How do you motivate the student who doesn’t care?

Barb said: Jan 18, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I have an 8 yo boy student who has now been playing cello for over a year. He is bright and learns quickly, in spite of spotty practice, but has been stubborn about his bow hold. He just doesn’t care about having a proper hold. The only time he uses a correct hold is if I make a game out of it where he can win something. Otherwise, he just can’t be bothered. The bow slips down into his palm.

Should I perhaps make him go to what I call the “baby bow-hold” (thumb under frog, which I have not used for any students yet—I’ve only taught as young as 5) until he decides he is ready to use the more grown up hold?

I don’t have a group class so there is no peer pressure. Mom is of no help.

I do have an opportunity to really work with his bowing since he has sprained a finger in his left hand. I sent some practice ideas for open string practice and one finger practice, listening, etc. and apparently he is eating it up. I think he had become bored with the usual songs and way of practicing.

He is at Allegro in book 1, and has played a lot of Cello Time Joggers, though is capable of more if he would start practicing more. Because of the sprained finger, we are also going to try jumping to part of Rigadoon and Etude where the 3rd finger isn’t used. Cello Time Runners also has some songs with no 3rd at all. He has already done a little with his 2nd finger.

Thanks for your ideas re motivating his bow hold!

Barb
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Karra said: Jan 19, 2010
 Cello
51 posts

I have a student who was once like that (8 year old transfer student, been playing about a year and a half, one year with me). I went about correcting the problem like this:

  1. Making sure he understood how he was supposed to hold the bow. When he did get that, I graduated to
  2. “That’s great! Now, let’s see how quickly you can get a good bow grip. I bet you can get it by the count of five!” Eventually his favorite thing to do was show me that he could get a good grip by the count of zero :)
  3. Said student is still losing his good grip once in a while. I let it go sometimes when he’s working on some other challenge (usually involving the left hand), but if I see it slip when he’s playing a scale or a review piece I simply pick his bow up off the string and allow him to fix his grip before going on. He complained loudly the first number of times I did that, but once he understood why a good bow grip is necessary and that I was not going to allow a sloppy grip (and that the whining wasn’t winning points with his parents), he shaped up. I wouldn’t say it’s rare yet for him to lose his grip, but the improvement from just a few months ago has been pretty dramatic.

I’ve never used the baby bow grip, not even for a 3 year old student. I teach a series of exercises before the student learns to grip the bow at all, including one where the students must balance the bow on their thumb at the balance point (which I mark for them). It’s a difficult exercise to explain without any visuals, but the point of it is to a)get the student to feel how light the bow is and b) learn to loosen their thumb (the bow will wobble all over the moment their thumbs get tense at all). Then we do bow circles in the air, with the bow balanced on the thumb. After that, I teach them how to hold the bow, but at the balance point. While they are working their way through the book 1 repertiore, I allow them to ‘graduate’ down the bow inch by inch when I see their grip is relaxed and balanced. So, for me holding the bow at the balance point is the beginning bow grip. Every now and then when I see certain issues with the bow hand crop up again with my more experienced students, I’ll have them hold the bow at the balance point to remind themselves of how light the bow is and that there is no need for tension.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

“It may very well be music that will one day save the world”— Pablo Casals

Barb said: Jan 20, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thanks, CaraMia—I will try some of those ideas!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Mark said: Apr 16, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
20 posts

We must be teaching the same student! I think you nailed it on the head in your comment, “The Mom’s no help.” If the Mom’s not motivated, then neither will be the student. If I ever have a problem with a student practicing, the first thing I look at is my relationship with the parent. Spend some time thinking specifically about what you mean about the Mom’s attitude. How can you make her input more helpful and instructive so that she is interested in motivating and helping her son. What is going in in their family life that might be a factor?

In response to the parent of my student, I discovered that the Mom has undergone a recent divorce and that is the primary reason for the lack of interest. After some discussion, our conversation led me to think up a new motivational scheme I am now using in my teaching. I call it Cello Karate. I have divided up the Suzuki Repertoire into 9 colors or “belts” and attached a series of skills to each piece level. For example the White Belt covers all the pre-twinkle skills up to and including Twinkle. A White Belt skill, as an example, would be learning to sit with good posture on the end of the chair with feet in to appropriate place—I call that “Jack-in-the-box” position. Each skill is required to be repeated 50 or 100 times and when the skill is learned and the repetitions are complete, then they get a sticker to cover that skill. When all the skills are ’stickered’ and the piece requirements are complete, then they receive their White Belt in the form of a laminated ribbon that they hang from their cello.

If you think this scheme would be helpful for your Mom and student to help communicate your expecations and to help motivate them to practice and be more interested in playing the cello, reply to me and can answer any questions you may have.

Laura said: Apr 17, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

That’s exactly what happened when I read it! That one line (i.e. Mom doesn’t care) stuck out as if it were highlighted in bright pink.

When I’m trying to figure out what to say in a lesson regarding a certain lack of progress, I try to get a feel first for where the problem lies: student or parent. After a few gently probing questions, parties, I then tailor my next comments to the ears of the appropriate party. (Sometimes so as not to appear offensive, I have to be more subtle, by talking to the student with very carefully chosen words that are actually meant to register more with the parent.)

I am often surprised when it becomes evident that the parent is the one who needs to change things, rather than the student. By that I mean, it’s not always as black and white as “the student doesn’t care, or didn’t practice enough”. The root of the problem is often when the parent doesn’t quite “get it” in any number of ways (for example, doesn’t enforce regular practice routine, is constantly negative, or doesn’t appreciate why certain technical points are taught and corrected), or is lacking the time/energy/tools to help their child better. In that case, I try to equip the parent as best possible in their situation, and then the trickle-down effect comes into play.

Of course, sometimes the student is just being stubborn, which results in a different type of chat (or game, or whatever).

Also, it’s easier to “fix” a student than a parent, since it’s not always within my rights or boundaries to be trying to change another adult. So, I often just have to let it slide once I realize that the student is doing as well as he can under his circumstances at home.

Barb said: Apr 23, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

“It’s easier to ‘fix’ a student than a parent”—exactly, Purple Tulips. I think Mom’s inconsistency (with everything) is a huge issue overall. Unfortunately there’s not much I can do about it, though I have made some suggestions. So, yes, I’m trying to help the student do as best as he can under the circumstances.

I am trying to motivate with awards such as, “Grand Champion of the Left Hand, 1st class” etc., and every once in a while he remembers that he has not got the right hand award yet. (I have not yet got a spot to permanently display the lists of students under each award.) He asked me about it at his last lesson, actually, and I told him he will win that award when he always uses his good bow hold without reminders from me.

Hoping, too, that he will look at the pictures from our recent recital where he was the only one who let his bow slip down. (And didn’t have his feet flat and wasn’t sitting up… sigh.)

But I really like the Cello Karate idea! Can you post your criteria here, Cello Rocks? Thanks!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Mark said: Apr 25, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
20 posts

I would be glad to share my criteria, but they are quite extensive as they cover 9 color “belts”. It would take forever to type it all. I don’t see any way to attach word processing files to the forum email system. You may visit my webite at http://www.dolcemelodia.com, and if you wish, you may email me and I will send them to you. I don’t know how much you would get from them because the criteria are very peticular to the methods and ideas I’ve developed over the years of teaching. It would take a book to explain it all! Maybe I should write one!

Anyway, what would be more helpful to post here, is that in the 9 color levels that span the ten volumes of the Suzuki cello repertoire, I have several teaching themes that run through each level that unify and organize the teaching process. They are: Left hand techique, bow technique, theory, sight reading, improvisation, scales and exercises and rhythm training. So for example in rhythm training: Stamping to the beat. Student alternately lifts feet as they focus listen to a Repertoire piece like twinkle or any Vol 1 piece for White and Yellow level, then plays the piece in Orange and Purple.

White Belt Yellow Belt Orange Belt Purple Belt
Stamp without Stamp holding Stamp + Pizz Stamp + Play with bow
Cello Cello

This way of organizing my teaching enables me to teach the core principles of playing the cello in a systematic and every increasing skill levels. Hope this helps

Barb said: Apr 25, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thank you CelloRocks! I’ve checked out your website which is very nice, and sent you a PM.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Jennifer Visick said: Apr 26, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

You should be able to attach a word document to your posts, using the “Upload attachment” feature, which is located directly below the “Submit” button that you normally use to submit a post. Notes about the file can be added under “File comment” and will appear in your post, thus:

Attachment: The_Pasadena_Suzuki_Music_Program-Mills_History.docx

Mark said: Apr 27, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
20 posts

Thank you for the tip as to how to add files so here they are. The first one is the list of themes and how I organize and unify the different levels and the second one is criteria for the different “belts. Hope this helps.

Barb said: Apr 27, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thank you!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

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