House concert; starting A Toye

Saturday: M practiced with her quartet, then had her private lesson. I wasn’t thrilled with M’s behavior during the lesson (she was sloppy with her guitar when she wasn’t playing), but it wasn’t too bad. Her teacher started us on A Toye, pointing out the importance of shifting between 1st and 2nd positions.

She had an especially charming way of making the point about shifting. She put a little puppet on her thumb, and the puppet peeked over the guitar neck. When she shifted, the puppet shifted with her. Then she demonstrated not shifting — i.e., rotating the left hand to stretch the fingers — and the puppet fell back behind the neck as her thumb rotated. It was memorable!

Sunday: In the afternoon, M played a house concert for a friend of her mom’s who grew up playing Suzuki violin (and who now plays fiddle and sings). M played the Bach Tanz and Meadow Minuet. She got the form of both right, which has probably been my biggest concern, so that’s good.

In light of the concert, I told M we’d have a very short lesson. To improve the chance of her cooperating with me, I came up with this plan at dinner. We ate early, which left us some time. So I proposed that we all make cookies, then while they were baking, M and I would practice. If it went well — and only if it went well — we would eat a cookie after practice. This isn’t a straight-up bribe, because we were going to eat them anyway, but it created a clear incentive for cooperation.

And it worked. We practiced A Toye for about 1/2 an hour, and M did a nice job on the melody of the first four bars. Then she played Allegro and Long, Long Ago (which has been out of rotation). She paid good attention on both.

Here’s the concert:

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.

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.

Starting Pachelbel’s canon

The SAM graduation took all morning, and M ended up playing a lot both during rehearsal and on stage, but she still had a private lesson at around 3 pm. I thought M deserved a little break, so I suggested to her teacher that they sight-read the duets from Read This First that M and I worked on yesterday, because M finds this so much fun.

They did, and M did a nice job. Her teacher praised her for trying to figure out the notes when she wasn’t certain, rather than just guessing.

When they had played two duets, M’s teacher suggested she try a version of Pachelbel’s canon in D that’s much further along in the book. M was game for it, so our assignment is to work on two relatively easy 4-bar sections. If it goes well, M might get a chance to play it with some of her teacher’s more-advanced students.

This is a nice challenge for M.

Three medals!

We had an early private lesson today, before group class. They played through the Twinkles, and M did great. She played with big, fat tone. Her teacher recommended using higher-tension guitar strings so M can play louder without buzzing. Our assignment is to work on Meadow Minuet, add in bass notes, and work on left-hand pinky position (need curve).

At the Guitar Olympics in group class, M tried every event. Her teacher adjusted the medal recipients on the fly, so they didn’t exactly reflect everyone’s relative performance, but M got three medals, one for the 50-measure hurdles (reading fruit rhythms), one for note reading, and one for Song of the Wind with the metronome. I watched her do that, conduct Lightly Row, and play Perpetual Motion on the G string, and she did a good job on each. Her Perpetual Motion was not smooth, but she caught and fixed every mistake and didn’t drop any sections, which shows she was listening to what she was doing. Overall, she was proud of herself, and I even got her to agree afterwards that it’s a good thing we practice a lot, since that’s why she’s doing so well.

Performance anxiety in a private lesson

Today M had group class and her private lesson. The group teacher focused a lot on left-hand technique and mindfulness, asking the kids to “prepare in the air” as they played a D scale. He also demonstrated, by way of a contest with a student, the importance of keeping the left-hand fingers close to the neck: He and the student raced to play a note, one starting with a finger close to the neck, the other with a finger splayed out. Whoever had the finger closer to the neck won the race.

Then he had M and one other student demonstrate their left-hand technique for the class on a short portion of the scale. They each did different things with the pinky — his was straight but close to the neck, and hers was curved but further from the neck than it had been. The teacher said M’s technique was “healthier,” while the other kids was “safer.”

Apart from this, M was not as lively as she usually is. She didn’t volunteer for something she knows how to do (Perpetual Motion on the G string), and when we did the note-reading page, she got way more notes wrong than I would have expected. I think two things were happening: (1) she was tuning out of class, and (2) she experienced some performance anxiety. (The note reading was done in teams, and individual team members read a line on the staff while the rest of the class listened and tried to identify mistakes.)

At M’s private lesson, her teacher went over several of the Guitar Olympics events from group class, and M underperformed. She forgot to say the note names when she conducted Aunt Rhody; then she said the note names but lost the tempo. Then M made a hash of Perpetual Motion on the G string. Both of these are things she usually does much better at home, and M appeared nervous to me.

On the plus side, M did a nice job on Meadow Minuet. Our assignment is to keep working on it as follows:

  • Learn the rest of the melody, with me on the bass.
  • Start learning the bass, with me playing the melody.
  • Perhaps start asking M to put them together. But I don’t want to rush that.

As M and I were leaving, I told M that I think we should make up a practice plan for the week in advance, to make sure we get to everything. She’s got a lot to practice for the Guitar Olympics, and With Steady Hands is still not even close to solid. In fact, I felt bad when her teacher asked M to play it today — M missed all kinds of notes, which is kind of my fault, given that we didn’t practice it all week.

I did manage to get some note-geography quiz practice out of M on the car ride to a party this evening, so that was a good use of the commute time.

New song: Meadow Minuet

M started Meadow Minuet in today’s lesson. Oddly, given how much she’s been listening to this song (it repeats 10 times on the CD she listens to at bedtime, rest time, and usually in the morning), M thought that there were four bass notes instead of two at the end of each snippet of melody. Other than that, she picked it up easily. We’re supposed to learn the melody only for now, in 8-bar sections.

For both Meadow Minuet and With Steady Hands, her studio teacher emphasized letting the melody dominate over the bass line. We need to work on this.

As for exercises, M and her teacher played the “open A” scale (the foundation for Meadow Minuet) three ways, alternating i-m: sounding each note 4 times, 3 times, and 2 times.

With respect to technique, M needs to open up her right hand to get a fatter tone.

Finally, I mentioned that I had been asking M to play the A scale with i-m-a triplets, just to give her a finger some work, and her teacher recommended instead playing Perpetual Motion with a-m or m-a alternating, rather than i-m, as a better way to get the a finger involved.