Wednesday, November 18, 1998

Erin's Violin Blog 13

We began the fall by establishing a routine of regular weekly lessons with Erin's grandmother. For a few weeks this worked quite well. Erin struggled a little with the bow distribution in Allegretto. Andantino came easily. But the first phrase of Etude arrived about the same time that the novelty of weekly lessons wore off. Lessons began to get silly and passive-aggressive. One week Erin was particularly limp and unco-operative, and her grandmother said "It doesn't look like you're ready for a lesson this week. I think that's all we'll do today. Thank you. Goodbye." I departed for home quickly and efficiently with a very disappointed little girl. Both her grandmother and I had hoped that this experience might make her wake up and realize it was time to start working in a focused fashion. It didn't happen. She was no longer keen to practice. We have a new baby due. Everything is sliding right now.

Tuesday, July 28, 1998

Erin's Violin Blog 12

Well, we've marked our first anniversary on the violin. We're back from the institute. It was nice to see familiar faces and I was proud of my little Suzuki student. She was so confident and comfortable in the institute environment. She actually volunteered to be the first student to play in her master class on Monday. Because she was the youngest student and a bit introverted, she didn't rush around making friends, but she got along well with the other children and really enjoyed watching them. What interested me most was who Erin chose as a role-model: one of the Book 3 students, not the oldest or most advanced student, but clearly the student with the most outstanding combination of musicality, proficiency, and dedication to the violin, and that look of complete comfort on the instrument. Even the littlest students can be very discerning in their choice of heros.

Erin seemed to often reside on another planet during group classes. I would have to remind myself that she's not attending school yet, and she almost never gets group lesson experience, so she is a novice in the classroom. But I didn't really expect her to be the one child standing blankly in playing position in the middle of the room every time the rest of the students had promptly followed instructions and sat down or got into rest position or gone back to sit with their parents or whatever. The only thing which prevented me from stage-whispering intense commands to her from the sidelines during these moments was my previous teacher-training courses, where we had been encouraged to observe and critique parents' counter-productive behaviours in just such situations. I had to work consciously at just letting her be out there, in her own little world, comfortable and happy, but not terribly connected to reality at times!

Now I am worrying about the case of post-institute let-down which we experienced last year. Erin's Grandma/teacher is away for the next couple of weeks, so I am working extra hard to keep a bit of momentum going until then. I am baiting her with preparation exercises for G-major and upcoming pieces in the hope that we can keep her inspiring institute memories alive: she watched a couple of children in her master class working on Andantino and on the low-2 finger position. And I think I will start playing the Book 3 recording regularly, since I want her to keep thinking about the girl who played those pieces so beautifully. I notice that Erin has started rocking her body a little as she plays legato pieces, just the way Brynne did at the recital.

Happy First Violin Anniversary, Erin!

Wednesday, June 24, 1998

Erin's Violin Blog 11

My little performer performed a beautiful Twinkle Theme at our spring recital last week. Her first recital, a "Twinkle Graduation". She was very pleased with herself.

She is now working on Perpetual Motion. A lot has happened in the past couple of months. She has been teaching herself new pieces. The power of repetitive listening! Those hundreds of hours of Book 1 in the background have done the trick. She plays in tune and can "figure out" new pieces. I show her the bowing tricks and so on. But she learns the notes herself, always correctly.

Her grandma and grandpa have retired to our little corner of the earth, and grandma has agreed to teach Erin the violin. So am the "home teacher", and grandma is the "Wednesday teacher". This has helped us a lot. Erin is far more willing to do detail work on finger independance and bow distribution and posture remediation if the instructions come from her grandma. She is working hard, sometimes almost an hour of playing over the course of the day.

She has learned to revel in her comfort zone, and I've learned to let her. She plays her "review pieces" sometimes four or five times each when practising. This "playing through" takes up to ninety percent of her practising time. I am often tempted to correct posture or remind her to watch her bow during review time, but I keep my mouth shut. Reviewing her earlier repertoire is her reward and her motivator. It's what makes her feel wonderful. She can do it well, and it's so EASY now. I wonder if this will last. Or will she become like so many other students: will she tire of her old repertoire eventually, then begin to forget it, then learn to dislike it because it has become difficult to play well? Perhaps, but I will try to prevent this from happening. Right now we are aided by her developmental stage: preschoolers love repetition!

Last week we were fortunate to be able to attend a one-day workshop with a guest teacher in a nearby village. It was Erin's first chance to play her new post-Twinkle repertoire in a group. She stood up and played it all. I was delighted. She was so painfully shy and reluctant in group situations a year ago, it was a treat to see her full of confidence and looking so capable and proud. And she worked with the teacher in the private lesson / master class as well, trying some new things that she'd never done before. And this despite the fact that I had to be out of the room trying to control her very enthusiastic younger brother for much of the lesson-time. (Noah will be two this fall. He wants his own violin. He wants it now.)

Can't wait for the institute. There is lots of hard work ahead in mid-Book 1: fourth fingers, a new second finger position, longer more complex pieces, new musical styles, slurs and so on. It will help to get a good dose of peer-motivation before hitting these challenges.

Tuesday, April 28, 1998

Erin's Violin Blog 10

I keep expecting the bubble to burst. We have been rollicking along for almost four months now. The routine is established, progress is occurring, and the progress is serving as motivation. I am amazed. It really seems to be working.

It took Erin about a month to learn Lightly Row. We are now working on Song of the Wind, the next piece. When I think back, I realize we spent about fifteen months on bow-hold and rhythmic awareness, eight months on the first piece, and one month on the second piece. Tangible progress happens day by day now, and she is now aware of the progress without me needing to remind her: "when you were three you couldn't do that!"

We still miss the group exposure. She's been able to attend two regional group classes this year, and even this little bit helps. I think we will go to the institute again this year. She is much more confident and outgoing than she was last year, and I think she will get even more out of the experience this summer.

She's turned into quite a little performer. She will pull out her violin and play a quick concert for anyone who will sit still long enough for a Twinkle. She played this week for her nursery school class. "Wow!" said the teacher. "How long did it take her to learn that?" "About two years", I replied, with a laugh. A happy laugh.

Wednesday, March 25, 1998

Erin's Violin Blog 9

We've moved up to a sixteenth-size violin. The tailpiece on the thirty-second-size cracked, and it has proved impossible to find a replacement. I had a nice sixteenth sitting around waiting for her, so we've switched. It's a little too big still, but she is in LOVE with the tone. It sounds so huge and robust compared to the old one.

The Twinkles are pretty secure now. We lost track with our Twinkle-counting somewhere beyond a hundred. We had run out of KinderSurprises, and I mentioned to Erin when we were out shopping that we should get some more. She said not to bother, she's didn't want them any more. Not want a chocolate egg with a toy inside?! We don't seem to need the stickers or the Loonies any more either. Success is its own motivator!

I think it's almost time to move on. We still have some trouble with a droopy violin and a left hand that grips the neck of the violin. But I think she's a Twinkler now, rather than a pre-Twinkler, so next week we will start working on the E - C-sharp pattern that begins Lightly Row, the next piece.

Saturday, February 28, 1998

Erin's Violin Blog 8

I'm wondering where we went so wrong last fall. I didn't appreciate how hard it would be to get a home routine established, and I guess I just wasn't committed to it: in the back of my head I kept thinking, "well, she's still only three-and-a-half..." And I think I questioned my own motivation behind starting her so young. Did I want her to be some SuperKid? And part of me still believed that I could magically get her all fired up and wanting to do it desperately. Maybe some kids are like that: I think it's more likely in families where there hasn't always been a violin around, where there's that novelty effect of something brand-new and hitherto out of reach. For whatever reason, with Erin it wasn't like that.

But she's increasingly motivated now that we're practising every day and she sees her progress. She is the initiator of our practice sessions as often as not these past couple of weeks, and although we do not practice for long or terribly efficiently, I am delighted and relieved that we now have a happy routine.

I have begun using a number of gimmicks. She gets $1 a week for practising and making her bed every day. It goes into her piggy bank, and I don't think she has any idea what it's for, but it seems to make her happy. We practice in my basement teaching room, rather than in the "living" part of the house, so she feels special and grown up like my older students.

I am blessed with a camcorder, and we have started videotaping her practising each Sunday, as a sort of "lesson". We mail the tape to grandma on Mondays and will probably get some feedback, but the most important thing is that it gives us a weekly goal. We use stickers sometimes, and even KinderSurprises (one KS for every ten twinkles). Yes, we are doing Twinkles all the way through, now. Labouriously slowly, but she seems to have the concentration to get all the way through. So we are keeping track. Thirty five and counting.

I am really glad that I finally pushed ahead with this violin thing again. We are learning lots about each other, she is gaining confidence and maturity. Oddly enough, she has decided that she should also practice reading and math every day. The other day we had to do sums in the bathroom while getting ready for bed because we'd forgotten to do them earlier! So it seems she is learning a lot about what learning is all about.

Wednesday, February 04, 1998

Erin's Violin Blog 7

We are developing quite a routine the past week or two! We are finally, for about the first time ever, managing to practise more than once or twice a week. We have had a dismal fall and winter on the violin, but are, I think, finally hitting our stride. We are working through lots of autonomy issues. Her growing maturity has meant that we are able to talk about our problems, and this has made a difference. I am amazed by how well she understands her own feelings, even when she needs some help verbalizing them . And we are working out ways of helping her to communicate her feelings to me, rather than just shutting down, which is her natural inclination. It is incredibly hard work for me, but I think we are beginning to make some progress. We are doing nothing more with the instrument than what we were doing last summer: technique-wise we have stepped way back, but this is definitely the right direction to be going for now.

She is desperately in need of a peer group, though. Last week we heard her grandma interviewed on national radio after Dr. Suzuki's death. A young student had accompanied her to the studio and played a stellar version of Boccherini's Minuet at the end of Book 2. You would not believe how turned on Erin was by hearing Chloe's voice and violin on the radio. We taped the interview and Erin has wanted to hear it several times since.

The other day we were faithfully practising together on open strings. She was bowing, and I was using my finger on her finger-board to make the F-sharp after an open A and an open E rhythm. Suddenly she decided she could do that, and up went the hand and she took over. So we are back to using fingers! I didn't ask her to try it at all. She just decided it was time. I'm glad the initiative was hers. She is very pleased, and now wants to start working with the other fingers again.

Wednesday, January 14, 1998

Erin's Violin Blog 6

Well, we've started again. Four days and counting. It is a struggle, but we are managing a short practise every day. And I have stopped asking Erin to use her left hand. I want her to enjoy the ease with which she can play open string rhythms for a while before we go back to more challenging tasks.