Balance vs. Excellence

Hannah said: Feb 2, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Falls Church, VA
9 posts

Dear teachers,

Do you ever have parents who advocate for the “balance” in kid’s life with many activities and your expectation for excellence in violin playing being blamed for not being able to keep their “balance”?

I have a 3rd grade student in the end of book3 who excels through violin repertoire pretty quickly. As the repertoire got advanced, we had added supplemental technique books (scales, reading book, and rhythm)
Also, there were advanced techniques that required more careful attention from the parents. (shifts, vibrato, colle…)
The parent told me after the lesson that I should slow down on the pace. I found out that the student practices alone and has not enough time to practice (3 days a week). Both parents are working and told me they have not enough time to be a practice partner. I asked about prioritizing the activities to make more time for violin but the parent emphasized on “balance” She said she doesn’t want the child to excel only on one area but be well rounded. The student is in Gifted and talented program, has one sports and the violin. When I mentioned “priority”, I sensed from the parent that I crossed the line.

I do understand that young children these days are VERY VERY busy. I do not know what to do! How do you keep up with expecting excellence within their busy life? How do you educate parents from the beginning so that they understand you are not expecting excellence on violin because the violin is the only most important thing in the world? This is not the only family who has brought up this issue. So I am trying to look back at myself if I give that impression?

Ariel said: Feb 6, 2012
Ariel Slater
Suzuki Association Member
Hopkinton, NH
12 posts

As a child, I progressed at the pace it seems this student has. My parents, both musicians, somehow managed to keep a “balance” in my life as well. The truth is, an hour—or 2—of violin practice every day is not actually that much. It sounds like a lot to most parents, but I’ve found—with myself, and with my own students—that once the practice routine is set, there’s no problem. Nobody complains that being in school for 8 hours a day keeps their child from being well rounded!

It doesn’t sound like this student suffers from too many activities (most of my students who are actually too busy are in dance classes, sports, art, orchestra, and violin lessons, and I’m not surprised with those students that they literally can’t find time to practice.) It sounds like what this parent needs is “balance” in their own life. For a busy parent, finding the dedicated time to sit down and practice with their child is challenging. Perhaps this parent already feels guilty that she doesn’t have time to be the practice partner she wants to be, and is upset by the idea that this means she isn’t “prioritizing” violin.

But an 8 year old, especially one in a gifted and talented program at school, and beginning Book 4, is old enough to take some responsibility for practice. Maybe you and mom can strategize which things the child can do on their own, and which ones need supervision. That way, the violin can come out every day, regardless of parental availability; and on days when mom is able to prioritize violin practice, she can be the partner she—and you, and her child—need her to be.

It’s also possible she doesn’t realize the level her child is playing at requires this kind of dedication. If she isn’t a musician herself, she’s not aware of the time it takes, as we advance, to maintain our skills—not to mention build new ones. It’s often shocking to non-musicians how much time it takes, especially if the child is used to advancing quickly without having to practice very much.

I’ve found that Book 4 is a HUGE transition point. Before that, the songs are short, and it’s easy to use review pieces to help build technique. Now, everything is longer, there’s more supplemental “non-Suzuki” material a student needs to play well and at a level that’s comparable with non-Suzuki peers, and we’re really facing REAL music. My kids who can make the push through the Book 3/4 transition are usually set, but it is a big transition; they have to decide if they want to keep going, because if they do, it’s going to require more work. The “easy” part of learning—the fundamentals—are in place, and each new technique will now take a lot more time, just as the pieces will continue to increase in length.

Good luck!

Hannah said: Feb 9, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Falls Church, VA
9 posts

Dear Ariel,
Thank you so much for your well thought-out response. I really appreciate it.

Lori Bolt said: Feb 10, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

MissC ~

Did you see that this week’s Parents as Partners Online has a webinar on the subject of balancing busy lives? I have not seen it yet, but it may have some help for you or the parent. I agree with Ariel’s opinion that it may be the parent who is actually too busy or not understanding the time needed for effective practice at her child’s level. With some good communication, you and the parent can probably work out a schedule which allows for mom to oversee practice on certain days and student to work alone in between.

If you ever have parent meetings, this would be a great topic to discuss -

Lori Bolt

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