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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's Fascinating!

The first thing I do with a new student is work to extend the student's concentration and focus. In order to do that, I find and build on whatever the student is already fascinated about. With a young child, I start out with a staring contest. We can laugh and giggle, but we cannot break eye contact. While this goes on, I am counting aloud. The minute the student breaks eye contact, the game is over, and we note how long the student was able to stare continuously. This particular game builds concentration and focus very quickly. Parents report to me that they play the game at home in between the first and second lesson and reach up to 100 seconds. With particularly young children or children with more kinesthetic interaction with the world, I will add some sort of physical touch to the game. I'll go back and forth touching our noses respectively, which keeps the student focused on me and on my touch. It's the same game but played a little differently.

The staring contest is similar to peek-a-boo, which is a game that universally delights babies and toddlers. When parents play this game, they can help to build their child's ability to concentrate and focus by delaying the peek-a-boo part of the game as long as possible. Have you noticed how babies behave when they are asked to play with car keys or other noisy objects as they sit in a restaurant high chair? The babies quite often throw the objects to the floor and then delight when the parents pick up and return the keys. A parent could play the fascination game here by delaying the return of the object or moving the object around slowly like an airplane.

Another game is to ask the student to sit quietly and listen carefully. Then I pluck my A string and ask the student to raise his or her hand when the sound has completely gone away. My students usually raise their hands rather quickly, but I hold back raising my own hand until the note and its vibrations have completely disappeared, which is sometimes as long as 10 seconds later than my students hear. Another quiet sitting activity is to ask the student to be quiet and then turn the head to look directly at whatever sound he or she hears: the hum of the electric lights above, the whirring of the air conditioner, or the sound of moving traffic outside. This is a good activity for anyone of any age. This activity also helps to calm down an excited child.

Any time a child is fascinated by a toy or puzzle or book is an opportunity to build fascination and concentration. Encourage any activity that fascinates a child into sitting and studiously looking at or working with something. Try to keep extraneous noise at bay; nothing destroys concentration better than simultaneous noise or other activity.

With advanced students who are weaker in concentration, I assign a scale routine that requires a great deal of concentration in order to play correctly. I use the "acceleration" scale exercise found in the Galamian scale book. It takes a student quite some effort to be able to play the exercise correctly: 24 notes going up and down in slur patterns of 4-6-8-12-24 with a half note = 50 on the metronome. I believe that slurring 4-6-8 is a slow enough speed for the student to be able to use his or her left brain and evaluate performance during execution. Slurring 12 and 24, I believe, uses the right brain and requires the student to "let go" of conscious thinking and allow the practice and training to take over. I find that when a student is finally able to master this exercise, then his or her concentration and focus has noticeably grown stronger than when the student began learning the exercise.

I sometimes encounter students who are unable to play the same bowings and fingerings on a consistent basis. I believe that this problem stems from weaker concentration and focus. In these cases I forbid the student to practice more than 10 minutes at a time. I encourage the student to do many sessions of 10 minutes daily, but I ask the student to set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes and actually stop playing when the timer goes off. The student should then put the instrument down and do something physical: use the restroom, drink water, sit down, stand up, turn around in a circle, cross the room, or whatever the student can think to do that takes 10 seconds or so. I also instruct the student to stop playing and do one of these things whenever he notices that he is no longer paying attention, in case the student's mind wanders more often than every 10 minutes. This advice also works for the wandering mind during study time. If the student stops paying attention to the material under study, I tell her to stop at that moment and do something else briefly to help get the focus back. My students report that this works quite well. Within a week my students notice a great improvement in their concentration and focus.

What kinds of activities or advice to you recommend or give to your students about building concentration and focus?

1 comment:

  1. Oh! Bless your heart! This was exactly the advice I needed today! My 4 yo is having trouble looking where he is supposed to while playing. This should target the problem tremendously!