Conflict; computer games

Tuesday: Our 20 minutes in the morning didn’t go so well—I stuck with the plus/minus tactic, and handed out a lot of pluses. We worked on May Song, trying to fix a new note mistake.

In the evening, I had M play an ear-training game at Theta Music Trainer: paddle pitch, which is a little like pong, but you have to type the number of the pitch you hear. She got much better at it over the course of a few minutes, and I was very pleased that she did not get discouraged even when she made lots of mistakes.

We then practiced for 10 minutes or so after dinner. She was more cooperative, and I was less demanding. We did:

  • The Bach Tanz. She played with Noteflight. She again screwed up the structure badly a few times, and she quit playing the first time she did so. I’m still not crazy about her left-hand position in this song. But she stuck with it and improved over 3 or 4 repetitions.
  • The last line of the Canon in D, twice. The first time through, she made only one note mistake in the next-to-last measure. The second and last time through, she played it note perfect.

On an unrelated note, I learned today that her group teacher’s son, who’s an excellent 14-year-old guitarist, started on violin and (briefly) piano before switching to the guitar. I think I’ll try to talk to her group teacher about how you decide whether to switch instruments.

A new anti-dawdling tactic

Monday: I decided to try a new approach to minimizing the dawdling (and the nagging it inspires). It goes like this:

  • I announce the base time for practicing — today, 15 minutes in the am, and 10 minutes in the pm.
  • Every time M does something I ask immediately, I shave 1 minute off practice. So, for instance, I say, “Get your guitar and bow.” She does a good job. I say, “Great, that’s minus one.”
  • Every time M dawdles or acts uncooperative, I add 1 minute of practice. So, for instance, I say, “Get into ready position for With Steady Hands.” She looks aroud. I say, “Plus one.”

The morning was better than the evening, though I thought each session went fairly well. M started crying during each practice at what she perceived as unfair plus-1s, but each time she cried became an occasion for her to learn to calm herself down.

In the morning, we practiced for about 20 minutes. She had -4 (good) and +2 (bad), which you’d think would have meant a 13-minute practice, but it was hard to keep track of time. We did only two things:

  • M played the bass notes (As) for With Steady Hands while I played melody. She didn’t pay great attention.
  • I played the bass notes while M played the melody with a crescendo. Toward the 4th or 5th repetition, she did pretty well.

In the evening we practiced for 14 minutes. (I kept a stopwatch running except during relatively long, peaceful, chatty interruptions.) She had -5 (good) and +9 (bad), which added 4 minutes on net to my 10-minute base. She got into a few negative cascades that caused negatives to pile up. But she did a good job calming herself down, and we ended on a nice note. We did 2 things:

  • M played the Bach Tanz with Noteflight. The first time through, she played A-B-C (not A-B-A etc.), then she stopped in frustration and sat out the whole song, looking grumpily at me. I sat there and just said, “plus 1” at the end. She got upset, but I explained that she should have played through her mistake. The second time through (and I immediately gave her -1 for starting right away, which balanced the +1 I had just given her), she did a much better job. She missed some notes, but she remembered the structure, including the tosto shifts.
  • M played the B1 melody of With Steady Hands with a crescendo while I played the bass notes. This was rough—M was fussing with her clothes and was not paying attention to where she was placing her hands. But she did a great job on her 5th repetition, and I surprised her by ending then. (She had asked me earlier when we would be done and I refused to answer, telling her it was time to practice, not to talk about when we’d be done.)

Am I a heartless bastard? Bastard, maybe. Heartless? No.

We’ll have to see if this tactic keeps working and how it will be compatible with longer practices. But for now, I’d rather have better, shorter practices than worse, longer ones.

I will eat your bunny ears

Easter Sunday: I was absorbed all day in house projects, so we didn’t practice until after dinner. A mistake.

What we did:

  • Played a few A1 sections from With Steady Hands in a few ways: M playing it all; me playing bass and M playing melody; M playing bass and me playing melody.
  • Sang the A1 section a few times with a nice crescendo/decrescendo.
  • Played the last section of the Canon a few times, with me playing the previous section at the same time. We went through the middle two bars a few extra times.

On the plus side, M had a couple repetitions of the Canon that she played with complete focus and excellent left-hand position.

On the negative side technically, M’s right hand looks pretty bad on With Steady Hands, and she doesn’t play with much dynamic contrast. Her thumb, in particular, is pretty awkward — hence my asking her to play just the bass notes.

On the negative side behaviorally, she continues with her passive-aggressive resistance. At one point, I said, “You know, I’m thinking of getting the chocolate bunny ears [an Easter treat we all planned to share], and each time you don’t do something I ask you to, I might take a bite of them.” She started crying at this, and I explained that I was trying to figure out some way to get her to cooperate and do what she’s asked, when she’s asked. She calmed down and her behavior improved slightly, but ultimately, I told her that she’d be skipping her treat tonight if she didn’t do as asked, when asked.

The passive-aggressive resistance today was a continuation of her behavior in her private lesson yesterday. Her studio teacher deals with it by making cheerful threats related to whatever game they’re playing (“You’d better get ready or I’ll get an extra roll of the dice! etc.). I’m not sure how different that is.

What is music?

Saturday: We begin with group class, then skip swimming for a birthday party, then have our private lesson. In the afternoon, M plays the Bach Tanz for her former nanny.

Group class

Group class starts with rest position, and M volunteers the answer to Alan’s question, “Why is rest position important?” (Because you need to wait while someone else is playing.”). But when they play 2 G scales, M is not ready either time. As they play several scales, Alan asks the kids (while they are playing) to ask themselves:

  • Am I comfortable?
  • Are my feet flat?
  • Are my shoulders square?
  • Are my fingers hanging from the neck.

They do a G scale with knocking. Next, Alan points out a left-hand technical issue: kids are waggling their hands as they play, in and out. The left hand needs to be steady.

Alan points out that sound and touch are more important senses than vision because you can’t really see what your hand is doing from “the back of the auditorium.”

They play Rigadoon plunky and play a plunky D scale. He’s giving the kids less to think about, and forcing them to relax their hands, so they can improve their fingering.

Next, he takes a break to talk about musicality. I don’t much care for the opening bid — he talks about “appreciating” playing as meaning “putting a price on it.”

Then he does a demonstration with a necklace that works better. First he has a solid-colored necklace with beads that ascend and descend in size. Next, he has a bowl of beads, and a set of the same beads arranged in a necklace. He invites the kids to discuss what makes them pleasing: color (related to tone color), size (related to volume), closeness (related to articulation). I’m not sure how much gets through, but I liked the idea.

Then the kids played hide and seek with an Easter egg and were supposed to direct the seeker by playing staccato (far) and legato (close). The kids couldn’t do it, possibly because they didn’t understand what they were supposed to do. (M volunteered and pretty much played everything legato.)

Private lesson

M’s studio teacher spent most of her time on Suzuki material, only working on the Canon (which we practiced all week) at the end.

My notes about M’s playing:

  • May Song was freakishly rusty. M didn’t watch her hand at all.
  • With Steady Hands was as bad as I would have expected. She played E in the bass a lot and it wasn’t even clear she knew it was a mistake.

M’s behavior left a lot to be desired. She was so sloppy with the guitar when she wasn’t playing that, once, I gestured to her teacher to deal with it, and a second time, I interrupted to tell M to please hold the guitar more carefully.  M also was extremely slow to follow her teacher’s directions. They played a game of rolling dice and moving a game piece, and the teacher regularly said, “If you don’t get ready, I’ll get double rolls” (or something similar). It drove me nuts.

Technically, M needs to work on her right thumb stroke. Assignment:

  • Play 2 bars of With Steady Hands 10 times, doing a crescendo/decrescendo.
  • Practice thumb strokes only, with no buzz (i.e., using flesh just before nail).

On the way out, we took a look at a plaque for the 10-performance club. Suzuki students who play a piece 10 times get their names on the plaque. I’m trying to get M excited about doing this with the Bach Tanz.

Recital for nanny

M agreed to play the Bach Tanz for her former nanny who came over for a visit.

I was glad that she played, but she made a hash of it. Her eyes and her mind were wandering all over the place. I wonder if I’ll be able to productively review a video of it with her.

A 20-minute, 1-minute lesson

In the morning, we worked on the Canon. M was a little fidgety, but we practiced for about 30 minutes and she is doing well with the first 12 of 17 bars. (Note to self: Learn songs backwards! Learn songs backwards! She’s quite rusty on the last 5 bars.) Overall, she did pretty well.

In the evening, we practiced pretty late (7 pm), and I offered her the chance of a 1-minute lesson: If she played the Bach Tanz perfectly one time, we could be done.

She didn’t manage it, and I let her off the hook after about 20 minutes. She actually got worse as we went on, forgetting sections, forgetting to pay attention to her left hand, and forgetting to keep her right thumb glued to the A string. But she was quite cooperative, despite her subpar performance, and it made sense to quit when we did. I’ll have to keep bringing songs back until they become reliable.

It’s not a technical issue; her left hand looks pretty good (though she’s still reaching too far back with her 1 and 2 fingers). It’s purely a question of concentration and developing good attentional habits, such as watching her left hand.

On an unrelated note, we stopped at the library on the way home from school, and she got some Rainbow Fairy-series books. I let her pick them out, and when I came to see what she had, she said, “You’re going to like what I found!” She had found books about the music fairies! I love it when she seeks out music-related stuff to show me. Then she read Poppy the Piano Fairy to me in the car on the way home and while I made her dinner. She stumbled over some words (e.g., “anxious,” “immediately”), but she kept at it.

Canon and French Folk Song

Tuesday: It’s funny how the urgency of blogging disappears when things are going relatively well. We practiced in the morning and briefly in the evening, but I didn’t blog about today’s practice (I’m writing this post on Wednesday). I recall that things went okay — and it’s hard to recall details (though they returned somewhat as I wrote this).

I believe that we worked on the Canon in the morning and then on French Folk Song in the evening.

My goal with French Folk Song is to increase M’s concentration, so I asked her to toss out the low Ds. This is the second day in a row we’re doing this. She did much better than yesterday, but she still had some surprising lapses.

Specifically, her first time through, she missed some notes, then got very flustered, then lost her place in the song and skipped an entire 4-bar section. When I asked her about her playing when she finished, she didn’t recall this.

So to improve her listening and her mental image of the song, I sang it twice: first minus the section she dropped, then with the section she dropped. I asked her the difference. She couldn’t tell me! So I did it once or twice more, until something clicked and she identified the problem (the missing section).

She is obviously not always hearing the songs in her head as she plays. I need to do more exercises like toss-out to build this habit.

Another good day

This morning, we worked on Pachelbel’s Canon. M’s left hand looks particularly good. We spent about 20 minutes getting two measures in shape.

After dinner, we spent about another 20 minutes doing two things. First, I asked M to conduct while I sang Meadow Minuet. Next, I asked M to pick a review song and toss out a note; she picked Lightly Row.

The conducting actually didn’t quite work as planned. I wanted to get her thinking about the song’s structure, so I hoped to have her say each section letter (A, B, C, and D) on the first beat of the section. But she had a very hard time keeping her conducting pattern steady, so adding the letters wasn’t feasible. Still, we went through it four or five times, and I’m sure it helped imprint the song in her head.

On Lightly Row, it took a few repetitions for her to get the song right before we did the toss out. It then took two more repetitions to get the toss-out version right. By the end, though, she was really focusing on hearing and playing the song, so I thought it furthered my goal of helping M improve her ability to concentrate.

Two short lessons, plus songwriting

We practice in the morning for about a half an hour. We start with i-m-a tone exercises on the open E string. M is argumentative about being corrected, but her basic form is pretty good.

Next, we work on Pachelbel’s Canon. M’s playing and reading are both very good. She’s fidgety.

In the evening, we work on Pachelbel’s Canon for just 15 or 20 minutes. We start on a new section and spend all our time on the first measure.

The only problem we have — and we had it yesterday — is that M wants to forge ahead and play things quickly and sloppily. When I stop her from doing it, she reacts grumpily. She isn’t getting the message that by practicing badly, she’s making herself worse.

Of course, she’s just trying to exert some control. I need to keep finding ways to give her healthy control, because I can’t have her practicing mistakes or bad form.

After our evening lesson, M wrote  two “songs” on our new dry-erase staff paper that she left for me when I got home. (As I left, she was getting the paper, and told me, “I’m making a surprise for you!”)

Practice pays off in the end

As usual, this Saturday starts with group class. But, not as usual, I miss most of it because I forgot my wallet, so I drop M off at class and run home to get it. (Without the ID in my wallet, we can’t go to swimming.)

I get back toward the end, and her teacher asks for volunteers to play. I’m gratified that M volunteers eagerly — when I dropped her off, I instructed her to volunteer so that she could practice for her recital this afternoon. The teacher selects a shyer kid to play first, but then he picks Maura, who plays the Bach Tanz.

To my dismay, she botches the structure badly, playing AB 3 times, not 2 times, seeming visibly confused at the end of each section about what comes next, and forgetting when she was supposed to play tosto. On the plus side, she was obviously trying very hard to figure out what she should be playing. But just as obviously, she didn’t have an idea in her head as she was going along.

In the car to swimming and at lunch, we sang the song and talked about her story some more. I tried at one point singing just the four-bar intro, tapping the beat, and asking M to say “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D” on the first beat of each section — this would have required her to hear the song correctly in her head — but it didn’t quite work (she was coming in too early).

To my surprise, however, when she actually played at the recital, she nailed it. She was totally focused, and she remembered the entire structure, including the shifts to tosto in the repeated A and C sections.

Now if only dad had remembered to turn on the portable audio recorder in time! (I got video on my pocket camera, but the sound on it is terrible.)