Is it me or the teacher?

Wendy Wong said: Sep 15, 2016
 2 posts

Two months ago, my daughter age 9 who plays Suzuki violin, transitioned to a new teacher. Her prior teacher who she had had from the beginning, moved out of the country. However this new teacher seems to go much slower than the old teacher. In fact two months in, we have not moved beyond the initial piece that she was working on when we joined her. We have been working mostly on scales as well as relearning pieces from the previous book (last piece we were working on with the last piece in book 2), which unfortunately I find very tedious. Is this typical to be so focused on method and perfection? It feels like we’re never going to finish book 2 at this slow rate. And we do practice and listen to the CDs every day. We do exactly what she tells us to do, yet at each lesson, she does not move us on to the next piece.

Gabriel Solomon said: Sep 16, 2016
Gabriel Solomon
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Woburn, MA
4 posts

I have struggled with this issue from the side of being a teacher. I am also the parent of two violin students who study with a different teacher. In my teaching, I try to move students on as quickly as possible, but sometimes students come back with things more or less the same as the previous week. Sometimes things really have to be done before moving on.

Do you feel that you understand well what your daughter is being asked to do? Is she able to do it? If she’s not able to do what is asked of her, there might be a miscommunication. I would ask your teacher what things are between her current piece and the next one, and make sure all three of you have the same understanding. Your teacher might be able to find a different way to explain the tasks, or find a workaround if your daughter can’t do those things right now. As a teacher, I find it very helpful when parents ask specific questions, especially when I feel they are collaborating on a shared process. So in answer to your question, it’s neither you nor the teacher, but it’s a conversation you can have with your teacher.

Gabriel Solomon
Suzuki Violin Teacher

Wendy Wong said: Sep 16, 2016
 2 posts

Thanks for your reply. We had a lesson yesterday and while she is asking my daughter to perfect certain parts of this same old piece, I can’t recall that she really taught anything new. Our old teacher would give us a “polishing piece” and a “working piece”—therefore one we were trying to get perfect and one we were learning new. I really liked that method. I realize I need to speak up and ask her what it is she expects for my daughter to be able to move on (besides perfection which I know is never going to happen). I also know my daughter plays a lot better at home than she does during the lesson. She starts to focus on the little things (bowing, finger placement) and then messes up the notes or forgets where she is. Our old teacher understood this, but the new teacher doesn’t which I think is impeding her allowing us to move forward.

Another thing she told us to do was to listen more to the CDs. She mentioned that there is one hard piece (I think the last one in book 3) that she doesn’t letter her students touch until they have listened to it 200 times and can basically hum the whole thing. I was fairly taken back by that. I think listening that many times is going to kill the joy of learning. We are going to be so excessively bored. I’m bored just thinking about listening to it 200 times. Your thoughts?

Edward said: Sep 16, 2016
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Morris Plains, NJ
17 posts

You might like my article on why repetition is not enough:

Let Them Invent

Repeating things 200 times tends to slowly kill you with boredom! I’ve seen that happen to otherwise bright and cheerful, skillful Suzuki students.

If you need more stimulation with other things you can try, you can sign up for more practice tips at EdwardsViolinStudio.com

Happy practicing,
Edward

EDWARD’S VIOLIN STUDIO
11 Holloway Place
Morris Plains, NJ 07950
201-274-5782

EMAIL: [javascript protected email address]
WEB: EdwardsViolinStudio.com

Melanie Drake said: Sep 16, 2016
Melanie Drake25 posts

I’m guessing that the teacher doesn’t expect you to listen just to that one piece on repeat while staring at something. (That would be very boring!) You can reach 200 by adding it to your existing playlist and listening to it four times a day in the background for less than two months. If you are already listening ahead, you may be listening to each future piece 200+ times without even realizing it.

I’m a software engineer, so I place complete trust into my kids’ teachers. I know it can be frustrating to feel “stuck” on a piece, but I know there must be a good reason when we are not moving on. It means that there’s more to learn, more potential, and that can be an exciting thing. It took me a little while to trust that progress is not measured by book number and piece number. It’s a different way of thinking, but it’s something that I’ve embraced.

Best wishes!

Heather Reichgott said: Sep 16, 2016
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
94 posts

Sounds like the new teacher wants the pieces to be learned to a higher level of quality and artistry than the old teacher… which WILL make your daughter a better musician. Moving to a new piece doesn’t necessarily mean there is progress. Playing better means there is progress.

It can seem tedious sometimes, so if you both feel like you’re spinning your wheels during practice, maybe ask the teacher what specifically your student should work to improve this week, so that you’re not just always doing the same thing as the week before.

PS I expect all my (piano) students to be able to hum a piece before we start learning it, for all new pieces. Generally it happens pretty easily if the CD is a regular part of background listening in the family’s life throughout the week.

Mengwei said: Sep 16, 2016
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
119 posts

Definitely keep the communication open with the teacher especially on understanding what she is asking for. I don’t mind explaining to parents why we do certain things although for certain topics or explanations it may be better discussed outside of the lesson. If your child perceives that the teacher doesn’t have your support, it will be even harder for the teacher to get your child’s support.

Another thing is it does take time to adjust to a teacher’s style and for the teacher to learn about you. Unscientifically, I would say at least 6 months. When I accept a transfer student, I do want to check what has been done in previous pieces. Just because a teacher has taught something doesn’t mean it has been retained. If some skill is missing or weak, it could affect another piece down the road, and the teacher probably knows that from experience.

I heard a teacher trainer once say he spends 80% of the time on review pieces and 20% on working/new pieces because most of the skills you need for a new piece come from old pieces. Another teacher trainer (I use a lot of his ideas because they work!) has 4 “current” pieces (new piece and the 3 before it) plus a system of reviewing old pieces. In Suzuki style, old pieces become better, more artistic, incorporate newer skills you’ve learned, etc., when you “go back” to them.

If you were my student and you thought I was looking for “perfect”, I would first want to check our definitions. Every teacher has a standard in mind of when it’s “time for the next piece” so it’s a good idea to ask. However, I will say that for me, certain wrong notes, wrong bowings, and memory issues could be deal-breakers. How “fluent” a piece sounds, how “perfect” it needs to be, is up for discussion, depending on the piece’s role in our overall study.

As for listening, one of my students was “stuck” in early book 1 for a long time. One lesson, after a bit of vacation, she played the next four pieces, two other tunes she had figured out on her own, and another that she had sung but never played before until I asked for it. She played it on the spot, exactly correct even matching the syllables, on the first try. Sure, book 1 pieces and folk tunes are easier than book 2-3 pieces, but that is the power of listening.

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