Almost a two-lesson day

I had told M yesterday that we would practice twice today, once before school and once after, because we need a lot of practice to get ready for Saturday.

But then my stomach bug hit, and I could barely get out of bed in the morning. When I did get up, it was time to take M to school. But bless her heart, she remembered what I had said about practicing in the morning, and she just assumed we were practicing (she asked me if she could play with something while I tuned). Though we didn’t have time to practice, I was gratified that she was prepared to go along with it.

I was a little out of it in the evening when we practiced (I spent most of the day in bed, after going in to work for the morning). Mostly we worked on isolated bits of the Bach Tanz and on adding some musical expression — vibrato on the half notes, tosto/piano on one repeated section.

She played it through a couple of times.  The first time she played unaccompanied, and she made a lot of mistakes that she went back and corrected. To counteract this habit, the next time, I sang along and had her play through her mistakes. She made quite a few, but she also played through them. It’s hard to say what shape this will be in for Saturday.

Just for fun, I asked her to play With Steady Hands. It sounded surprisingly good, and she got the form right too!

I shared with her one thing I noticed about the Bach Tanz: That song works best if your thumb rests on the A string rather than following the other fingers around. And it immediately precedes With Steady Hands, in which your thumb actually plays the A string. So resting your thumb on the A string in the Bach Tanz is really preparation for using it in With Steady Hands. Neat!

As her inter-piece reward, I let her hang on my earring a charm from a charm bracelet she got. This delighted her.

A pretty good lesson (I think)

M and I practiced before dinner. It’s a good thing, too, because by the time dinner rolled around, I thought I was going to throw up at any minute. The bug M had a few days ago reached the parents’ digestive tracts.

Unfortunately, that meant I was too sick to blog today, and I’m writing this on Friday. I didn’t take good notes, so all I can remember is that we practiced about an hour, mostly (perhaps exclusively) on the Bach Tanz, and M was pretty cooperative.

Fatigue is my friend

When M’s too tired, she melts down; when she’s too antsy, she acts up. Today, she was just the right amount of tired: She cooperated excellently. (And we didn’t even do any inter-song activity, which increased our efficiency and sparked no protest.)

It probably helped that I set low expectations. We need to record a video of the Bach Tanz to send in to the Colorado Suzuki Institute as an audition for a solo recital, and we have to do it at this Saturday’s lesson. That gives us 3 days to get this song into shape. The only way we’ll get there is to focus on it, so I decided to have an all-Bach-Tanz lesson today.

We started by shadow practicing the D section (left hand only). Then we played various sections out of order: D, C, B, A. M played with great rhythm and very few errors.

When we moved on to putting sections together and introducing musical ideas, it got a little tougher. We’ve agreed on playing: A-mf, B-mf, A-piano/tosto, B-forte, and similarly for C-D-C-D. And I suggested that M introduce some vibrato on the half notes.

When M strung A-B-A-B together the first time, she forgot the vibrato and tosto, but she actually overdid the dynamics: her piano section was almost inaudible. I reminded her of the stage-whisper approach to playing piano.

She tried again, and this time when she did the tosto shift, she missed notes on both side of it. This was the first time she missed any significant number of notes, so we isolated the problem notes: the shift from natural to tosto (pretty easy, since you stay on the 2nd string), and the shift back (harder, because your right hand moves from playing the 2nd string to 3rd string). We repeated them several times, and M even did a few decent repetitions on her own initiative. Overall, we practiced for about 40 minutes.

I also introduced the idea of adding two additional practice events to our routine: (1) shadow practicing right before bed, and (2) practicing for 10 or 15 minutes in the morning. She was more-or-less agreeable to both, and we did manage to shadow practice the D section right before bed without incident.

We’ll have to see how the morning goes. Right now, I’m feeling good.

One step forward, two steps back

M was very tired today (she fell asleep at rest time in school, which never happens). But she cooperated pretty well during a relatively short lesson.

We started by again shadow practicing the D section. She made some mistakes at first, but got the hang of it.

When we played the D section, her note accuracy was much improved, but I noticed a new rhythm problem: she was playing the first measure, which should be a 1/2 note plus two 1/8 notes, as three 1/4 notes. So we had to work on that. This occasioned some resistance, but it wasn’t serious.

Next, we played the C section. This was much worse than it has been, probably because I didn’t start her off with the ball under her hand. Without the ball, her hand — and more specifically, her thumb — was flying all over the place, which caused her to play the wrong string with the right hand on a lot of notes. I gave her the ball back, which helped some, but I basically decided to move on rather than staying on this problem. It should be easy enough to take care of.

Finally, we worked on the Canon briefly, because M likes to read music and I wanted to end with a treat. We played the easy 1/2-note section a few times, followed by the third section, which sounded terrific. We then briefly tried to go through the new second section, and that sounded pretty good for how new it is.

A pretty good day.

Improved but still annoying

Today was M’s birthday party, so we practiced in the morning, at around 10.

I wanted a simple start, and I wanted to work on M’s tone, which was terrible yesterday, so I asked her to start by playing an A in second position on the 3rd string. Even this simple task created conflict: M was getting a buzzing tone, and I was trying to figure out whether it was her fault or her guitar’s. So after she played a few As and stopped, I said, “Keep playing.” Instead of playing more As, she started playing Gs and G#s with terrible form. I lost it a little bit, and berated her for playing garbage notes with garbage form. (Note: Unlike Amy Chua, I did not accuse my child of being garbage; just of playing garbage.) It’s a recurring behavior of hers that I keep trying and failing to stamp out.

Then she cooperated with me by playing As at various dynamic levels, and I was able to determine that in fact the buzzing was not her fault — the action on her guitar is low, and she’s using normal strings (which have low tension on such a small guitar), so the strings tend to buzz when she plays moderately loud.

We moved on to the Bach Tanz and focused on the C-D sections (the second half). Right up front, I asked her to sing the D section, which she had gotten wrong yesterday, and she again got it wrong (I had hoped she might get it right, because I replaced her bedtime CD with one that has the Bach Tanz first, ten times in a row).

I then played the correct notes for her, and we sang it a few times. That seemed to help. As for playing, we worked mostly on the C section, and she managed to play it beautifully several times. There’s only one problem note in the section (a D in the second measure, I think); I had her circle it on the music so we can work on it. This song is coming along nicely, and I told her so.

Next we practiced the open A scale (i.e., an A scale using open B and open C) to work our way into Meadow Minuet. She’s developed the habit of not playing open E and B in that song, and I thought it would help to get the scale under her fingers. As we played, we sang the note names, specifically singing “Open B” and “Open E” when we came to them. It took a while to get this right.

She then played the Meadow Minuet melody while I played the bass, then we traded. She still doesn’t have the bass line solidly in her head, so we need to work on this more.

Apart from the conflict at the start of our lesson, it was a pretty good day. But that conflict is what lingers with me.

A surprising birthday present

The past few days have been rough, and it’s been wearing me down enough that I’m actually starting to think halfway seriously about switching M to the violin, which she’s said she would prefer to play. But that’s another post!

I expected more of the same today, for two reasons: (1) M is still a little sick (running a fever), and (2) today is M’s birthday. I expected some whining about how she shouldn’t have to practice on her birthday. I did make a special effort yesterday to tell M that we would practice today, but I didn’t think that would totally preempt protest.

Yet it did. When I said at 4:30 it was time to practice, she came right in, even a little cheerfully. She brought with her the two new “Chinese Barbies” (Mei Ling – Lotus Dancer and Black Turtle) she got for her birthday, which she proposed to earn during the lesson depending on how well she did.

We started out easy, by reading a new piece of music: one part of an arrangement of the Twinkle theme that her studio teacher plans to have her students play at the year-end recital in May. Here’s the part:

We approached it in steps:

  1. Clapped the rhythm using fruit names.
  2. Said the note names without worrying about rhythm. (Weirdly, M had a problem with E on the first line of the staff. I had her practice “E-E-E-E,” pointing at all four of them, several times.)
  3. Said the note names with the right rhythm.
  4. Played the A section together.
  5. She played the Twinkle theme while I played this part, to give her an idea of what they sound like together.

Next we worked on the Bach Tanz — specifically, on the same 2-measure portion we worked on yesterday, which requires use of the A (ring) finger on the right hand for the first time in the repertoire. She did 10 good repetitions, twice the 5 we did yesterday. I sat in front of her checking her hand position carefully. A couple of times, when she brought her attention fully to the right hand, she really did a great job. We still need to eradicate a bad habit, though (twisting her hand to start the second measure, which puts her in position to play using the wrong side of her middle finger).

She also still isn’t careful enough with the left hand — she often starts playing when it’s out of position (one string over, for instance). I was able to get her to laugh about it, though, which seems good.

Next we played Meadow Minuet twice through, once with her on melody and me on bass, and once reversed. When she played the melody, she made a lot of errors in the B section that she corrected as she played. When she finished, I asked: “Which section did you make the most mistakes in?” She answered, without hesitating, “The B section,” which is progress.

To finish with something fun, I played a chord progression in the key of G while M improvised on the G scale. She does a nice job of this, and while it doesn’t improve her technique, if it gets her excited and thinking musically, it’s worth it.

I then told her a little about the chord progression (a simple I-IV-V blues progression) and played more with some percussion (slapping the guitar top), and she danced around like a crazy person.

What a nice birthday present from M to me!

Back to the normal routine

With the Olympics an SAM graduation behind us, it was back to the grind: group lesson, swim lesson, lunch out, and private lesson (plus, today, some errands).

Group class was small, and the teacher kept it very simple, working largely on rhythm and listening. Here’s what they did:

  • He had three rubber balls, small, medium, and large. He dropped them and asked the kids to play a G when it hit the ground (forte for large, mf for medium, and piano for small). He built in some crescendos/decrescendos.
    • He made one great point. He told the kids to notice if they are early or late and said noticing this is just as good as being on time.
  • G scale with knocking. This was rusty.
  • Huckleberry Apple (I’m A Little Monkey) on the G scale, first all together, then all around the room with one kid per note, then around the room with eyes closed, which really forced them to listen.
  • Again with the bouncing ball, this time letting it bounce two or three times.
  • Improvising on a G major scale against a chord progression.
    • He made the mistake of asking kids if they wanted to do it. The shy ones said no. M was not shy, though, and she improvised with a lot of confidence.
  • Playing Perpetual Motion and counting out loud, 1-2-3-4.
    • Twice he asked a song’s time signature, and both times M eagerly shouted, “cut time!” She was not right either time. I’m not sure why she’s so excited about cut time; she’s done this before.
  • He did a variety of exercises with this:
    • He played, kids counted.
    • He counted, kids played.
    • He played, stopped on an arbitrary beat (actually, it was always 1) and asked the kids to give the beat number.
  • He ran a tone contest with the kids and talked about nails.
    • M did several cool things when she played. First, when she played Twinkle, she played with great dynamics and some vibrato. Then, when she played Perpetual Motion (a few bars), she deliberately ended on a fretted G, not an open G, so she could do some vibrato. (She actually missed the note, but it was  a cool idea.)

M also said something nice at lunch. When I brought our lunch back from the counter, I told her that I had been telling the staff about our day (in response to their comment that it was daddy-daughter day) and how much we did, and they called me a “slave driver.” I told M that I responded that she was very accomplished and liked doing her activities. She agreed, saying, “I do. I like it.”

At her private lesson, M rocked the section of the Canon, though her rhythm wasn’t totally secure. M also did a great job reading another song in the key of D. And M played a section of With Steady Hands and, though she missed notes, was in fact very steady (her teacher balanced an eraser on her hand and it stayed in place). Our assignments are:

  • Bring With Steady Hands back into the rotation. Do a balance game with it, placing something flat on her hand and seeing how long it can stay in place.
  • Work on the 2nd section of the Canon.
  • Work on the Canon while tapping her foot, counting beats, or both.
  • Work on bass notes in Meadow Minuet separately from the melody. Try saying them as we listen, and consider using the music. (I’m not crazy about that idea.)
  • Also, we have a new Twinkle accompaniment to learn for the end-of-semester concert.
  • And we need to work on the Bach Tanz for Colorado!

House concert

M and I began by practicing the Canon, including a 4-bar section that we started only yesterday, to show off for S (her mom). Unfortunately, S had a tough day and wasn’t really planning to be an audience. And it didn’t help that I asked S to try to use Dweckian praise only, namely, to praise M’s effort. S doesn’t really know how hard M has been working on this song, and it didn’t sound great because it’s so new, so S was a little nonplussed.

M didn’t seem to mind, though.

After the house concert, M and I worked on adding bass notes to Meadow Minuet. The first section is getting better, though she’s still having a hard time remembering to play the open E and B rather than fretting them. For review, we tried syncopated Perpetual Motion. It was rusty, but M seemed to have fun.

Overally, a pretty good practice.

Short and sweet

We only had about 1/2 an hour today, so we were pretty focused. M cooperated much better than yesterday. We worked on the Canon and Meadow Minuet, continuing to practice the same things as yesterday. We again chunked it down into tiny digestible bits, some as small as two notes, to work out problem sections.

A mini-tantrum over posture

Not a great lesson. I wanted to get her going on some more of the Canon, and since she likes to read music, I decided to start by clapping the rhythms of the whole song. (This was a followup to the discovery yesterday that each measure in the four-measure sections she knows have almost the same rhythm.) That went pretty well.

But it went downhill when I tried to get M to generalize about each section. That is, I was trying to get her to answer this question: “What is the rhythm of 3 out of the 4 measures in the section we just clapped?” She clapped the section perfectly, and she knows what a measure is, so I thought this would be easy. But it wasn’t. When I asked her to clap the single-measure rhythm, rather than doing that, she tried to clap the whole section. When I stopped her and asked my question again, she started fidgeting and complaining that she was tired and that her legs hurt.

And here’s where we went off the rails. To protest the questioning, she started fidgeting like crazy and sitting down, away from the music. I insisted that she remain standing and try to answer my question.

Was this crazy? Maybe. I don’t know. I do know that I find the type of resistance she showed, which is basically a kind of passive aggression, seriously aggravating. And I know that I believe that the mind follows the body, so if the body becomes squirmy, the mind will too. And I know that I believe in the value of insisting, as a matter of principle, that a child comply with reasonable demands.

I also know that I don’t believe in nagging, so when M remained noncompliant after one or two requests, I stopped asking and started reading my book. She then started crying and telling me how awful I was. I replied as calmly as possible that I had told her what I wanted her to do; it was something she could do; and I expected her to do it. I reiterated that if she wanted shorter and better lessons, they were in her grasp: she just needs to choose to cooperate better.

She cried and berated me for about five or ten minutes, then went into another room to cry by herself for another five or ten minutes. She again tried to take control by telling me, “I’m ready. I’m waiting for you to come get me.” And I again responded that I was waiting for her and would not be coming to get her.

She came back, and we managed to practice fairly effectively and without conflict for another 40 minutes or so. We worked on:

  • Pachelbel’s Canon. We got started on a new 4-bar section.
  • Meadow Minuet. We tried to add bass notes to the first section. This went surprisingly poorly. Part of our problem is that her left-hand fingering is now a little screwed up because she’s fingering things the way the Canon is fingered, not the way Meadow Minuet is fingered. So M has to do some unlearning, which is always frustrating. But we worked on small chunks (just the first two measures), and M was pretty tolerant of her frustration (she kept making the same mistake over and over).

I’m glad I have an independent kid, but I do wish she would express her independence in a different way.