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.

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.

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!”)

Finally some progress!

Well, it’s coming too late to do us any good for the Colorado institute, but M is finally making real progress on the Bach Tanz.

At this morning’s practice, I set a simple goal: One perfect, or close-to-perfect, rendition of the Tanz. I took a few tries, and M was less cooperative than I like, but she eventually got the structure entirely right and remembered most of the dynamics. Technically, her main problem seems to be playing too far behind the frets. This problem was exacerbated because she was looking at her drawing (see yesterday’s post) instead of her hand.

In the evening, I upped the goal but still kept it simple: Two perfect, or close-to-perfect, renditions. I ended up actually getting three good renditions out of five or six attempts. M seemed very aware of what she was doing (she could usually identify her errors after the fact).

On her last rendition, she really focused on what she was doing, and even added vibrato on the half notes. Of course, this extra touch distracted her from some other things, but her level of focus and quality of execution was probably the best it’s ever been.

Tomorrow I’ll go over her video with her. Her left hand fingers still drift behind the frets, and she’s not keeping the thumb on her right hand still. But these are very minor things.

Also, I was delighted by this “song” M wrote, all by herself, while I made dinner, which shows a real understanding of time signatures and note values:

Boom Boom song - April 13, 2011

Lowered expectations lead to greater success

Building off of yesterday, in the morning today, I asked for 3 perfect G scales from M and 1 perfect G scale with knocks. It took about 15 minutes, but she was generally cooperative and successful.

In the evening, I asked for 2 perfect G scales from M and 2 perfect G scales with knocks. We never did get the perfect G scale with knocks, so I gave up and substituted another ordinary G scale. M did more fidgety crap than I would like, but it was basically conflict-free.

I’d count today a success.