By Jamey Mann
A couple week ago in Alexandria, VA, I had the privilege of taking Suzuki Guitar books 2 and 3 with Andrea Cannon. At this year’s institute were many returning young students and some new faces. The student’s ages were 6 to 11 years old and they were playing in books 2 through 5. Most of our observation of master classes and theory lessons was similar to the year before, however the ensemble rehearsals, with the students all assembled, were rocky and at times hard to observe due to some poor behavior and rehearsal etiquette.
In many cases I have seen classrooms and rehearsals dissolve into chaos because of poor behavior, however this instructor maintained complete control over the group not letting the slightest infraction pass by. While observing the rehearsals one would think that the performance at the end of the week would be a disaster, but the students were able to pull off a fine presentation. This is no doubt due to the years of good performance and practice habits found in the Suzuki method and the attentiveness of the instructor.
The following are a few things every instructor should address when working with an ensemble to maintain control:
- Spatial awareness- This is not so much a behavioral issue as it is a safety issue. It is important to remember that young students are not totally aware of their bodies at all times or their instruments. Student must be spaced out so they cannot on accident/on purpose hit another student or student’s instrument. If students are friends and are trying to get closer to each other, be sure to remind them of their instruments or separate them.
- Proper Posture- It may seem like something small, but a student not using the foot stool properly can be disastrous. Not only does it distract other students and make for poor habit, but it can also lead to a damaged instrument and/or a poor performance. If a student is rocking the foot or the leg is not straight up and down the footstool can easily fall over causing the student to lose control of the guitar.
- Noodling- This is a term used by guitar teachers referring to the quiet playing a student is tempted to do while the teacher is addressing the class. This is distracting for the other students and disrespectful to the teacher. This is where the teacher dished out some of the harshest punishments. When the instructor needed a student to practice a part in rehearsal she would allow the others to noodle in their guitar bubbles, but only until she was ready to move on as a group.
- Have consequences for poor behavior- Young Children can easily spot an empty threat. These consequences do not have to be twenty lashes or anything, but just enough to make the student realize they are doing something wrong and need to adjust. The punishments for this class ranged from having the offending student buy candy for everyone in the class for minor infractions, (which did happen once) to having a student stand alone in front of the ensemble while the rest played. The next corrective measure for misbehaving students was to stand next to their mom while the rest of the students had their class. After these measures, I observed students falling quickly in line.
Despite the feeling that the rehearsals were going nowhere the students gave a solid performance. It is easy to be tempted to let little things go when working with a young ensemble, but the side effects of letting that happen can lead to a disastrous rehearsal or concert. Teaching student’s good habits in rehearsal is also a skill that they can carry with them through other aspects of their lives; one that will only be beneficial as they grow into adults.