Fear of failure?

Tiffany said: Aug 13, 2016
Tiffany Osborn
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
Los Angeles, CA
41 posts

Hello wonderful teachers, I could use some advice on helping come up with a solution to a problem with a new student.

Background: He was in a preschool violin program where I teach pre twinkle in group and private classes, but there are no parents, it is during school hours (yes, yes, I know ;) anyway, after they graduate they can do regular suzuki lessons if they wish to continue. So we started this summer with regular lessons where the mom is now involved and supervising daily practice, and he has completely shut down, to the point where in today’s lesson he refused to play at all- not in an angry way, just sitting on the chair and refusing to take the violin.

More background: in the preschool we do mostly things from the Step-by-Step book and Magic Carpet, and I use Building Violin Skills pretty heavily. I haven’t given him anything new, just what we previously did in the school year, actually, as I’m typing this, I realized I did give him Monkey Song on the A string, perhaps this was the point. What it seems like, is that he is so afraid to fail, especially in front of Mom, that he would rather shut down. She could have said “I will throw away all your toys if you don’t get up and play” and that would have been fine with him.

The mom is very sweet and supportive and I’m trying to help her come up with a plan. I think it is more complicated than giving a Million Dollar Lesson, I believe what needs to be addressed is his feeling safe to make mistakes, and fight through this feeling of wanting to push things away when it gets hard. I think a lot of kids who are “smart” encounter this in violin, it’s not immediately easy! We need him to be able to get through a challenge… But how?

Devon English said: Aug 13, 2016
Devon English
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Bass, Viola
Las Vegas, NV
2 posts

Hello Tiffany,
Now that you have the mom involved at lessons and home practice, allow your pre-schooler violin student to have a little fun. Reverse the roles of mom home teacher & student just for a week. At your lesson with them, choose review concepts that the pre-schooler can teach the mother, on the tiny violin. Write up a lesson plan that allows the child to take what he has learned and teach it to his mom. At home, allow some “child play” to happen, like the mom needing the child “teacher” to demonstrate how she should do it/play it. The child can observe the mom making mistakes, allowing them both to learn that failure can be a learning tool and when the roles are reversed, the mom will no longer be in the position to scrutinize her child. Try it, and allow them time to bond on a different level, with a bit of light-heartedness, accomplishing your lesson goals through having a joyful lesson time at their home!

Devon Faith English

Christiane said: Aug 14, 2016
Christiane Pors-Sadoff
Suzuki Association Member
New York, NY
47 posts

Dear Tiffany,
I have had similar experiences over my years of experience. It may be a perfect time to bring improvisation into the lessons. This way the child has complete control of the process of music making and you as well as the parent can take a back seat. Al you need is some basic posture, open strings and a few fingers (or none! ) on the A and E strings. Alice Kanack’s series of books on improvisation gives a solid foundation for a student to explore their creativity. Try the Fun with Improvisation book and read the theory carefully before beginning. Have the parent understand the main idea: There is no such thing as a mistake.
You can just ask for one “regular” piece (like open string warm ups—Twinkle rhythms) for the Suzuki part of the lesson as to not overwhelm the student.
As the student builds confidence with improvisation, , you can add more Suzuki repertoire, or investigate the Paul Rolland books—there are many short rote pieces that emphasize connection with the instrument and physical freedom.
If the child won’t take out the violin, find another activity like drawing or take out a soft ball (that won’t destroy your studio) and ask him to play some catch with you. After every 10 successfull catches, ask him to do something super non threatening on the violin and finish with a game of catch! Sometimes we are dealing with fears that need to be confronted with unconventional approaches.
Best of luck!

Christiane Pors
Mikomi Violin Studio
Kaufman Music Center
NYU Steinhardt

Paula Bird said: Aug 14, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Give mom a few lessons and be just terrible at it. And then laugh and have a lot of fun. I would also consider whether he has been getting a lot of praise all the time, and therefore now has a lot of reputation to live up to.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

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