Students stare at me while playing, not self-evaluating?


Michelle said: Dec 6, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
25 posts

There is a wonderful discussion on self esteem going on: and it has gotten me thinking. I don’t really feel I have enough experience to comment usefully over there, but it really has me thinking. Thanks to RaineJen for posting the link to the article on praise again: . I think that’s something I should have to read twice a year at least.

But now, this effect of praise and self esteem and how kids react to that has me wondering. I try to provide useful feedback and praise, being specific and always praising the work and the process and how that leads to the outcome. But I have several students who literally stare at me while they play. It’s mostly the younger ones. I wonder, is this normal or have I caused them to become too dependent on my praise and feedback so that all they think about while they play is what I might have to say? (Honestly, it also creeps me out a bit too. They don’t even blink, they’re concentrating so hard.) Is this just a developmental thing before they have the ability to self-evaluate? Or does this mean I’m talking too much (I do give reminders out loud) while they try to play? It effects their tone as the bow slips when they don’t pay attention to it, and I remind them again to watch their bow.

Which leads to an ever larger discussion. At what age should they be transitioning to self-evaluation, and how? I often ask them how they feel after they play, and the answers are always interesting, indicating that even the youngest have some sense of how they did. Since it’s graduation recording season, I have the video camera in and I’m having them play and listen back a lot more. We even had a “perfect twinkle” challenge where they had to play their best twinkle and they got to decide on hearing the playback if it was perfect. Some of them were more critical that I was (although that could be due to how many twinkles I had been hearing and I just wanted to call it successful and not have to sit through another take.)

Where do you expect the child’s attention to be? At what age do you expect more self-evaluation? Do you discourage looking to others (parent or teacher) for approval after a performance, or just add in the “how did you feel” part?

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said: Dec 6, 2010
 89 posts

Pushing aside the bad horror movie image of zombielike little violinists just staring and marching closer and closer to you….

My youngest child (now in college) used to drive her teacher crazy by doing this. She’d stare into space and it seemed like she was either on autopilot or looking for cues from the teacher.

It turned out that music takes her to some internal place. Her teacher from age 7 to about 11 spent a lot of time getting her to focus externally—on her fingers, on her bow, on the printed music (depending on the situation)—and that helped. It began as a very short—10 seconds—kind of thing and progressed to entire movements. And you’re right, it helped that her teacher asked very, very specific questions to help her learn to self-evaluate.

Her last couple of years in high school, the same thing was discussed on a more advanced level—you’ll be relieved to know that she was no longer staring vacantly into space by then, though!

Diane said: Dec 6, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
245 posts

Regarding when to self evaluate…

Last month at a group class my students were performing solo pieces for each other to get ready for a recital. I asked the kids who were listening to be prepared to respond with a compliment and a helpful hint. The results were amazing! The kids were perfectly articulate and right on target with their responses. Most of these kids do stare blankly during the lesson and don’t talk much—more like an occasional grunt! I was smiling big inside watching the interaction going on between the students!

Like I said before—I rarely say “good” “great” “fill in the blank”. I’m always making specific statements.
“Boy that round bow pinky is really paying off when you’re playing down at the frog.”
“I like how you are applying what we learned over here—over there.”
I’m pretty sure those kids at the group class were articulate because they’ve been hearing me make comments for years!

Now I’d like to change gears and bring in an entirely different element. I joined Toastmasters last year. It’s an organization that is geared around public speaking. I’ve always felt that I can talk and talk and talk. I can play the violin and play and play. But interspersing the 2—usually my playing suffers. (Go figure why I’m teaching!) Then—to support my frustration—the Toastmaster magazine came out with an article about how instrumentalists use a completely different part of the brain while playing than we do when speaking! While I’ll always strive to figure it out—it sure was a relief to hear that it wasn’t a “Diane” problem but a typical problem for instrumentalists to be able to switch back and forth from speaking to playing.

Now I’ve been teaching 25 years and playing violin for 39. Can you imagine a child grappling with this? My group class example worked great because the kids were forumlating their thoughts when they themselves were not having to play their instrument. It’s a great stepping stone towards self evaluation!

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

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