11 yr old Book 7 kid wants to quit

Teresa said: Dec 17, 2012
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Aloha fellow teachers-
I have an 11 yr old student who is at the Book 7 level and has been playing for 4.5 years. In addition, he has taken piano lessons for 5 years and plays very well. He took up the flute this past summer.

This past weekend my studio had it’s annual Holiday Concert. One of the selections was the Vivaldi Concerto for 4 violins in B minor in it’s entirety. He played violin 2, and nailed it!

With that said, the night before our concert, his Mom told me that she thinks that he needs a break. She’s at a total loss as to what to do because she doesn’t want him to quit at all. This all came as a total shock to me. Mom said he told her “I have no life”. (we had rehearsal the night he wanted to go to a Christmas party) In the past 2 weeks he’s asked not to play at rehearsals because his fingertips hurt. As a person who has had overuse injuries myself, I was concerned. Mom thinks it’s an excuse not to have to practice.

I’ve noticed since returning from Institute this past summer, his playing has been getting sloppy. At institute, his bow hold was the teaching point. He has had a long habit of having his thumb nearly opposite his pinky despite my many approaches to correct it. For about a month after institute, he was doing pretty well keeping his newly acquired bow hold under control. Then it slipped back to the old way even with multiple encouraging reminders from me at his lessons. He even admits that with the correct bow hold his tone is much better.

His vibrato is so wide it spans almost a whole step. I think he uses it to cover up poor intonation or perhaps thinks it is “more advanced”. We explore “expressive/artistic vibrato”… slow/fast/wide/narrow, etc. He knows that vibrato is not “one-size-fits-all.

Up until recently, playing violin has been somewhat easy for him. Now that he has to work at it, he’s not interested.

As the repertoire continues to become increasingly difficult, he is resistant to fine tuning his technique. He wants to do things “his way”, will reluctantly correct things at lessons but will not work on these things during his own practice time. The next lesson comes and the old habits are unchanged.

I have noticed as soon as he starts his lesson he looks at the clock repeatedly. Mom says his schoolwork has also suffered as the work gets more challenging as he grows up. He likes playing the flute. I think it’s because it is new. Regarding the violin, it seems like he doesn’t care anymore.

His family saved money so they can go to the Matsumoto Convention for which they are registered. Everything is paid for and now they just don’t know if they should really go. He also needs a larger violin and expects to get one soon.

My fellow teachers, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE? I really don’t want to lose this kid. He has unlimited ability and the students in the studio look up to him as a role model. I am concerned if he quits, that will give the message to others that when the going gets tough, it’s ok to give up.

Thanks to all in advance.

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Caitlin said: Dec 17, 2012
Caitlin HunsuckViolin
Merced, CA
41 posts

I would try taking 3 steps back… but don’t let him know. Try some “new” repertoire that is a level below him. Solos for Young Violinists, or Fun with Solos might be a good fit. As for him not wanting to practice or move on, it has NOTHING to do with him being in Book 7, it has to do with him be 11. Junior High kids tend to get lazy. No clue why. I would suggest slowing down, fine tuning him (but again, DO NOT LET HIM CATCH ON) and try keeping him interested. As for time consumption, maybe let him know its OKAY to not make 100% of things, but if he wants to play the “fun stuff” with the other kids, he needs to. And for his mom, try to convince her its important to stick this out. If he starts the “I want to quit because this bores me” thing now, there will be no end to it. We are building young children into adults with character and beautiful hearts. Making young violinists is secondary.

Sue Hunt said: Dec 18, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

It sounds to me as if he has lost his focus. With focussed attention, practice will take up a less of the time that he could be spending “having a life.”

I think that making practice ultra specific, with sequential instructions for what he is expected to do, will help. Too many kids get into the habit of mindless repetition, when left to their own devices. When there is a parent helping, the kids let him or her do ALL the thinking.

I also have an 11 yr old boy who was going through something similar and needed serious refocussing therapy. At the beginning of the autumn term, I sent him home with fewer assignments. Each point was written on a separate card, with EXACTLY what I wanted him to do, how to do it and how many correct reps. I also ran a serious campaign on doing everything at practice tempo, (the speed at which it couldn’t go wrong). We would go through the cards at the subsequent lessons and he would be praised for any signs of focus and hard work.

It took several weeks for him to realise that I was serious, but I just kept on at it. Now he realises that everything he is asked to practice has a specific focus point. He is showing signs of being much more engaged in the process and of being proud of what he is accomplishing. Oh, and his playing is improving every week.

Teresa said: Dec 18, 2012
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Thank you Sue and Caitlin for your thoughts. This Holiday concert we had last week was pretty intense. The reminder that we are building these children into adults with character and beautiful hearts is helpful.

Sue, I like your idea about having practice be ULTRA specific, fewer assignments with an ideal practice tempo.

Here’s a new little twist that I just found out last night at a chamber music get-together…. he is going to formally start FLUTE LESSONS with one of my colleagues! I let her know what was going on with him. Her comment was something like, “If he doesn’t have a life, why is he starting up a new instrument?” Good point.

Another point. He wants to go into music as a career.

IF this family continues with violin, I will definitely try something like Solos for Young Violinists with very specific practice points.

Keep the comments coming!

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

Jennifer Visick said: Dec 20, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

My first thought is that if I had to practice piano, flute, AND violin, at age 11, I don’t think I’d be very happy about it either; and certainly not all of the instruments would get practiced with equal enthusiasm.

I encourage most students to focus on ONE instrument; two if you exceptionally like the tone quality of both instruments; and I usually tell parents that switching instruments is OK, but not often, and only after reaching certain pre-set goals on the first instrument.

Don’t ignore the possibility of overuse injuries… someone who’s gone through 7 suzuki books in 4 years, AND who’s seriously practicing two instruments during those years, might very well be on their way to some kind of physical problems, especially if they’re refusing to correct posture/balance issues.

Is he in any kind of youth orchestra or chamber music program?

Jeanette said: Dec 20, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Brossard, QC
1 posts

From time to time I have students slacking in practice and their motivations decrease. What helps to bring them back up seem to be a goal that is challenging. It could be playing in a special concert, enter a competition or prepare for an exam. The students suddenly rise to the occasion!

Giving them some new repertoire also helps but they have to be a “novelty” to the student—be it a modern composition that captures the ears or something that presents a challenge: longer; more advance; fast and rhythmic (boys like that) or duet.

This past term, I had two students age 6 and 8 played at a special multi-studio concert in our area; and two girls of age 12 and 13 played a duet of the Sugarplum Fairy. Both events helped to boost their motivation and practice up.

Does anyone have similar experience?

Teresa said: Dec 20, 2012
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Hi RaineJen-
Yes, he is in Youth Orchestra and is an integral part of my studio’s chamber music program.

I had a meeting with the family last night with the student present. He told me he didn’t think he was progressing much because at our recent concert he was placed with the “little kids” (that is, the kids his own age that are beginning book 4.)

He also said there were social things he wanted to do but couldn’t because “mom said I have to go to rehearsal”.

So as it all turns out, the kid was in overwhelm and thought he was being held back because I had him double parts for our concert with less experienced students.

Another factor is an older boy (15) that plays and also used to go to the same school is attending High School this year. My 11 yr old student misses playing music with him as much as they used to be able to do.

Regarding the flute, he says he likes it better than french horn. I had forgotten that he plays that too, but not as seriously as violin or piano.

Happy Holidays to all. And THANKS AGAIN!

…if you listen to the music, it tells you what to do…

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