From Polina S.
Posted July 1, 2008 at 04:36 PM
I had an interview with a potential student and the father was disappointed in his progress with the current teacher. He was very proud to announce that the child (about 13 years old) practiced 90 minutes per week. I told them to go back to their current teacher and practice 60 minutes per day. If they were still disappointed they could call me back to discuss lessons. I never heard from them again.
I've had lots of bad experiences with teachers who dangled new material infront of me like a carrot only to threaten me that if I don't learn something well then I'll never progress to this piece. Ok ok there are many instances where a child should not progress to new material too quickly and without guidance, but not at the cost of losing interest.
Your son is 7. Nobody knows your child like you do. Your concern that he's losing interest is of great importance to you and to the teacher. I would suggest sitting with the teacher and discussing your concerns. Try to find out his/her opinion on how to maintain his interest while still emphasizing the lesson points the teacher thinks are important. Ask him/her what you can do at home to maintain interest etc. If worse comes to worst then change teachers.
On a personal note, I never advise Suzuki for my students and have heard complaints like this before about Suzuki training. You may want to research some traditional teachers as well.
I don't know what you've said to the teacher already. Perhaps request that the teacher hear your concerns about your son losing interest since he's only working on foundation work, nothing fun or exciting like his piece in the lessons. Also ask that maybe only half the time be spent reviewing posture, the other half spent on the piece. I don't know if you feel qualified for this next suggestion, but maybe ask that the teacher show you what your son really needs to fix, and take it upon yourself to work on these things at home with him, freeing up lesson time.
Without knowing exactly what posture issues your son is having, and what his attitude is toward fixing these bad habits, I'm unable to offer anything else at this point. Giving hints online, rather than in person is so difficult!
Either way, best of luck to you and your son!
Seriously, though... I didn't say before, but I don't like the idea of your son having been playing for two years, and is only on Minuet 1. If this is just his rate of progress great, but assuming this is because of the incessant posture work, I would not approve of such a teaching method. Perhaps there is a piece of the puzzle missing?
It is easier to imitate another teacher than to figure out how to work with students yourself.
It is easier to teach "teaching points" than to read the needs a little (or big) person.
It is easier to cling to how it's "supposed to be" as a starting point than to accept how it IS as a starting point.
It is easier to use your will than to motivate someone to use their own.
In a nutshell: look for a better teacher. Observe several teachers and talk to parents of their students before you make your decision. It's not a problem with all Suzuki teachers, and it's a problem that can also exist in non-Suzuki teachers, so simply look for a good TEACHER, whatever the method!
No doubt about it.
Years ago, I was quite a stickler about left-hand posture. But then I had a student for whom continuing interest in violin playing was much more important to me than having her hold things exactly right.
I had taught long enought to know that without fixing those things whe would never be able to use her 4th finger properly and never be able to shift to 3rd position. But I reasoned that if she learned to play with ehr 4th finger and made it to 3rd position, she would have solved that "posture problem."
It worked out just fine. That was 13 years ago, she is still playing violin. Finished the last of the Suzuki books when she was 14 (the 2 Mozart Concertos therein). Then she started a chamber-music program in her high school for 2 years. Took her fiddle off to college last year!
Since then, I have followed the same policy with young students - and it continues to work. My latest is a little 6 year old who started last October, she is now just starting "Minuet 2" and on this one I'm having her do it from scratch as a serious music-reading exercise.
The right hand posture is something else, but it is also somewhat easier to get a credible bow hold started (not necessarily a good one, but one that will work at this stage and will transition).
With older beginners, teens through adult, it is easier to use reason to work out the reason for certain postural elements. I mean, some of them are in a hurry, I've had really dedicated beginning students who got through Suzuki Book 1 in the first week. Getting these problems in hand is pretty urgent since the reasons for correction are imminent, if not already passed.
It means that sometimes a student is not ready TODAY to learn about bending the bow pinkie, or bringing over the elbow, or getting that @#$ left thumb a little lower. Yes, you introduce the concept. But if it doesn't stick, you might well see what it is that is so distracting the student. They are usually chomping at the bit to do something; "I worked all week on my Bach Double, did a page more than you assigned, I want you to hear the whole THING!" Good idea to go with that, work with that motivation.
But, never forget the pinkie, the elbow, the thumb. Bring it up again, on another day. Have it in your pocket, ready to go when the student has a receptive moment and perhaps asks, "Why am I having such trouble shifting?"
"Why my dear, it's your thumb...shall we work on that?"
Fact: the anatomy of small children differs significantly from adults. So, why then do adults insist on adult posture for children?
Fact: hands and arms raised above the level of the heart will tire very easily. Children do not have strength to endure this. So, why push them?
Suzuki devised a method that suited the people and culture at the time. Brilliant. But, to say that a person trained in Zuzuki will be an appropriate teacher for all children is false reasoning to my mind.
Part of the solution is to find a chinrest that suits the child. I know, for a fact, all children benefit from having a centre-positioned chin rest. The Ohrenfom comes to mind. It is very high, and so an SR is NOT needed. A simple foam pad under the shirt is all you need. Why? Because the CR shifts the position of the violin higher up the shoulder. Arms will naturally be raised higher.
Another simple trick is to ensure the music stand is raised, so the student looks "up" to the music.
Also, change your teachers. You want a teacher who will build upon what the student has, not tear down.
Also, give frequent rest periods, even if only for a few minutes at a time.
Play standing. sit only for rest. Chairs do not promote good posture.
And, Suzuki is not the only method.
However, if you'd like to do the spiccato barriolage passage in the Mendelssohn Concerto cadenza from the first movement, this will demand a bow arm and bow hold with strength, flexibility and much nuance. So from day one, a good teacher points a student toward the kind of bow arm/hand that will develop in this way.
But...few students are able to adopt this on the first day, or even in the first year. It's an evolution. Some students will not make the necessary adaptations until they hit a wall, when their technique does not allow further advancement and they MUST change. This isn't necessarily stubbornness on their part, it's just a failure to see the point. And sometimes they aren't ready to see the point until there is an immediate reason.
This is why teaching takes patience and persistence.
Laurie, I have a feeling we are very similar in our beliefs and style of teaching...:)
Boys are often less coordinated and less able to hold a proper stance than girls. Some boys develop this ability as late as age twelve or thirteen. The other part of the equation is that children have their own priorities, and these might not be the same as the priorities of the teacher or the parent. I believe that the teacher and the parent must respect the child's priorities. They feel like they cannot do everything at once, and for some children musical ideas are much more important than the way they hold the instrument.
Honestly, if the student consistently sees a good example of posture, and if the teacher is patient enough, the student will eventually be ready for that posture lesson. Until then, I think you should be delighted with a musical rendition of their current piece even if they look like they are shooting rabbits.
Video tapes are available from blockbuster of great violinists from the Bell Telepone hour, and there are some great PBS shows of great performers. My guys really like those and when they are at a transition phase I let them watch those or go to live performances. As others have mentioned, I find boys do things to please themselves and you can not always assume they will just obey without a good reason. I don't know about girls but the boys I know including my own are more compliant when they have a purpose to comply. I would probably work on new things like you are. In fact I have done work to expand areas of interest that were outside of lessons so I think you are smart to do that. I am past this discussion with my guys now, but we are always tweaking posture even now. It is vivid in my memory however that it took a lot of patience to get past the "posture is important" discussion. We never worked only on posture though and I think they would have been bored out their minds.
I also agree with those who suggested looking closely at your son's setup: if he has a very long neck, or broad shoulders, or lanky arms, you might experiment with different types of chin and shoulder rests, or even a different fractional size of violin.
As others have noted here and elsewhere, avoiding tension, muscle strain and other types of playing issues that can lead to damage down the road, is very important. Especially for a growing child, where spinal scoliosis could occur.
At the time, it looked like he was embarrassed enough by the situation that he resisted our teacher's efforts. He seemed a bit wilty and whimpery during lessons. The teacher asked me at one point what was wrong with him; she thought perhaps he didn't like violin. Despite my misgivings, I carried out her program exactly as she prescribed. He continued to enjoy playing in recitals, and perhaps this carried him through. I think more than that, he was determined to play well and to get what she was trying to teach him, although this was not evident to me at the time. Sometimes we underestimate their internal will and motivation.
I just go through this (abbreviated as they 'get it'), each time we prepare to play a piece. Something like this:
'Think of a string coming out of the top of your head, gently pulling you towards the ceiling. Now just place the violin on the collarbone - see if you don't bend over, the collarbone does all the work! Now just help the left hand and the bow by keeping the scroll high - see, now the bow doesn't slide away and the left hand is free.
I know holding the scroll high is hard work at first, but you'll get stronger. You can take a break and bring your arm down whenever you need to, but when you play, just bring that scroll up again.'
And that's it. With most, this works really well. Between pieces, I let them relax and stand however they like.
Students learn at their own pace, some of my students could play minuet 1 within 12 months in tune with beautiful posture, hardly ever needing correction. But this, I soon discovered, is quite rare because most children need to be told the same thing over and over again. I quickly adapted my method to accommodate this oversight and over time used many descriptions for each aspect of posture, which is only limited by ones imagination.
So each lesson becomes a fun time and they leave looking forward to the next one, and the teacher keeps his sanity. We talk, have a little giggle, relax and try again.
For the ones that take a long time to acquire good posture there are many easy tunes to go on with until the time is right for the more challenging pieces.
Good posture is imperative right from the start, because I would be very reluctant to be the teacher that has to make the corrections and it is required for advancement through the violin syllabus.
So if need be, posture must corrected at every lesson but the teacher must endeavour to make it a fun time to prevent the lose of interest.
And don't forget about positive reinforcement and complimenting them when they do have good posture.
so many things to think about,
Please consider supporting Violinist.com by becoming a sponsor, and reaching our dedicated community of violin professionals, students and fans!