Memory slip in recital

Claire Devries said: Dec 9, 2017
 34 posts

Dear group,

My son (6) has been playing for a little bit over a year and a half. Last week was his studio violin recital (his 3rd studio recital) and he played Happy Farmer (bk1). He was discouraged after he had a memory slip during the recital. As you may know, HF has 2 different “ending” to the theme (for lack of better explanation), on bar 5 and bar 9. He confused between the two in the middle of the song. It took him a while to figured out, then the pianist helped out, and he finished the song.

The memory slip never happened during practice, and he’s been solidly listening and practicing the song for over 2 months now (by ear and not reading the score). He worked very hard on this song. At home, we did several “dress rehearsal” where he played wearing the dress shirt that he intended to wear on that day, then we practiced getting into the stage, bow, setup, giving “nod” to the pianist, complete with ending bow and stepping off the stage. We did all that for a few days before performance. He also rehearsed with the pianist the day before, just like any other students, and it went well.

His teacher was v. encouraging, perhaps a bit dismissive and downplay it (”It’s ok, everyone did it, you’ll do better, it’ll get better with time, you’ll get used to performing more and more”etc.). But I can clearly see it is a big deal for him. I think anxiety has something to do with it, for sure. He is a quite, sensitive child and I don’t want this small snag to discourage him. I wonder if you may have any insight for me as a parent to help him about this (i.e. tips/tricks during practice to prevent memory slip? or a way to recover, much like when one is learning how to ski, one learns to fall the correct way first? or how to deal with performance anxiety?).

Any advice would be appreciated.

Joanne Shannon said: Dec 9, 2017
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Los Angeles, CA
142 posts

I’d say anxiety had a lot to do with it because too much emphasis and pressure was put on making sure everything was “perfect”. Better to just let the students “play their best” and not go through all those preliminaries. Then if anything happens it doesn’t matter so much because they did their best and that should be enough. Time is the true barometer. Sometimes it takes a year to play something without error three times in a row. We want them to love music, not be afraid of it.

Sue Hunt said: Dec 10, 2017
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

This sort of thing can be very difficult for a perfectionist. The tension of worrying about the results definitely contributes towards memory failure.

However, perfectionism is a trait that is learnt and we can do much to help a child to learn more helpful mindsets.

If you are not familiar with Carol Dweck’s study at Stanford University, on how praising results vs hard work affects mindset, click on this link.

Your teacher is right to downplay the event. I know from parental experience that it can be very difficult to shrug it off, but it is important to have a go. Good luck with this one, your relaxed attitude will help more than you can think.

Here are some quotes from a recent Mimi Zweig masterclass that I attended:
• We nonjudgemental zone here. There is no right or wrong.
• What you think are mistakes are simply signposts. They are simply information. All you have to do to notice what they tell you.
• If you didn’t make mistakes, I’d be out of a job!

Christy Hodder said: Dec 10, 2017
Christy Hodder
Suzuki Association Member
Halifax, NS
7 posts

This is so easy to do in Happy Farmer!
It will never happen again, I promise, if you teach it like this…
When previewing the happy farmer bowings during the minuets, also teach “first and second endings” to Happy farmer.
For the first one, F sharp, E, D—face the wall to the left of teacher. Teacher yells out “first ending” and player plays it with teacher facing that wall.m
For the second ending teacher faces with student the opposite wall, to teachers left, and play second ending together C natural, f sharp, G.

For months, or at least a few weeks, before learning Happy Farmer play Happy Farmer bow twinkles and the first/second ending game.

Game: Teacher randomly says first or second ending and moves to face either wall and play that one together ….student can also yell out first or second ending to do with teacher. This takes two mnutes in a lesson!

After they know it really well from the game then do it twice first ending to one wall and twice second ending to the other wall to maintain the habit over time and to set it into their permanant memory.

Later when you play the whole piece through still turn wall to wall…then you can just slightly turn over time and Eventually just “imagine” turning.

You will ALWAYS get the endings correct this way

Christy Hodder

Barbara Rylander said: Dec 10, 2017
Barbara RylanderViolin, Viola
Saline, MI
29 posts

I rarely have a student of this age who has gotten all the way to Happy Farmer in a year and a half. Usually it takes a year even with good practice habits to get through the Twinkles.

But each location, city, community, has its own norms and in the right environment with very committed parents and lots of practice, certainly it makes sense.

But what I have students do is to play the piece on the recital that they have very close to performance level about 3 months prior to the recital. So September begins the semester, and December is the recital. What is performance level in September gets played on the formal December recital.

And the type of prep you did for the recital, I think is great. Performing is its own skill. But, I have the student begin the “dress rehearsal” activities about 3 weeks prior to the performance. Really, with most 5 -7 year olds, it is a lot to remember getting to the right spot, violin in rest position, setting the instrument and bow correctly and then getting the pianist started! THen, taking a bow afterwards! Which again, is why I would not have a student play a piece they had only been playing for 2 months.

And I am TOTALLY with his teacher that forgetting something is no big deal at all. I’ve seen it happen to soloists on stage professionally! Also, when I made this rule, part of the reason was also to deflect parents from arguing with me about which piece their child would play! So, my suggestion would be to take a step back and be sure all the basic set-up is in place since his progress has been pretty fast, reflect on his personality and how to be of help. I have had students who get their best focus from pushing toward a looming goal, while others feel uncertain and defocused by any kind of deadline.

A violinist friend who now runs a music school was in nursing for a long time. She prefers music because: When you make a mistake…..nobody dies!

Claire Devries said: Dec 10, 2017
 34 posts

Thank you all, so very much for the kind, encouraging, helpful advice that you shared so generously!

Joanne, I share your sentiment—to me it is much better that he enjoys playing and LOVES music. That’s the goal, really, considering none of us, his parents, are musician. Thanks for your encouraging words.

Sue, yes, I am indeed familiar with the work of Carol Dweck and the growth mindset. This is exactly why I’m here to see if I can turn this situation around for him to reinforce the growth-mindset mentality, rather than dismissing the situation and not dealing with it (like sweeping it under the rug, but only to have it come out again in the future). I can see now how his teachers downplaying the mistake is not intentionally dismissing, but more of a sign of encouragement—thank you for giving me this perspective. I was just wondering if there are tips/tricks to overcome anxiety/not to let anxiety lead to a memory slip in the moment—much like perhaps athlete training for the event. I love those quotes from Mimi Zweig. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Christy, that bits of tips is so brilliant! It incorporates memory with body movement/orientation. I wish I have heard them before (even if he did not have any memory slips during practice). I wonder if I can use your ideas for his current piece (Gossec)… thanks so much for sharing this!

Barbara, thanks for sharing your teacher perspective. It sounds to me, from your comment, that he is a bit underprepared for the piece and I’ll take that into consideration: but would this also mean that I perhaps should question his teacher’s judgement of his readiness? Like you, I do not have a choice in which piece he will be playing, all determined/judged by his teacher. I do agree that performing is a skill: it does take a lot of practice to take a bow, setup, signal to the pianist, etc. I’ll take this into consideration and we’ll try to have more practice time in regards to this (I have become complacent knowing that this is his 3rd recital, the past two went without a hitch). Thank you for your input & sharing your experience.

Kelly Williamson said: Dec 11, 2017
Kelly WilliamsonTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Flute, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Cambridge, ON
318 posts

Hello everyone—coincidentally, this video was in my inbox this morning. Sadly, it doesn’t have a whole lot of solid information (IMO) but at least it highlights the importance of parents’ attitudes towards performance, and invites further discussion. I used to tell non-musician parents in my studio—when they expressed concern about their ability to guide their children—that they often do a better job than musician parents, because they have an easier time just being supportive and cheerleaders. (Not true all the time, I know, but we all have good stories. Such as the time I asked a mother to comment positively on the fact that her child had just played three Gs with consistent sound quality, and instead she pointed out that the last one went flat… she said she knew because she had perfect pitch. That was neither the question, nor the project!)

All of us—parents and also teachers—have such an important job to make sure that our experience, and our difficulties and challenges, do not become the child’s experience.


Barbara Rylander said: Dec 11, 2017
Barbara RylanderViolin, Viola
Saline, MI
29 posts

Hi Claire,

No, I don’t think you should necessarily question your teacher’s choice of piece, and I’m not sure he was underprepared from what you wrote.

Every person is different, so I would encourage you more to be aware just of his personality and how he works best. Even though a student may be quite ready to play a piece in terms of preparation, they can be, personality wise better suited to being more settled and at 200%.

I feel like as Su zuki teachers, we do read our students pretty well usually, but parents of course have more time with their children and can add insight.


Claire Devries said: Dec 11, 2017
 34 posts

Kelly, thanks for sharing the link and mentioning about this documentary. I’ll have to look it up! I very much share your opinion that I, as a parent, have a tremendous responsibility to filter out my biases—this is part of the job description as a parent. I can also see myself as one of the musician said on the clip about a non-musician who could only “gauge” of success by something tangible one (e.g. in this case, to me, is not having a memory slip in a recital). I’m aware that my reaction to a certain thing can carry gravitas to my son’s inner dialog—as I wrote above, I’m writing since I could see how much this situation bothered my son and thus prompting my post to change the narrative of the situation. Thanks for chiming in and putting things in perspective.

Claire Devries said: Dec 11, 2017
 34 posts

Barb, thank you for your input! It indeed has been quite a journey for me to be a Suzuki mom in terms of looking more closely into my son’s habit, tendency, learning mode, etc. all in a different context that I’m not used to. I’ll certainly incorporate your suggestions in the upcoming recitals. I appreciate you writing back.

Kelly Williamson said: Dec 12, 2017
Kelly WilliamsonTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Flute, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Cambridge, ON
318 posts

Hi Claire—I hope I didn’t sound critical of parents! I admire your beating all of the bushes to look for ways to support your son and help him to feel competent and successful. :) (I wish this video had a bit more in the way of concrete stuff to offer… but I suppose they mean it to be a “teaser” for a bigger discussion, and for their full-length video.) In passing, I haven’t been able to catch a screening yet, but I recommend that everyone check it out. Regular screenings are taking place at universities, conservatories, and other locations across the US and occasionally in Canada. You can find info on the web site… I receive notifications to my email box.

All the best!


Kurt Meisenbach said: Dec 12, 2017
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

Memory is important, but we should not judge ourselves or others by it. If a musician of any age has something meaningful to say, we should celebrate this accomplishment regardless of whether they can move us with or without the music in front of them. Close your eyes. What do you hear?

The development of expressiveness is vastly more important than the development of memory, especially at a young age. If your son is able to express himself through his music, praise him for that. Memory will come later.

Claire Devries said: Dec 12, 2017
 34 posts

Kelly, I think your post has been quite helpful and not at all critical (I think I just merely sharing what I have in mind… not necessarily a reaction to your post). Thank you once again, I’d really love to watch that movie (I watched some of the other teasers and they all look good!)—will definitely sign up at the website!

Kurt, thanks for your encouraging words and putting things in perspective! I think perspective is what we sometimes don’t have because we are super focused on the details. We re-watched the video of the recital (my son and I) and truthfully the memory slip happened SO fast, he recovered the second the pianist played the right note and moved on along (we counted, it took literally 2 seconds, out of the 1.5 minutes that he played). I tried to emphasize to him that 2 seconds out of 1.5 minutes is almost nothing (again, I know it bothered him, nevertheless, I try to give him some perspective/big picture). I saw how much he concentrated, but when I close my eyes, his tone was beautiful (”Tuna” tone as Dr. Suzuki said) and filled the big fall. Thanks for chiming in.

Kiyoko said: Jan 12, 2018
 95 posts


I’d be praising him for that he got through Happy Farmer so well in the recital and working on getting him to forget he made a mistake. Even professional soloists make mistakes during performances; their pieces are just harder.

It’s common for a few mistakes to be in every recital as you are learning repertoire. The level of perfection that you are talking about doesn’t come, until the piece is played thousands of times which happens over years. It is why old pieces are practiced and reviewed all of the time.

That you are asking here means you are a dedicated parent but that it’s probably also bothering you too. Downplaying isn’t going to harm him, it won’t turn him into an underachiever, and it may help him cope in the future.

My kid is perfectionist too in a different way. He used to break down crying while he was learning Twinkle because he couldn’t play Happy Farmer yet. Today he was learning a new song and getting frustrated that he couldn’t play it without mistakes yet. (It doesn’t help that he has absolute pitch so he knows which notes are in a new song as soon as he’s heard it a few times. ) I’m having to teach him making mistakes is like losing. It’s something he has to learn to be okay with.

It’s a life lesson they have to learn. Suzuki’s emphasis was on character development of the child as much as or more than teaching music.

Best of luck!

Claire Devries said: Jan 16, 2018
 34 posts

Kiyoko, thank you very much for your kind reply and perspective!

Mary Moser said: Feb 6, 2018
Mary Moser
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Erie, PA
4 posts

Being a parent is tough! As a Suzuki teacher and Suzuki parent… balancing both… oh my goodness! My first is a perfectionist and almost freezes when it’s not perfect, while my second shrugs off her mistakes and poor posture with a glittering smile and dimple, and my third … let’s not get started. But in all of it… we perservere to enjoy the beauty of music while we perservere to relax, perservere to make a beautiful sound, and perservere to make that f# a little higher, perservere to give Happy Farmer- Minuet 1- Twinkle a little more character, perservere to smile because we do enjoy what we’re doing! And perservere to us means … keep trying, keep doing, keep going—it doesn’t mean… perfect.
Claire… your motherly love overflows… keep smiling and hugging him to reassure him that your love has not diminished one bit because of those mistakes. We would find it silly but they don’t. ;)
Perservere. All the best to you both!

Mary Moser

Claire Devries said: Feb 25, 2018
 34 posts

Mary, thanks for taking the time to write the very kind and encouraging words. And a reminder to persevere is truly spot on no matter where we are in the journey. Thanks so much for offering such beautiful perspective!

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