Bad attitude. How can I get 5 minutes of quality time!

Erika Yb said: Jan 23, 2013
6 posts

I have a 3-year old starting piano. This will be her third week.
She has been listening to the repertoire 4 months prior to starting classes, and she loves it and sings all the songs with the CD or without the CD. She listens to other classical music and she loves it!

She is generally well behaved and with good manners for a 3-year old, but when it comes to practice piano she exhibits a bad attitude (unwillingness to do what she has been asked to do).
She goes to preschool and she does pretty well, so it is not a matter of not following instruction, paying attention or doing tasks other than playing.

When I ask for discipline I am always firm and I am in control of the situation, but with the piano it always ends bad. I ask her to do something in the piano and she does the opposite over and over. (she does understand)

I understand the loving part and not to push the kid. I am OK if all she wants to do is 5 minutes. BUT how can I get 5 minutes of quality time!

Today I simply closed the piano as I didn’t want her to practice wrong things. But then what? She goes away like if nothing happened, and I am not punishing playtime or anything as I don’t want her to hate the piano.

She gets the rhythms, the finger numbers, and recognizes the piano keys after two weeks of starting, so she is ready for lessons, but how do I enforce practice in a positive way?

Thank you so much

Sue Hunt said: Jan 24, 2013
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

It’s sometimes difficult to deal with this when you are a caring parent and really want your child to benefit from music lessons. Your child, on the other hand, won’t begin to understand the seriousness of this, but will inevitably be aware of your anxieties and of her power in the matter. Well done for just stopping when she won’t cooperate.

The first stages of learning to play an instrument are very important. Just sitting still at the keyboard with good posture can be a strain, when you are a lively young kid. Making and keeping a good hand position add another level of complication. Then there are the intricacies of moving the fingers.

It is perfectly natural for a child to act out, when a child feels that too much is being demanded of her.

I would cut down practice to one very basic task and to no more than 5 minutes. At this stage, achieving good playing position may be enough. It is always possible to fit in another micro practice later.

Can you make a lucky dip with a number of cards which say Playing Position (with something on which to focus, like straight back/ feet flat on the foot rest). Also make several with activities like run on the spot/ roll on the floor/ roar like a lion for a count of… She will feel empowered by thinking that she has some say of what she going to do. Try these 6 Free Games. She will be more willing to do something which is fun and dynamic.

When you cut the practice down to the amount that she is prepared to do, you will be teaching her to focus. If you overstep the boundaries, she will quickly learn how to avoid engaging in practice. Remember, you have years ahead of you.

Paula Bird said: Jan 24, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
404 posts

Tell us more about what the child is like, her learning style, and her personality style. This information may hold the key to the answers that you seek. Also, what is this child like outside of the practice situation? I’m not talking about preschool, but about participating as a family member. Does she do what she is asked to do, does she boss her siblings, does she hurt the dog, talk a lot? What is she really like as a person?

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

Erika Yb said: Jan 25, 2013
6 posts

Thank you for your comments.

She does not have siblings, but she is kind with the other kids. No fights, not pulling toys, etc. She has learned to share, but faces the reality that others may not want to share with her.
We have a dog older that she is. She doesn’t play with the dog but respects the dog just fine and considers the dog as family.
Generally she is really nice well behaved with the typical 3-year old tantrums once in a while. She likes to approach adults and talk to them.

The learning part is interesting. She is a fast learner and you can tell because she uses what she learns immediately, but if someone starts asking to see how much she knows about something, let say counting the numbers or speaking in another language, etc, she stops responding and makes things wrong on purpose. She doesn’t like that.

She wants to do things by herself and sometimes she rejects any help. She does like and feel good about learning things, but so far learning has been through play. If I am in the mode of teaching something more conventionally she becomes silly and responds silly…

She can’t stand me correcting her in the piano, or the clapping (for rhythm) or finger exercises. She won’t allow me to grab her hand and put it in the right position. If I say for example that the rhythm on finger 3 was not right, she starts all over again from finger 1.

She starts doing all the wrong things that I corrected earlier on purpose. If I say play gently, she keeps playing hard and loud. I do try to mention all the good things.
There are no tantrums, though. She remains very calm but with the bad attitude.
She doesn’t leave the piano until I say so. I do have to do a lot of convincing to get her to the piano, though.

This is not a pretty scenario for me and I worry that I made her go into that silly mode because I was impatient with her at the beginning.

For the first time she asked me yesterday to play with the piano. I said that she could play with the piano but that that was not practice. She said if she could play loud and silly, and I said that because that was just playtime that she could do that.

Michelle McManus Welch said: Jan 25, 2013
 Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts

Maybe she could “teach” you? You could do all the things wrong that she knows how to correct, and she could help you do them right. Also, maybe she could do a “concert” for grandparents, dolls, friends/relatives and maybe that would help her be more serious?
I’ve had parents say, “Mrs. W needs you to do it this way,” and demonstrate the proper way for them to copy, and that seems to work well. I would think a lot of copy cat games might work well with her.

I don’t mean to be harsh when I say this, but would you like it if she grabbed YOUR hand and put it in the right position? I think maybe that maybe demonstration and then copying (maybe taping the lesson or the teacher playing something) and a lot of games may make learning fun again.

Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Sue Hunt said: Jan 26, 2013
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

Just a few thoughts:

1 Bright kids sometimes need a lot of encouragement to practice a task many times correctly. They don’t see the point in wasting time on repetition when they could be doing something new and interesting. She needs something very specific on which to focus.

2 Small children will react badly to accepting help, because they are so often prompted to learn to do things by themselves “like big children.” They see accepting help as evidence that they are still babies. Talk about being on the same team.

3 I always ask permission before physically correct a child. “Please would you give me your hand.”

4 When helping her, you could pretend to be “Mrs Messy” and gently move her hand into the wrong position. You may find her resisting you and moving back into a good playing position.

5 Noticing the good things that she is doing is more important than telling her what’s going wrong. A gentle commentary of these is very powerful. Just saying what you notice, will tell her that she has your complete attention.

Jennifer Visick said: Feb 26, 2013
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1076 posts

Some 3 year olds may need a less than 5 minute practice session. One point does not always take 5 minutes.

MaryLou Roberts said: Feb 26, 2013
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
SAA Board
Suzuki Association Member
Ann Arbor, MI
316 posts

I can sympathize with you…’s hard to get on a positive learning path, and that is just what this early stage is about. I have seen very bright children not want to do these beginning steps. Passive resistance happens, and we have to really search into why it’s happening and how to turn it around. Doing things wrong on purpose to be sill means ________, and you have to fill in the blank for that day, and try something.

If wiggling is her thing, turn on the cd and hop over pillows to the beat, or tap/clap with her like pat-a-cake. Get her physical/musical sense going. Then sit down for some quiet repetitions, the back to play.

Another good practice is storybook practice. She does one good repetition, you read one page. She gets involved in the story, and forgets about feeling controlled.

I can say it’s worth the effort to connect with your child, and it’s a great challenge! It’s not what she knows, but how she feels about it that is important.

Phankao said: Feb 26, 2013
 128 posts


My boy started piano just before 3yrs old. It was quite an unexpected move as I’d not planned to have him learn piano at all, but it so happened that I came across a piano teacher and his trial lesson with her was very positive and the impulsive actually signed up on the spot. But as we went home, I started thinking “what did I get ourselves into? We need to PRACTICE now??!!!!” (horrors).

From that moment, I resolved that I would not, for a start, refer to it as “practice”. I gave it some thought, and tried to figure how I could make it part of “playtime”. His favourite was vehicles, so I made use of these in “practice”.

Cringe Time : I used his wooden tracks on the piano keyboard! And his trains/cars ;P Some of you must be cringeing at this thought. But well, it worked.

Can your child read, Erika? Well, even if she can’t, maybe you can still make “task” cards and tell her what’s on the cards. I wrote out cards with the “tasks” that my boy needed to work on and placed them on the vehicles on the track that was on the keyboard. The card sorta covered the vehicle. To uncover each vehicle, he needed to do the task on the card. After all the tasks are completed, my boy could move his train down the track across the keyboard.

Here’s a video of him where you can see that he has 3 task cards. Very simple tasks since he’d just started his formal lessons at that point in time. Those 3 tasks probably took less than 5minutes to complete:

We had different variations of games. Sometimes, we just put the cards there, and he uses ONE vehicle to move from one “Task Station”(card) to the next.

Sometimes, I would also let him put little animals on the track, or on the bookstand as his “audience”, and he would be “performing” for the animals. If he played poorly or with poor attitude, I would even turn the animals the other way to say the animals are so sad that they decided not to listen (hence, turning their back on him. hehe—and I use the word “backside”, which tickles him).

Another variation of the game was that each task completed, he could bring that car/animal to “STAR” station:

There were other times when I used the task cards to relate to pieces of a puzzle., so to complete the puzzle, he has to complete what’s written on the task cards.

These task cards plus a “3-D eraser puzzle toy” was for violin practice, but it can always be adapted:

Each task card completed—he could put the corresponding part of the puzzle together:

By the end of the practice, he would have the completed toy to play with:

We no longer have those vehicles NOR the track on our keyboard now—1.5yrs down the learning journey. He likes to go and play on the piano as he walks past it (while just standing in front of the piano!). Sometimes parts of songs he knows, sometimes making up his own tunes. The only downside of keeping the piano cover open is that I have to clean it very often. ;(

My boy is now around 3/4 done with Suzuki Vol 2 now that he just turned 4.5yo (so he’s learnt for 1.5yrs).

I’m just sharing what worked for us.

Perhaps it would give you some ideas on something that would work for your child? Definitely keep the practising as short as possible for now.

Wishing you all the best.

Paula Bird said: Feb 27, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
404 posts


This was amazing stuff! Very clever! Very cute! And obviously effective!

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

Erika Yb said: Feb 27, 2013
6 posts


Thank you so much for this magnificent ideas. We have been improving a lot by rewarding her as often as possible with little things such as stickers, but with these new ideas you propose, piano will definitely stops being practice and more like play. I think she will like it more.

She loves trains, so the idea of the tracks I think will work fantastic.

I appreciate you sharing all these information.

Best Regards,

Phankao said: Feb 27, 2013
 128 posts

Thanks, Paula & Erika.

Just sharing what we’ve gone thru. He now knows “practice” as “practice” (we can’t hide the term that everyone uses forever, right?).

Currently, he’s doing the “Lucky” Dip every morning to see which instrument he gets to practise on first. I miss the days when we could run thru both violin & piano in 15-20mins in the morning before he goes to kindergarten. Now, we have to split up the practices to 2 separate times of the day.

I enjoy reading your blog, @Paula. ;D Very useful. We just completed book 1 for violin and in book 2. Actually had to complete working on Gavotte on our own bc his violin tr is on a few mths’ maternity break and I didn’t like the stand-in. I never imagined that I could guide him in continuing on his violin journey, but I’ve learnt lots of tips and tricks from both his violin & piano teachers. Also information online, and your blog, and the William Starr Guidebook.

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