students and practicing

Deanna said: Mar 30, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
90 posts

The majority of my students practice consistently but there are a handful that just don’t. They don’t practice at all some weeks or maybe just once or twice. I have two students in particular who seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum but very similar in terms of results. One girl practices every day—without her parents I might add, who do not attend her lessons, she is 10 years old. Though she practices every day she rarely practices well (I’m assuming) because only rarely can she play whatever assignment I gave her for the week. I’ve talked to her about this and showed her many times how to repeat a section—how to read it in her book if she forgets. In lessons I ask her to tell me what she did well and what needs work, so that she’ll be able to do this at home. I noticed some improvement but not much. Her progress is so slow. This is her 4th year playing and she is on Happy Farmer. She loves playing the violin (which is excellent) but in my opinion she is not playing to her level of ability. As in there is no reason for her progress to be this slow other than the fact that we have to do all the real practicing in her lesson. She also does not attend group lessons and has only rarely played at recitals. I have talked to her parents about this.

Another student also 10 years old, doesn’t practice or practices once or twice a week. She is at the end of book 2. Her progress has also been very slow. She is very musical but has lots of technique issues. This student also loves playing the violin. Her mom does attend lessons and practices with her. They have another activity that just takes priority over violin. It’s just so frustrating to have both these girls come to their lessons without accomplishing their assignments, or even worse—not even remembering what the assignment was or denying that I ever showed it to them. Their practice charts show that I did write it down.

So I don’t know what to do. One thing I have been considering—should I give them less to practice? Or is that just enabling them? I know they are capable of practicing everything I give them it’s just that they don’t. I’m a fairly new teacher (5 years teaching) and maybe I’m not strict enough. Both above parents have attended my parent education sessions. It’s explicitly in my studio policies and expectations that students attend group lessons and recitals and practice at least 5 days a week.

What do I do?

Sara said: Mar 30, 2010
 Violin
191 posts

I hear ya on that one! I’ve got a very similar situation in my studio. It’s very aggravating to say the least. Hopefully other teachers may have more helpful advice for you. But this is my conclusion on this situation:
some students simply don’t have the goal or the drive to excel—they just want to play around with learning an instrument. For these students, homework and school projects, friends, sports, etc will always take front seat in their daily schedule/routine. Violin fits in when they “feel like it”. For some parents that is completely alright. They just think it’s cute and fun to have their child playing an instrument. Perhaps they don’t understand the potential their child has within them. Perhaps they don’t care about that potential as academics are what are important in their eyes and whatever the child does on top of academics is great with them.
In the mean time for us as teachers it’s aggravating because we know there is so much more they could be achieving. We just have to do our best in being a cheerful motivator to these students and hope that at some point it will become important enough to do everyday. If not, my experience is these students quit eventually and move on to other things that interest them more. Usually if the lessons were enjoyable they will at least always have an appreciation for music. Perhaps when they are parents they will try harder with their students.

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

Carey Rasmussen said: Apr 2, 2010
Carey Rasmussen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Hanahan, SC
4 posts

I have struggled for a few years to get the type of studio I want and so now I have learned that upfront and clear is the best way. I have having to be “mean” but it does produce the desired result. I would tell each student that Suzuki is not the kind of thing you “just try” and requires a lot of dedication on the part of the student and parent. They should find a time each day when they can practice (before school, after school, before bed, etc) and they should practice at least 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes. If they cannot commit to that then perhaps they should find another teacher. Another thing I have tried is telling them that you feel as if you are teaching them the same lesson over and over again and you won’t do it anymore. I have told some students to go home and think about how much they really want to do this and discuss it with their parents. It is simply a waste of your time if they refuse to practice. Also, I require the parent to be there unless they are over 15. I have gotten very tired of people who are lazy and don’t follow through with what I ask them to do. I simply don’t put up with it.

Ruth Brons said: Apr 2, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

First of all, dbmus, congratulations! To have the majority of your students practicing daily means you have put teaching students how to practice as the priority it needs to be. It’s right up there with teaching the students so they come back next week! LOL

Regarding the student that has actually made daily practice a habit [score!], but is not seeing results, here is an idea:
have the student record a practice session—audio or video, even written—and spend a lesson analyzing the productive and not so productive elements of that practice. Better yet, perhaps instead of a lesson, have the student practice at home as normal—but with you watching/coaching via SKYPE. Despite your detailed instructions on how to practice, there’s a misunderstanding that needs to be sorted out and your student will be relieved that your are willing to be a partner in finding a solution.

Regarding the child who has a hard time fitting practice in at all on most days, perhaps the first step to altering the no practice habit is to set a very minimal, attainable goal so you have SOMETHING to praise. Perhaps it would be as minimal as just playing only one piece or practice activity each of three days. In my studio I fully recognize that it is the first piece in a practice session that is the hardest to get to, so I praise ANY practice session—even if it was only one piece long. Of course the students know that if every practice session is only the minimum that they won’t accomplish their goals, but they know that even a minimum practice is better than zero, and is praiseworthy.
While I expect my students to practice 6 times in between lessons, I praise them for ANY practice they have done and reward practice charts showing 6 practices with a sticker. A seventh practice—even if only one song long— gets another sticker. Ten stickers gets a small prize [cool pencil]. The ONLY time I chastise a student is if they have practiced but did not give themselves credit for doing so on their practice chart. HOWEVER, for the occasional student who goes for several weeks without earning a sticker I have been known to have a chat with the student to determine a more attainable goal—perhaps four practices. And I am fine with that. Success builds on on success. Students will work for you if they are praised.

Best Wishes,

Ruth Brons
Things 4 Strings bow accessories
http://www.things4strings.com

Deanna said: Apr 8, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
90 posts

I have learned a lot in the last five years and my studio policies have become a lot more specific. Margretta—I understand what you’re saying about being more strict and just laying out what you will and will not tolerate. The problem is neither of these is a new/potential student. I’ve had them both for a while. I don’t want them to quit. I think they’re still benefiting from lessons—even if their practicing leaves a lot to be desired.

Ruthbrons,
Thanks for the encouragement! That’s a great idea about getting her to video her practice session. I have asked her about how she practices but this could be more revealing.

With the other student I do star the things that I consider it most important for her to practice. I guess I’m fearful that if I only give her one thing to practice that every thing else will just deteriorate. For example, for the past 6 months or so we’ve been working on left hand position—having a straight wrist, tabletop fingers, gentle thumb. About 3 weeks ago we started some vibrato exercises —now that her hand is in a shape that will work for vibrato. Say for the next few weeks I only assign her to work on vibrato—right now she has 4 different exercises to do with that. It should only take maybe 5 minutes to practice all 4.
I’m wondering if all the other things we’re working on—like music reading, and scales and her pieces will just fall apart. Particularly music reading. But maybe it is better to improve one thing than to just juggle a bunch. Maybe I’ll try it—her lesson is later today! Any thoughts?

Ruth Brons said: Apr 8, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

My students’ practice lists usually look like this: Review one column of my review chart [which includes scales and vibrato], a working piece, a preview piece spot, a polish piece, listening, plus I give credit for orchestra/ensemble music practice or spending time with sites such as http://www.violinmasterclass.com. I acknowledge that students are leading busy lives. I tell students that while they might not be able to do everything everyday, or even most days, that they should check off what they did practice each day so they can use that information when choosing what to practice the next day, to make the best use of their valuable time. Their goal should be to practice a minimum of one item each day, but try to hit each item a minimum of once over the entire week. If you throw into the mix some target performance dates there is some built in external pressure to get some things learned, too—so the opening question each week can be a version of “What do we need to do to accomplish your next short or long-term performance goal?” Then my role is that of helper rather than task-master . This questionre-iterates that not only are there goals for the students but that the goals ARE the student’s, not mine. My program does this two solo recitals, two-three group/orchestra concerts and an ASTA CAP exam each year. Group lessons are also SO important for students to find their own peer motivation, too.

Best Wishes,
Ruth Brons
Things 4 Strings bow hold accessories
http://www.things4strings.com

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