too laid back teacher


Tamara said: Apr 21, 2010
 4 posts

My 9 year old son has been playing cello for almost 3 years and he is very serious player and is now in middle of Book 4. His teacher recommended that he starts playing at competitions since last year. Last year, he didn’t win because the judges wanted more dynamics….so we worked on dynamics and style for a year. This year, the judges liked the dynamics but noted that he needs to work on getting deep core sound.

My frustration is why his teacher can’t work on dynamics and the tone altogether instead of taking “trial and error” approach. Getting ready for a competition is LOT of work mentally and physically and I am getting very drained out. His teacher is so laid back about all these issues and acts like my son is so ready and solid leading up to the competition….that’s until we get the result. Then he realizes what he needs to work on and will start focusing on what judges have said.

His teacher is very very nice person and has very good relationship with my son, but I feel like I am the one who has to push the teacher and I have no music background except the 3 years of piano 30 years ago. We have no musicians in my family and we are completely at the teacher’s mercy. Is getting a deep core sound on a cello something that cannot be taught, but comes in time with years of experience?

So many people have told me that my son very talented(?) and have been asked to perform during the school assemblys and he has been asked to be in a quartet with middle school kids…..I am assuming he is pretty good?

I am totally clueless and several people have suggested that we look for a new teacher. I don’t know what to do!!

Jennifer Visick said: Apr 21, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1069 posts

How big are these competitions? In general, 99% of people who enter competitions don’t win them. Only one person can win any given competition, and the winner is not necessarily the best (nor the only excellent and talented) musician out of the group of applicants.

Your teacher may be suggesting the competition for the preparation, performance experience and feedback it provides, which is what it sounds like you’re getting.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to work on tone as well as dynamics in a year… it is difficult to hand out advice about your teacher without knowing both the child and teacher in person.

Laura said: Apr 21, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

I have a competitive background, I also teach a wide range of students right now, and my own child is at similar level and rate of progress as your son. So perhaps I could offer some insight from these various perspectives.

It seems both special and uncommon that a complete beginner turns out to be both gifted and serious. He probably stands out as a gem compared to other students in the studio, most of whom either have a harder time grasping things like dynamics, style, and good tone, or they resent the hard work needed to master them. (The good ones are always easier to teach, it’s the other ones that command all of our creative teaching efforts!)

I am guessing that like most of us, this teacher runs a pretty typical studio with a wide mix of kids of all different abilities and attitudes. The overall playing quality of her students would be roughly reflective of her teaching ability, but beyond that, she gets what she gets. A small handful of students may stand out as being suitable for more serious instruction and pushing, but teachers still want to err on the side of not overpushing, particularly within the overall context of her studio. Many children do NOT want to enter competitions or exams to have their playing judged. So the teacher likely keeps teaching her usual nice way, which suits most kids just fine.

If your son has exceptional ability, it would not be unreasonable to search for a teacher who specializes in more serious students. This is simply a choice that such teachers make based on their experience, expertise, reputation, and personal attitude about teaching. They tend to have high audition standards, and accept only certain students, all of whom end up producing a certain type of result (in competitions or what have you). They can teach to a higher level all around in their studio, and the peer influence between students is of much higher quality. Out of professional humility, many “generalist” teachers refer their gifted students to such teachers. Other times, parents must make the decision to change to a more specialized teacher if their child is not challenged enough. Some teachers are exceptionally good at teaching each child to his own unique ability, but it’s realistically harder to be so many things to so many different kinds of students. You have to find a teaching range that works for you, and the kids will settle in.

It’s similar to disciplines like gymnastics: you have your Gymboree/local rec center classes, your more serious city and state gyms, and your elite gyms that train kids for the Olympics. There are pros and cons to all of them, and it all boils down to the child, his ability, and which environment is most suitable to his development.

That said, though, a few other relevant points come to mind:

After only a few years of study and at Suzuki Book 4 playing level, many things are still coming together. There are different seasons and different battles. Some kids simply can’t handle focusing on everything at once. Even if they can, things will always continue to evolve with increasing maturity and technical ability. There will ALWAYS be the “next thing” to focus on, particularly at 9 years old. It is rare (not unheard of, but just rare) for a 9-year old, no matter how skilled and serious, to sound as if he is many years older. But this seemingly intangible quality of “maturity” actually includes things like style and tone, which can take years to… well, mature. Meanwhile, someone will always point out the next step towards mastery.

In competitions, there are many variables. Different judges pick up on different things. Furthermore, different repertoire highlight different strengths and deficiencies in each player. A “perfect” judgment is a very elusive target in music, unlike in math or spelling tests. They can probably be better compared to cooking competitions or movie reviews. Someone will always have an opinion about something that matters more to them than it might to someone else, but the average opinion will generally be quite clear.

Sorry for being wordy—hopefully some of this will be of help!

Laura said: Apr 22, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

I agree with RaineJen, in that it is very possible to focus on more than one of these areas within a year. Whether or not they all come together within a year is another matter entirely, and is dependent on all the individuals involved (child, teacher, parent). But it is realistic to focus on them concurrently, if that is what you are wondering.

Tamara said: Apr 22, 2010
 4 posts

Thank you all very very much for your helpful answers to my questions. I luv this website!! I often feel like a blind leading a person with 20/20 vision when it comes to my son. The competition is a medium size one…there were about 60 cellists divided into 4 divisions, and there were about 10 kids in my son’s division(grade 1-5). My son is in 3rd grade and I have no idea what grade the winner is. When my son first started playing cello, he started asking for 2 lessons a week and I didn’t really take him seriously but he persistently showed interest in adding another lesson, so we added another lesson(ususally reading lesson) last year. We are now up to 2 one hour lessons a week….but we alternate the 2nd lesson with the group lesson…..this is totally by my son’s choice. This is why I couldn’t understand how his teacher is not able to teach the dynamics and the tone concurrently during the preparation for the competition. His first teacher did notice something different about my son in the middle of book 1, and did pass him on to the current teacher. But I am starting to wonder because most of his students are NOT serious players and my son enjoys being the top dog during the group class…..but I also want him to be with other serious players as well. Perhaps I should start asking around for another teacher who can take him on.

As far as his teacher pushing my son, he has introduced different music sheets along with the Suzuki book in the past. But after this competition results came in, he started my son on Bach Suites and we are currently working on Courante from the first suite and the Suzuki piece and Sevcik 40 variation.

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