Alma Mater Blues 2nd Section
I have a young girl who is not quite 7 years old. She is in the second week of level 2 and I introduced the 2nd section of Alma Mater Blues to her this week.
She went through 99% of Level 1 like a champ. She did everything she was asked to do with a mostly good attitude and always came to class prepared. She is in a private lesson with me just because that is the way it worked out. Getting her into a group just never quite worked out schedule wise with others.
When I introduced Alma Mater Blues in level 1 to her she started “bucking” immediately. She absolutely HATES the “Here’s Humpty Dumpty” rhythm. She is precocious but this is usually not a problem since I have always been able to keep her on track. She never gave “opinions” on anything and was always amiable and nice and would sometimes say “this is hard.” She always went home and did her work (thanks to mom’s devotion to the program). I have tried to praise her often for her hard work. When she says “this is hard” I simply say that she is doing well and I KNOW she will do her usual good job. If she needs any additional help beyond what “Mr. Neil” goes over on the student video, she and Mom can come by and I will clear up any problems.
She managed to learn Alma Mater Blues (had no problems with any other blues songs) but it is not being played with her usual zest. It is obvious that she doesn’t like the song and is avoiding it to a degree. She practices it, but not at the level she practiced EVERYTHING else. We have gone over this rhythm pattern every week and every week she says “I hate this Here’s Humpty Dumpty thing!” I asked what she “hated” about it and she just said she just doesn’t like “Humpty Dumpty” – the nursery rhyme. Period.
I have talked to mom about this and she simply asked “is it really that important she learns this particular song? I mean she’s not even 7 yet and the blues really don’t mean that much to her.” My response was simply that ALL of the blues pieces are important components of the overall program and yes, this particular song is as important as any other song.
I have a pretty strong personality and “claiming my territory” is usually not a problem. I have never had a problem doing that because I do it with my own kids and in my own life. My classes are fun, full of singing and praise and we are learning a lot together (majority are shared lessons.) All of the parents are supporting the process and the kids are all coming to classes prepared.
Up to this point, she was enjoying the program and enjoyed showing off. I have had many times where she has “tested” me and my patience with her in our private lesson. I genuinely like this young lady. I don’t enjoy being “tested” as much as she has but I have (I believe) stood firm.
I guess my question is this:
Has anyone had any experience with kids under 7 who come to something in the program they just don’t like and just simply refuse to open their minds to it? She can do the rhythm pattern down on the keyboard but not without a lot of sighing and starting over and over again. Introducing the new pattern in the second section…she completely shut down! “Whatever” “I don’t care.” This is new for her. I’ve never seen her shut down.
This is the first time mom has really “bucked the system” with her comment on “how important is this really?” She has been a quintessential testimony for the method and is sharing it with everyone! (Out of state, but sharing none the less).
Also, when she returned this week and I asked her to play “I’ll be There” she said, “I was confused.” I asked to her show me what confused her. She played it perfectly. So, I playfully teased and said “confused?” “Well, I just played from my memory of last week.” This was the first week she didn’t practice AT ALL! This really surprised me! I know mom was out of town (unusual) but when there is a change in their schedule she always manages to fit some practice in.
When I asked mom about it she just simply said, “she didn’t want to practice.” Mom has also said, “this was bound to happen eventually.”
I’m not really sure what to do at this point. I can see I’m being tested AGAIN. I am not pushing hard on it, but she is getting tired of going back to it every week. “I have it! Why do I have to keep playing it?” We go over everything else all the time and she has never reacted like this. She has gone through the program at a good pace (not too fast and not too slow), and I (and mom) have been very pleased with her progress and her confidence.
Suggestions on how to handle this problem? Do I continue to move her forward? How much of an issue do I make of this? If I move forward too much we will come to section 3 and she isn’t getting section 2. Do I skip this until she matures a little more or is this letting her have her way?
I have several students that just do not like the Blues. I have read this is true with many of you out there. I have never made this optional for anyone else because everyone else is in the 11+ ranges. I have just a few in the 8-10 range and don’t make it optional for them either. This is the way it is and that is it. She is the youngest student I have and up until now, has been very easy going but precocious.
I am not an expert in child psychology. I really just don’t know how to motivate a precocious child who has dug in her heels. I’m ok if they choose to leave the studio over playing something she “hates.” It would be a shame to lose a student who has done well and seemed to enjoy what she was doing over 1 song. Thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.
Karen G., Tennessee
Back when I first started teaching, before the “relationship conversation” was put out there as a conversation to have, I began to notice that many, if not most of the kids I worked with who just really LOVED Level 1, always wanted to practice, never balked at anything, etc. began to hit a wall in Level 2. After seeing this happen a few times, I began to prepare the parents to expect this and things started going more smoothly. This was BEFORE the recording with the relationship conversation… of course when the relationship conversation recording came out I knew immediately what it was that I had been observing.
I still see the valleys in Level 2, but it rarely becomes a major issue because I make sure the parents are prepared. I think in general, this happens at this point (at least with my students) because, at least in part, the novelty has worn off. After 2 – 3 months of lessons, it’s now more of the same old, same old and even work! This is where the parents need to decide if they really are committed to the program. It’s easy for them to be the coach when they don’t have to do much, not as easy when the first valley hits. You really have an opportunity to help mom learn how to help her daughter. I wonder if she (the child) has a history of quitting things after a couple of months and/or when things get a little hard and are no longer ‘fun’.
I know you say this little girl is getting everything easily (but you didn’t mention how many lessons she has had)… and it may be she is.. but it may also be that she is feeling pushed or pressured…. quiet unintentionally, I am sure. (And there isn’t necessarily a correlation between how they feel and what they can do.) Is she a perfectionist? My students with perfectionistic tendencies often balk at moving forward because they so dread a possible failure that they would rather not try at all instead of try and not play it perfectly the first time. In those cases, I make sure I break the songs down into such tiny bites that they can’t HELP but succeed.
You might also try acknowledging something IS hard when she says it is hard rather than telling her you know she will do her usual good job. She may feel that you are not hearing what she is saying when you just tell her you know she will succeed. She may be balking in an effort to get you to really HEAR what she is trying to say. While I’m sure it’s not your intent, the underlying message, I believe, to a comment like that (i.e. that you know she will do her usual good job) is that you have certain expectations for her to live up to. If she is feeling at all uncertain, this could be compounding the problem.
The longer I teach SM (I have been teaching for about 6 1/2 years now), the more I am beginning to realize just how critical it is to get the generative and creative side going from the beginning. I think the more they play around with composing and improvising, the more they see this as ‘their’ music. For instance, I have found that if I play Honey Dew on the lower end of the keyboard while they improvise on the upper end, they gain a new delight in what they are able to create and even those who feel they are utterly incapable of playing anything on their own soon discover that they CAN make their own music. So if you aren’t having her compose/improvise, I’d start spending time on that.
I’d also ask her to find a different way to play the songs she already knows… she might play with her hands 2 or 3 octaves apart, up higher on the keyboard or down low, or she might decide she wants to cross her hands over each other. Again, the idea is to get her to take ownership of the songs and keep them fresh.
I wouldn’t give any ground on Alma Mater Blues. If she is objecting to the actual phrase, find another one. You might even make a game out of it, see who can come up with the silliest phrase with the same rhythm or have her write words to Alma Mater Blues and sing while she plays!
I don’t have a LOT of under 7s in my SM program, but I do also teach Kindermusik and see about 90 kids under the age of 5 a week. I find silliness often works when other things don’t. Spur of the moment games can also help. For instance, one thing that comes to mind when you say she wouldn’t try the rhythm for the second section, I might move away from the keyboard and have her play a copycat game with me… where the ultimate goal would be to tap out the rhythm in the lap, but a step at a time… for instance, I’d tap both hands together on my lap, have her copy it… Then do that again… maybe even a third or fourth time… Then I’d tap both hands followed by the left hand.. have her copy…. etc. until she has the whole pattern. You might take turns with her, too, let her tap out a pattern for you to follow… then you tap out a pattern for her to follow. That might be all I do in the lesson. The following week, I might repeat the pattern game and then depending on her receptivity, either repeat the game, or show her how it relates to Alma Mater Blues. Does that make sense?
While some kids at this age truly will ‘test’ you, often, they are just trying to communicate with you discomfort with something. I really enjoy the challenge of working with the younger kids because it really keeps me on my toes. They can really motivate me to keep looking for new ways to keep things fresh.
I hope some of this helps.
My approach is to be honest: you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it. Free the child from having to like the blues, and instead build her a metaphor that makes sense to her about why we do some things even when we don’t want to.
Christine M., Australia
I have had a seven year old boy tell me that he hated Jackson Blues, and wouldn’t learn it – or so he said. This particular boy has a few emotional anxieties that dominate his world so I just let it go on the first week. He didn’t realize that the three chords we did after his announcement were the right hand for Jackson Blues. The next week he played that right hand for me while I played the left hand of Jackson Blues – he was surprised to see he could play half of that song already but still hated it…. and we continued on like this for weeks, doing the left hand on 1 one week (while I did the right hand).adding it on IV the next week etc.
Every lesson he’d say “Oh no not that one again I hate it Hate it Hate it”, So I’d say “Ok you can hate it if you want but play the left hand for me anyway and I’ll do the right” – you get the jist – playful but firm…and then we’d do something else so the pressure was off.
Well – this week he said he likes Jackson Blues and then he played it by himself, unasked, and perfectly too. WOW!!!!!!
My conclusion is that it was something he perceived as too hard – and he was scared of it, he didn’t believe he could learn it. Saying he hated it was a great cover for him – it meant if he failed it was because he hated it – not because he tried and it was too hard for him. This week was also the first week that he leapt in with confidence at the next new song, and in fact asked for the first time “so what’s next?” instead of “Not another song!” . It happened to be Bishop Street Blues (I couldn’t believe my luck at the timing and was very careful to only introduce some of the right hand so we didn’t go back to him feeling fearful) I’m hoping that he is finally trusting me that the songs I’m teaching him are songs he will be able to learn. (So far he has had 13 lessons).
Well, that was my experience of “I hate this song” – and I have found that Alma Mater Blues is a pretty big step for our young students – it sounds really hard, and is a little more intricate than the others and needs a little more effort and practice. This might be the first time this child has found something hard in this program and she’s shocked and discouraged – hating it is a logical reaction to this – as well as a great cover for her without admitting that she’s finding it hard. She’s maybe just not ready for that extension yet – You could try playing it as a duet in the lesson, swapping sides, and going on with other songs….Don’t make an issue of it, but keep it alive in the lessons at least. Maybe one day it won’t feel too hard and she’ll be empowered by the song instead of threatened by it.
I hope this helps. My experience is limited, but I hope sharing my experience with this boy can help. Good luck.
Beth S., Tennessee
I’ve had a couple of students who encountered a real problem with Alma Mater. One adult in particular just hated it along with all the other blues. We have worked on it for weeks at a time, no, actually months. She’d get the rhythm in the lesson but then go home and mess it up again.
I used to think a student had to get a song perfectly before I could go on, but now I do it differently, especially when there’s a big snag. We just keep working on it every week but continue to move forward. If I had insisted she continue with Alma before going on, I would’ve probably lost her as a student, and she is one student I really enjoy, despite the challenge.
In keeping it in the homework, but still moving on, she was able to still be enthused with a new song, and eventually Alma came around. I didn’t know if it ever would, but just last week she played it and it was actually quite good. She still doesn’t really like the song, but what she learned was a life lesson, not just a song. She used to say that she would never be able to play it right. I continued to contradict her and say, “Oh, yes you will!” despite being unsure myself. Now that she has conquered it, she is more confident with the next challenge.
Cindy B., Illinois
Three things I noticed in your account –
1st, the red flag – was when the Mom replied about this non practicing thing being inevitable. If Mom believes that non-practicing is inevitable, she lacks the vision we need to impart to the parents, and she’s stuck in the reading based perspective, where non practicing IS inevitable.
2nd – get rid of the humpty dumpty lyrics and substitute “Here’s Al-ma Ma-ter”
3rd – make sure she’s using the video effectively. Most bright students find that they can get through level one without ever using the video. Unfortunately, at some point that becomes impossible, and if the video skills aren’t developed when it’s “easy” – the student will falter and fail.