Turning Lemons Into Lemonade (With Students)

When teaching lessons, especially online lessons, there are going to be unavoidable THINGS that are bound to come up, and it is my job as the teacher to handle the situation as best I can, and perhaps even steer it in a different direction altogether.

I had a 10-year-old student who came to our Skype lesson with a very badly out of tune violin. We’d discussed the process of tuning before, but she wasn’t quite comfortable enough yet to perform it on her own. So, as per usual, I gently talked her through how to slowly turn the pegs while listening to the string to hear how its pitch changes as it gets either tighter or looser. Usually this is no problem, but on this particular day, her pegs were being very stubborn and sticking. She was not able to turn them, and she was not happy about it. She began to cry and exclaim, “I can’t do it!” It was at this moment that I realized I was stumped. As a teacher, this is the last place you want to be. We could not continue the lesson with her violin severely out of tune, but on the other hand, I was not going to make this poor child struggle on the other end of the camera while there was nothing I could do about it. So, I had no other choice but to reach deep into my bag of teacher tricks, and get CREATIVE. As my student was discouraged and disheveled, I said to her, “I have an idea. Lets stop the tuning for today. Do you like scavenger hunts?” Her tears dried immediately, and she nodded her head ferociously. I proceeded to have her play the G major scale that we’d previously worked on, and go on a “scavenger hunt” for each correct note in the scale, on her out-of-tune violin. Was it a bit confusing for her ear? Yes. But since she was able to view this exercise as a game, we were able to have a bit of fun and make the most of her strings being out of tune. AND, it doubled as a great ear-training exercises since she was listening for each ascending pitch. After we’d finished with the scale, I had my student come up with her own melody by piecing rhythms and pitches together using her out-of-tune strings. I think she enjoyed that even more.

At the end of the lesson, I told her that there is no need to worry about trying to tune her violin herself again, but that she should ask her mom to take her to their local music shop and have someone else tune it up for her before our next lesson.


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