with similar behavior and this approach worked well with this child as well.

Sue Hunt said: Sep 11, 2014
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

It might be worthwhile addressing the way you praise. We all know that praise is a very powerful tool, BUT…

It has been shown in a study at Stanford University that praising for results and perceived talent is demotivating.

Praising hard work and effort empowers a child to keep trying.

Robin said: Sep 11, 2014
 Piano
Marietta, GA
2 posts

How about putting the focus on the environment rather than on the child?
This young child may become more motivated by being in a lesson with other children.
I usually teach children this age in a small group of 2 -3 children that come together for a 30-40 minute lesson. They each have an individual lesson at the piano and can watch each others lesson or color at a small table. We also do some group activities together—singing, movement, rhythm etc.

Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy is based on how children learn to speak their native language—so in the beginning lots of listening, watching other children, with less focus on what the child is producing.

If you feel it is time to end the lesson, than end it in a friendly way -
Bow, and talk to the mom or do another activity. I feel you can ask an older child who is deliberately misbehaving if they want to end the lesson, but not a 3-4 year old.

Just my opinion in adapting the lesson in age appropriate ways .

Barbara Stafford said: Sep 11, 2014
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
59 posts

I have been teaching an older child through the past two years (5 year old—7 years old). This student really needs to interact with me and share themselves. They are happy coming to the lesson because I do give her a small amount of leniency and she feels known and understood. I believe that is why she stuck with it, even when she wanted to quit. Sometimes she would even show disappointment and anger that she had been forced to come to the lesson. One time I just held her hand and acknowledged her feelings. I said, “I know you are so tired, you didn’t want to come here. You really wanted to do something else instead…. (then I paused for a while because I did not know how I was going to end it, lol, but i definitely knew I could not say “but”)…. Thank you for coming even though you feel this way. We’ll just do the best we can together today. Let’s start with something easy.” It was definitely like a prayer, she could see I felt sad that she felt the way she did, because I did. Its never enjoyable teaching a child that doesn’t want to be there. And, I prefer kids be happy to see me…. In this case her brain totally flipped far enough away from that dark side and she started cooperating with me. The lesson actually went relatively well. I think finding a way to set the mood for cooperation and teamwork is helpful to me with reluctant students. Finding a way to help them know you are on their side. It is about more than piano skills and how far and how fast they can go in one years time, its about working together. Oftentimes not focusing so much on perfection, just cooperation for whatever you can do with them that very day, even when it is just review of past lessons. I sometimes take the idea I learned from another Suzuki teacher, using a penny to represent a task, and telling them, lets see how many pennies we can accomplish today. And show happiness for however many that was. Then after a while, seeing if they can earn more pennies during the lesson than what they did last time. If this student wants to tell you something personal you can say… not yet, wait til after you earn a penny, then its your turn…. Finally as part of the bow in, and bow out, I have adopted having this student speak a sentence that fits the student’s need. Beginning Bow: “I am ready to listen and learn”. Ending Bow: “Thank you for helping me to become a good learner.” (only for a student who needs it) I say it first, then they can say it after me. If they won’t say it. I just ask them to think it while I say it during the bow, or they can whisper it while I say it…. I am sure some teachers would not agree with giving the students as much leniency as I sometimes give them, but some people I feel need it, then you can rein in once they trust you and feel better known by you. That’s what I tend to believe.

Heather Reichgott said: Sep 12, 2014
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

In addition to what others have said —

Try getting away from the piano once or twice during the lesson with a 4-year-old, but do something related to learning music: sing songs, play finger number games, put on a recording and jump in time to the music.

If the child absolutely refuses to try what you ask, then you could try putting the child in the parent’s seat and teaching the parent to play for the first few lessons. Most likely when the child sees the parent engaged and interested in making music, she will want to do it too.

Mary Wittrup said: Sep 12, 2014
Mary Wittrup
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
3 posts

I really appreciate all your suggestions. Some are very helpful. I do plan to start some group lessons, but the other children are doing very well in private and we can’t rearrange everyone to make a weekly group lesson. The best I can do is once or twice a month on a day other than the lesson.

I have always taught the mother for all or part of the lesson and the child knows how much her mother is enjoying it. Now I’m teaching the mother the entire time because the child doesn’t want a lesson. I have no reason to believe there was any lack of communication between the mother and me. We spent several weekly lessons together before the child started and continued to discuss how practice went at home. She has always been very understanding and cooperative. Is it possible that the child lost her motivation because she was unable to practice much over the summer due to frequent traveling? I know it couldn’t be helped, but now I need help getting the child interested again.

Sue Hunt said: Sep 13, 2014
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

I love what Barbara said about acknowledging how the child feels and appreciating that he/she has come to the lesson in spite of it. This is very powerful.

Just another thought… Children often refuse to cooperate because they are overwhelmed.

Lori Bolt said: Sep 13, 2014
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

The break in lessons probably is factor. I’ve encountered it at times. I think you’re doing all you can, and these suggestions may help. You didn’t say if you teach another child of that age who might share lesson times to make a mini group.
Find as many games as will work, for lessons and practice which can keep the music learning going off the piano. Good luck!

Lori Bolt

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