Jamming with Zoë Keating

Thursday: Our morning practice was short and pretty successful. I think we worked on Allegretto some more. (I need to take better notes! Any notes!)

In the evening, I tried something different. I picked M up quite early to give us plenty of time to practice. But rather than asking her to practice when we got home, I figured I’d start practicing on my own and let her do whatever she wanted. I thought perhaps she’d decide to join me.

Didn’t happen. She drew happily by herself in the kitchen for 45 minutes while I did two things: (1) figured out some of the motifs in Zoë Keating’s Escape Artist so M with a mind to improvising to it, and (2) practiced the Canon and Oh How Lovely Is the Evening.

I had a harder time with the Canon than I expected, which gave me new respect and sympathy for M’s struggles with it.

M and I finally practiced together after dinner. Mostly we worked on a few sections of the Canon, which was much improved. M also played Oh How Lovely Is the Evening with no difficulty. We talked about coming up with a plan to work on her review songs, but didn’t actually do any. M was very cooperative.

Then we did some jamming to Escape Artist. M didn’t actually seem to be trying that hard to match her playing with the song — she didn’t really want to be bothered with what I figured out about the song’s notes. But M’s rhythm was good, and she seemed to be having fun, so that’s something.

Back story: Yesterday night I saw Keating perform and got copies of her CDs, one of which she inscribed to M. M and I listened to a few songs from the new CD on the way back from school, but M was more interested in hearing a story (Beethoven Lives Upstairs).

And we’re back in the mud

Wednesday: Well, our morning was not good. M was fidgety and uncooperative, and I got annoyed enough at something she did that I left the room briefly to avoid snapping at her. But I cut the lesson short after she played something (probably a section of the Canon) and then argued with me over whether she had played it right (she had made some obvious mistakes). I said I wasn’t going to argue with her and we’d just practice more in the evening, then I put her guitar away. She cried a little.

The evening went much better (after a rocky start during which M was uncooperative and I was snappish).

In light of the morning’s problem—M arguing with me over what she had done—I decided to use the audio recorder again. So I had M play sections of the Canon which I recorded, then we listened to them together.

She was a little whiny (complaining that the earphones hurt her ears and that a mild sunburn was bothering her), but mostly she cooperated. At one point, she played a section in 1st position that ought to be played in first position, but because only one note is an open string, everything but that note (and the surrounding ones) sounded normal. She laughed when she finished and said she did it deliberately, which was probably true. On the one hand, I like her confidence and playfulness. On the other hand, I was annoyed by the deliberate decision to make a mistake.

I supposed it’s a sensible defensive strategy: choose to fail, so that failure becomes success (you succeed at the failure you have chosen for yourself).

We also worked on a review song (Allegretto?), and it was sadly rusty. I have been neglecting review in favor of Read This First because M is more engaged with the sheet music. But we need to be doing more regular review.

Review is rusty


Morning: I notice that M’s nails are raggedy, so we begin with me filing and sanding them. As I do that, I ask M to read through the music for Rigadoon. To my surprise, she has a lot of difficulty. When I’m done with her nails, I ask her to play the first part of Rigadoon together with me. It’s rusty, and her right hand is moving around too much—instead of plucking with her finger, she’s using her whole hand. I narrow down what she’s doing, so she’s playing just the first two notes. She’s pretty squirrelly, and we don’t have much time, so we don’t get any further. Overall, a middling morning.

Evening: It went better, I think, but I failed to take good notes.

Something’s working

Monday: At breakfast, I mentioned that we’d skip our morning practice and just practice in the evening. I said something like, “I hope it goes well” or “I think it will go well.” After a pause, M said:

I’m starting to like it.

I put out my hand so she could slap me five. I refrained from tap dancing.

In the evening, we had  a good practice for about 1/2 an hour. I proposed to let M earn pennies, nickels, and dimes during her lesson since her teacher is collecting change for Japan. When M was dawdling about going to the practice room, I said, “If you get there right now, you can have a whole dime.”

She jumped up, scurried to our practice room, and was standing there holding her guitar, grinning and ready to bow when I walked in. A dime well spent! (Later, she asked her mom, “Did you see how fast I got ready to practice tonight? I was like—” and then she demonstrated.)

We did three things in our lesson:

  • Worked on the song in Read This First. We went over the first line of the sheet music without the instrument, identifying how she would play each note (finger/string/fret), then we played. We made it through the whole thing with very few problems.
    • She had some difficulty transitioning from the second to third line—a transition that involves moving from the 3rd to 4th string—so we worked extra on that.
    • We played it all through once. She declined when I asked if she wanted to play it as a round. I wasn’t crazy about this, but I asked, so I had to take her answer.
  • Asked M to tell me the notes to French Folk Song, then to conduct and say the note names while I played.
  • Asked M to play French Folk Song. Some small sections were rusty.

It was an excellent practice, and M was entirely cooperative. Yay!

More improvisation and singing

Friday: Another good day with low expectations.


  • We started with improvisation. I played a D/G/A/D progression while M noodled on a D scale
  • M did a few free strokes with three fingers. Her hand tends to twist, and I tried to help her keep it steady.
  • M did some A (1/2 fingers on 2nd fret, 2/3 strings) to E (1 finger on 1st fret, 3rd string) chord shifts, played arpeggiated with i-m-a. We need to work on finger placement.

In the afternoon, M was grumbling about practicing, so we discussed what might be fun to work on. She again picked improvisation and the Canon.

  • We began with D scales, played with a metronome.
  • Next, she improvised over a chord progression. At my suggestion, she played quite a bit up the neck on the 1st string.
  • We finished by working on the Canon.
    • We went through once, playing and singing at the same time. This was a nice exercise, and M kept her singing going even when she missed several notes, picking right back up at the right place.
    • M did a good job listening to herself. When I asked her, after a repetition, where she made mistakes, she was always able to point to the music and identify the problem. We narrowed our focus more and more to work just on the problem areas.

Dodged a bullet

Thursday: Things looked shaky this morning. When it was practice time, M was draping herself across her stool and refusing to cooperate. I kept my annoyance in check and asked her what we could do that would be fun. Eventually she agreed that improvisation might be fun, so that got us started.

After we did some improvisation (M soloed on the D scale over a D/G/A/D progression), we worked on the Lightly Row duet. M had some problems keeping track of the song and screwed up the last section (she played the first section again, not the last section).

In the evening, we returned to Lightly Row, but this time I asked M to sing and play at the same time. This helped her identify the problem areas.

Overall, she did well today. The morning could have become a meltdown, but somehow I steered us in the right direction.

Taking it easy

Wednesday: I aimed low today, to keep the good feeling M and I both had after yesterday’s recital.

In the morning, rather than do anything on the instrument, I watched the video of M’s recital with her. We looked at the music as she played. We discussed good things (concentrating, playing through mistakes, playing the entire song, doing the tosto shifts) and the less-good things (an extra rest in between sections, a few missed notes, playing too quietly on tosto sections, and playing the C-D sections an extra time). She seemed proud of herself, and for good reason.

In the evening, we practiced a little before and a little after dinner. Sometimes that’s a problem, but today it wasn’t at all.

We started with rhythm sight reading of a the Dona Nobis Pacem duet in Read This First. M used rhythm sticks while I clapped. We did one part together for a while, then we did separate parts. Overall it went well, though we had a hard time staying with the metronome. It helped if we listened silently to the metronome for 12 or more beats before beginning to count.

On the guitar, we practiced the Canon. We began by singing, then by reading note names aloud. After playing it through once with a fair number of errors, we worked only on the last 5 bars. We played short sections slowly until we were able to play the whole thing through almost error-free twice. M really focused on what she was doing and was cheerful.

More recording and listening

Sunday: I remain downhearted about the state of M’s engagement with the guitar, but we ended the day better than we started it.

It’s a weekend, so we didn’t practice in the morning. After lunch, as Sara and I were in the kitchen discussing what to do next, M called from the other room, “I don’t want to practice.”

I suppose this is normal. But something about her tone, in light of the past few days, socked me in the stomach. As it happens, that was fine schedule-wise, so she kept on playing for a while. I decided that we’d need to practice at 2, from about 2 to 3.

We got off to a (perhaps needlessly) rocky start. M wanted to earn two more Squinky hostages, and I suggested she bring in to our practice room the tea set she was playing with when I started tuning. She gave me two teacups, one for each of the two Squinkies she could earn.

When I finished tuning, M was standing in front of me with ahead band dangling below her chin, like a chin strap, instead of on top of her head. I said, “That’s not going to work. You’ll have to either put it on or take it off.” She said something like, “It’s not in the way.” I responded, “You can put it on, or take it off.” We went back and forth a few times, her looking at me belligerently, and me getting more (and inordinately) pissed off. When I had enough, I took one of the two teacups and put it back saying, “Okay, you lost your chance at one Squinky.”

Predictably, this provoked crying. After a few moments, I said something like, “Look, if you can calm down and start cooperating, maybe you can earn it back. But you were not cooperating with me. You need to work on calming yourself down, and the headband has to be on or off.”

She did a nice job calming down, and we proceeded with my plan for our lesson.

Our focus is the Bach Tanz, which she butchered at her private lesson yesterday. So we started by going over her story. First, we looked at the whole picture and talked about the song sections. Then, we sang the melody and followed along with the picture. The first time through, M jumped from the C picture to the D picture in the middle of the C section — that is, she prematurely thought that the C section was over. She noticed the mistake when the song kept going. We discussed the problem and sang it again, with the picture, this time correctly.

Next, M played through once. She almost skipped the first repeat — that is, she almost played A-B-C, not A-B-A — but she caught herself, played through her mistake, and got back on track. When she was done, we listened to her recording along with the sheet music. She noticed her major mistake and some minor ones (e.g., lots of string noise when shifting positions), and she had a good, open attitude about our approach.

We did this three more times — play & record, then review together with the sheet music. Each time, she got a little bit better, and she did not make any major structural mistakes at any point.

My single biggest goal right now is to get M to take ownership of her playing — to care about it. And today, at least, it seemed to happen, at least a little bit.

Two Squinkies earned

Monday: We had short morning and evening practices, and both went pretty well, so M earned two of her hostage Squinkies. We worked on 4 things total, 2 in each session:

  • The Bach Tanz with Noteflight, focusing on left-hand position
  • The “guide finger” exercise from A chord to E chord
  • Free stroke exercises
  • A little bit of With Steady Hands

M asked about practicing Brother John with singing one part and playing another. I demonstrated two measures and showed how hard it was, but we didn’t have time to get started on it.