High Ability Students


Leilah Smith said: Apr 18, 2016
Leilah Smith
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Piano
Indianapolis, IN
1 posts

I am a new suzuki teacher this year. I have my book 1 certification from CSI. Going back this summer for book 2! (Great Institute!!) I have a student who is 8 years old and is in High-Ability classes at school. She’s very smart and catches onto things quickly, when it involves book smarts. However, per usual, the physical motions, (bow hold, pulling the bow across the string properly), seem to be a bit of the normal struggle. Our last lesson, she just basically gave up and didn’t want to finish. She asked me when the lesson would be over (15 more minutes) and it frustrated me, because I could tell I was not making this process fun. She’s used to moving forward quickly because of her learning ability. I told her that learning an instrument, was not the same as doing school work. I told her I knew she was very smart and bright, and that unfortunately learning an instrument takes time for everyone, so she would need to be more patient with herself! You can’t just pick it up and play it well. I told her I promised I would try to make it more interesting for her, but really have no idea how. She loves minecraft…so maybe I should bribe her with minecraft stuff? I don’t know. HALP!!!! How do I keep her from getting so frustrated that she quits? I can tell she loves the cello when she passes certain milestones, but it doesn’t come so easily for her, so she gets bored.

Emily Anthony said: Apr 18, 2016
 Violin, Viola
Jamestown, RI
8 posts

You need to give her fun songs to play! She should have a new song every week, and if you can’t think of a song that fits her ability, then write one for her. Even if she only plays open strings, she can play a familiar song with you doing the melody. I think it’s the wrong approach to say, “you aren’t bowing correctly so you can’t play any songs yet.” Just let her play, and you will correct as you go along. There is a great deal of music students can play before starting Suzuki bk. 1. If you want some ideas, let me know.

Rose Lander said: Apr 19, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
54 posts

hi Emily,
aside from i’m a little monkey and hot cross buns,(plucked) I cannot think of other songs for a very slow beginner. any more suggestions?
best, rose lander

Laura Burgess said: Apr 19, 2016
Laura Burgess
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
32 posts


How about mine craft language to tell her how to use the bow? And excersizes to make her movement easier? For children that are very bright, then have sometimes missed out on that part of life where you have to work at things because things come easily. Using something she enjoys might ease that path…


Check out Adventures in Violinland, Postcards from Egbert, and Red Parrot, Green Parrot. Great beginner songs that appeal to students. These are for violin but could easily be used on other instruments by transposing.

Also Joanne Martin’s Magic Carpet for fun songs that they can do the rhythms to on open string.

Best wishes,


Christine Clougherty said: Apr 19, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
19 posts

I think you were right to acknowledge to your student that she is bright and a quick learner, but also that you mentioned that learning an instrument is different from school work, and everyone has to work at it. I am not one who thinks we need to entertain the students or always make everything fun. As adults, we spend some time every day doing things that are not fun, but we have to do them anyway. We also have to do things that are hard, but we do them anyway. Sure, we can put on music and make the chore a little less boring, or get help if something is hard. And I understand that in the lessons, we have to mix up activities, find songs the kids like, but I just wanted to add my two cents about another life lesson that children learn from studying an instrument.

Carla Sciaky said: Apr 19, 2016
Carla Sciaky
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Denver, CO
3 posts

I would highly recommend the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, especially for students like the one you are describing. You will be doing her a favor for her entire life if you can integrate the message from Dr. Dweck’s book into your teaching and parent education!!

Amy said: Apr 19, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
50 posts

Dear Leilah,
I sympathize with you in trying to figure out how to nurture your really book-smart student as she learns to do something that is new and challenging! I also have a student who came to me as a transfer student in mid-book 2, but her previous teacher had let her feel successful if she played with good intonation and rhythm. Her posture, tone, and just about everything else was terrible! It has taken us about 2 1/2 years to turn this around, and what has really made the difference is presenting the hard parts of a new piece first and working to make those parts easy. Then, it’s easy for her to put the easy parts of a piece around the hard parts.

Case in point: recently she needed to start work on double stops for a new piece. When the double stops were introduced, she hyperventillated herself, and cried that it was impossible (aka—it wasn’t easy for her). The next week, after working on just playing two notes at a time, which was by then easy, we put it into a very small melodic unit of her piece. When that became easy, I asked her to play the whole piece at the next lesson. Low and behold, that turned out to be easy, as well.

I cannot emphasize enough that turning around her perspective on needing to work hard has not been easy. However, it is worth it! Be sure that you and the parent are communicating about the issues, because you would hate to feel that just about the time you are beginning to get somewhere, the student quits because the parent doesn’t feel that it’s worth it for the child to get so frustrated working so hard with little results.

Hope that’s helpful.

Emily Anthony said: Apr 19, 2016
 Violin, Viola
Jamestown, RI
8 posts

Rose, I have written quite a few very simple songs either for open strings, or with step-wise motion, which I would be glad to share with you or anyone who sends me an e-mail address.
If the student is starting to learn finger -placement, you can take any little 4-line poem or nursery rhyme, something the child likes, and have her play one different note per line, ie: line 1 A string, line 2 1st finger, line 3 two fingers, etc.
Then do it in the opposite order, and next mix up the order of fingers. Children enjoy saying the verses as much as playing them.

Heather Reichgott said: Apr 19, 2016
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
94 posts

Maybe ask her about a time she had to have a lot of patience and persistence with something in Minecraft, and work in small steps to accomplish a goal that was really cool and interesting to her but took a long time to get there. That game works that way. The answer might give you a clue as to what makes her tick, but more importantly, the process of coming up with an answer might help her realize that she can and does in fact work persistently on something that is not instant gratification!

Anthony Salvo said: Apr 20, 2016
Anthony Salvo
Suzuki Association Member
Nederland, CO
5 posts

” I Know A Fox ” was specifically designed by Bill Starr to address this need. Wonderful book.

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.—Buddha…

Laura Jones said: Apr 20, 2016
Laura Jones
Suzuki Association Member
2 posts

Hi Leilah,
You had good counsel.
Dr. Suzuki said, “Success breeds success.” Whenever a child shows misbehavior or frustration I know I need to quickly go backward as I have skipped a step. I will say, “Let’s do this. It is important to do this first.”
As for writing up these Ideas, if you need it. I use muse score which is free.
I would video on your cell or hers for the practice point you are mastering. Dr. Suzuki loved technology. He would use it.
I would be specific with your praise to her effort and hard work. Dr. Suzuki always said to praise the effort and then say ‘and if you do more..You will master more.’

Plan ahead and prepare by breaking it down into small steps. Then as you step ahead and she shows signs of frustration- you will have some plans if you need to step back.

Many good ideas have been shared with you. Mainly violin ideas which can be easily moved over the string for the cello or transposed with muse score for the piano, if needed.

Remember to praise the effort. Saying she is smart and bright increases her concern with failure and frustration if she doesn’t get it right away. Focus on what she is doing, as that will encourage her to keep going and try to develop the skill. Her effort, her tone, her stop-loss for example.

Think about different ways to achieve your goals. Create new ways to say things with rhythms.

Keep on smiling and caring about the student.

Elise Winters said: Apr 21, 2016
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

It definitely sounds like some quick success would help!! The conversations about mindset are wonderful, but work best with a student you’ve already established a trusting relationship with. What builds their trust is them feeling successful & engaged. :) So … Emily, Laura & Anthony’s suggestions on repertoire to make it fun and keep her moving are really perfect.

Here are some pretty vocal recordings of songs that are designed to be stepping stones to Twinkle: www.discoverviolin.org/books/book-1/. All the songs in the collection are sing-able, and many are often used in music classrooms so she may know them already. Songs similar in difficulty to Monkey song are: Let Us Chase the Squirrel, Boil Them Cabbage, and All My Little Ducklings. The songs that are harder than Monkey Song (but easier than Twinkle) are: All Around the Buttercup, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Naughty Kitty Cat.

I have my young beginners sing these and play them on the piano first. They get to master the notes this way, without the complications of bowing. Then they’re able to be more successful when they play them on the violin (which is both more tiring & more multi-tasking). :) Although your 8-year-old student has much more dexterity than a 4-5 year old beginner, she may enjoy spending time on piano and add appreciate the added variety in her lessons.

Alan Duncan said: Apr 24, 2016
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
59 posts

This exemplifies one reason why there’s some debate about whether “gifted” or “high ability” are good terms. “Asynchronous development” is often more accurate as it might be in this case. The student is a quicker learner in certain areas than in others. She makes the perfectly natural assumption that because many things come quickly, the cello should too. It’s also probable that she’s developed perfectionist tendencies as a result of her abilities. Most perfectionists—even child perfectionists—tend to avoid tasks that don’t yield the same feedback as tasks they do well.

The parents can be allies here. What sort of messages do they convey, intentionally or otherwise? I agree with others that messages that reinforce the importance of hard work over native ability are key.

Heather’s suggestion above about how to use her interest in Minecraft to gain insight into how the student thinks about difficult tasks is brilliant.

Phankao said: Apr 24, 2016
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

Does the parent(s) attend the lesson with the child? What is their take on it? I believe it’s the parents responsiblity as home coach to guide the child in their expectations and in focus (to get the task done properly).

I do have a 7-going-on-8-year-old which I think can be considered “high ability” (what’s with the label though… he could read 2 languages before 1yo for one)… and he wouldn’t be motivated by the “games” suggested above? He might even think some are juvenile. I think the parents would be in the best position to know what motivates their child best and how they can related to having some successes as they move along in practising. If a High Ability child sets his/her mind to it, and focusses at the tasks that you set for the child, he/she would get it during practise during the week.

As a parent, I’d need my child, high ability or otherwise, to realise the ethics of work and progress and would teach/guide him/her the steps they could take in achieving such.

Carol said: Jun 4, 2016
Carol Preston
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Damariscotta, ME
3 posts

Leilah, you have gotten some good, and a variety of, advice. I agree with those who are not as worried about “entertaining” her. In my experience with this type of student, it probably has less to do with how you are teaching and a lot with how they see themselves. You said she gave up at the lesson. There are certain students (people) who just shut down and don’t try, so they cannot be seen as failing at something. If you don’t try, you don’t fail. They are used to excelling but DO need to learn that not everything comes easily—and that’s OK!

As you get to know this student and family, I suggest that you and her parents be alert to signs in other parts of her life where she expects herself to be perfect. It can be very debilitating. If this were the case, I’d suggest a book that I have used in my public school teaching called Maintaining Sanity in the Classroom, by Rudolph Dreikurs, MD. link I took a short class on this, where you learn about types of students who have complete misconceptions about how to operate in the world. One of the types is a person who just gives up because they think they have to be perfect. It gives strategies for helping a child with this, but it can be difficult. I have found this helpful.

You must log in to post comments.

A note about the discussion forum: Public discussion forum posts are viewable by anyone. Anyone can read the forums, but you must create an account with your email address to post. Private forums are viewable by anyone that is a part of that private forum's group. Discussion forum posts are the opinion of the poster and do not constitute endorsement by or official position of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc.

Please do not use the discussion forums to advertise products or services