9 year old student can't memorize Twinkle, Twinkle,...Advice?

September 10, 2009 at 01:26 PM ·

I have a nine year old student who claims she can't memorize Twinkle, Twinkle in Suzuki Bk. 1.

My dilemma is how to determine whether she's being lazy and I need to push her, or if she really has issues with memorizing.  I will say that she has occasionally played almost all of Twinkle from memory when she's particularly hyper or goofing off before her lesson.  But then when I ask her to she say's she can't do it.

Her musical experience so far has been rough...when I got her four months ago she had been playing in school for 2 years but was only able to play open strings and first finger notes with tape.  Her practicing only averages 2-4 week, but I think it's more to the crazy. busy schedule her mother has her doing.  She is now playing with a fairly consistent good tone and posture, and just beginning to read notes fluently.  But memorization...I wasn't even able to work her on the Twinkle variations until I printed them out completely with Finale software so she could read the whole thing.

I have a full studio and most of my students range from 3 years to adults, and in fourteen years of teaching I've never encountered a student (especially at her age) who can't memorize music. 

Have other teachers encountered this kind of issue with memorization?  If so, do you have any advice on teaching her to memorize?  I'm a big believer in memorization and I know if wait until later to ask her to do it, the pieces just get longer and harder to memorize.

Totally befuddled...



Replies (39)

September 10, 2009 at 03:24 PM ·

Just some thoughts-

Maybe she tends toward dislexia.  In that case everything might be reversed for her.  The dots might not make sense.  There are ways to deal with the dislexic handicap but would take some searching.

Not interested or applying herself.  Takes time and effort.  As you say to busy in life.  Trouble concentrating long enough.  Attention span problem.  Just does not care or care enough.  Is she in class because she wants to be.

Does she play scales ok and in different keys.  Can she follow you on 3 or 4 note scales or 3 or 4 chord notes by ear and can she reproduce them.  Maybe a message there.

I have similar problems at my age and starting violin.  Took me 2 years to memorize Turkey in the Straw. Just did not want to print in my mind.  Other tunes were the same way for me.  Took hard memorizing for me.   You have to want to learn a song pretty bad.  Maybe Twinkle does not wind her clock.  Maybe Mary Had  a Little Lamb or something from her current age group interests.  Sorry for an OT Fiddler mixing with you classicists. 

Hope you can help her.  Good luck.   Don

September 10, 2009 at 03:27 PM ·

Here are a couple things; maybe she has Twinkle wrapped up with some different sequences in her mind. You can get past that by not placing 'TWINKLE' in her mind when you start.

Maybe call it the alphabet song? 

Possibly say 'Let's try this!, and don't name the song, just play it?

September 10, 2009 at 03:53 PM ·

"Lazy" might be a little strong.  Maybe the difference between preparing for a group class in school and preparing for a private lesson hasn't been fully digested by the student and her parents?  Especially if after two years of school lessons she can only do open strings and first fingers!

"She has occasionally played almost all of Twinkle from memory..."

This means she can memorize, and did memorize!  You can always point this out.  (Smile)

"Her practicing averages 2-4 a week, but I think it's the more to the crazy busy schedule her mother has her doing."

2-4 days a week is not going to cut it.  If you haven't already, you might want to have a chat with the parents and outline a practicing schedule, when and how much to do, every day. 

I've never had a student that could not memorize.  Some slow, some fast, but they all can do it.  I've had students that have had confidence issues, not that uncommon, but if you give them small goals (4 measures, 8 measures, etc) they can build from that.

Good luck!



September 10, 2009 at 04:15 PM ·

I suspect she can't memorize it because she doesnt really understand what she is doing. I would move on to the next song and keep working on Twinkle as a singing excercise first and then if she can do that then switch the effort to correct the finger pattern issues. I suspect a cookie cutter approach may not work for her. Even if every kid you have ever taught has learned it the way you think she should, it makes no difference. You have an "outlier" on your hands and her past instruction has made your job even harder.

If she can sing it, then her muscles have just memorized the wrong pattern or have memorized a few different patterns, which is a completely different issue. If she cannot sing it, then there may be processing issues that need to be addressed. Also, you might find out if she has memorized her math facts etc. so see if there is a memorization issue unrelated to violin. Remember too, the Suzuki approach is fine, but it does not work the same way for every learner even though many teachers want it to and have anecdotal evidence that it should. She is not lazy, but I think if she does not have a serious disability, her past teacher was a little bit lazy  instead :).

When my guy started book 4 with the shifting on Vivaldi he played it different every single time. Never the same two times in a row. It drove his teacher nuts an she kept insisting he "just memorize" the shifts without really explaining them. So the notes were correct, but the finger patterns and shifts were different every single time. Sometimes he added shifts were he wasn't suppose to, but other days he invented his own version of the shifts. His teacher, a Suzuki zealot, just did not believe he needed to understand what he was doing at 6 years of age, in favor of a "it will make sense to you later" approach which just bombed with this guy. She suggested he was lazy, sloppy, ADHD, I was lazy as a parent, not committed enough, not being stricter etc.., she said he wasn't listening enough and on and on. Never did she ever entertain the possibility that it was her teaching that was confusinig. Not once. She was so convinced of the Suzuki ideology that she was blinded by it. I suggest you may need to modify the Suzuki methods for this girl or try another method. Suzuki is not the only way to learn or to teach music. It is one may that works for many kids. Our story ended with my sons new teacher explaining the whole shifting concept to the Nth degree when he was 7 years old, and it never happened again once he understood it all. A happy ending for us. So you see, teaching approaches that are very good for the majority of students don't always work every single time. Calling her lazy will drum (no pun intended) her out of music lessons and only draw that conclusion if that is the outcome you want. She doesnt practice because she doesn't know what she is doing and it makes no sense to her. It is like a punishment to repeat the same mistakes again and again that you don't know how to fix.

In education, not just violin, some kids are "big picture" learners who need to understand the whole and then break it apart. Most children are little picture learners who assemble big ideas from little pieces. I suspect she might be the first type, who needs a different approach than just rote memorizaiton. They need to understand what they are doing and why.  

September 10, 2009 at 05:16 PM ·

@ J. Kingston- I really enjoyed your post.  It really makes since to me and I think you are on to something.

And Anne made some good observations, especially where the student has demonstrated memory capabilities.

Also- We do not know the whole story of this students life, and what goes on behind closed doors with her family.

September 10, 2009 at 05:42 PM ·

"Twinkle" Can she sing it? I think you have to get "in there" and find where her mind is before you can work with it. And if you can't find it, have her parents buy her a tonette, a harmonica, or a cheap keyboard.


September 10, 2009 at 05:54 PM ·

How long has she been working on "Twinkle"? Is that the song they did for 2 years in a sort-of-bad school music program?

Because maybe she has Twinkle-itus.

How about teaching her a totally different song?

Or, if she can move forward with her playing through reading, I'd just work with her strengths until she feels good enough about the whole endeavor to get out of her comfort zone and try memorizing again. Just give her some fresh new things to read that will help her work on whatever she needs to work on, maybe build in some repetition through playing a bunch of things that are similar but different. It sounds like a motivational issue, but I don't think the key is to keep pushing in the same direction, but perhaps to change directions.

Just my 2 cents, and of course, I'm not with her and in your shoes!

September 10, 2009 at 06:37 PM ·

I think Laurie might be onto something.  My daughter had Twinkle-itis, big-time.  I think if I'd asked her to memorize that I'd have had a revolt on my hands.  "Can't" doesn't always mean "won't," but sometimes it does.

September 10, 2009 at 07:55 PM ·

I'll bite, so often the answer is just that simple...... always the simplest answers that can be the most elusive!

September 10, 2009 at 08:11 PM ·

Thanks for all the responses.

After reading comments from several indiviuals I do feel the need to clarify : I never called my student lazy and to that end have never called my students lazy.  What I asked was how to determine if she was being lazy or truly struggling with an issue. 

I teach the Suzuki method however, I don't lock my students into any particular method or "cookie cutter" format, in fact the local teachers who know me would say the exact opposite:  I am willing to, and do, try a number of different methods and teaching approaches to meet my students needs. 

After reading the responses I've come to the conclusion that she may be struggling with some aspect of memorization - maybe caused by a mental block of some kind.  I forget who mentioned it but it was suggested that dyslexia might be a cause.  Can dyslexia affect memorization issues? 

It was also mentioned that music or "Twinkleitus" (sp?) might be a factor.  The two years the student was in school they were working out of Essential Elements.  However, she had a very negative view of playing violin (I assume because she had seen so little progress in 2 years) so maybe it will take a little time for the enthusiam to build back up. 

Her family life is chaotic with siblings, schedule, broken family with large chunks of time spent with Dad in which she is not allowed to bring her violin to practice.  I think I'll keep on keeping on but maybe trying to infuse a different twist into her lessons.

Thanks again for all the respones!


September 10, 2009 at 09:24 PM ·

Good luck!!!


Can always pass a test for dislexia??? How is she at school?  


September 11, 2009 at 12:30 AM ·

While I can see why you would like her to memorise, maybe it is just too early in her learning to do this.  I couldn't memorise any pieces until I had been playing for a couple of years, and that was after I started with my best teacher.  I tried all the suggestions here, but felt quite frustrated and hopeless, because no more than the first couple of notes would stick in memory.  As my competence has improved, I find that I now easily recall whole movements of a sonata, but I never practise to memorise - I read as I play, and then I find that within a few days of practising I have recalled and can retrieve.  If a piece has complicated bowing with unexpected slurs or direction changes, I have much more difficulty memorising (Fioccho Allegro!), despite being able to sing  the piece, and visualising the entire score.  So there is obviously something about the motor, visual and auditory link that is not being effective.

It also sounds as though this child is not available to learn, and she sounds to be disorganised. She may have an ADHD, or anxiety, or a dyspraxia (problem with motor planning or sequencing) but it sounds as though when she is put on the spot that she can't recall learned information, which means that information is not being stored and retrieved effectively.  

I would try as suggested by previous writers - move her through other pieces by reading.  she needs to get a feel for playing the violin, not playing twinkle.  Maybe she will always be 'gappy' - have some skills at a higher level than others, or maybe she will mature and get everything consolidated.  

Could you do some really simple copying games (like that 'simon says' electronic game) - where you play a sequence of  2, then 3, then 4 notes etc and she copies.  

Spend a long time on different bowings, maybe those twinkle variations can be done with another bunch of notes.  

She may benefit from you helping her by doing it hand-over-hand.  In non violin playing activities, I use weighted cuffs or compression (self adhesive bandages) lightly around the hand or wrists of some kids - the extra input helps the brain to record what is happening.  You of course would need to experiment with anything like that so that its doesn't restrict her, but even a couple of rubber bands or hair elastics on her wrists might do the trick.

Try backward chaining the lesson pieces and homework tasks - you play to the last two bars and she gets to play the finish - she may have litttle idea of how it feels to FINISH. Can she have the pieces taped at the speed she can cope with to practise along with (I recall trying those suzuki CD's and felt so useless, because they went too fast to be of any play along help.  That was book 1)

Colour code on the page what ever you think will alert her to a change or prompt her to recall the sequence.

On non playing days, could she learn to air play? or have a little drawn or written assignment (do up and sown arrows on the score to show the bow direction, or write in the fingers)

Help her to devise a realistic practise schedule - if she only has three days available, maybe she does twice on those days, still short amount of time.  How could she be rewarded for that commitment?

AND, FINALLY, COMMEND HER AND HER FAMILY FOR PERSISTANCE.  How unrewarding must her 1st 2 years of playing been!  In their own way, they are showing their commitment to having a violinist in the family. 


September 11, 2009 at 12:49 AM ·

>>(I recall trying those suzuki CD's and felt so useless, because they went too fast to be of any play along help.  That was book 1)

Oh thank you for mentioning that!!  I always thought I was a numbskull for not being able to keep up.  I'm not so bad on the first couple of variations, but when the bowing becomes a bit more tricky, I just can't keep up with the CD!!  Good to know I'm not alone! :)

September 11, 2009 at 12:57 AM ·

Its the first time I've admitted it.

I've always like the name Prue. 

September 11, 2009 at 02:26 PM ·

Bev, looking at your and Anne's posts and the responses, sounds like she does not have dislexia. The various posts get into the memory subject pretty well, causes and ways to try. Sounds like her life situation causes and slows things for her. I like Sharelle's post and all the replys are good.

I have been following several sites discussions on memory and learning violin by ear without sheet music. The general consensus is that memorizing and just playing what you hear without sheet music are two pretty much separate operations in our brains. I am working on the by ear process but still mostly play off the sheet except for the few tunes I have drilled into my memory.

In answer to your question yes, dislexia can hinder understanding and memorization. wikipedia.com has a pretty good writeup on the subject, a technical definition and a list of signs and symptoms. The symptoms listed are:

Older elementary school children



Slow or inaccurate reading

Very poor spelling

Difficulty associating individual words with their correct meanings

Difficulty with time keeping and concept of time

Difficulty with organization skills

Due to fear of speaking incorrectly, some children become withdrawn and shy or become bullies out of their inability to understand the social cues in their environment

Difficulty comprehending rapid instructions, following more than one command at a time or remembering the sequence of things

Reversals of letters (b for d) and a reversal of words (saw for was) are typical among children who have dyslexia. Reversals are also common for children age 6 and younger who don't have dyslexia. But with dyslexia, the reversals persist.



Children with dyslexia may fail to see (and occasionally to hear) similarities and differences in letters and words, may not recognize the spacing that organizes letters into separate words, and may be unable to sound out the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word.

September 11, 2009 at 04:39 PM ·

Why the big thing about memorizing?  Maybe she's just not into that at the moment?  I never memorized anything when I started playing and had no trouble when it was gently introduced much later on in my studies.   I appreciate it is part of the Suzuki regime but it seems unrealistic that every child should follow the same process - when we all know every child is different.

Perhaps the lesson time would be much better spent working on other activities which the pupil finds more interesting and rewarding.   She can easily come back to memorization later on when she's having more fun with her playing. 

September 11, 2009 at 05:17 PM ·

Donald has an interesting point that memorizing and playing by ear are different.  Or maybe, can be different.  I find that I can memorize something without really understanding it, but once I understand it, it almost automatically plays itself.  That's why singing it can be so helpful.  The only drawback is when the mind knows it but the fingers aren't connected in which case I you have to go back and memorize the fingers.  But the best music occurs when the mind and the muscles are so intertwined that what's in my head is (nearly) automatically translated to my fingers.  That can only happen when the ears and the technique are very well trained--for me the technique is the problem; my fingers don't always do what I wnt them to; but when I teach my beginners I try to make a three-way connection:  1) fingers to ears 2) fingers to written notes 3) ears to written notes, and try to build them up almost simultaneously.  (try is still the key word...I have not developed a faultless way of doing that yet!  but so far the concept has worked!

Based on that, one thing I do when students seem to be "stuck" on memory is to go probably to a different song, work on learning to play it very well so the understanding of both fingers and sound gets into their heads, and then ask them , "just for fun" to see how far they can play without music.  Many of them can go a long way and then they've got the confidence 9half the battle!) to work on whatever parts need a double check.


September 11, 2009 at 05:22 PM ·

I think for now, go with what Lauri Niles suggests!

September 11, 2009 at 07:51 PM ·

 I think this thread has gotten out of control. I disagree with the negative criticism, even though some are constructive. The problem is that this forum has too much public information on the teacher, so what has been written here can easily get back to the student and parents. This should be posted in a forum where you can use a username and not required to have you area listed.

September 11, 2009 at 11:18 PM ·

I appreciate all of the suggestions and food for thought. 

Charles has a point that this thread has become a little negative, particularly with the many negative assumptions that were made with very little foundation.  In this case, I wasn't concerned that my student or other students would see this thread.  But I agree with Charles, it would be nice to be able to ask questions like this without the potential for fallout because actual names are being used.

Regardless, thanks again to those to offered constructive criticism and/or suggestions for my question.

September 12, 2009 at 12:57 AM ·

One of my students hated twinkle twinkle, and would whine every time I asked her to play it. I tried to interest her by asking what her favorite song was. When I wrote the notes down, she had fun playing it. I suspect it was because she was very strong-willed and was happy to have some say in what songs she was playing. I also used a non-suzuki book which had smaller 8 measure phrases to begin memorizing. I have no idea whether my student is similar to yours or not, but these are just some ideas. Good luck!

September 12, 2009 at 01:16 AM ·


I absolutely and totally disagree with the suggestion that there has been any negative or destructive criticism in this highly intelligent and thoughtful thread.   Any suggestions of problems have been tempered with the point that they are possibilties and people have cheerfully put forward their suggestions and ideas.   There is -nothing- here to cause offence or trouble in any shape or form.

In fact,  I think the whingeing about negativity is rather rude to people like Sharelle and JKingston to mention just two, who have contributed quite a lot of time and experience towards trying to help.  Is this some kind of feel good 21st century syndrome in which one is censored for offering possibilities?

 If we can`t have even this basic level of discussion then the site is a waste of time.


September 12, 2009 at 06:11 AM ·

Thoughtful – Too much personal information has been leaked out about this girl’s age, family life, education, intelligence etc... Combine this with the information about Bev .This student can now easily identified by her peers, friends, parents and herself. Take a look at it in this way. If this little girl was reading this right now, don’t you think that what has been said in this thread would hurt her? Is that being thoughtful? A 9 year old may not see the term “MAY have dyslexia or ADHD”, but see it as “I have ___” Intelligence – Everything that has been said here is an absolute guess! We have a girl that has only, not memorized one song, and that’s the only information we have. From this we’ve came up with may have dyslexia, may have ADHD and other extremes. “Come on” If you really want to help, and then ask a lot of questions. Don’t cloud the judgment with silly guesses or “maybe this or maybe that” statements. This topic is much more serious and potentially detrimental then” What’s the best strings to use” Teachers on this forum have to be extremely careful about what they say or what’s being said about their students, for obvious reasons.

September 12, 2009 at 07:31 AM ·

 Charles, over-reaction somewhat, I think.

This is a teacher asking genuinely for assistance.  As for guesses - not at all.  What we have is an experienced teacher,  stating that in her years of experience she hasn't encountered this difficulty in a student. Others are writing in saying either that they have seen this in music, or that they have knowledge of such a situation from other settings.  I can respect that if the teacher hasn't seen it before, there probably is a learning style difference, and needs a different teaching approach, that's that was offered.

None of the suggestions even border on saying this student has limited intelligence, and only on how to support an individual learning style.  No respondent has been judgemental of the student.  I suggest that a 9 year old who is interested and competent to find these posts and recognise herself in them, is savvy enough to take on board the suggestions (because I bet that that 9 year old is absolutely aware of her lack of progress and would probably like things to change for the better as much as the teacher would).

And (I agree with Buri), I don't think being precious and PC has helped anyone to improve - taking on new perspectives, being armed with new strategies, and choosing to try these on is what leads to change and growth.  This is what I see the core business of this forum to be. Not to dance around saying 'please PM to violinfairy fingertips @ anonymous.com, without any discussion occurring.

September 12, 2009 at 06:42 PM ·

I'm w/Buri on this. The odds of a student or his/her parent being on this site, reading a question & making a connection are remote. Teachers who have such a concern can take the hint & carefully tailor their questions. I suppose someone who became very uncomfortable could ask for a thread to be closed or removed. // Re Suzuki recordings, I & many Suzuki teachers I know discourage playing along w/the recordings. I was taught that they are intended for pre-learning the tunes & tone. Quite a while ago, some of the Suzuki-geared catalogs sold cassettes designed for recording loops (which kids could listen to or play along with. ) These days anyone can do that for themselves via computer. Still, it surprises me that there hasn't been more attention to this in Suzuki circles since there is a clear breakdown for many  when they hear a piece as having a given tempo & can't play anything like it. Sue

September 12, 2009 at 10:57 PM ·

Charles,  I understand your concern that to many details were revealed about this student and it is rare for me to post questions about my students due to that same concern. But I did want to say that in this case I am 100% positive that this thread will never be read by her or anyone who knows her.  It's why I felt comfortable saying what I did. 

It was also mentioned that as a 9 year old she is probably aware of the lack of progress in her playing and would like to improve also.  She most definitely is aware and I don't think even if she or her family saw my question that they would be offended.  Her mother is actively trying to work with me in identifying any challenges her daughter may struggle with.

It was not my intent to make my student come accross as less itelligent, or to bring to much negative attention to her family life.  Students nowadays have incredibly full schedules and sometimes chaotic lives and I know that things like that can really affect learning and performance.  So I included that information so that anyone offering advice could take that part of her life into consideration when replying.

As for me, I was simply looking for advice from more experienced teachers as, even after fourteen years, I still have a lot to learn and want to give my students the best instruction I can.

September 13, 2009 at 12:50 AM ·

I also feel like this when we say as students that we had a bad experience or such things that some teachers or schools might recognize themselves but are we going to pay the price of calling ourselves "funny and odd little nicknames" just to remain anonymous. One day or another, such details as city or the music school you are in will be revealed anyway. Not to mention that I would always find it so artificial and less credible  if I would recieve advice from let's say 'kittyviolinist10000" !!! lol  If youtube is more "bitching", it is maybe because people are anonymous and thus allow themselves to say anything. Happy that it is more "true" on here!   And I feel the people all tried to help on this tread.   (the best they can)


September 13, 2009 at 05:18 PM ·


Hello Bev,

You said earlier that you were "100%" certain that neither the student, nor those who might know her would ever read this thread...

I do not disagree, but I am curious:

How might you know that...?

Sincere thanks,


September 13, 2009 at 08:08 PM ·

To answer your question Lothar,

As hard as it is to believe the family doesn't use computers as we understand them.  They use a funky emailing type device for emails but they don't / have never used the Internet.

The other reason is that I gave up my studio a number of years ago and now travel to my students homes to give lessons.  Because of that arrangement, it's unlikely that one of my other students would ever be able to identify this student as they have extremely limited interaction together.

September 13, 2009 at 08:36 PM ·

Just to clarify, there are a lot of learninig theories that are very convincing and rely on antecdotes about how one should orshould not learn something. Suzuki, in my opinion is one of them, although I believe it has tremendous value for many learners but no one really knows why it works when it does, or why it doesn't when it doesn't. If it works then great for the teacher and the student. Construction or deconstruction it doesnt really matter. Spelling for example  is one such area. In "The Science of Spelling" we teachers can get it into our heads that you are either a good speller or you are not. I suggest the same is true with violin and many violin teachers. This has been disproved but the antecdotal evidence is so compelling that spelling teachers just want to believe it no matter where the evidence leads. I would suggest many music teachers are of the same thinking, or maybe I have just met more than my share. I appreciate the flexibility Bev clarified from the original post in her ability to accomodate different learners. In spelling, it is well documented that Spelling Bee winners are almost always visual learners, or for our purposes, Good Memorizers of letter patterns. Other children just don't memorize by seeing words and reading them. So maybe the same is with hearing music versus reading it to memorize something. A pattern but different in presentation  Some of us unfortuante ones must just learn the spelling rules and then apply them. That simple.

As to personal or family circumstances, it a way it doesnt really matter too much. If you want to be good at violin or anything, then you need to behave like someone who is good at it and then be persistent when it inevitably gets tough. Your feelings about it or about yourself for that matter are somewhat irrelevant and it is your behavior as a student or teacher that makes you good. I am of the school that feelings follow behavior and not the reverse. While I am open to changing my mind, nothing suggests that if a child practices or studies, they won't get better where as a person who does not, no matter how much the say they want to learn, or feel they could, or how smart they are, will not learn without the behavior that is required. There is a distain in drills and such these days as someone mentioned but they are necessary to pattern our thinking in some cases. Maybe it will just take her really long to learn twinkle and she can do more than one thing. In someways if you analyze children too much it doesnt really help them. We want good students and we want them quickly and there is no evidence that students can always learn as fast as we want for the reasons we want. It is a patient persons game this teaching/learning business. In the meantime maybe she just needs to behave like a good student and do her duty and eventually, with the right teaching from you, she will become a great student and believe it. I know it is tough teaching challenging students even though I am not a violin teacher.It is difficult to suspend our doubts about struggling students because I think deep down most, if not all, teachers teach to affirm themselves on some  level. A stuggling student is like looking in the mirror on a very bad hair day. You see yourself and can start to doubt yourself as a teacher.  It is easy to become impatient and so I always try to take a breath and look at the long view which is lacking in so many areas of life for kids these days. . Good Luck with this kiddo!

September 14, 2009 at 04:17 AM ·

It is however the rare young student who, without support from the family, will take it upon themselves to practice without any guidance from the parent(s). My sense is that the vast majority of children need to be guided to practice consistently and be encouraged  in that process. The child's success is only as assured as the weakest link in the teacher/parent/child triangle. A good teacher, even with a willing child, cannot do all he/or she might want to, if the parent who starts to make a commitment cannot continue to keep it. If the parent who usually helps out is away on business trips often or some family conflict affects the stability of the home environment, the child's ability to focus and accomplish what the teacher is asking will likely be compromised. On the other hand, if the parent is there and ready to support but the child strongly resists practicing and feels forced to do something they don't really have a desire to do, their intelligence and "talent" may partly allow them to "succeed" but it will be a losing battle in the end because the child will  likely opt out once they are given the choice. Then there is the teacher's responsibility to be clear and focused and set reasonable goals for the student. Some students can be given as much as one can dish out and they will even thrive on every challenge presented to them. But some teachers can be oppressive or overwhelm the student and an otherwise eager and enthusiastic child and their parent(s) will give up because the expectations are unreasonable.

 I cited just a few instances of these relationships and how crucial each part is, but, unfortunately, it is the school of hard knocks (read "experience") which is the best teacher. No one fits every model of personality out there and there are so many factors that shape individuals that we are always challenged as teachers to  find the "keys" to reaching each student that comes into our lives.

It is a daunting task, but I would not beat myself up over it if not every student manages to do what we might hope or expect they could do. The better you get to know the family, the parents' backgrounds, attitudes, knowledge of music, expectations, and the better you get to know the child and their learning habits and their interests, the more information you have at your disposal to work well with the student. There are no guarantees, but being a good observer, and a patient soul is a good start, and it certainly applies to more than just violin teaching.

Some gentle words of wisdom given with humor:

Karen Harrington's Recipe for a Successful Music Lesson:


 Cheerful music teacher, willing student, 2 oz. of understanding, 8 oz. of patience,  1 pint constructive criticism mixed with an equal amount of praise, 1 lb. technique, 1 cup dynamics,  2 cups of talent (if available)

 Directions: Mix together the above ingredients and blend on medium until lumps disappear. If problem spots develop, reduce speed and add additional patience. If all else fails, stir in an ounce of humor. Gently fold  in 1/2 cup of theory until streaks of apprehension are no longer obvious. Flavor each phrase generously with expression.

 Bake in your studio for 30 minutes to an hour or until student rises to your expectations. Let rest for 4 beats and turn out a winner.


September 17, 2009 at 01:45 AM ·

Actually Charles, many children with identifiable learning disorders are relieved to be diagnosed.  It means an end to the frustration of struggling without understanding why, feeling helpless, and thinking "What is wrong with me, am I stupid?" 

September 17, 2009 at 03:33 AM ·

It could also be the case of expecting something too soon. She might be a late bloomer, you never know.

*edit* Haha.. wow what a big read. Too many thoughts really. Have you actually spoken to the parent? Or even better - have you actually asked her why is she having troumbles memorising? You never know what a simple question might give back

September 17, 2009 at 07:07 AM ·

Whoa whoa whoa.... slow down with the diagnoses.

Bev, I think you're going to have to be clear on whether you are teaching with the Suzuki method in mind or you are just using that particular version of twinkle.

The purpose of the CD that comes with the book is for the students to listen to.  They are by no means required to play along with the CD initially.  I never have my students play with it until they are almost all the way through book 1.

In the Suzuki method we treat repertoire and sight reading as SEPERATE skills.  The reasoning being that your ability to read notes should not hinder your technical progress.  Reading note for note while thinking about bow hold, violin fingers, and proper posture is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT.

Instead, I would suggest playing memory games without looking at any music.  If your student knows how the pieces goes (which I guarantee you she does by now) try some of the following activities during the lesson:

-You play the first note (A) and then she plays the next note (E) then you play E1 and keep going through the whole piece like this.  Then switch parts.  This forces the student to think about sequencing.

-You and your student play twinkle.  Think of a funny body motion you can do during different notes.  For example, every time you play an F# you turn around in a circle.  This also focuses attention to detail.  You can't play the game unless you think about what comes next.

-Sing twinkle twinkle little start while stomping your feet to the beat.  Knowing how the song goes will help keep the notes straight in her head.


You get the idea.  I highly doubt she's dyslexic.  I think she just has too many things going on while playing.  Break the skill sets down and simplify.  Don't ask her to sight read (a weak skill for a beginner) and play (something she's still learning) AND memorize a piece at the same time.


September 17, 2009 at 12:37 PM ·

Different kids learn in different ways so I like to cover all my bases.  Although I am not an advocate of the Suzuki program I do believe that a child's ear must be developed simultaneously with playing.  Singing is the most surefire way of training the ear.  Most of the practicing that I require from my students doesn't involve touching the violin in any way.  I go through these five steps with them and hope that with each step they are developing a skill that will lead them into the next step.  What these steps do is begin by focusing on the written music and then shifting the attention towards making the physical motions of the piece. 

Step 1 - Clap and sing the rhythm (always on pitch, so it would sound like this - quarter quarter quarter quarter quarter quarter quarter rest.....)

Step 2 - Clap and sing the notes (still singing on pitch, A A E E F F E rest...)

Step 3 - Clap and sing the fingerings (on pitch but now with an imaginary violin in their left hand and looking at their fingers as they motion the fingerings ( 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 rest...)

Step 4 - Pizzicato and still singing the fingerings

Step 5 - Arco and still singing the fingerings

The first 3 steps don't involve the violin at all and I encourage my students to practice these steps while doing arbitrary things like sitting on the bus, before going to bed, or silently after they've finished their work assignments in their classroom.  I've had great success with this method and most of my students learn to sightread music before they can even play it well.

Also I suggest to you and to all teachers of reading Howard Gardner Mutilple Intelligences a book geared towards the teaching community that really outlines the different ways people learn and how important it is for teachers to provide multiple explanations of concepts.  It's the single most important book for understanding how kids learn that I've read.

Edited:  Thanks Danielle


September 17, 2009 at 03:12 PM ·

 The Author's name is Howard Gardner.  And his books are excellent.

September 18, 2009 at 01:56 AM ·

Hi Bev,

A thought occurred to me - I wonder if she gets a little stage fright playing in front of you.  It might be one thing for her to goof around, but when it comes to 'seriously' playing it .  So often I hear students say that they can play something at home perfectly, come to their lessons and it's all over the place.  They even joke that they shouldn't get nervous in front of their teacher - of COURSE I'm not going to be nasty.  They still get really nervous though.

Someone mentioned dyslexia.  I teach some gorgeous kids who have dyslexia and it's really fascinating.  Their brains seems to try to make up for the notes going crazy through their heads when actually reading the notes, and prefer to play by ear. I might venture so far to add that the students I have play by ear better than those who don't have dyslexia.

Does she play better with the music in front of her?

She might be one of those people (like me) who really need that music.  It used to freak me out if I had to play something lengthy from memory (and that's why I'm a teacher, and not a performer ;)  ) I can do it, I just hate the panicky feeling of having to do it.

Interesting though, do you have your students sight read the music first?  Or do you have them play from memory by only hearing it?

Mine generally are brilliant little sight readers.  I will play something for them only after they have sight read through a piece and given it a really good go.  Then those who are preferable to playing via memorisation will get stuck into it that way.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you are willing, perhaps this is the one off student for you who will need that music in front of her, rather than play by memorisation. Not every student is the same, and you might get the odd student (lol not odd as in 'strange') who will go against the grain and really make you want to dig your heels in to the usual methods you have - but they will extend you in ways you never thought possible.  Personally, I love these students.  They make me soooo much better as a teacher.  Really broaden the horizen.

So to answer your final question...does she REALLY have to memorise?  Or would you be content for her to be the student who expands your boundaries and reads the music.  Takes the same amount of patience, in my humble opinion.

On a side note - if you need note reading games for her, there are HEAPS on www.susanparadis.com (piano games mainly, but they do come in handy for violin as well).

All the best.



September 18, 2009 at 04:11 AM ·

I usually don't memorize things that I don't like.  It's not a matter of can't--it's a matter of "don't want to."

I don't know about the little girl, but maybe she doesn't like Twinkle, and so her brain is having a hard time taking it in. Liking something is stimulating for memory.  You said when she gets hyper she has a good memory, but after the hyperness wears ff, she forgets.  Well, that sounds like she's the kind of kid who needs stimulation in order to accomplish a task.  If she doesn't like the song, there is no stimulation, unless she gets hyper.

I have a family member with ADHD.  He can memorize the directions and methods of a video game faster than any kid I've ever met.  But, give him a book of basic math and he just can't get it or memorize any of the basic equations. Kids like this need stimulation.  If I were to make the math book into a video game, he'd be a mathematical genius in two months tops.

September 18, 2009 at 05:00 PM ·

Gosh.   With all this feedback, I'm glad I refrained from posting my original suggestion, which was:  "Why don't you ask her if she's retarded?  I'm sure that will help."  :-P

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop



Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine