4 year old going too fast.

Lau GL said: Jun 13, 2018
 3 posts

My son is 4 years old. He started cello lessons when he was 2. His first teacher was great and he learned more than we would imagine he was going to learn at that age. Then, unfortunately, we had to move and change the teacher. With the new teacher he spent a year learning nothing but the name of the strings. Now, at age 4 when he was finally able to attend the “Suzuki School” he is learning new things again, and more than happy to practice.

Now, here comes my question. Withing 3 weeks he has gone from “Twinkle, Twinkle” to Perpetual Motion in D Major. That is almost one new song every 3 days.

I am not a musician but I feel he shouldn’t go so fast. I don’t want to stop him now that he is all excited about his cello, but I believe he should slow down and practice one song over and over again. When we show the teacher she doesn’t say much, she actually looks pretty happy, and only makes him play all the songs he is learning and makes one or two comments on things he should be working on a particular song.

One more thing. My son is only FOUR, as I said, and he would practice for one hour or so every day. He seems to enjoy it. The truth is, I just sit and look at him not knowing for sure what I should do.

Is there anyone here willing to help me by getting his videos and telling me if he is actually doing it ok? I’m not sure I can trust the teacher 100 %. She is nice, but I believe she should be more proactive.

Thank you for your help.

Joanne Shannon said: Jun 14, 2018
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Los Angeles, CA
99 posts

Why don’t you ask his teacher what general skills she expects him to work on for each piece (besides just learning the notes & fingerings) and make a chart for him so that you can “see” his progress. I give all my parents a “focus” chart listing what I generally expect from each piece. For instance ( piano book 1) hands alone, than together 25x’s, than scramble it, play it with our eyes closed, reverse the parts between hands (alone), play hands alone and together 25x’s. This takes a couple of months . Then if it’s sounding pretty good we “polish it” (50 perfect times in 3 weeks—student turns in a polish slip each week.) Then it goes into the “dinner concert” (review) where I hear it once a month.

Barbara Rylander said: Jun 15, 2018
Barbara Rylander
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Saline, MI
24 posts

Hello Lau GL,

I just wanted to go through what you wrote specifically:

I have taught very young children and here is my perspective: 2 years old is very young. Usually at this age children are not able to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. And since this ability needs to be grown, the parent, the home teacher, provides the maturity to get the child to do somewhat boring tasks over and over correctly.

So, if the parent understands how to play games and how a young child thinks, then it can work out well.

Every once in awhile there is a child who has unusual integration of the skills and abilities and brain maturity, that are needed to play an instrument. I once had a 2 1/2 year old student who was too young to understand that her 20 minute lesson was finished! She was ready to keep going. Usually, a 4 or 5 year old student would have trouble staying focused for 20 minutes. I had another student who started reading at age 2 1/2, and started violin at 4. But these children were not the usual situation. In the first case, the girl’s older brother played cello, age 4, and mom was pregnant with baby #3, and Dad was a musician. No pressure on the child, just a great environment. In the second case, the parents just read to their daughter and she picked up reading on her own, at age 21/2. I don’t know of any other child who has done this. I’m sure there are some. I know of children whose brains are not ready to read until age 9, and then all of a sudden they can do it.

So, I wanted to tell you that so you can get a broader picture of how your child is functioning.

An hour a day is very unusual in my experience for a 4 year old.

That’s one thing.

The other thing is that if he learned all the skills in the Twinkles very well, it is possible to learn the next few songs very quickly.

Some things are skills. Some things are just information. Naming the strings is just information. That is remembering information. Playing is something different. I have found that young children are at different stages of development in their individual minds, on different items. The best book I read is Your Child’s Growing Mind by Jane Healy.

So, in my experience, when my students have very solidly completed the Twinkles, they often learn the next few songs taking only a week to learn each song. By learn the song, I mean learn the notes. We take time to learn correct bowings and other important skills. AND they practice FAR LESS than an hour a day. They are not complicated songs.

So it is possible, with the information you have given, that this is ok.

But, does your young cellist sound good? Does he sound pretty much like the recording? Is is bow parallel to the bridge? Is he in the part of the bow that the teacher has indicated with tapes or stickers on the bow? Is he in tune?

And also, do you take videos of the lessons? Sometimes a teacher is a very good musician, but you have to pull out the “to do daily” exercises from the lesson time. I find this to be a particular challenge when working with young children who are ready to move quickly. They need more input than their attention span or the family budget can handle.

Just some food for thought, and if you still want to have someone review a video, I would be glad to do so as long as it does not go against any policy here. Also, ethically, I would not under any circumstances criticize the teacher or recommend specific action. Each situation is unique and sometimes the problem you think you have is actually something else.
All the best to you. Barb

Lau GL said: Jun 15, 2018
 3 posts

Dear Barb,
Thank you for answering.
My son started to read when he was 2 years old. And when I say read I don’t mean “sounding out” words or sight words, I mean, he read like an adult when he was 2. 5 years old, both in English and Spanish.

That been said, I’ll answer your other questions.

He does sound like the recording, and the hour he spends practicing is because he wants to keep practicing when I say “we are done”.

Now, what worries me is that there are certain IMPORTANT skills (Such as sitting up tall and straight, hold the bow correctly) that he is till struggling to get.

So, should I stop him from getting new songs until he get these things? I am not in a hurry to finish any book.

Also….is he not only “sounding like the recording” but following the tecnique he should follow? I do not know. And I would be so grateful if you would see his videos. Where do I send them?

As regards to his teachers, I do not want him to change. I think she might be the best we have down here in Colombia.

Lau GL said: Jun 15, 2018
 3 posts

I will do that!!

Mengwei Shen said: Jun 16, 2018
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
156 posts

“Now, what worries me is that there are certain IMPORTANT skills (Such as sitting up tall and straight, hold the bow correctly) that he is still struggling to get.”

This is the heart of it—the balance of learning skills and learning pieces. If you have skills but no pieces, then why bother with the skills. If you have pieces but weak skills, you don’t get the full potential of the pieces (and it will make it difficult to play future more advanced pieces). There may be teachers who prioritize skills vs. pieces at certain times of the child’s development.

I suggest not waiting for the teacher to “be more proactive” but go ahead and ask your questions. If you have identified sitting posture and bow hold as areas needing work, ask for help on how to improve those. Speaking for myself, it’s refreshing when a parent is eager to work on skills. Sometimes a student/parent will be slacking off on my assignments, then ask when they get to learn the next piece, and that is not something teachers like to hear.

Kurt Meisenbach said: Jun 19, 2018
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Canton, TX
33 posts

Wow. You have a very exciting situation on your hands. Where exceptionally fast learning is involved, opinions among knowledgeable people can vary. Therefore my opinion is only an opinion to be considered along with others.

Exceptional talent can be a double edged sword. It’s fun for the one who has the talent—things come fast and easily to him or her. Later on that talent can become an impediment. The very talented don’t learn at an early age the role and importance of work. As a result they frequently don’t form the learning habits earlier in life that are necessary for lifetime learning.

There are ways to get around this problem. First, I don’t believe that a child can learn too fast, provided that they know what they have learned and put it into practice. Here are a few suggestions you might experiment with to see if you like the results:

  1. Have your son perform frequently for friends and family. Schedule a 5 minute concert each night where he performs the pieces he las learned. This will connect his talent and what he has learned with his experience of expressing himself to others. You might want to suggest to him that he introduce each piece before he plays it. Maybe he would like to tell his audience something about the piece—why he likes it, what he thinks about when he plays it, how long he took to learn it and similar observations. These introductory comments to his audience help him to internalize his learning experience in a way he will remember longer.

  2. Ask him questions about his pieces. For example, How is this piece different from the other piece? What parts of this piece are easier to play? What parts are harder to play? Why is that? What do you do differently to play the hard part from what you do to play the easy part?

  3. After he first plays a new piece, ask him, What piece have you already played that is similar to this one? What do you do to play the other piece? What will you do to play this piece?

The above questions are aimed at encouraging Knowledge Transfer—the ability to take something we have learned in one place, change it a little and then use it to solve a problem in another place. This skill makes us good problem solvers, and successful people have this ability refined to a high level. You can accelerate your son’s development of this skill by asking him the right questions.

Encourage your son to talk about what he is doing and how he is doing it. Where in the bow is he playing? Why? Why is this part softer, louder, slower, faster than another part? What are his favorite pieces? Why? His answers don’t necessarily need to be complete or fancy. A simple “I don’t know, I just like it more”, or “It just sounds better when I play it softer” are excellent answers. The goal of your questions is not to get encyclopedia responses—it is to get your child to think about what he is doing and make connections between the pieces he is learning. By the way, don’t try to correct or improve on his answers. Let him blaze his own trail as he connects things together for himself. Better and more complete answers will come later. In the meantime your son is developing analytical and knowledge transfer skills that will make him more successful in whatever he decides to do later in life.

Brain scans have shown that listening to music stimulates the right side of the brain. Playing a musical instrument stimulates both sides of the brain. Asking questions that encourage your child to think strengthens the connections between the left and right sides of the brain. All cylinders are firing.

You are on an exciting journey. Enjoy it and good luck.


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