developing skills in transfer student

Deanna said: May 28, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
90 posts

About a year ago I took on several transfer students, due to a teacher in our area moving away. Most of these have adjusted happily to my studio and are doing really well. However I have 2 students, a brother and sister who I’m finding really difficult to teach. I still don’t feel like they are “my” students.
They practice reguarly but not well, as in, without attention or focus to what they’re doing. There are several issues many of which I have not dealt with in the best way. For example, their lesson time is 45 minutes combined, which I feel to be completely inadequate. I have talked to their mom about this but she doesn’t want to extend their lesson times. The brother is 6 and is at the end of book 1, the sister is 8 and is at the end of book 3. I think the girl alone should have at least 45 min, and the brother 30min. It seems like their only goal is to move ahead in the repertoire regardless of if they can play it well. I also foolishly allowed them to play their newest pieces at the music festival this Spring, which is totally against my policy but because last year they had played their newest pieces and had only progressed maybe 2 pieces beyond that this year, they didn’t want to play something easier than what they had played last year.
Sigh. Now the brother isn’t taking lessons for May and June—he’ll return in September. But the sister is, with 30 min lessons. I’ll admit I have been moving her very slowly through the repertoire because she doesn’t pay enough attention to intonation or bowing. Especially with the g minor hand position (violin). We’re also working on music reading since that’s also new for her. I’ve also introduced shifting as that is something I’d like her to have a grasp of by book 4. Ideally I would also like her to be learning vibrato as well but I think I should wait until she can play better in tune.
I’m struggling right now with how to teach her all these things that I usually teach earlier or over a longer period of time: music reading, shifting, vibrato.
How do I find a balance between moving her through the repertoire (so she isn’t discouraged), and teaching her the skills she needs to be able to play the repertoire competently? The only thing that motivates her is moving on to a new piece- and only Suzuki pieces —I’ve tried introducing non -Suzuki pieces and fiddle songs just so that she feels she’s learning something new—no interest.
I’m feeling frustrated and out of ideas. ANY help greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Laura said: May 28, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Sounds like a tough situation indeed! I agree that at their ages and levels, they need longer lessons. Is it a financial constraint regarding longer lessons, or mom just doesn’t think they need them?

It’s often hard to adjust after switching from one teacher/studio to another, particularly when there is an obvious difference in philosophy and approach. Were you aware of this before you took on the students? Was the mom (and possibly the students) aware of how you were going to go about things after accepting them? Their expectations sound very specific to them, since as you say, the other students from the same teacher have transitioned well.

When I meet potential transfer students, I ask specific questions about how they have been learning from their old teacher, so that I get a good idea of what they are used to. I always do this upfront, often at the introduction even before the first lesson. As soon as I realize that I’d like to do things differently, I mention that too. I do so in the most respectful way, never saying anything bad about the previous teacher (for all you know, there may have been nothing wrong with the teacher—perhaps the students and/or parents weren’t upholding their ends of the triangle). I start by commenting on what I really like about they have learned so far. Then I go on to say that “In addition to those things, I really like to teach my students all about XYZ” or “I really like my students to do XYZ in this way” and then state or demonstrate my reasons for this (so they realize that my approach is well thought-out and can be of benefit). I then openly acknowledge that this may be a new thing for them, reassure them that I will help them as best possible to get used to the “different way”, and then ask their permission (parent and child) to do things this way from now on. This way, they have a choice to continue (knowing fully what they will be getting into), or choose not to have me as their teacher if they don’t agree with my approach.

My first thought while reading your post was, “Try other materials beyond Suzuki!” but then I got to your last paragraph. :) So now I’m thinking, they obviously find Suzuki very desirable. This could be to your advantage. You see, I’m wondering from your description whether or not they only think of “Suzuki” as the repertoire? I am guessing that either they are not entirely familiar with Dr. Suzuki and his work, it has not been emphasized in their previous studio, or they have chosen not to fully embrace it. Try telling stories about how Dr. Suzuki taught and what he expected of his students. You can quote from “Nurtured by Love” and other such materials, or perhaps have the mom read them if she is so inclined. That way, they will realize that what you are asking of them is part of how the Suzuki method works well universally, and isn’t just specific to your way as a teacher.

If you still can’t find a middle ground after that, you should probably suggest that you cannot offer what they are looking for in a teacher.

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