What Would You Do? – Janina (#9)

I hope you enjoy this series of fictional scenarios about teaching music, and find it at times thought-provoking, familiar, and even humorous.  We look forward to reading comments by yourself and other teachers at the end, about “what would you do?”

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Janina is a young student, a beginner.  She has shown a medium level of interest in her lessons.  At lessons, she is pretty cooperative but she does like to talk about school and other things.

You work with her on your beginning repertoire but she is very slow to pick up on it.  She is upbeat but somewhat distracted.  Her mother brings her to you for lessons at the same time she brings Janina’s sister for lessons on another instrument with another teacher.  It is not clear yet how much personal interest Janina has in the instrument.

The first melody you started working on with her does not seem to be clicking too well, so you decide to simplify her tasks, and switch to working on a song she knows well.  She slowly picks up on the song “Where Is Pointer?” which is the same as Frere Jacques.

She makes progress and is able to understand the phrases of the song but needs the fingering chart to follow along.  She can’t retain anything without reading it at this point.  But after a few lessons, she does have the song memorized and can pick up and play it when asked, though not without some starts and stops and reminders.

You move her into a new song that she knows well – Jingle Bells.  This one comes along, again very slowly.  She doesn’t seem to mind going at a slow pace.  You’re not sure yet if she is moving slowly because she’s methodical, or apathetic, or distracted, or busy, or…?  Janina likes to chat and seems to enjoy her lessons.  Still, you have a feeling with her and her mother that things are a little fragile.  They might suddenly decide she’s not moving along fast enough, and give up before you get a good sense of her needs and style.  For now, though, she keeps on keeping on, and so do you.

Suddenly, things change.Her sister is playing in the school recital.  She knows that your students are playing as well.  She wants to do it, too.  You tell her she could join in with others of your students and play together if she’d like to learn one of the tunes they’re playing.  She really wants that.

You work with her once more on the original tune that she couldn’t get at the start.  Now she makes fast progress.  She picks up and remembers phrases.  She sees how they fit together.  You even move her into the second part of the tune and she gets that.  All in one lesson, Janina is focused and recalling the whole tune.

The recital is taking place this coming weekend.  Until this latest lesson, you knew Janina could not possibly be ready to participate.  Now she is totally on fire about having learned the tune in this lesson, and she wants to play at the recital.  You have not had a chance to review with her after a few days or a week, to see if she will retain and work on what you did at the lesson.  At the recital there is a runthrough before the performance.

You could take a chance and have her try the runthrough, at the risk of her not being able to handle it and having to drop out of the recital at the last minute.  Or you could play it safer and commend her on her progress, but explain that it is too late to include her in the recital, even though she’s desperate to be part of it.

What would you do?


Please add your comments below; if you have any hesitations about it, please see the earlier post about “Adding Your Two Bits! How It Works“.

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]


  1. Elissa Milne

    You encourage her and tell her that this is the first of many recitals she will perform in. The recital is the only thing that has motivated her to practice, and it sounds as if she will enjoy herself no matter how good or bad she is. I wouldn’t be letting anyone prepare for a recital in a single week in the first place, but if that’s the set-up you have to honour her hard work over the past few days.

    This student sounds as if she is motivated strongly by social pressure and has little internal motivation to learn new things, and as a result I would think it unlikely that she would continue lessons for more than about three years: these are the girls who get to 10 or 11 and care more about the length of their fingernails than they do about playing the piano. But in the meantime, she should be encouraged to have as many positive experiences as she can!

  2. Gretchen Saathoff

    I would have her play in the recital. If she needs help during the recital, I would be available to provide it. She can have a good experience w/o being perfect. After the recital, take it from there!

    Since she has shown a spark of interest, keeping her out of the recital is unnecessarily disappointing.

  3. Chris Wolf

    Congratulations! You found Janina’s motivation! Keep carrots like recitals in front of her and keep her busy. Perhaps prior to this, she didn’t see the point?

  4. Alanna Kurt

    As the recital has clearly provided sudden motivation to her, I wouldn’t dream of telling her she couldn’t do it – it would probably eliminate any motivation completely.

  5. Suzanne Lichtenstein

    I agree with the other commentators: Social recognition is this student’s motivator. Have her play in the recital–no matter how well she does, commend her, and tell her more practice would have made her performance even better. Then, book her for monthly performances at some easy venue, whether nursing homes, church, monthly Progress Recitals (I like to call them Progredis, Latin for “progress”), etc. This girl appears to need social contact to want to play. She would also benefit from being taught to play by ear using chord theory, so she can play spontaneously at parties.

  6. […] follow this story, you should first read Janina’s story (#9), if you haven’t already.  Below are a few scenarios that might result from what […]

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