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Mixed Classes – How to feel comfortable


fatimam
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reetings all – I’ve been exploring this forum for a while – but this is my first post. I’ll try to be short, but would appreciate any input!

I played the violin through elementary and high school (traditional method). I was quite serious and had the advantage of growing up near an excellent college conservatory giving me access to excellent and inexpensive lessons, and orchestras! I quit when I got to college as I realized that violin performance is very competitive and I’m just not that good.

After a 12 year hiatus – I started to take lessons again about a year ago. I found a local Suzuki school – and I now take both private and group lessons. Being an adult and picking the violin back up after not having touched it for 12 years was really difficult. I’ve found that I basically need to start at the beginning, new bow hold – working on vibrato from scratch - new left hand – and that is hard for one’s ego – especially when concertos I used to whiz through when I was 16 – well now - I have no idea how I was able to do it – and can’t remember how to read some of the more difficult passages.

My private lessons are fantastic – but the group lessons make me very uncomfortable, however they are useful so I don’t want to quit. I’m new to the Suzuki method and I’m learning that parents are an integral part of the child learning process. The group class consists of a couple of adults (who are all learning with their children) and several kids (age probably 7-11?) . I don’t have children myself – and have always been kind of uncomfortable around them. The kids are all very competent – and they seem to “know” it. One child went so far as to pick up my (very expensive to me) instrument from my case (without asking) and start playing it. I was astounded – but didn’t want to say anything as no one likes to have their child “admonished” by someone else – and I figured it’s sort of good that the children feel so comfortable around instruments. The non-playing parents sit and watch every lesson, many of them video tape lessons, take notes and even go so far as to mark their child’s music for them. At any rate – I feel very uncomfortable in these group lessons – and would feel much better if it were an adult only class – or at least if then non-playing parents did not attend the class.

Part of it is embarrassment about my abilities and having to show that to adults my age and part of it may be that the idea of having parents so involved in music lessons is foreign to me. My mother would not have considered attending and taping one of my lessons – or an orchestra rehearsal – much less mark my music – or carry my instrument around for me – or rosin my bow for me. Not because she didn’t care – but because my music lessons were my responsibility and she had two other busy children and a household to manage.

Anyway – I can’t change the fact that children are a part of this group – and I don’t want to quit the group – so how do I become more comfortable in this environment? I’m in a weird place – I’m not the teacher – not a parent – and not a kid. Anyone have any ideas?

Thanks in advance for your replies! - I’ve been learning a lot by reading this forum!

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I too am an Adult Suzuki student...taking private and group lessons, but unlike you, I do have a child learning the violin. But, I am the only parent in this studio who is also learning the violin (some of them already know how to play, but nearly all are involved in music in a professional capacity). In other words I can relate to your experience...I feel like I stick out in more ways than one...the kids are incredibly fluid and relaxed. After four years I can comfortably play in group about two books behind where I am studying.

I have read two books which helped me...the first is Never Too Late by John Holt. His philosophy seemed to be "just plunge in and do it, and if you get in over your head, well learn from that" And the second book is "The Perfect Wrong Note" which is packed with advice and wisdom, but for us analytical adult learners is very helpful in pointing out how to use mistakes to play better...and not to worry so much about making mistakes. In fact he claims we can't learn UNLESS we make mistakes.

After four years I no longer worry about what the kids or the parents think, I've figured out that both groups are in awe that any gownup would attempt this. But I am still frustrated that I can't play in group better.

As to playing your violin without asking. I would have taken the violin away gently and suggested that they ask first. That is never okay, and not part of Suzuki as far as I know. ( I also bought a carbon fiber bow specifically for group class!)

Finally, finding adults to play with is hard...most are too good for us to play with. I did attend Suzuki summer camps...it was very good for my group playing because I did so darn much of it...at least twice a day. Many of the camps welcome adults even if they don't have kids...though I also enjoyed it because I learned so much at my daughter's lessons...

And this year I am looking forward to trying the summertrios camp for adults only...because even at the Suzuki camp...I was the only adult.

Which still confuses me because I thought one of the fundamental parts of Suzuki was that the parent learns with the child...but that doesn't really seem to be the case.

Hang in there and have fun.

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The child who wallked over to your violin and pulled it out of the case should certainly have been admonished. I would definitely want you to say something to my child, if she was ill mannered enough to do that and I didn't catch it myself. Now that it is past I would mention it to the teacher who could give a small talk about boundaries and other peoples possessions, especially their violins.

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I should start by saying I'm not a big fan of the Suzuki method as applied to any other group that beginning children. (But maybe I don't know enough about the method.) So my suggestion may be tainted by that prejudice.

If you really like your private lessons, and you feel emotionally uncomfortable in the group class, why not drop the group class and concentrate on the private lesson. Instead of a group class, perhaps you could find a local amateur orchestra to play in. I suspect that if you feel that you're not good enough for that, you're underestimating your abilities and underestimating the contribution you'd make to such an orchestra.

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'The child who walked over to your violin and pulled it out of the case should certainly have been admonished. I would definitely want you to say something to my child, if she was ill mannered enough to do that and I didn't catch it myself. Now that it is past I would mention it to the teacher who could give a small talk about boundaries and other peoples possessions, especially their violins. '

I absolutely agree. It's a simple mistake on the part of the child, a larger one on the part of the parent to not immediately correct the child - we simply don't touch others' stuff, expensive violin or not, without asking for permission first. A word to the teacher to make a point of this in class will help.

For fatimam's main problem...

You only really learn, violin or anything else, when you concentrate. You can only concentrate when you're comfortable. So unless the goal here is to get over some performance anxiety issues in group, that time suffering in group is better spent practicing alone or in some other environment, say doing a duet with someone to get the same benefit.

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Just be proud of what you are doing. I bet most adults who see you admire your desire and perseverence. After all - the non-playing parents value learning the instrument enough to have their children do it, but aren't doing it themselves. Those who play know how difficult it is to start late. I hope that you can learn to feel comfortable aroudn children. There is really nothing to fear of small children. They are so accepting and want to like everyone. Juat a little positive interaction can amke them loev you to pieces. You perhaps should have very politely spoken to the parent of the child who picked up your instrument and explained the situation - that you are very protective of your instrument and never let anyone touch it.

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Very wise words, Dr. S. I don't think that it's the fear of the little children so much as discomfort at the parents of the little children, though. Until this instant I forgot a dream I had when just starting -- and I am not in a Suzuki program and the only time that I run into parents is in the semi-annual solos -- nonethelss, in the dream, there were little kids sitting on the floor in kindergarten with the parents sitting in chairs observing what the little kids had learned, and I was on the floor with those little kids because I was learning too. The dream brought out my own fears and my own stereotypes. I was "supposed" to be an observing parent. I was not "supposed" to be learning what the little kids were learning. I had a particular role to fulfill, and more importantly, I expected that the parents, my peers and my age group, expected me to fulfill only one particular role and would be silently critical if I fulfilled another assigned to children. Eventually I got over that. I examined my attitudes from when I was not a parent, but had seen a grown man get on stage in front of an audience of several hundred and play Twinkle: my attitude was one of admiration for his courage and determination, and he did a pretty good Twinkle, to boot! I found myself "kind of mentioning it", that I was also studying the violin, whenever I was a parent volunteer at my son's school, which is a magnet school for the arts. That was a secret acid test for me. These were ultra-dedicated parents whose kids had managed to get in through a selective audition process, we had all signed our lives away as volunteering supportive parents, and many of our kids would end up heading toward careers in music. I expected judgementalism from these parents among all parents. Instead, I had approval, "good for you!", and a couple of wistful looks, "Oh, I wish I had the courage. I would like to do this so much." In some of the "good for you's " there was almost a hint of anger at a hidden oppression --- like, finally, somebody dares to do what we feel deep down we are forbidden to do. It was strange. Exploring my own feelings, though, I realized that I needed the approval of my peers and of my society. I would have gone ahead without that approval. But having how I felt come out in the open helped an awful lot.

The question in the Suzuki group class scenario is: is it necessary and is it of benefit? If I knew that getting over my discomfort would cause me to benefit from these classes, then I would try to get over it. But if there is no good reason for them, then there is no reason to fight the good fight to get over the trepidation. Perhaps this should be discussed with the teacher who ought to know why he is recommending this other than that it is part of the routine of the system he is in. If, within the program, there is a component of "group interaction", then maybe a community orchestra or some type of community interaction is in order - in order to address the purpose of this component of the program. I understand that Suzuki teachers work together or are linked together in some way within any one city??? If so, couldn't the Suzuki teachers pool their adult students and get something going that way?

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  • 1 month later...

A couple of things that I don't think fatiman mentioned was weather the group lessons were a requirement for the private one-on-ne lessons or not? Nor weather both clases were taught by the same individual. As an adult learner, you have specific learning needs that a child would not have. A great mistake many string teachers make is not accounting for the age and previous musical experience an adult or older (minor) child may have.

I would be very relunctant to place any student in a mixed age ensemble setting such as that in which you find yourself. If adult students are not available to form other ensemble classes, it is better the student learn pieces with a piano accomapanyment than wade-through the social issues you seem to be facing(or if your teacher cannot play piano; pieces with 2nd violin line--both are best over the course of instruction as the student appreciates the differences between a "fixed," equal temperment instrument like the piano and the intonation required when playing with other strings)

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I'm in my mid-fifties and starting my 4th year of violin lessons. Took piano as a kid- never touched a violin until I started lessons.

I'm taking lessons from a wonderful Suzuki teacher. I take private lessons. I went to 1 or 2 group lessons and hated them. Discussed it with my teacher and we agreed I didn't need the group lessons to accomplish any of my goals.

As adults we can set our own goals and make sure the lessons are helping us toward them. If the group lessons are uncomfortable but helpful then go for it. If the group lessons are taking time, attention and energy away from what you want to do.... then why do them?

We are doing something wonderful. We're learning new skills, broadening ourselves, accomplishing new things, and making music for the fun of it. Be sure to keep your own goals in mind.

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I find it hard to believe that you could have simply forgotten everything in 12 years, if you used to whizz through concertos.

I would think it will all come back again and even better, in quite a short time. I mean, one week should help, but a year would do the world of good, I think! Some aspedts might still not be as good but other aspects, much better. And those aspects which did not yet catch up, you should check your posture and physical state etc. Mental and emotional, too. Maybe you think and concentrate in a different way than then.

I don't want to write a long post, as you might ignore it because you have too many other long posts here. But this is what I believe, from experience, too.

Feeling incomfortable? From the children too? (not only the parents), well, if you really wanted to, you could be better than any of them (than even they would be) [if you don't have any physical problems, except for re-training], in a year or two from now (I mean gifted children are nothing to be sniffed at, but nor are you!). The question is if you really want to.

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One of the really important things to remember here is that discomfort is a good thing. In life when we feel discomfort in something it is usually a sign that we are stretching our boundaries and growing. I started music lessons at 39 years of age after having reached a sucesful career as a sw engineer. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable it felt to me to sit in front of a teacher with a strange musical instrument in my hand and know NOTHING. I almost quit several times for the discomfort.

Even today, when I go to open mics with my guitar and join other adults, I always have about 9 years LESS experience than anyone else. At first I felt really awkward about this, but I found a happy place in all of this discomfort. I play my simple pieces with respect and love and I eventually have a great deal of fun.

The thing that keeps me going and the thing that you too should focus on is the music. I mean at the very core why do we want to learn instruments in the first place? If your motivation is to be a rock star, a super star or to show off then you will never make it through this. If, however, your motivation is the music, then it becomes easier to push past your discomfort and into the next level. It is easy to serve the music and hard to serve our egos. The music will never let you down.

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+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++=

For fatimam's main problem...

You only really learn, violin or anything else, when you concentrate. You can only concentrate when you're comfortable. So unless the goal here is to get over some performance anxiety issues in group, that time suffering in group is better spent practicing alone or in some other environment, say doing a duet with someone to get the same benefit.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Hi,

I am quoting other people's post to make a point. If I am in your (fatimam's) sitiation I would do as the post said.

It makes perfect sense. You don't need to re-learn your violin lessons. Go slow at first and have music sheet in front of you to start to play. All will come back believe me. /yuen/

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