Music Teacher's Helper Blog

What Would You Do? – Lydia (#1)

This is the first in a series of fictional scenarios about teaching music.  I hope you enjoy them!  Most enjoyable and helpful of all, though, will be to read about “what would you do?” — your thoughts and those of other teachers.  If you have any hesitation about adding comments at the end of the story, please see the earlier post about “Adding Your Two Bits! How It Works“.

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Your new student is 6 years old.  Her mother has told you that Lydia has been so excited about learning this instrument that she couldn’t wait for her first lesson. You welcome them into your teaching room.  Lydia is holding her mother’s hand and trailing behind her mother’s leg.

You chat and get to know each other a little.  Everyone is in a good mood, and Lydia seems pleased to be there, but is quiet and shy.

“Lydia has been just fascinated with this music and asking to take lessons for a year.  She’s so excited to be here,” says her mom.  “Come on Lydia, honey, open the case and show your new teacher!”
But Lydia is kind of hiding behind her mother’s chair and shakes her head silently.

You open the case and talk about the instrument and its parts, and the secrret compartments in the case.  You see Lydia is paying attention, but when you ask her to pick up the instrument and get acquainted with it through a simple exercise, she retreats behind her mom’s leg again.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” says her mom.  “She was so looking forward to this.  Come on, honey, this is your chance to learn.   Come on and try it!”

You decide to demonstrate and play some music.  You take time to play excerpts from several different kinds of pieces or tunes, a couple that Lydia will soon learn, and a couple that are more advanced but that are beautiful to listen to.

You notice that Lydia’s dark sparkly eyes are peering at you, listening intently all the while.

You try again to encourage her to pick it up and try a few simple moves, but again she retreats, and her mother can’t convince her to come out either.

You glance at your watch, and 20 minutes have gone by.

What will you do with the next 10 minutes, and what do you think you’ll suggest for next time?

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. Valerie

    Well, Ed, sounds like you were doing great in a tricky situation. Personally, I would get out my percussion instruments and see if she could be persuaded to beat out a simple rhythm or just have fun trying different ones. Or put on a recording. Or just sit and talk to her and ask her about songs she likes and maybe sing one together.

    I guess I would also keep a close eye on whether maybe most of the enthusiasm is coming from her mother!

  2. Fiona

    Sounds to me like this little girl would benefit greatly from a lesson without mom. She is just clinging to mom and not being part of the action. I would at this stage of the lesson maybe play some more music to her, or preferably play a musical game (which I would hopefully have on hand preparing to teach a beginner) and even if I had to play it with Mom not the child we would play it for the final 10 minutes. Then I’d ask Mom for a quiet word and explain that for the next lesson I’d like to teach Lydia on her own. After that second lesson the teacher can then assess whether or not mom is going to be there for future lessons.

  3. steve lord

    From my experience, some students play best when the teacher is out of the room.
    In this situation, I would excuse myself to use the restroom and tell Lydia she can play by herself until you get back.
    Take 3 or 4 minutes to listen from outside the practice room and note what (and if) she is playing. Come back in the practice room and tell Lydia you “noticed some wonderful music being played” and “if she could show you how to play it”. She becomes the teacher and you the student.

    Also, I STILL get uneasy if someone asks me to “play something”. It’s too vague, in my opinion. “Play a C scale” is something I know how to do and can do it for sure. “Play me something” is something I MAY know how to play but am not sure at what it means. Too vague.

  4. Ken Rhodes

    I would ask mom questions and talk with her. I would not even look at Lydia very much, switching the focus away from her in the direct sense. If she speaks up, acknowledge it in an encouraging manner, but don’t put too much of the spotlight on her until she’s ready for it. I would play through the first piece of music that I would normally teach a beginner, showing the page and how to translate the written marks on the instrument (i.e., “See, this means I put my fingers here for this note…”). Give “mom” enough information to be able to tell if “Lydia” is doing well or not, and then let them go with that as the practice instructions.

    I have a daughter who is very much like the description of “Lydia” and separating her from her parents when she’s not ready is extremely difficult to do in situations like this. I like Steve’s comments about “play something” being too vague.

    I would consider inviting mom to bring Lydia back during another student’s lesson. I would try to pick a student that is as close to Lydia’s playing level as possible, but who isn’t going to be bothered by having an “audience”. Having her observe without being required to interact with “strangers” might pique her interest enough to draw her out at the next lesson. If she is bored watching to the point where she wants to leave after 5 minutes, then maybe the enthusiasm really is all mom’s and not her.

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