Case of the Can’ts

Rebecca said: Feb 15, 2010
Rebecca SchiblerViolin, Viola
24 posts

I am a new Suzuki teacher, and I’ll take my ECC and Book 1 this summer. (I am super excited!)
I recently observed a Pre-Twinkle group lesson that included a young student with a bad case of the can’ts. Every time an unfamiliar activity was suggested there was major stress. The teacher either made the current exercise easier for them or excused the student from the activity, and I was impressed with the teacher’s ability to keep the class moving forward.
I have a small studio of my own already and have had tough group experiences, but I’ve never had a child so afraid to try new things. For a Pre-Twinkler, the technique was coming along and the student knew all the songs the teacher suggested, so there wasn’t really a lack of ability! However, the student was easily upset if pushed, and would collapse and start weeping if it appeared the activity would proceed regardless. It seemed to me that there was a habit of “I can’t” being accepted and the child had learned it was true.
My question is twofold. How do we encourage the kids with the can’ts in a group lesson without hurting them emotionally (or embarrassing them)? I know that a group setting is treated differently than private lessons, and I’ve never seen the private lessons of the student. I wouldn’t want to push a student too far and reinforce their can’ts but it seemed like that was happening anyway. All the same, it was hard not to roll my eyes when the whining kicked in!
Any thoughts as to how to cure the can’ts?

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” -Dr. Suzuki

Sara said: Feb 17, 2010
 Violin
191 posts

In private lessons, I deal with this differently, but in group, I just let it roll. If too much time and attention is spent on the one student who “can’t” it takes away from those who are willing to try. I find that with the “can’t” students that over time the more they are exposed to groups atmosphere they start to try more. A student needs to be able to feel that they can risk.

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

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

I remember being a little kid who was extremely reluctant in group settings, to the point at which my mom simply pulled me out to spare everyone the agony. But I loved my private lessons, and most of my musical progress came from there. As I got older, it all got better.

So from my own experience anyway, it probably has more to do with the child’s stage of social development, and might not be something you can do anything about. Best to just roll with it, as already mentioned.

Rebecca said: Feb 17, 2010
Rebecca SchiblerViolin, Viola
24 posts

Thanks so much for your replies- I was just at a loss in my own mind as to how I would have handled it. I was a very shy child as well, and my teachers were always wonderful with me. Patience is always the virtue I guess!

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” -Dr. Suzuki

said: Feb 19, 2010
 63 posts

I have older students who fly off the handle and say this as well! Keep in mind, that for some, it means, “I can’t do this absolutely perfectly”, which is a combination of personality and, of course, parental expectations.

Connie Sunday said: Mar 3, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I tell all my students—children and adults—that “my students are not allowed to say ‘can’t’.” Whenever I hear “can’t” I stop and say this.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

said: Mar 3, 2010
 89 posts

They can’t say “can’t”? :D

Connie Sunday said: Mar 3, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

wonky

They can’t say “can’t”? :D

No, I don’t say “can’t”; I say they’re “not allowed to…”

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

Rebecca said: Mar 3, 2010
Rebecca SchiblerViolin, Viola
24 posts

TechFiddle: this is what I do in my private lessons. Can’t isn’t a word I use in lessons- I rephrase it and say “It might be hard, but I would never ask youto do something you aren’t able to do.” In a group setting though, I have seen kids react very differently than they would in a private lesson due to the audience. I always try to avoid a negative spotlight in group lessons- its supposed to be fun! I guess just treating it the same way as I would in a private lesson might work.

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” -Dr. Suzuki

Connie Sunday said: Mar 3, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Well what I give them as a reason for disallowing “can’t” is that students will say that, and then invariably do the thing they say they “can’t” do… and lots of smiles. It’s not a criticism. But they know they are not allowed to say ‘can’t.”

Works every time. (Teachers are sneaky, aren’t they?) Brrahahahhaahhah… :D

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

Barb said: Mar 3, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I’ve got a student who has sometimes used, “It’s too hard!” And I’ve decided that next time he says it I will come back with, “Nothing is too hard for hard work.”

Another one pointed at a song in his Cello Time Joggers book (which I use to supplement the Suzuki book) and said, “That one’s too hard for me.” I hadn’t previously assigned it, but decided that that was a moment to teach him that he can do hard things! It really isn’t a hard song at all (Twinkler level or lower), but he is just five and had only started four months previously. We broke it down and of course it wasn’t too hard to learn two or three bars at a time! Hopefully that will have helped to build his confidence to try the harder pieces later!

I have a son myself who has never done well when pushed too hard and hates trying new things. We heard that “can’t” a lot. Somewhat of a perfectionist who wanted things right the first time. (As is the first student mentioned above.) There was a fine balance when he was young at pushing him, but not too hard that he totally shut down. His first piano teacher was a quiet, gentle young woman who was a very good match for him in his first years. No group lessons, so I don’t know how he would have handled a situation like you described. I can imagine that he wouldn’t have enjoyed group lessons where he couldn’t do things in his own time.

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

Connie Sunday said: Mar 3, 2010
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I get a lot of that “it’s too hard” stuff, too. I tell them “no, it’s not too hard for you,” that in a few months they’re going to look at that and it’ll seem so easy. That they need to be kindly and gentle with themselves and “you’ll get there.”

I guess, as adults, we have to contradict that negative self-talk.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 3, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

I have occasionally found that acknowledging the perceived difficulty (as opposed to pointing out that the actual difficulty level is not as high as they think) sometimes works in this type of situation.

I have taken to responding to the student who says “this is hard” with an agreement and then a reason for trying difficult things (a la Carol Dweck): “Yes, it’s hard. I want to challenge you. Did you know that every time you try to do something new and difficult, you help your brain to grow stronger? Even if you don’t succeed the first time, challenging your brain to TRY to figure it out is like a work-out for your brain, to help it grow stronger.”

or “Of course it’s difficult. No one said it was easy. But I will help you.”

or even, “True. You can’t do it RIGHT NOW. But that’s why I’m here. I will teach you how to do it. That’s my job!”

or, (with a smile and a twinkle in the eye) “Good! If you were able to do everything on the instrument already, I would be out of a job! Let me help your [brain, fingers, arm, hand, feet, body, etc] go through the motions. That’s what I’m here for.”

Depending on my mood and on the task at hand and the personality of the student, I might even say “OK. Can you do X instead?” (where ‘X’ is a micro-step of the step I asked them to take).

Laura said: Mar 3, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I use each and every one of those on a regular basis, RaineJen, so thumbs up from my end! They work.

Sadly though, some students still don’t respond to such input. Usually, those are the ones with other “issues”, such as difficulties being in a respectful relationship with a teacher (one of my biggest beefs!).

Barb said: Mar 4, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Great responses! Thanks for sharing those!

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

Ruth Brons said: Mar 18, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Over the years I have pro-actively avoided the “can’ts” in Group by making faking part of the curriculum from Day One. I have noticed, over the years, that my littlest “fakers” on the Twinkles, end up progressing just fine. By giving them permission to drop a note, or most notes, they can relax and focus on watching, following, etc. —all skills that need to be honed as well. And I am sure to praise faking, along with watching and following — so now that student who lacked confidence and who was a would-be “I can’t” has become a student who has been praised thrice over and will come back to try another day [hopefully after some home practice!].

Ruth Brons
Inventor of Things 4 Strings[tm] Instant Bow Hold Bow Accessories
Bow Hold Buddies[tm] for Violin/Viola and CelloPhant[tm] for Cello[tm]
http://www.things4strings.com

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 19, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Interesting. Occasionally I have talked about faking in group classes but it’s not a regular part of the curriculum. I’d be interested in knowing what kinds of teaching strategies you use for helping the students understand what it is, what it’s for, how to do it and when to use it (and when not to use it).

I’m already thinking of ideas, but why reinvent the wheel?

-Jenny Visick-

Ruth Brons said: Mar 19, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Most of my faking discussions in Group Class happen in early Book One, which sets up the its-safe-to-try-even-if-I-make-a-mistake atmosphere that benefits all levels of classes.

I tell the barely Twinklers that if their fingers fall behind during the Twinkles, then they just have the bow hang out on the A string while playing the rhythm, with their eyes glued on my fingers to get some clues. I have the rest of the class, including myself, enthusiastically confess to faking a note here or there. I assure them the sounds they will be making will be harmonious with the group and NO ONE WILL KNOW they are faking. They love playing with the “big kids”, love knowing they are following instructions, and are then relaxed and involved members of the group.

Other examples of welcoming less advanced players into the Book One group class experience via faking:
Perpetual Motion needs “drummers” to play 128 staccato open A’s in a row while the group plays.
Allegretto needs ti-ti ta’s on open D’s, then A’s, then D’.
Rhody and Allegro needs players to play the BABCA endings.
All songs need players to join in on the last note.

Ruth Brons
Inventor of Bow Hold Buddies[tm] Instant Bow Accessories
http//:www.things4strings.com

Lynn said: Mar 23, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Faking:
The ability to engage in independent on-the-spot problem solving and decision making, while maintaining forward progress. Develops mental agility and flexibility, judgement, willingness to take risks (not the reckless adolescent kind!), confidence in capacity to respond effectively and appropriately to the unexpected …. not bad to have that in your curriculum!
I remember hearing a conductor once comment that “faking is alive and thriving in all the major orchestras.”

(For the record, though, I don’t highlight the benefits when faking occurs because of a failure to attend adequately to assigned review pieces!)

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