student refuses to bow

Nora Friedman said: Nov 30, 2012
Nora Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Brooklyn, NY
36 posts

Hi all,

I have a new student who refuses to bow or sing, but is completely willing to do everything else. Four-year-old cutie-pie. Her dad is a love and totally engaged and ready to support and help out. He and I did 6 lessons prior to her coming to the lessons. She has been refusing to bow in group class with her group teacher as well, and he tells me she will not sing at school either. She definitely appears on the shy side. Do you recommend that I just teach the father in her presence and wait until she comes around? Help a teacher out:-)


Alissa said: Nov 30, 2012
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

Have you asked the student why? What did she say?

Alissa Rieb

Nora Friedman said: Nov 30, 2012
Nora Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Brooklyn, NY
36 posts

yes. She didn’t know. I asked her if she was afraid she would fall and she said no. Then I asked her if she felt like it was silly and she said yes. I brought her over the light switch and explained to her that bowing was like turning on the violin light at the beginning of the lesson, and off at the end of the lesson. I told her that i think of the bow like the covers of a book and the book is all about violin. Things just don’t feel right without it. I also showed her how the bow was built into her rest position and violin setup, thinking that maybe she would see its importance. Nothing. And the weirdest part was that she was totally compliant with everything else. I am stumped. My gut is telling me to continue and not stop because she refuses to bow. Thoughts?

Adolfo Rene said: Nov 30, 2012
1 posts

hi, a great salute from Guatemala City, your questions are so interesting, i¨m begining the guitar method in Central America, but i need to know something else, Thanks for your comments!!

Phillipa Burgess said: Dec 1, 2012
 Violin, Recorder, Piano
Springfield, OH
5 posts

Perhaps you might encourage her to get used to bowing in a different
situation. One bowing/listening game is to have her bow forward if she
hears a major chord, bow backward if she hears a minor chord, hop up and
down if she hears a staccato chord, and so on. (You could also based the
bows on the different rhythms, songs, dynamics, or any other skill that she
is/has worked on.) Then perhaps her bowing at the beginning and end of
lesson can become an extension of the game where she has to listen to see
which bow to use based upon what you play. Hopefully this will lessen her
resistance to a plain old regular bow.

On Sat, Dec 1, 2012 at 12:15 AM, SAA Discussion


Carrie said: Dec 1, 2012
 60 posts

I’m going to say go with your gut.

Having said that, I seem to remember reading something about Dr. Suzuki not teaching a child until they had bowed. Wasn’t there a story of one mom who brought her child to lesson several weeks in a row before Suzuki did any teaching because the child refused to bow? Actually, he was teaching the first very important lesson: to obey. How can we teach a child who refuses to do as we ask? When I give a trial lesson to a 4 year old to see if she is ready for lessons, the main criteria that I am looking for is: will she follow my instructions? If she refuses to bow, I tell the parent she is not ready. Each time the parent has seen to it that the child then bows. The child then knows that the parent expects her to follow my instructions. If the child doesn’t follow the parents instructions either, I give them a paper that explains how to teach a child to follow instructions.



Lori Bolt said: Dec 1, 2012
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

Has the child been in group lessons where everyone else is bowing or singing? The example of other students may help, and they’ll all be doing it together so she’s not the center of attention. The bowing/listening game would be fun in a group.

You could assign her the bow as the only assignment for a week or more.

Lori Bolt

Paula Bird said: Dec 1, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
404 posts

I agree with Carrie. I would not proceed until the child followed instructions. Maybe a game of copy cats to start out. I explain the bow is done because all musicians bow when performing as a thank you gesture to the audience. At the start of the lesson it tells the teacher that the student is asking, “please teach me,” and the teacher’s bow is respect offered in return (”thank you for coming, I wish to offer you my teaching”).

Then I ask the parents which one if them role models this “shy” behavior. Once a patent understands that root cause, things shape up. If the child will not bow, they are not ready and I say do. I offer my lesson to the parent instead.

This fall I had a new one who refused to have a lesson unless he had a real violin. His mom has the lessons instead, and he watches now. He does well in group classes, but one-on-one is too much pressure for him. He participates more and more each lesson. Of course, one reason mom came to me is to learn how to be a better parent overall. She had no idea how to create desire to learn in her child.

Sometimes the “shy” behavior is a control mechanism. I ignore it and move on to the parent instead. The child isn’t ready. Give lessons to the parent until the child then asks to participate.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Michelle McManus Welch said: Dec 1, 2012
 Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts

I always instruct students that the bow is saying thank you to the audience as they are thanking the performer with their applause. I’ve never had a problem after I’ve explained it that way. I don’t start and end the lesson with bows as I teach many older students as well in several different environments, BUT I have them practice their bows after a piece at some point in each lesson so they will be ready for recitals and concerts, and always practiced bowing in group classes. I teach them a deep long bow to be more graceful (counting to 3 slowly), and the children seem to kind of always enjoy the ‘up with a smile’ part especially! I sometimes have students hum instead of sing if singing seems to be an issue. If I have an especially shy student, I teach the parent, and always ask the student if they want to do the activity first- then teach the parent. This usually works like a charm with bow games first usually. I then ask them if they want to hold the violin while I play one of the Twinkles for them and have them give a tiny stuffed animal of mine a ride while they do so. Sometimes I have the student ‘teach mom’ and that sometimes works well too.

Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Caitlin said: Dec 3, 2012
Merced, CA
41 posts

If your gut says move on, then maybe you’re right. I would not let it seem like there isn’t a bow. At every lesson have her stand in resting position, say let’s bow (go a head and bow, you can’t see if she doesn’t at this point if you are doing it correctly ;) And move on to the next point. End the lesson the same way. Talk to the group lesson teacher. Maybe just have the group bow and at some point peer pressure may kick-in (Now she is the silly one NOT bowing when everyone else seems its normal). Which may also be why she is not bowing, this is not “normal for her.” I always point out the “dead-on” bows in the recitals to my students at the next lesson, and tell them if they had a good bow too (admit it, it really does make the performance look complete when they nail the piece, bow and exit). In a few weeks when this “she’s not bowing” issue is distant, maybe explain to her what the Suzuki bow means. I have always been told it meant this between teacher and student:
Teacher: I am ready to teach you
Student: I am ready to learn
(after lesson)
Teacher: Thank you for learning
Student: Thank you for teaching

Katherine said: Dec 7, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

I have a student diagnosed with selective mutism that I started with in August. He has never bowed for me, and there are also a few other things he refuses to do. I don’t know enough about the condition probably, but I do understand that children w this condition have severe anxiety in social situations that for most children would be routine, and that their response to this is typically mutism, avoiding eye contact, etc, essentially completely shutting down. It can be frustrating b/c at times I am not sure if a refusal to do something is a control thing or if he really just can’t do these things due to overwhelming anxiety. While it is an impediment to progress I do want to keep trying to work with him as I think the experience could eventually be very positive for him, but I do find I have to modify expectations. He attends group lessons too, but sometimes refuses to participate or participate fully, but will observe. I would love to hear about any ideas for working with a child this severely withdrawn. I do like the idea of giving the lesson to the parent when the child is not responsive.

Celia Jones said: Dec 18, 2012
72 posts

Bowing can have enormous cultural significance. My daughter went through a phase of not wanting to bow because “at school violin group they don’t bow”. Her best friend begged for a violin “lesson”, and would do anything but bow, saying “my brother doesn’t have to bow when he has his violin lessons”. Several relatives who saw my daughter perform home concert for them, they all commented on her bowing. They seemed to feel that bowing is only for very advanced performers on a stage, that you aren’t entitled to bow if you can’t play at least the Vivaldi A minor. And the non-Suzuki teachers at school literally squirmed as they talked about bowing, I think they were expressing that same feeling. I explain it to the kids as “Suzuki method is Japanese. Japanese people bow before lessons. If you learn karate, judo, taekwondo or ju-jitsu you have to bow. Same. And no lesson without a bow.” The kids are very happy with this explanation, and the adults too.

Hi Katherine, I have some experience of children like that. I was interested to see what others would suggest, but no-one answered, so for what it is worth:

For a child this withdrawn, getting out of their house and into yours is an achievement, so gently say “it’s good to see you today”. Note his attendance and say something like “you were here on time every week this term”.

The bowing thing may be to do with interaction, he may be prepared to bow to the room, like in ju-jitsu class students bow to the dojo (training hall) as well as to the sensei.

The eye contact thing can become a source of stress itself, if the child has teachers or relatives who say “look at me when I am talking to you”. It may feel to the child like someone his holding his head and pushing it away physically, however hard he tries to look towards you. Same with the eyes, like being paralysed with fear. He may perceive direct eye contact like a physical pain. He may be okay about looking at your face if you are not looking at him. That may be hard for you to imagine, but if you can accept it, and find a way to handle your lesson bearing that in mind, you may find paradoxically that one day he is looking at you quite naturally. Or not, but has still learnt from you.

Giving the lesson to the parent as a proxy is wonderful, it lets the child learn in a safe way, then he won’t have the added stress of a wasted trip. A child like that may respond very well to written instructions and to video instructions.

Kiyoko said: Jan 25, 2013
 95 posts

Does anyone still start teaching bowing by doing toe touches instead? What if it was not called bowing, but just a different activity? I think we used to even pick up objects (maybe her favorite stuffed toy?) when I was learning to bow as a Suzuki kid. Once she gets comfortable with it, then slowly transition to a bow?

I’m Japanese by descent and I still feel weird bowing in a cultural context, but am completely comfortable bowing with my violin. Go figure!

(Not a teacher, just was a Suzuki kid and now parent of a little one I hope to introduce to a Suzuki instrument when ready.)

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