Following the Nurtured Heart Approach, playing bass (a little)

Here’s a brief update, in case anyone is curious what’s happening in the SuzukiDad household. We let M quit playing the guitar about a year ago. We had plenty of misgivings, but we couldn’t handle the amount of conflict it generated.

We continued to have a lot of conflict over everyday life, though—truly unpleasant, scary levels of conflict, with M regularly throwing things, hitting us, and destroying things. We felt stuck. We read more parenting books and decided to seek professional help. But we weren’t sure exactly what kind of help to get.

Then we stumbled across a book by Howard Glasser called Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach. And it has been a revelation. Almost immediately when we started adopting some techniques from the book—giving no energy to negative behavior, and describing objectively whatever we saw that was going right in a particular moment—M’s behavior, and our relationship with M, was transformed. Through Glasser’s website, we located a parent coach who had been trained in the approach, and we hired her for consultation and coaching. The results were fantastic.

M is still a high-energy, high-spirited kid, but I feel—really for the first time—that we have found a way to interact with her that really works.

Admittedly, we’ve lowered our expectations. As far as music goes, she is now playing the electric bass (a Kala Ubass), and she has to practice with me for only 15 minutes a day. But she does it, and lately she does it with virtually no conflict.

I wish I had known about the Nurtured Heart Approach years ago. It lines up perfectly with the Suzuki philosophy, and if I had followed the approach when we were practicing Suzuki guitar together, perhaps she’d still be playing today. I still hold out hope that she’ll start back up on the guitar at some point, but it’s a very slim hope.

But regrets don’t get you anywhere. And a core element of the Nurtured Heart Approach is to focus on what’s going right in the present moment, not what’s gone wrong in the past or might go wrong in the future. And in most of our present moments today, things are going pretty right—certainly a lot righter than in the past. If anyone’s out there: check out the Nurtured Heart Approach. It could make a difference in your life.

Where I’ve gone

A very kind commenter asked where I’ve been and said nice things about the blog, so I at least wanted to post a short explanation.

Readers know that my daughter and I really struggled with practice. As it turns out, those struggles defeated me (at least for the moment), and we stopped doing Suzuki guitar at the end of the spring semester.

I am sad about this; sometimes, unspeakably so. I feel like I did so many things wrong. I also still find it hard to fathom; M was in Book 3 and her playing sounded great. It’s hard for me to get my head around the fact that I couldn’t keep her going. Also, I worry about discouraging my handful of readers. I do believe, despite my experience so far, that the Suzuki experience is incredibly powerful and valuable, even with the struggle it entails. But even saying that, I feel like a bit of a fraud—after all, I couldn’t make it work, so who am I to talk?

I appreciate my readers, and I wish you the best. I will try to post some more as I get my thoughts together and have something helpful to say.

New info about guitars from German stores and about a hard case

I updated the children’s guitar page to reflect two new recommended guitars:

  1. The 48-cm Hopf-Hellweg Bronco from, which I bought this March.
  2. The 52-cm Aranjuez from, which a commenter bought recently and recommends.
Also, I found that an SKB Baby Taylor hard case ($70 from Amazon), with some fairly simple modifications, worked well for my 48 cm-guitar and would likely work (again, with modifications) for any guitar from 44 cm up to about 57.8 cm (the scale length of an actual Baby Taylor).

Suzuki guitar video, not starring my daughter

The Suzuki Association of America has just posted a very nice 11-minute video titled The Sound of Success: Suzuki Method for Guitar. It’s a general overview, aimed at potential students and teachers. It includes brief interviews with some of the country’s best-known Suzuki-guitar teachers (Mary Lou Roberts; David Madsen, who put the video together; Andrea Cannon; Bill Kossler; and others).

Portions of the video were shot at the Suzuki Association’s national convention in 2010. At the time, the producers actually took some video of M for potential use in the video. I think she played Lightly Row. She was about 5 at the time, and had been playing for about six months. Alas, her scene was left on the cutting-room floor (for you youngsters who don’t know what film is, that means “her scene isn’t in the final video”).

But it’s a nice video, even without her.

Hertz is the world’s worst car-rental company

This post has little to do with Suzuki guitar. Okay, nothing to do with Suzuki guitar. But this is my blog; I’m pissed at Hertz; so I’m blogging about it here.

On Friday March 16, I made arrangements to travel to LA the next day to visit a dying friend. My hotel (a Radisson) referred me to Hertz for a “deal” on car rental. I already had an offer from Alamo, but I figured I’d give Hertz a shot.

On the phone, Hertz quotes me $330 for a week’s rental. I say it’s too high because Alamo quoted me $270. The Hertz rep asks me if I have any major credit cards that might get me a discount. I propose two, a USAA card and a Chase card. She checks. The USAA discount would get me to $260, and the Chase discount is even better: $230 and change. “Great,” I say, “book it.” The agent takes all my info, tells me I’m all set, and gives me a confirmation number.

As she gave me the confirmation number, I specifically thought to myself, “Should I write this down? Nah, there’s really no need. They’ve got my name in the system.”

So I arrive at LAX Friday night and get to the Hertz counter at 11 pm. I give my name.

Agent: “Sorry, we don’t have a reservation for you. Do you have a confirmation number? No? Well, the best rate I’m showing is $430 [or thereabouts].”

Me: “Whoa, that’s way too high. Let me talk to the manager.”

Hertz: “Okay, but it’s spring break. We can’t just give you the lower rate without some proof it was quoted to you.”

The manager comes out. He wants a confirmation number. I wake up my wife and ask her to look on my desk in case I wrote it down on my page with travel notes, but I didn’t. The manager and his agent see me do this and hear me talking to her.

So I tell my story again, and I’m visibly distraught: I’m visiting a dying friend; I made a reservation on the phone by referral from Radisson; I was quoted $330, then $260, then $230. I ask: “Why would I make this up? You want proof that I got the quote — your proof is that I’m standing here at the Hertz counter telling you this story. Why would I show up here?”

Manager: “Do you know the name of the person you spoke with?”

Me: “No. I saw no reason to ask her name. You are telling me you can’t help me because you don’t believe me?”

Manager: “We can get you a car, sir.”

Me: “I know you can get me a car. But I expect a car at the rate I was quoted, $230.”

Manager: “We can’t do that.”

Muttering obscenities, I ask for my ID and credit-card back and leave Hertz. I ask the Hertz shuttle guy to take me back to the airport because I am going to use a different rental-car company. He offers to drop me at Avis or Budget, which are on the way back to the airport. (This is the only thoughtful thing a Hertz employee did for me.)

He drops me at Avis. I tell my story. They give me a car for $260. (I think they should have done better on the price, but the person I dealt with was totally courteous, and I needed a damn car.)

So Hertz, if you’re listening:

You suck. You treated me like crap, and you showed yourselves to be utter morons. Even if your counter people genuinely thought I was lying—which only a moron would think (why, why, why do you think a person would show up at your counter at 11 pm and invent a story—and cry—and wake his wife up—just to get a lower rate on a car—a rate that is in spitting distance of your competitor’s advertised rates?)—a sane manager would have just given me what I wanted to avoid the possibility that I was telling the truth and would publicize your horridness on social media. Which I am doing now.

Hertz is the world’s worst car-rental company.

Update about chairs and stools on gear page

A parent admired my daughter’s stool at this weekend’s Suzuki Association of Minnesota graduation event, so I’ve updated my gear page by adding more info about chairs and stools. I also added some more info about tuners. Check it out!

(And yes, I know the blog has seemed moribund. But do not despair! I plan to return to regular posting soon.)

Clearing the rust off Perpetual Motion

Last week, we got a little bogged down in Perpetual Motion. It’s the piece M will be playing for the statewide Suzuki graduation in March, so I asked her to play it on Tuesday or Wednesday. To my surprise, the form was incredibly unreliable: M would skip entire sections.

I thought we were mostly past this stage, because she’s been getting the form of her newer songs down with almost no difficulty (i.e., A Toye, Suzuki’s Allegro). So I was having flashbacks in our home practices last week.

I tried a few things to help M listen to herself better. First, I had her just sing the song. She was pretty reliable. Then, I had her play along with the CD (you have to tune your guitar a fraction of a semitone sharp to match the CD’s pitch). This was a challenge, because the CD is really fast, and she got frustrated with it. I also had her play with the metronome at a pretty good clip, because when she plays slowly, she just lets her mind wander. This all helped some, but didn’t make things entirely reliable. In particular, even if she remembered the form, she often left out any dynamic contrast in the first 4 and last 4 bars.

I do think an analogy helped. At the end of one practice, I asked her, “What’s 4+4?” “Eight,” she replied. “Yes,” I said, “and you never get that wrong, do you? You never answer ‘seven’ or ‘nine,’ because you know it. What’s 4+4?” “Eight.” “Yes. You always get it right, because you know it. And that’s what the form of Perpetual Motion should be like. When you play it, you should always get it right. It’s like knowing 4+4. That’s how you should know the form of this song.”

I’ve since used this analogy again, and I think it helps. As shorthand, I can just say, “You know the form. It’s like knowing 4+4.”

Now, when she played it at her private lesson on Saturday, it still had some problems. Notably, her right hand — which has been getting so much steadier — reverted to old, grabby habits, and she still didn’t add any dynamic contrast to the opening and closing bars (what we call the A1-A2 sections). But she did get the form right, and she got it right again today. So that’s progress.

Right-hand technique – old videos

Apart from the lice, two other things have been interfering with my blogging: (1) my stupid computer, and (2) my backlog of audio and video. The computer is now mostly working, and I’m slogging through the backlog.

Things have been going remarkably well lately. We started working on Carcassi’s Andante two weeks ago, beginning with the first phrase (about 2 bars). Today, we started working on the next phrase. My main focus has been M’s right-hand technique. I’ve done three things that, together, have really succeeded in getting M to focus on her right hand.

  • First, I’ve been using video during our lessons. My phone takes worse video than my point-and-shoot, but the playback screen on the phone is so much bigger that it works well to take phone video during our home practices. (The phone audio is atrocious, but I can edit the video and substitute the audio from my handheld recorder. Of course, this introduces further delay in doing anything blog-related with the videos and audio.)
  • Second, I’ve been placing a mirror in front of M so she can watch herself.
  • Third, I’ve been using a point system to judge each note she plays. As I’ve mentioned before, she loves getting scores. I have her play the first 10 notes of Andante, and give her a score of from 0 to 2 (or rarely, 3) for each melody note she plays. Some days, I give her a half a penny for each point she earns, which she gets excited about. But mostly, she just likes the instant feedback. What I’ve been surprised by is how much, and how quickly, she has internalized the standards — if she plays a 1 or a 0, she usually knows it. And she is so interested in getting a good score that she really concentrates on what she is doing.

I don’t have any recent audio or video ready to post, but I did finally get around to posting a few videos from November 11. I posted them on a backdated post for November 11 here (I’m trying to keep the blog in chronological order).