Home Lessons: Depersonalizing

Learning something new brings potential excitement, uncertainty, challenge, risk, reward, and new opportunities for accomplishment as well as the possibility of stumbles along the way. After years of teaching, I have found that this venture into unknown of trying something new can veer into the territory of fear and shame for young people.

As parents and teachers, we see the big picture and we know that mixing up fingers in a new piece is not the end of the world. But to a young person who looks to adults in their life for validation and support, that mix up of fingers can be embarrassing and disappointing and probably scary. This is a great reminder to always be positive and encouraging of your brave young guitarists who are juggling multiple complex thoughts and motor skills to make music (see the One Point Lesson post). It's also a great time to employ depersonalization: a finger mix up is not because your young guitarist is not smart enough to figure this out! Fingers are stubborn and even when our brains tell them what to do, they do something else. 

Very often in lessons I use depersonalizing language after hearing a student play a piece where fingers don't do what they're supposed to. Rather than say, "You forgot to hold down your 3 finger until 1 finger was ready. Do it again, and this time, remember to hold down 3 finger" I'll say, "3 finger forgot to hold down until 1 finger was ready, let's try that again and stop or slow down to make sure that 3 finger remembers this time." It's a very simple reframing to take the onus off the student and put it on the "fingers." It puts you and your student on the same team to remind the fingers of what they need to do. If fingers keep getting mixed up, it's much easier to laugh it off together and try again than if the blame is placed on the student who is then afraid to try it again out of fear of embarrassment or disappointment. 

Remember that we, the adults, have the ability to make trying something new less scary by our words. Work hard, take responsibility together, but keep practice positive and you'll train adventurous and happy musicians!

A Positive Learning Environment: One Point Lesson

"Remember your tall sitting position and heart to heart, watch your left hand thumb, tall 3 finger, p-finger over the sound hole, and start soft so you can play a crescendo!"

This is the laundry list of thoughts that I often have while hearing a student play, and I'm sure I've heard many parents say something similar to their young guitarist. As teachers and home-teachers (you parents), we can become overwhelmed keeping track of all the multitudes of minute details that happen in a polished performance: good sitting position, correct hand positions, clean nail tone, remembering left and right hand fingering, playing musically, keeping a steady tempo, planning ahead, and so much more! When we are teaching and everything seems to be falling apart, we tend to focus on all of those things that are falling apart. The result is that we the teachers are overwhelmed, the student is even more overwhelmed, and there is more negative to point out than positive to praise. No one is having fun learning in that scenario. 

Instead, approach practice with a single focus point. Make this intention known before playing. It could be a point that was worked on in the lesson or it could be something that you've worked on for several weeks through review pieces. Make it as specific as possible, give a reminder right before practicing each piece every time, and give your feedback only on that one point. Make a game out of the focus point: the student gets a point every time she plays through with focus on the task at hand; the teacher gets a point anytime that focus point is neglected.

The hardest part of implementing this is putting aside everything that you see "falling apart" and keeping your focus and the student's focus on that one point. But by keeping the single focus, you are able to give more specific positive feedback. And remember that even those things that are "falling apart" probably just need to be made future focus points and will easily be resolved later. 

The analogy in my mind is playing catch: can you manage to play catch better when you have one ball being thrown or when you're playing with eight balls? At some point, it becomes overwhelming and your game of catch becomes a game of dodgeball!

Winter/Spring Schedule: Culver City studio

Mark your calendars as it's not exactly an every other week schedule:

  • Jan 14: Group
  • Jan 28: Group
  • Feb 4: SMAC-LA Guitar Graduation Recital
  • Feb 11: Group
  • Feb 18: Group
  • Mar 4: Group
  • Mar 18: Group
  • Mar 25: Bach in the Subways (3pm in North Hollywood)
  • Mar 27-Apr 8: Break
  • Apr 22: Group
  • Apr 29: Group
  • May 6: Spring Recital
  • May 13: Westwood VA Spring Performance (special Mother's Day edition)
  • May 20: Group
  • May 24-27: Suzuki Association of the Americas Biennial Conference
  • June 3: Group
  • June 10: Group, guitar Olympics, & end-of-semester party
  • June 17-22: Los Angeles Suzuki Institute