keeping a 9 year old focused on book 4


Tamara said: Mar 3, 2010
 4 posts

My 9 year old son has been playing cello for about 2 1/2 years and is already well into book 4. He is very talented and LOVES to perform and already has been asked to perform during the middle school concert. He has attended many workshops, including Suzuki camps and is now preparing for competition in April. But ever since he started book 4, he is progressing very slowly and it’s been one step forward and two steps backward kind of situation. While he is much more advanced than his peers, this is not like him. He is practicing everyday for about 15 to 30 minutes and sounds pretty good, but plays badly during the lesson. His teacher is very nurturing, encouraging and gentle person, so I know it’s not the teacher. I am wondering if he just isn’t focused during the practice or is book 4 that much harder and book 3. He has always worked on about 2 pieces or more at a time because he would get bored if he only played one piece at a time. He is currently polishing up Sonata by Breval and Minuet from the 1st suite for the competition which is moving very slowly and has one working piece to play as part of a cello qaurtet at the school concert. My son also wanted to move on with his Suzuki book and started working on the Rondo from the Sonata. He would sound awesome on one day and really bad on another day. I don’t know what to do.

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 3, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1072 posts

Cello, right? I’m not familiar with the cello repertoire but IF cello book 4 is similar in the level of technique to viola/violin book 4, I would recommend 3 or 4 practices of 15 to 30 minutes per day, for a minimum of 45 minutes of practice per day (on a ‘light’ practice day), and up to 2 hours of practice on a ‘big’ practice day.

But then again, this may be too much for a 9 year old.

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

I do not teach at that level (yet), but I also would think that more practice time would be required. Good to hear that he is practicing every day, though.

I was about 10 when I started book four in violin after whipping through books 1-3 and that was where there seemed to be a sharper learning curve to me, and I wasn’t interested in working so hard and quit private lessons (but intended to still play in the school orchestra).

Shortly after I quit I had the opportunity to try the cello and my focus changed and I started private cello lessons. It was another year and a half or so before I was playing the repertoire you mention, but not taking Suzuki lessons. I’m guessing I was practicing about 30—45 minutes—it wasn’t timed (but probably not EVERY day), and I never did memorize those pieces (or any, really, my teacher at the time didn’t require it). Also, it was probably at that point that my progress slowed down considerably on the cello. When I had left my cello in the corner for about 10 years as an adult, that’s the level at which I had to start working again when I came back, too. My husband came to really hate that Breval!

From my own experience, I know that I often didn’t play as well for the teacher as I did at home, and my adult students complain about that too. Playing for the teacher is a performance of sorts, and the added pressure can affect the playing. I’m not sure at what age that starts.

Have you discussed this with his teacher? Has she had other students his age working on this repertoire in the past?

I hope a more experienced cello teacher will weigh in here, as well.

Best wishes to you and your son—it sounds like he’s good a very good start!

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Tamara said: Mar 6, 2010
 4 posts

Thank you both for your replies. I think we will increase the practice time by adding a second practice at least on the weekends for now and see. I talked to his teacher and he is telling me not to be concered and that he is keeping a close eye on him? I didn’t realize that playing for his teacher would be somewhat of a performance…..but when I thought about it, you are right. He really looks up to his teacher and likes him so much that my husband sometimes get little jeaolous over their relationship. So I understand that how he may get little anxious when he plays for him. Thank you for your insight.

Karra said: Mar 15, 2010
Stockholm 113 43, Sweden
51 posts

If you compare the pieces in book 4 to those in book 3, the most obvious differences are the length of the pieces and the mix (or lack thereof) of musical styles represented. I don’t remember the exact amount of time each of the pieces take, but just the first movement of the Breval sonata is easily 3 times as long as anything in book 3, and it does sometimes take that much longer for them to learn it. This is one of the pieces in the repertiore I preview with the students for quite a while before assigning them the full piece to learn. It has some huge technical hurdles for the student to master, particularly with the bow hand. This is why I assign etudes to help students begin preparing for these particular snares while they are somewhere in the middle of book 3 (the etudes I use for this are #s 12, 17, and 18 from 170 Foundation Studies by A. Schroeder- they are short, sweet, and specifically designed to help develop a flexible bow hand). All of this helps in shortening the amount of time to learn the piece when the time comes.

I agree with everyone else that 15-30 minutes of practice a day at this level is not enough, but even more important is the quality of practice. A 9 year old learning this piece (even a talented one with an amazing attention span for their age) is most likely to benefit from breaking it into sections and mastering one at a time. In fact, when I assign this piece to a student, I mark off the sections for them to practice. The divisions are made where a new theme enters or where the piece changes character. Consider this for a moment- book 3 has 10 pieces, and book 4 has only 4. There are of course many variables involved, but on average I find it takes most students about the same amount of time to complete book 4 as it does book 3.

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

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