What to do…

Sara said: Sep 28, 2010
191 posts

What would you do?
Your student going on 13 has been with you for three years, they refuse to listen to the CD’s (and always have)therefore, STRUGGLE with EVERY piece we learn. (I encouraged and explained from the beginning the importance of listening, I thought they agreed and understood)
Practices range from 0-3 times a week at about 10 minutes a practice. Not really practicing what is assigned, but what his Mom thinks is important to practice.
I am about ready to tear my hair out. I’m thinking I should have switched to a more traditional method with him along time ago. But it’s too late to go back. He just started the Gossec Gavotte. He plays the other pieces OK. Obviously he is tired of playing them! I would be too. But I also don’t want to pass off sloppy playing so I insist we play them until they are right.
Am I wrong here?
ANY suggestions would be much appreciated!

p.s. he is also a next door neighbor (Great neighbors but frustrating me to pieces as students!)

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

Ellen said: Oct 2, 2010
Ellen Levine
Suzuki Association Member
Swampscott, MA
4 posts

I have two suggestions.
Start doing some listening together in the lesson. Ask the student to follow in the book. Upon listening the second time ask the student to tap the page when he notices a certain feature that you choose. Make it something he has difficulty with like a repeat, a quarter rest, a retake. After noticing these spots several times while listening together, ask him to play with these spots in mind.
Here’s where the second suggestion comes in.
Record the student. When you play back ask him if he noticed if this detail was done correctly.
I hope this is helpful.
Stick to one point in the lesson.

Ellen Levine
director, Massachusetts Suzuki Festival
[javascript protected email address]

Karra said: Oct 2, 2010
51 posts

If there’s a method that works without practice, I’m sure we would all love to know about it. I’m assuming you’ve already tried having conferences with the parents. He’s 13; have you tried talking to him about this without his parents there? I’m certain that among other things, being in book 1 after 3 years of study has got to be a big blow to his self confidence, if he’s even invested in his studies at all. Without cooperation from the student and parents, you are trying to build the triangle with just one part of a three piece puzzle, which of course never works.

If I were in your position, I would ask myself, ‘Is this student studying with me simply because I live next door and it’s convenient, or does this family have respect for my teaching and value my advice and choice of methods?’
Does the boy actually want to play violin? Does he seem to enjoy lessons? If he’s being forced to play, I wouldn’t keep him as a student. Sure, maybe teaching such a student helps to pay the bills, but I’m betting that if you were to put a price on your sanity and the headaches that such students cause, it would be far higher than what they pay for their weekly lesson. Yes, he’s your neighbor, but if he really doesn’t want to play, you’re not doing the family any favors by keeping him as a student.
Do you think it’s possible that this family might be considering quitting, but that they just haven’t found a polite way to tell you yet?

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

Sara said: Oct 2, 2010
191 posts

Carmia ~

Thanks! Yes, I have asked myself that. I think you might be right that they are taking from me as a matter of convenience, rather than respecting my teaching style. I have thought of that, but I question myself why would someone pay a teacher and then not do any of the assignments month after month.
Last year when the big excuse for no practice was because of homework, I gave them an out by asking if it would be better if they let the lessons rest for a bit until the homework situation was better. They didn’t want to quit completely. So we struggled along. And now here we are. One year later and still not practicing even though he is now doing home study. There is excuse after excuse why not to practice or listen.

Thanks for your comments! I think I will think on a way to perhaps suggest another instrument and in doing that that will give them an out if they do want to quit. Thank you!

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

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

SilverStar—I think I could have written your post! So I won’t repeat the story (okay, the next door part doesn’t apply here, she is just starting her third year with me, and it’s a girl in my case, a few years older).

Good comments so far.

This year I re-wrote my policy which states that a minimum of five days of practice are required. I thought it would be a good idea to have that in writing if I did decide to let a student such as this go. Or perhaps the “threat” would encourage more practice?

I also gave a few of my students some blank time schedulers. I asked this student to fill one in and try following a schedule for one week. Of COURSE it wasn’t done during the week, so we took lesson time to get it started. Student’s mother was there (she doesn’t always attend as this student is almost 16). She seemed happy about my encouraging the student to schedule her time. She let me know that she has given her daughter until the end of the first term to pull up her socks, so to speak. She is tired of hassling her to practice, thinks she is old enough to do it on her own. (I know! I was there with my own kids—being practice police with teens is no fun!) Also doesn’t like wasting her money on lessons and instrument if there is no practice at home.

I let the student know I fully agreed with the mother. I WANT to keep teaching her, but I do get frustrated, more or less teaching the same lesson over and over, and it isn’t fair for her mother to pay for the same lesson over and over. And I do have a waiting list with others who would be happy to practice. She SAYS she enjoys playing cello. But she does still struggle to read, and when combining that with not listening… no practice is painfully obvious.

Many children and teens these days are really stretched and over-scheduled between school, clubs, lessons, etc. This is not the case in this instance. She HAS the time.

Another of my younger students DOES fall into the over-stretched category, so his mom thought it would be good to cut back a bit—only practiced 3 days a week most of the time last year. He didn’t progress much, as you might have guessed. He was bored, acted out, poor attitude, etc. He started practicing more over the summer (his mom paid him to!), and this fall so far he has continued. His progress is picking up and his attitude has improved somewhat.

Anyway, that’s the scoop at my end—it will be interesting to see what happens after Christmas. We had given our son the same ultimatum when he was 17, and he ended up giving up piano lessons.

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said: Oct 10, 2010
 63 posts

I’ve found with older students, it’s often a difficult to work with them until they decide it’s “their thing”. Encourage them to play something simple for a school function; this may lead to accolades. Also encourage going to concerts—we have a wonderful university in our city that has many student concerts, all free, all with university students who are not far off in age as teenage students. Student concerts are not always perfect, but can spark an interest in a new piece, or a new style (chamber music, or historical ensembles).

It really comes down to sparking—or re-sparking—that crucial desire to learn, either externally (concerts) or internally (by knowing that they can play something, and play beautifully). Work with parents to help in any way they can, with either the schedule, sitting with them in practice, attending concerts, or having the parents themselves put on the recordings in their home.

My older students are responsible for taking notes, and for re-deciding each September whether or not they are going to commit to another year of lessons and practice.

Hope that helps. It’s always a tough situation and really requires continuous honesty and evaluation to find what’s really best for everyone.

said: Oct 11, 2010
 5 posts

I have in my studio policy that the student must practice the duration of their lesson every day, and if they have an unusual day and they can’t do the full time required, they need to at least do 10 minutes. Practice logs are great for that, and sitting the boy down with his mother may help. He’s wasting your time and his mother’s money if he is not progressing and struggling. Emphasize to him that it is actually more fun when you practice because it makes for a pleasant lesson and easier time in the long run. Hope this works!

said: Nov 3, 2010
 13 posts

I like what ‘Brenda’ has to say. Being a teenager is hard work.

Have you asked him to put his finger on what would make him really love to play, what would make him both want to practice (in general) and feel like practicing (when he’s thinking about whether to do it now)? What about the other things he enjoys makes him want to do them? What can motivate him to do work?—a teenager is likely to take criticism as an evaluation of his character. So I wouldn’t pitch into him—this is his problem, not yours; help him find a solution.

Good luck—

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