Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Lesson Criers

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Teachers sometimes ask me how I deal with children who break into tears during the lesson. Yes, I, too, have had students who suddenly burst into tears for no apparent reason. Sooner or later, I am happy to say, they either learn to control their emotions or realize there’s no reason to cry in the first place. So how do they get to this point?

There are various situations which may provoke tears in some students. Here are a few of them with the antidotes I use.

1. Frustration: playing the violin may be the first really difficult thing these children have ever attempted. I have had many musically, physically and intellectually talented students for whom everything is easy – until they try to play the violin. The first impact of difficulty is often a shock to them, and the more emotional ones will frequently turn on the waterworks.

Antidote: The problem is not about them, but about an obstacle which surely someone as clever as themselves will surmount with a bit of determination which abounds in their character (even if it doesn’t, you still encourage this aspect). You are glad that they care so much and this is a good sign.

2. Difficulty. Learning to play the violin is just plain difficult. For everyone. I don’t know if other teachers have ever had a student to whom you show how to hold the violin, move the fingers, hold and move the bow and here’s a Paganini caprice in the first lesson, but I haven’t. Students will often cry just because it’s hard.

Antidote: Yes, it’s difficult. That’s why you need a teacher and that’s why you have to practice, which by definition means to keep trying. If it were easy, then everyone would be a great virtuoso in one lesson and I would be out of work!

3. Anger: “What? I can’t do this?!” Stomp of the foot, three or four tries, and then, tears.

Antidote: I’m so glad you’re angry! Now just use that energy and apply it to your practice and you’ll master that problem in no time! Your reaction shows you care! That’s wonderful!!

4. Astonishment: “How can this be happening to me???? I can’t do this!”

Antidote: You are surprised that this is difficult? Do you think I was born this perfect being you see before you today? (Naturally, I’m kidding.) Do you think I never had a problem? Here let me help you find a way to practice this.

5. Desperation: “Woe is me, I will never be able to do this.”

Antidote: How you’re feeling right now is how EVERY violin student feels at some point. Yes, you will be able to do this. It’s just going to take some time and persistence. Given that you are very determined (again, encouraging a quality that may not always be so evident), you will be able to conquer this. The Twinkles were difficult for you a year ago, no? Look at all you are now able to do that even a six months ago seemed impossible!

6. Gotcha:  “My teacher has put her finger on the wound of some self-perceived (imagined) defect and it hurts too much to think about it.” Continue reading

18 December 2015

When Things Don’t Go Well at a Lesson (so it may seem) – Pointers for Parents

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Happiness can be defined as knowing how to do something well. Learning to do it, however, is not always a happy experience. The path to perfection is mined with all kinds of stumbling blocks, most of them within ourselves. Sometimes teachers need to rattle our cages a bit to make us change our outlook, vision, or opinion. When this happens it isn’t always a pretty sight to the observer, but it may be vital to the learning process of the student.

So here are two scenarios. In which lesson did the student learn more?

A. Little Heidi plays her scales and etudes perfectly for her teacher, who then gives her a beautiful new piece as a reward, with pointers on how to practice it. Everyone is happy.

B. Little Gretel practiced her scales incorrectly and didn’t pay attention to her teacher’s instructions on certain difficulties in her etude. When the teacher points this out, Gretel goes into a pout which prompts a thorough dressing down by the teacher – not only about practicing well and listening to her teacher, but how to behave during her lessons. No one is happy.

Which child learned more? I would say that Heidi is probably making better progress on her instrument at the moment, but that Gretel has learned three extremely important lessons vital to her development  – not only as a music student but as a human being: (1) technique is important, (2) listening to your teachers’s instructions is even more important, (3) proper attitude is most important because it is essential to learning anything well.

Which lesson went better? Neither one. As a matter of fact, both of them went very well. Lessons are for learning and are not necessarily limited to learning instrumental technique and mutual admiration between teacher and student. Parents may think a lesson like Lesson B is a miserable failure. Not so – it may be the best lesson some children will ever experience. And the funny thing is that they know it, even at a very tender age.

Yehudi Menuhin reported in his autobiography (“Unfinished Journey” 1976) that his teacher, Louis Persinger, once angrily reproached Yehudi for not having properly studied a Mozart concerto he had assigned him. But did Menuhin mention this episode some fifty years later because he was upset with his teacher? No, it was because his mother had “helicoptered in” to insist that Persinger apologize to her son, who in turn was shocked and sorry to see his teacher humiliated. He felt his mother should not have interfered because Persinger was right: he had not practiced properly and deserved to be called on it. In fact, because of this episode, Yehudi “discovered” Mozart and was glad that his teacher had so brusquely insisted on his learning the concerto well. Menuhin was only 8 years old when this happened, by the way. Even small children can have a very well developed sense of justice. Continue reading

6 December 2015