Inspiring High Schoolers


Debbie said: Nov 13, 2007
Debbie Mi138 posts

I have an epidemic in my studio. My high school students do not practice. It may be that I just don’t have the personality for teaching older students, but before I completely give up and send them all to a new teacher, does anyone have any magic tricks that they have found?


Lynn said: Nov 14, 2007
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

What else is going on in their lives?

If they are taking a lot of AP or honors courses, the amount of schoolwork and study had probably increased a lot.

There are many opportunities for extra-curricular involvement that come with high school, clubs, activities, plays etc. etc. and many of them can be time-intensive. In my opinion, if kids don’t take advantage of these opportunities, even if it means less attention to violin, they are missing a big part of high school. This would be a little different if a student had his heart and sights set on admittance to a major conservatory. But for the general run-of-the-mill student, the violin can accompany them through life, but once past high school, the likelihood of being part of the musical, or member of a debate team is much smaller.

Peers and peer relationships take on added importance during the high school years. Granted, socializing can’t happen at the expense of all else, but socializing necessary to some extent, and kids who don’t in order to engage in more solitary pursuits- study, practice, etc. are missing an important ingredient of personal development.

In high school, not only their opportunities, but their awareness expands. They are starting to think about who they are (identity development), and what their place is in the world. A lot of what they currently do—like violin-comes up for re-evaluation, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. It can manifest as lack of motivation or not practicing. In the face of so much new awareness, and confusion, and new and interesting opportunities and possibilities, they can easily get a bit overwhelmed and lose focus.

This is also a point where kids become extremely self-aware, self-conscious, and concerned with how they are perceived and whether they “measure up”. They also very badly want to be able and allowed to make decisions about things that directly affect them.

So, with all that in mind, they need a different kind of interaction with you than the more directive approach they needed when they were younger. Think collaborative. Violin lessons are an opportunity to engage the process of establishing priorities and defining acceptable or satisfactory outcomes. **Acceptable or satisfactory to THE STUDENT. Maybe they are not progressing to the extent you would like, or the extent to which they are capable, but if they are happy with the progress they are making; if their progress reflects their overall priorities, Fine. If not, then you talk with them about setting realistic goals, techniques and strategies for identifying their priorities, and maintaining them in spite of outside pressures and distractions, and assessing new opportunities, not only based on level of interest, but also on how they will impact current priorities and commitments. Progress on the violin/amount of practice is a good yardstick for measuring their progress in their ability to do this. Important life skill, wouldn’t you say? :) Your role would be to help clarify, to note where their stated intentions and goals with regards to their violin, are at odds with their actual decisions and actions, and help them figure out what to do to bring them closer in line.

At this stage, it is very important that you let students know that not only is okay, you want them to come to their own decision about the violin. Part of the lack of motivation may be that they feel they don’t have a choice in the matter, or they worry that their level of interest or ability doesn’t meet your standard…it also happens that students really genuinely lose interest, at least for the time being, but have become so attached to you over the years, they don’t want to upset or disappoint you by admitting that they do not love the violin. I have certainly had that happen!

There was an excellent article in the SAA Journal about working with teenagers. In that article, the teacher outlined an interview that she undertakes with her students as they transition into high school. You may find it helpful. Maybe more than my rather long-winded response!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that my approach to high school kids is to support the work they want to do on the violin, rather than try and get them to conform to what I want. (Unless, of course they don’t have a clue, or an agenda, in which case, politely require that they adopt mine until they have one ‘:lol:

Debbie said: Nov 14, 2007
Debbie Mi138 posts

Thank you, Lucy.

I do like your approach—being very open to them and helping them with their needs rather than forcing your “agenda” on them. I will start really considering this.

said: Feb 18, 2008
 5 posts

Here is my general rule for my high schoolers: if they come to a lesson unprepared one week I let it slide because we ALL have a bad / busy week once in awhile. If they come the following week still unprepared, they play three octave scales and arpeggios the entire lesson time. My reasoning is that scales / arpeggios are usually not on the top of my students list as far as fun goes. I, on the other hand, could listen to them all day long and not get bored. For me, it is also a much more effective and positive way to use the lesson time than simply practicing with the student week after week. We can work on shifting, vibrato, bowing techniques, speed, tone, etc, etc, etc. This rule has been great for me, too, because I really hate nagging my “kids” to practice. They all know the “scale rule.”

With my HS students, I spend a lot of the lesson teaching them how to practice and how to practice efficiently. I write in a notebook for them and make very very specific assignments. When I assign new material I ask them how much they want to bite off in a week. I also try to make it very clear that quality of practice is more important than quantity. I have found that some students think that it’s not worth it to even take the instrument out for short periods of time. I try to communicate to them that 15 minutes of intense, concentrated practice can be more effective than 60 minutes of just playing through. Of course, 60 minutes of intense concentrated practice would be my ideal, but I know that’s not going to happen all the time. :D


Kirsten said: Feb 19, 2008
 103 posts

I love your response, Lucy. This is such an exciting age, and you captured the aspects of it so well.

I take a serious look at the repertoire for my older students. It seems to me that if you are in book IV or above, you really need to be putting in an hour a day to make satisfactory progress on the concertos (a pleasant tone, good intonation and playing up to speed.) For the most part students who listen to their recordings know the sound they want, and their standards can be almost as high as ours in terms of sound. The steep climb of technical challenge built into the Suzuki repertoire, in my opinion, may not be appropriate for every student. I have to ask my students how much they are practicing, and not give them the impression that I am judging the answer.

Sometimes for older students, I go to duet repertoire such as Pleyel. I would love to find a method book with repertoire that is good for these (practice challenged) students, but I have searched in vain. Can anyone help?

I am also just starting to appreciate some of the Wohlfahrt etudes, which I missed in my own earlier study due to being a Suzuki student. Some of the more melodic studies in Wohlfahrt are very pretty and can be learned in a week— or perhaps 3 weeks if you are a busy high school student. But for my practice challenged students I skip boring etudes and extensive scale studies. Even though I am greatful for these things, they are too much medicine.


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