Rivalry between sisters playing at the same level, ages 6 and 8

Christopher Souza said: Dec 28, 2012
Christopher SouzaViolin, Viola
Bangor, PA
1 posts

Hello Teachers and Parents,

I have two violin students from the same family performing at the same level. Both girls are currently working on Waltz in Book Two. Karina is the older daughter (8 yrs old), and she started lessons 10 months before her younger sister, Daria (6). Daria caught up to Karina’s level about four months ago. Both girls are two of my most talented students. Comparitively speaking (tsk tsk!) they are leading the pack in their peer group.

They have a very supportive mother who practices with them faithfully at home. Their success is due, in great part, to their mom’s dilligence.

Mom has recently let me know that there is a problem developing at home regarding some rivalry between the two girls. To clarify, Karina is feeling sad that Daria is “better” now. Daria is not feeling conflicted. She is an easy-going, fast learner. Karina is a high achiever, but seems to lack an emotional connection to the material and the process.

Do you have any advice for me as their teacher? For Kathy, their mother?

I was thinking so far that it is important that each girl has something special to work on to help them both develop their own unique set of skills. Inevitably, they both need to learn good technique and become familiar with the shared repertoire. What can you suggest? Are we on the right path?

Thank you in advance!
Chris Souza
Tannersville, Pennsylvania

Chris Souza

Anita said: Dec 29, 2012
 40 posts

Hi, I’m a parent of two violin students, ages 8 and 10. They started playing violin at the same time, but 2 years apart. My youngest is now within 2 songs of his older sister (Two Grens, Book 2), learns easily by ear and is highly competitive and motivated to “catch up” with his sister. His older sister’s strength is her discipline in practicing and her ability to read music—she’s much better at it than her brother.

It’s hard to manage sibling rivalry, and I try to focus on each child’s strengths. One good thing about their being so close to each other in the Suzuki Books is that they can play together.

I have them do duets—not the Suzuki duet books, but say Long Long Ago, Book 2 version. One plays the theme, the other the variation, at the same time. We do this with all the “doubles” songs too—Etude, Perpetual Motion, etc. One plays the “theme,” the other the doubles version. The challenge is to start and stop at the same time and stay in beat with each other’s playing.

There are other songs we do from our note reading books this way, as well—one plays the “Pupil” part and the other (usually my daughter) the “Teacher” part. Or Go Tell Aunt Rhody—one does the Suzuki version, the other “fiddles” it up by adding double stops, slides, notes, slurs, different bowings, etc.

They love it! It’s so much more exciting than playing alone, particularly for review songs. They learn how to drop out of a song, jump back in, keep playing even though the other is off beat or made a mistake on a note, that kind of thing.

And they have to work together. Before each song, they’ll confer—what speed are they going to play at? Who’s going to play what part first? They have to pay attention to each other’s playing, and adjust accordingly (or not), or it all gets off-kilter really fast.

I’m also very interested in how other parents, with children close in age and in playing ability, handle this issue.


Kiyoko said: Jan 25, 2013
 95 posts

Chris, I’m so glad you are addressing this! My sister and I were Suzuki violin students growing up and had similar issues. It still haunts our relationship today. We work through it, but it has set the tone for certain things in our adult lives that we will always have to be aware of. I don’t know that my mother was aware of how much my sister felt she had to “catch up” and I felt I needed to “stay ahead” even though we shared a lot of what I learned when I was younger. My sister was two and a half years younger but started a year later agewise. For the most part, we shared the same teachers until I think I reached my tween years. Different teachers did relieve some of the pressure for me.

We did enjoy playing duets when we were younger but as we got older, we stopped playing together. I think as much as we shared, it was also good when we each had our own things going that emphasized our strengths. It helped us build confidence independently of each other, otherwise you get into the situation where the siblings have a harder time finding success when they are separated. So a bit of both maybe?

I wish you much luck in helping these siblings establish a healthy rapport that will last them a lifetime!

Brigette said: Jan 31, 2013
Brigette Weisenburger
Suzuki Association Member
Aberdeen, SD
28 posts

I have had similar situations in the past. Do they have lessons together? If that is the case, I will try to always point out how the younger one was “just so lucky that she had big sister/brother to listen to before beginning lessons…” and explain how it helps one to learn so much faster when one has that kind of prep. I also try to really be pointed about emphasizing their different strengths and weaknesses, to get away from the standard of “what song we’re on” vs. just applying ourselves to making beautiful music and realizing that no matter how old or what song we’re playing, we all have good points to enjoy and bad ones to improve upon. Right?

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