Winter Dull-Drums (doldrums)

Winter Dull-Drums- (doldrums)

Scales Aren’t Just a Fish Thing


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Sight-reading made easy – The stems are the color of the string on which the note is played (great when shifting) the circle is the color of the note the sharp or flat is moving toward.  Really amazing right?

by, Carol Anderson

Winter dull drums

I know, it’s (doldrums) but this is just a dull part of the year for so many students who can’t easily get outside due to the weather,  so for them….this month could be considered the dull-drums.

January in the Northeast creates a unique yearly passage I would best define as the ‘dull-drums’.

Your intensely faithful students don’t want to practice.

Others don’t even bother to show up for lessons without calling, or they do call and don’t have a real reason why they aren’t coming to a lesson.

This behavior is really out of the ordinary.  

Respect for the teacher usually extends to not even being late for the lesson.

It isn’t about the teacher.

It isn’t the music or the instrument.

It’s not even the need for a commitment to ‘another activity’.

It is about the dull-drums.Thursday, January 21, 2016

It would be enormously helpful if we could throw them a life-line that would pull them through the dark days of winter a little early;

somewhat like the paper-white bulbs we have in a glass on the windowsills in January.

Here are a few ideas that might be a lifeline :

1- A carrot on a stick.


If parents don’t mind, you could offer pleasurable rewards.

Remember though that rewarding behavior that is already an intrinsic motivation isn’t beneficial and if it is simply an extrinsic (external) motivation it is short-lived at best.

2- Simplify, Simplify, Simplify,


and be practical about what you are asking of the student.  

Keep them on tract.

Have them start a journal of how long they practice, how they feel, what they played.

Download the pdf at the end of this blog to send home with the students so they have a path to follow even in writing their journal.

3- Define and Identify a goal :

goal setting

make it as specific as possible for the stage they are in with their studies. Create short and long term goals.

4- Plan a path

the path to success

Have a timeline.  When do they want to achieve that goal.

goal without a plan is a wish

5- Teach them to visualize

plan the day

What little exercise or group of songs do they need to play each day to improve just a bit?

Ask them, just for the next few weeks, to think about their goals for music at night before they go to bed.  Their minds will work on it throughout the night.

And the next day, they will already be mentally prepared to move forward.  

Encourage them to have a plan.  Write it down.


This is part of the downloadable journal.

6- Overcome procrastination:


Teach the students techniques to eliminate the causes of the procrastination.

The main cause of procrastination is often a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Again, consider helping them simplify by defining the necessary steps they need to take in their daily practice time. This doesn’t mean reduce.  Simplification can be an act of defining what is expected.

7- Help them prepare for the obstacles.

One of the biggest advantages you can give your student to assure eventual success is to help them plan how they will go around what others may call ‘a failure’ but you will call ‘an obstacle’ .

Take the time to have a discussion.

Ask: “What will you do ‘if’. “

Then: “What are a few alternative paths you could take if….?

Talk to the student about how the obstacles can actually be a great ‘teacher’ and will provide a story of success to help motivate others.  

Kids don’t realize that everyone will go through the same ‘short circuits’ in their practice time at some point in their path toward success. 

Remember, failure is on the same road as success.


Kids feel isolated even when in a group. Psychologists will tell you that even the most popular child will feel alone, lonely and isolated.   Ignore what appearances might tell you. I wouldn’t suggest you share your own failures with the student to create a ‘buddy’ mentality. One of my children had a harp teacher that did this. Lessons with her were short lived.

Here is how I would get the student past the obstacles.

I would offer one goal at a time and let the student feel success. ‘Fight only the battles you can win’.  Sounds contrived…and it is.

This means….even with the bow hold.

Some children simply do not have the muscle strength to have a great bowhold on their own.

Use crutches.

If you have to, duck tape their fingers in place.

(Of course use brightly colored duck tape)

Force success in tiny bite-sized pieces.

8- Never be negative,

especially during the winter dull-drums.

think positive

If you have to correct the student, be sure they understand the difference between negativity and constructive criticism.

You have heard it many times but a negative attitude will drain the precious energy that could otherwise be directed into building their skills.

A positive attitude is essential when hoping for success.

Negativity doesn’t keep you realistic.

It just spends precious energy.

Envision with them the feeling of reaching their goal.

Henry Ford said “If you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.

I don’t want to get real ‘Power of Positive Thinking’ here but…..

Positive thinking does breed positive results.

9- Somehow bring happiness into the lesson.

happy face

Don’t be so serious.

You can laugh, not at them but with them.

I mean, when they say, “Santa must make a quick stop in China before he gets here because all my presents say they are from China.” and the child is totally serious, your acting ability is going to be tested.

10- A bright cheerful warm (here in the Northeast) room with surprises to see everywhere they look, will also lift their spirits. Some people feed off of what they see with their eyes and if you have a curiosity in the room, this might be a little ‘bait and switch’ from their classic January dull-drum behavior.

It’s not the distance you have to go to get to the top, it is what you are bringing with you that holds you back. Explore what mental and physical baggage they are carrying is and see if they would be willing to dump it. I like to talk to them about “anchors”. I say, “ok, today we are going to start practicing every day for two whole months. We start today. There isn’t a yesterday here. Just day 1. Let’s see if we can do it”, and we mentally set an anchor on that day as the beginning of a new practice schedule. Everyday also means Saturday and Sunday. I tell them to leave their instrument out and pick it up even on the weekend so they don’t miss a beat. But there is a beginning and end. Hopefully, it will have established a willing attitude, teachable spirit, and better practice ‘design’ on the days after the challenge.


There are four kinds of motivation:

1.- Play this song and get a present

2.- Play this song or my teacher won’t teach me any more

3.- I really want to play this song

4.- I don’t want to play this song.

Only one of these answers creates positive, sustainable motivation.

Help the student to decide which type of motivation moves them and decide what the cost of holding onto their old patterns would be. Again remember, it’s not the distance you have to go but how you choose to make the journey that will determine how long it takes or if you ever get there.

Scales Aren’t Just a Fish Thing

Motivation Practice Charts

Click to download


Motivation Practice Charts and Journal


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