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!”

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.

Almost all of the Twinkles

Today we recorded some more of the Twinkles in preparation for the Suzuki Association of Minnesota graduations in March. We forgot Ice Cream Cone, but we got most of the rest pretty well. And apart from a brief meltdown at the end of the lesson (at almost 6:45, when I asked M to run through Wish I Had a Little Pony a second time), M was cooperative and paid good attention.

It probably helped that I explained up front:

  • we would practice as long — or as short — as it took to get a good recording of each variation; and
  • if we had enough time after finishing, we would be able to have some ice cream — but whether we would have enough time was up to her, because it depended on how she cooperated.

Sadly, as I listen to these again, I notice that I forgot to turn off the furnace for at least two recordings (Strawberry Popsicle and Theme). Dang it!

Update 25 January 2011: It’s taken three more days of trying, but we finally got a good take of Ice Cream Cone and a much-improved, furnace-free take of Theme. We also got an improved take of  Strawberry Popsicle, but I think M can do better.

Update 28 January 2011: Now we’ve got a decent Strawberry Popsicle. The player below has the best recording of each variation. All done!