Should I let the kids switch instruments?

Laurel said: Mar 30, 2012
Laurel MacCullochViolin
Langley, BC
120 posts

I’m both a Suzuki violin teacher and parent; I have been teaching my own kids.

I’m finding, as many others have, that it’s a real challenge to teach my own kids, and they are really not interested in the violin. Never have been, really… I started them both at 3 1/2 and they did it, a la Suzuki, because it was just part of their lives and just what they did.

Now my youngest (age 8) has been asking for guitar. I asked my oldest (age 10) what he would pick if he could; he said “maybe piano”. (Which is better than the “I dunno” that we usually get).

I recently returned to work, as I haven’t been getting enough students to pay the bills… so we’re in a financial position to get them into lessons if they want. Wondering if i should let them ADD an instrument, and keep picking away at Suzuki violin, or if I should let them SWITCH to what they want. What do you think?

Laurel

Laurel said: Mar 30, 2012
Laurel MacCullochViolin
Langley, BC
120 posts

P.s. I should add that we have had them in Suzuki violin with another teacher; things went a bit more smoothly but the enthusiasm wasn’t there.

Paula Bird said: Mar 30, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Sure, why not add a second instrument? I played piano since I was three. My mother let us add the violin when I was 9. There were many times throughout my schooling when I would favor one instrument over the other. I still play both instruments, although the violin is my major instrument. I still perform quite extensively on the piano. Pinchas Zuckerman might be a good role model in this area.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Lori Bolt said: Mar 31, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

A second instrument would be great at their ages. Since you sound like you value continuing violin, you might consider making a “contract” with your children to continue the violin for an agreed upon amount of time (whether an age or level when they can stop if they wish) while adding the other instrument. Explain what the commitment to two instruments will involve in terms of practice, attitude, etc. and if they’re willing ~ go for it!

Lori Bolt

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 31, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

If you go the “contract” route, I would advise on the side of making the contract so that instead of continuing violin for a certain time period, they must continue up to a certain level of advancement (say, graduating a certain book level, or presenting a solo concert of a certain list of pieces).

A time period just means “torture until my time is up”—like punishment. A level is a goal to reach, and the time to get there can be lessened (i.e. a reward of less time) by more efficient practice (which is a good thing).

Lori Bolt said: Apr 1, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Yes~ I agree about the level of advancement being the best agreement to make. Thanks, RaineJen, for offering that thought!

Lori Bolt

Joyce said: Apr 2, 2012
 Violin
1 posts

As a mother of four Suzuki violinists, I have definitely heard my fair share of pleas to quit violin or switch instruments. It is comforting to hear that even teachers struggle with these same issues with their own children!

The use of ‘contracts’, as described in previous posts, has worked for me. In one instance (after a period of much complaining and erratic practice), I brokered a deal with my child whereby if he listened and practiced everyday for 30 days and still wanted to quit after the 30 days were up, he could. After the one month of continual practice, he saw progress and grew in confidence so that he no longer wanted to quit. With another child, I had her agree to continue with her violin through her fifth grade year so that she could experience playing in her school’s orchestra. I knew that the leadership opportunities and confidence she would glean from that experience would keep her motivated to keep on playing.

With regard to switching or adding another instrument, I have found that giving my children a choice in selecting a second instrument (harp, piano, cello) has actually improved their playing and dedication to violin! This has actually led me to a quandary with my one child who chose to start cello. The original intent was to eventually discontinue violin but now she is enjoying it more and is really starting to play wonderfully. My question is—playing violin and an instrument like piano makes sense but is continuing both violin and cello a good idea? I would appreciate any input or guidance anyone might have.

Paula Bird said: Apr 2, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I see no problem with violin and cello as the two instruments. I played all sorts of instruments when I grew up. I just loved music and playing. Didn’t matter whether it was strings, piano, or woodwinds. Or singing too, because that’s an instrument as well.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Barb said: Apr 3, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Joyce, When I began cello I intended to continue playing violin part-time in the school orchestra (I had quit lessons, though), but as I was needed more in the cello section I finally quit carrying my violin to school.

I know, via another forum, a gentleman who played both violin and cello for most of his life—it made him quite flexible for quartet playing and orchestra, as he could fill in where needed.

Laurel, there are some good ideas here. Another option might be as well as beginning a new instrument, change focus a bit with violin. Either switch up styles a bit with fiddling or improv, or focus on playing together as a trio—maybe without worrying about advancing levels, just so that they might enjoy it and keep their current skill level at least. You never know, it might turn the enthusiasm around and motivate them.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Laurel said: Apr 19, 2012
Laurel MacCullochViolin
Langley, BC
120 posts

Just a quick update here—Guitar Boy is now asking to play the drums. Just sayin’. :)

seriously—I’m tempted to let him try lessons from now till the end of June, as it’s a good length of time (not stuck for a school year if the novelty wears off after a month); and what parent isn’t eager to see their kids do something they want? But I’m also tempted to see how long he wants this, to see if it’s just a phase… if he keeps it up through August he could start in September.

What do you think?

Laurel

Julia said: Apr 23, 2012
Julia ProleikoViolin, Piano, Viola
Saint Louis, MO
22 posts

I would recommend percussion lessons for everyone! If you find a really great teacher, all the better! Reading rhythms will help not only on any instrument, but in other areas of life like math and proportional reasoning.

As for both cello and violin—I had a student who chose to do cello in school (as she was too advanced on violin to really enjoy the beginner class). She did fine in school, but it was a little confusing…yet she learned to read bass clef and play harmony, which she still loves. The next year she was allowed to choose band over orchestra (where they did not have levels of orchestra so would be starting over with beginners yet again), so I encouraged her to join the band. She chose the flute because her mother played and could help her. The band experience was incredible—not only did she learn how to count really well (they are usually REALLY good at driving this home in band class), but learned ensemble; the orchestra members were still learning how to hold their instruments by the end of the year. She learned about breathing and phrasing in a way that, even though she could not continue with band (she was made to pick between band and an arts class), the things she learned on flute were indispensable for her progress on violin. [I wish I could have all of my students take band in middle school and then switch to orchestra in high school! And, if I could have a choice about it, I would have them take percussion in band!] When this student turned in her cello (rental), she swapped it out for a viola and I have her play harmony in my ensembles, as well as duets with student who comes after her. She loves it! I try to encourage all of my students to take up viola in addition to their violin.

I just bought a 5-string violin and am thinking that that will become a requirement as it gives so much flexibility of repertoire and only one instrument to practice.

I have let my own son experiment with several instruments in addition to violin and viola. (Viola is a requirement and non-negotiable, though I have been letting him take a break because of some left hand tension issues I am hoping his hand will forget with a break to do other music.) He has tried guitar, percussion and voice. Voice is the easiest to get him to practice. He doesn’t like discipline of any sort unless it comes from him (which it thus far really hasn’t in music), though give him half a chance and he is outside performing for the world. For me, music is part of his education and is non-negotiable…what kind of music—that’s for us to find and enjoy together.

A word of warning—guitarists have different fingernail length requirements. They also hold the neck closer to the way a cellist does (which my violinist son could never quite get). You also are supposed to play behind the frets, as opposed to on the tapes and even though it has been years since there were tapes on his violin, mentally his fingers always wanted to go there. None of these things (except for the nails) should be any sort of issue, but I always find it helpful to have a heads up on potential problems/confusions! Suzuki guitar is really awesome, if you can find a great teacher! (There aren’t that many.)

Good luck!

p.s. I had a contract with my son to finish book 3 before he could switch, so he promptly started playing Vivaldi a minor by ear—with a twinkle in his eye. (I teach in a studio in my home.) Needless to say, we started the search for a good guitar teacher that week.

Elizabeth Friedman said: Jun 11, 2012
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

I just had a student quit the violin in favor of piano (which he was already playing), and to be honest, I couldn’t have agreed more with his decision. He just wasn’t enthusiastic about the violin, and he has a million other activities. At some point, you do have to choose your instrument/art/club/sport (or one of each) if you’re going to put the time in to become actually good at something.

Before he quit, though, I asked him why he wanted to play the piano more than the violin, because he was around early Book 1 level in both. I have had students in the past think that other instruments (especially the piano!) are easier to play, and that’s why they want to switch. Make it clear that the guitar is not easier than the violin, and neither is percussion. Every instrument has its difficulties and joys.

But if there are other reasons—they’d like to be able to play while other people are singing, or they like the sound better, or they like to be able to play multiple musical lines (regularly), or whatever, those are decent reasons. But the caveat here is that then, they’ve made the decision and have to stick to it.

Incidentally, my mom asked a very smart question when I was about 4 or 5: “Which instrument do you want to play?” It wasn’t whether, but which. I chose the violin, and when the moment came when I said, “Mom, this is way too hard,” she just said, “Well, you chose to play the violin, and now it’s my job to make sure you see it through.” Allowing a child to choose their instrument, but then making it clear that they have to follow through on their choice, is a good trade-off I think.

Laurie Girand said: Jan 6, 2013
 Guitar, Violin
1 posts

It appears that your children have been playing Suzuki violin for five and seven years, which suggests to me that they are likely in or above Book 4. The problem with many of the suggestions above is that, as the kids enter middle school, they won’t have time to practice two instruments unless they are heavily committed to both and want to make their lives as much about music as you have. Most middleschoolers, instead of wanting to spend one to two hours a day practicing alone, want to learn about visual arts, technology, video, acting, dancing, computer games and sports with their friends, not spend multiple hours in a room by themselves or their family members. Likewise, their time commitments to homework go up dramatically.

My son played Suzuki guitar for approximately 10 years, after which he has continued with other pieces, having played most of Books 8 and 9, the last in the curriculum. He also “played” (but hardly practiced) French Horn, clarinet, and VIOLIN. My younger daughter started on violin at 5 and has almost completed two years.

There are two challenges with the guitar and piano… First, all practice is conducted alone, and second, if you are lucky, you MIGHT find an ensemble, but in all likelihood, your children will “perform” alone as well. So the social benefits that come from a symphonic instrument, including the incentives to rise to the level of other children, are denied the kids that practice these at a young age.

We were blessed to start with one of the founders of Suzuki guitar, but as we moved from city to city, we learned that Suzuki guitar is concentrated in very few locations around the country. Also, most guitar teachers come to the guitar in their early teens; it’s unusual even to find a guitar teacher who has the empathy and experience teaching young students.

All of this being said, there is a lot of power in switching to another stringed instrument. Suzuki offers a Suzuki Bass curriculum as well. The bass has the same stringing as both a bass guitar (four strings) or the lower four strings of a regular guitar, so you could transition your violinist to a Suzuki bass curriculum and then gravitate to Suzuki guitar. Indeed, you might then get both the benefits of the social orchestra instrument and the more lonely guitar. We found our son was endlessly delighted that all of the guitar experience put him way out in front on violin in the school orchestra. As was the school orchestra teacher. Still, he didn’t practice the other instruments, hardly at all. What little time there was went into guitar.

Drums are a mistake in my opinion, unless your child is determined to be in a marching band. If your children will someday play in school, even small schools, you will discover that many kids already play the piano and the drums. The problem is that orchestras usually cannot support massive piano and drums sections, so your very talented kids will find themselves sitting around waiting for their chance to play the drums on one piece in the school or county orchestra performances.

Whichever way you go, if you can, I’d definitely stick with Suzuki if you can. At these ages, the kids derive pleasure from knowing the same songs in different keys on different instruments, and they pick up subtleties of the tuning and stringing without explanation.

You must log in to post comments.

A note about the discussion forum: Public discussion forum posts are viewable by anyone. Anyone can read the forums, but you must create an account with your email address to post. Private forums are viewable by anyone that is a part of that private forum's group. Discussion forum posts are the opinion of the poster and do not constitute endorsement by or official position of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc.

Please do not use the discussion forums to advertise products or services