My girl loves her prizes

Wednesday: I ease into practice today. M and I have dinner, then I head into the TV room to practice the djembe with our instructional DVD. M joins me at first, but quits pretty quickly. I keep going for a few minutes while M visits with her mom, who gets home while we are playing the djembe.

I go into the den to get ready for practice at about 6:50. M joins me and gets involved in arranging pieces of her tea set in our practice area. She wants to earn items from the tea set as awards. Each item has a different value — tea cups are 1st place, saucers are 2nd place, drinking glasses/coffee cups are 3rd place, the sugar bowl is last place (“because you don’t want to eat too much sugar and get fat”), and the creamer is in between 3rd place and last place. Here’s the setup (including post-it labels by M):

Tea set rating system

[I am reminded that when we were just starting out, she loved doing “G scale points” — she would play a G scale, and I would give her from 1 to 3 points for each note depending on how she placed her right-hand fingers. She loved being told how many points she got for a scale. It didn’t even matter if she got a low score (I would always explain which notes earned only 1 point out of the possible 3); she just liked getting some score.]

I let M take her time with it. Meanwhile, I try to play With Steady Hands. I don’t do terribly well. Since M hasn’t played it in a while, I decide we’ll work on it. First, however, she wants to do some songs in Read This First.

We’re in section 1-B now, which introduces reading notes on the 3rd and 4th string (G and D). M does a pretty good job, but I notice that her tone is still kind of snappy — she’s banging on the notes a bit. So I ask her to listen to her tone and try to play as loudly as she can without getting a “yell” tone. (Her tone yesterday on Meadow Minuet was also a snappy, yell tone much of the time.) And she does!

Then I ask to hear With Steady Hands. The first part (A1-A1-A1-A1) goes pretty well, even though she plays it a littler faster than I think is wise.

Then the structure and tone fall apart a bit. She plays B1-B2-A1 // B1-A1-A2 — that is, she skips the A2 section the first time through, and skips the B2 section the second time through.

M starts complaining that she’s hot, which is a troubling sign (it’s a method of passive-aggressive avoidance). But I offer to get her a wet washcloth while she works on the B1-B2 sections. (I gave her a choice of B1-B2 or A1-A2, since those were the trouble sections.) I ask her to pay special attention to her tone and to avoiding yell tones. (When she first played the song through, in the effort to get big on her crescendos, she had gotten way too loud and brutish.)

To my delight, while I am walking to the bathroom to get a washcloth, I can hear her play the B1-B2 sections with terrific attention and much-improved tone. I award her a teacup (1st place) because of her great effort.

We do this two more times: I ask her to play the sections while listening to her tone, and I go get her something (next, it was water to drink out of the teacup she earned).

By this point, it’s almost 7:45, and we’ve practiced for a little over 20 minutes. (The setup took a while).

I could probably get some more good practice out of her, but I decide to end then on a high note and to explain that because of her great cooperation, we are ending early. She whoops with joy. And the whole family eats fresh, ripe pineapple on the back patio.

A good day.

An adorable surprise

Tuesday: I had plans to go to a meeting at 6:30 tonight, so I come home around 4:30 to practice before dinner. I had told M about the schedule change in the morning.

When I walk in the door, M and her summer nanny, Lily, are sitting at the kitchen table, coloring. M jumps up, walks to me, and says brightly, “I have a surprise for you! It’s in the den.”

I walk into the den, and she has set everything up for her lesson — her stool and footstand are out, and her guitar is in its stand. My guitar case is also out.

Me: You set everything up for your lesson. Is that the surprise?

M: Yep!

Me: What a great surprise!

This was all-the-more unexpected because M  had been especially passive-aggressive in the morning when it was time to brush teeth — she had refused to stand up so I could reach her easily with the toothbrush.  I actually had to tell Lily, when she arrived, to wait on the porch until M let me brush her teeth. (M then promptly cooperated.)

The substance of our practice was actually so-so. We worked mainly on Meadow Minuet, and M’s note accuracy left much to be desired. But it was clear to me that she knew when she was making a mistake, and she did a lot of things well. She was also excited to give a concert for her grandma, who arrived at around 5:30 to take over so I could go to my meeting.

But nothing takes away from the sweetness of M’s surprise. Given how much conflict we often have over lessons, I’ve got to treasure days like this and to hope that more will be coming.

There’s nothing like the promise of the pool

Tuesday: We had a nice home lesson today. It was brutally hot, and both M and I wanted to go to the neighborhood pool. So I told her we could go after dinner if we practiced beforehand. She agreed. And when she got off track in our lesson, as she did a few times, I asked her: “Do you want to take a break now? We’ll have to finish after dinner and skip going to the pool.” She returned to business pretty quickly.

I gave her a choice of what to review today. She picked Rigadoon; I picked May Song. We picked the Bach Tanz together, but as things unfolded, I dropped it.

She did a lovely job on May Song, particularly given that she totally botched the structure just a few days ago. And when she did begin botching the structure, she noticed promptly. She was then able to get a couple of repetitions in with the right structure and most everything else done well.

Rigadoon was a little more of a challenge. We ended up narrowing further and further in on the part in the C section where there’s a shift from first to second position. When we broke it down to just two measures, M was able to make the shift in time, with attention.

We finished by doing some work on Serenade in Read This First. First, we clapped and counted; then we said the note names in rhythm; then we played one of the four lines together, with her on the upper part and me on the lower part.

Overall, it was about 50 minutes, though it didn’t seem like it to me, perhaps because I got no real resistance. And we didn’t even use any kind of activity; we just practiced. When I pointed this out to M at the end, she said, “That’s okay.” I don’t mind some activities, but I look forward to the day that making music is the main activity of our lessons!


Meadow Minuet, with accompaniment

Monday: M had her private lesson today. As we walked to the car, she said, “Yay, we don’t have to practice today.” Sigh.

At her lesson, M played Meadow Minuet all the way through with her teacher playing the accompaniment. Man, that’s a busy accompaniment! I had a hard time hearing M’s part. But M soldiered through, playing a number of repetitions and improving each time. [Later, I will post some audio.]

Musically, her teacher taught M to introduce a ritard plus a fermata, and then a return a tempo, in the middle of the D section, leading up to the C# on the 9th fret of string 1. M did a nice job.

Her teacher suggested we work on the closed A scale to get ready for book 2. (We have already worked on this scale in the past.)

On the non-guitar-related front, I have decided to more actively develop both M’s voice and my own in the following ways:

  • For M, I recently bought Voice Lessons to Go for Kids. We listened to the CD this weekend, on the way to the beach, and the whole family (me, M, and S) sang along. My first impression: the instructional content is solid, but the presentation is pretty dry. M was game for it the first time I played it, but since then, she has said she doesn’t want to listen to the CD.
  • For me, I recently bought Harmony Singing By Ear by Susan Anders. I am loving this! The instructor proceeds in sensible steps, her presentation is clear, the production is good, and the songs are lovely. I’ve listened and sang along a few times with M in the car, and I could hear her sometimes singing along from the back seat. I can’t think of a better way to introduce basic chord-building theory than using these CDs. I will probably review them more thoroughly later. You need a reasonably good ear and ability to match pitches to use the CDs, but you don’t otherwise need a lot of singing ability.

Redefining “short”

Friday: Despite a long day, M and I had another nice lesson. We worked on the C and D sections of Meadow Minuet.

M had her last day of YMCA camp today. A while after I picked her up, she reported, “I cried today. We were in the woods and I got lost and started crying.” Yikes! I’d cry too if I were six years old and lost in the woods. She must not have been lost long, though, because the staff didn’t mention it to me.

After picking M up, I took her to martial-arts class. We then went out for dinner and ice cream. I knew that all this activity would leave little time for a lesson, so I told M that we would need to do some practice-related activity while we waited at the restaurant for her mother. She was agreeable, and though she did a lot of staring around the room, she actually cooperated pretty well in writing out the C and D sections of Meadow Minuet on these two index cards:

 I helped some, but she figured out and wrote most of the notes herself. (She added a repeat sign at the end “to make it pretty.” Then she drew an exclamation point above the repeat sign to show that it was just for decoration, because the song does not have any repeats.)

This was a nice start to our lesson, because it reinforced the fact that the entire section—not just the first half—has bass notes in it. She has developed an odd habit of playing the first four bars with bass notes and the last five without, and I wanted to work on fixing this today.

We got home at about 7:30, which didn’t leave a lot of time for practice, particularly since she (quite reasonably) wanted to change into cooler clothes. But we also arrived home to find that M’s djembe was on the porch, so I was able to dangle this out as a reward: If she cooperated and we finished on time, I’d let her open the box and try out the djembe.

We practiced for about a half an hour, focusing first on the D section of Meadow Minuet and then on the C and D sections together. I asked M a lot of questions after each repetition about how she thought she did; often she just guessed, but she also sometimes answered accurately, showing that she was listening to herself. The primary technical point we worked on was holding down the melody notes long enough. She’s in the habit of leaving a note early whenever the next note involves a shift. She was resistant to me at first when I tried to correct the behavior by holding down her left-hand finger when she tried to pull it off too early, but after I demonstrated the difference between picking up early and holding down long enough, she seemed to try to hold the notes down and play more legato.  Here’s an audio file of today’s last two repetitions of the Meadow Minuet C and D sections, with discussion afterwards.

She finished by playing Lightly Row twice. The first time, she sort of phoned it in (didn’t play with all the dynamics and rushed the tempo from the middle to the end, seemingly to get it over with). But the second time, she played with much more attention.

My greatest triumph today, however, was realizing that I’ve successfully redefined what a “short” lesson is. When I told her that we were done after close to 30 minutes, she responded with delight and surprise: “We’re done? With our whole entire lesson? Tee-hee-hee!”