Lost motivation and wants to cut back on lesson time

Hannah said: Jan 19, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Falls Church, VA
9 posts

I have a 9 year old girl who is in book 3 in an hour lesson. We study Wohlfarht, Rhythmic training, I like to play scales by Samuel Flor and the group study list. She always loved and enjoyed learning and playing the violin. She was a very easy student and easy learner-nothing in her violin learning was very “hard”. As we got in to more reading and book 3 with more advanced techniques, the issue of losing motivation to practice and to learn the violin has occurred three times in the past 12 months. The mother is scared that the child is complaining that the violin is not fun anymore and avoiding the practice because she is stressed out. Each time the issue was raised, mother and I worked out on the work load. It seems it only worked temporarily since the issue is keep coming back in few months. This time, the mother is asking for (temporarily)

  1. cut back on the lesson time from 60 minute to 45 minute lesson.
  2. cut back on the load of the “books” we are studying
  3. cut back on the practice time (I told them 45 min is minimum)

What do you all think?
Is an hour lesson with scales, rhythm, Wohlfahrt, book 3 and group repertoire too much for a 9 year old?
Should I still be trying to make things “fun”?

Also, I noticed that the mother talks about the importance of “balance” of life. When I talk about excellency in studying violin, parents seem to think that I am “pushing” the students to be a musician. Parents see appreciation for music separate from striving for excellence. (I admit that I had not started this student with proper observation period and parent education sessions)

Lastly, I think that sometimes parents don’t understand what it really takes to learn the skills on the violin. Since this student never had “hard” time in learning the violin with me, I feel that the child AND the parent are used to going on the easy road and now that there are skills that requires more repetition of practice, they both are overwhelmed and the child feels like she’s failing.

Any comments on your experience and wisdom will be very helpful.
Thank you!

Sue Hunt said: Jan 20, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

When my daughter was this age, we went through this with her teacher. I found that practice became bad tempered and panicky, with trying to get through all the practice tasks. We switched to a new teacher, who cut down on the assignments. Her playing improved and she had more time to be a child and have fun.

There is an enormous amount to learn, from using review pieces as studies for new technique. They become like Sevcik studies—same notes, new bowing. When you use Wohlfart etc, she has to spend time learning new fingering for each new technique.

We all learn more willingly, when we are having fun. Try a few games to sweeten boring repetitions, but make sure that she understands exactly what to look for in a correct repetition.

Merietta Oviatt said: Jan 20, 2013
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

Honestly, at her age and stage there’s really no harm in cutting back the lesson. Like Sue said, see if you can combine some things. How about giving a new rhythm each week with scales—combining them into one exercise? I have a transfer student who feels that if they aren’t working on Suzuki pieces, they aren’t progressing. It took me a LONG time to convince them that learning scales and doing etudes can really help them in their playing (the student is now in book 6). I have had to compromise quite a bit of what I would normally do—one thing is that we rotate and do scales and rhythms one week and then etudes and other techniques the next week. She gets her review in group class every week. By doing an every-other-week thing I at least get the technique in, which I know is necessary, and the students feel that they are getting what they want without being over-worked.

Talk to the mother. Agree to cut the lesson back and cut the load back (perhaps look into the every-other-week thing?). Make her aware that at some point, as she gets older and advances, she will need to get back to an hour lesson. I would encourage them, when she is advanced enough, to get into a youth symphony program. When she’s around other students who are all playing scales, etudes, and are in full hour lessons—she’ll be much more likely to be ready and willing to move there on her own.

I hope my two cents help!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
[javascript protected email address]

Lindsay said: Jan 20, 2013
Lindsay LogsdonViolin
55 posts

Why not just drop all the “extra” stuff and focus on the Suzuki book? When I was that age, I hated scales and rhythmic exercises. I just wanted to play the “good stuff”—real pieces. It was Suzuki’s intention that the nuts & bolts of violin playing be taught through the pieces themselves, so eliminating all the other things you are doing shouldn’t really hurt. Your student will still be learning the necessary skills by focusing only on the Suzuki book.

In my experience, when a pre-teen/teen student starts losing interest, the most important thing is to stop that trend in its tracks and do what it takes to get the enthusiasm back. Have more fun in the lesson. Set short-term goals to work towards. Set up opportunities for public performance. Introduce games. Joke around. Give plenty of encouragement and praise! Make your studio a place she wants to be :) When she gets over the hump, slowly start adding more of the “extra” back in.

And yes, balance in life is very important, especially for kids who enjoy playing violin but not enough to make it their entire focus. :)

Lindsay—Violin teacher, homeschooling mama of four, small-time publisher

Paula Bird said: Jan 20, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

OK, here is another wrinkle to consider. Every two years, about the same time as a physical growth spurt, the children go through a mental period where it appears that the brain wires have disconnected. In truth, they have. The synapses pull apart for a few months. I don’t understand all the reasons for this, but as a teacher I have lived through it many, many times. Not fun! This is the time when kids look dazed, they answer “huh?” if they verbally answer at all, and the parents report to me that their child acts as if aliens abducted them during the night. After a few months, maybe 9 months, all is back to normal. This roughly happens every two years, generally during the odd-numbered years, although I have had students who hit this period when they were in even-numbered years. The first time I see it is around age 5, a mild case, then age 7, 9, 11, 13, and that’s generally the last of it (until they reach menopause, I joke with the moms). The worst years, absolutely the worst years, are around age 9 and 13. Absolutely the worst years, I cannot stress this enough. I can ask a 9 or 13 year old how much 2 + 2 is and they will take about a minute to puzzle through the answer. I kid you not. I have parents hopping up and down on the couch with frustration during this time period. I myself go into super patient mode, because in a way it is sort of funny.

Anyway, you said the child was 9. Many times I have shortened lesson times during these periods (age 9 and 13 for sure!) to 30 minutes to get us all through this time period. Tighten things up a little bit, bring in the parameters, give your student a lot less to concentrate and focus on, and maybe throw in a few extra goodies, like a fiddle song or show tune (Phantom of the Opera, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars have been ultra popular Christmas gifts this year). Just get through it all.

I understand your desire to get the student on the right path, but the child is 9 years old. Some kids and parents just do not want to be the next concert artist on the horizon and would have no interest in reaching that level of ability. I still work with them on that path because there are many life lessons that coincide with music study, but I try to be ultra-sensitive to when things are intruding into the music study from other areas.

I read somewhere, I believe, that a small percentage of music students actually choose to follow music as a profession, and the number was the same for Suzuki students as it was for traditional students. I remind myself that not every student will have the same love and desire to pursue music beyond high school as I did. In fact, I did not make that decision until I was in high school, which is probably the typical age.

Them’s my 2 cents.

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

G said: Jan 21, 2013
G Ordun
Suzuki Association Member
Vienna, VA
21 posts

Thank you Paula!
It explains so much of what is going on with a couple of my students. Do you know of any resources that I can use to communicate this to their parents?

Paula Bird said: Jan 21, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts


I haven’t found that article source. My husband showed it to me decades ago (he taught 13 year olds). I just announce it to the parents with the tone of voice of great authority (in the manner of Cesar Milan), and most parents are relieved to hear that there is an explanation. If I ever find out the source again, I will let everyone know.

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

Aurora Adamson said: Jan 22, 2013
Aurora Adamson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Saint Cloud, MN
6 posts

The Gesell Institute’s Child Behavior book has a chapter on essentially the same concept.

Barb said: Jan 22, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Very interesting, Paula! I had a student who seemed to go through that funk every winter—i wasn’t sure if he was seasonally affected, but maybe those were his growth spurts.

Just Googled a bit and found this about the young brain. It talks about pruning in the brain just before puberty at age 11/12, but I know some kids are hitting puberty earlier, so you could back that up for some. And maybe there is some pruning at each growth spurt?

This paragraph doesn’t address the topic at hand exactly, but talks about hard-wiring the brain:

Giedd hypothesizes that the growth in gray matter followed by the pruning of connections is a particularly important stage of brain development in which what teens do or do not do can affect them for the rest of their lives. He calls this the “use it or lose it principle,” and tells FRONTLINE, “If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”

My search led me to something else… I’m going to start a new topic on the General board.

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

Hannah said: Jan 23, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Falls Church, VA
9 posts

Thank you all for your wisdom from your experience!!
I just emailed the mother and we found a common ground.
I should really dig more in to using the review pieces to build the new technique.
I am going to check out Sue Hunt’s book to get my study started.
Thank you all again!

Janie said: Jan 23, 2013
 Violin, Recorder, Viola
Glenwood Springs, CO
16 posts

You sound like a wonderful teacher. I am curious to hear how this child progresses with new ideas in place. Please let us know what changes you make and how the girl responds.


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