practice motivation in a difficult situation

Cheryl said: Feb 7, 2013
Cheryl Ball
Suzuki Association Member
Dublin, OH
10 posts

One of my students comes to lesson weekly without practice time-a huge frustration! I have given Dad (coach) numerous ideas and tips, but with no success. This week he spoke to me by phone and he explained to me that when he tries to sit down for practice time, the child goes to Mom who tells her that she doesn’t have to practice if she doesn’t want to and actually redirects her to other things.

They have invested in a piano, and Dad is really trying, studying the music and being prepared. He is a stay at home Dad and the little girl goes to morning kindergarten.

Does anyone have any ideas that might help out?

Michelle McManus Welch said: Feb 7, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Lindenhurst, IL
42 posts

Have dad and child practice BEFORE Mom gets home. When the child is actually practicing and making progress, have the child give a concert of her pieces to mom, to engage her and ‘encourage her to encourage.’

Michelle Mc Manus Welch

Paula Bird said: Feb 7, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I think there are some more fundamental problems here reading from the information you have presented. As a former practicing family law attorney, there were several red flags that popped into my mind:

(1) Dad speaks in victim language. He blames the mom for the problem rather than taking responsibility for it and working out an obvious solution (presented by Michelle above). This could signal other problems in the marital relationship.

(2) Mom and Dad are not working together on this project (their child), and Dad makes it sound as if Mom is purposefully sabotaging the effort. If Dad is speaking the truth, then there is a problem in the marriage—A BIG PROBLEM. This problem will only get worse with time. If Dad is using hyperbole, and Mom really isn’t the problem, the fact that Dad tells others in public that Mom is a problem, is also a big problem in the marriage. Either way, problems here.

(3) Dad stays at home. Your post doesn’t say whether mom works outside the home. I assume she is. This means that she perceives herself as the breadwinner and probably thinks that major decisions need to come from her since she is funding whatever decision they make. Obviously these two do not work together, based on what and how Dad has presented the problem to you.

It may be that the best advice is, that unless the two parents can come to a joint decision on this musical education endeavor, then the best course of action would be to sell the piano and invest the funds into a retainer for a family law attorney. This family is headed down that road and is already part of the way there. How very sad for the child.

Supermomball, I would look Dad in the eye, tell him that he has a problem, he’s responsible, and then ask him how he proposes to solve the problem, because you cannot be giving lessons to a child who is unable to practice.

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

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Feb 7, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

As a former practicing attorney in family law as well as other areas, I agree with Paula that things do not appear to be going well at home and trouble could be brewing; there is already evidence that this child is bearing the brunt, and she will be the one to suffer. However, I sense another aspect of what may be going on that I can relate to because it happened to me. There were tensions that eventually led me to leave my marriage and to raise my children alone, with changes; among them, more defined educational structure and expectations. Yes, it was very difficult, but I managed and to the greatest extent possible, succeeded, and avoided the chaos and confrontation in my children’s upbringing that would have otherwise prevailed.

Unfortunately, it looks like these parents could possibly be headed in that direction. Evidently, both of them were not prepared with Suzuki parent training before the child started taking lessons.

This child’s parents obviously do not share a basic philosophy regarding upbringing and education. The dad would like to enrich his daughter’s life through long-term investment of directed, quality activities, to achieve channeled growth through programs that encourage persistence and stick-to-it-ness as a tool for the child’s mental and emotional development (i.e. Suzuki piano studies). From what’s been presented, the mom appears to be of the mindset that ‘kids will grow up anyway, just put them in front of a tv or some other activity they enjoy, and they’ll be out of trouble’… She is not in the camp that believes a parent should make an effort to direct the child, but rather just let the child choose what she is inclined to do at any moment, and have fun and be happy and “have a life”. In that way, the mom, who is returning from work each day tired and imagines that she does not want to have confrontations with her child over practice, or perhaps getting homework and chores done, in the few evening hours at home, instead allows and even encourages her daughter to do whatever she wants to do. In other words, let the child be, and she will grow up as she wants to; it’s up to her.

This is, in my view, a potentially disastrous route for parents to allow a child to take during the formative years, that can lead to spoiled, incalcitrant, whiny, self-centered children who are often bored, who become oppositional and rebellious teenagers who are accustomed to immediate gratification, and who later become frustrated adults who do not fulfill their potential and don’t know how to focus and work hard, a) because they never were put into the position of making something of themselves when they were younger to discover all that they can do, and b) never developed the capacity to focus for a long period on anything. Now we’re hearing in the news about the widespread, illicit use of Adderol and other stimulants on college campuses to enhance students’ ability to keep on task and concentrate on their papers and exams because “no one can be expected to concentrate and study that long!!!” and “everyone’s doing it!!!” This abuse of controlled substances is resulting in serious health risks and tragedies in some cases. These young adults probably were not lucky enough to be raised as successful Suzuki kids for whom prolonged attention to difficult tasks was slowly developed and amply rewarded!

These two philosophies, to direct a child’s development, or to let be, are in direct opposition. A young child, on her own, will usually lean toward the more permissive, easier route, where she will have all the freedom to choose options that yield immediate pleasure, like playing video games or wasting time on the computer in the bedroom. Choosing the more challenging path happens when there is an effective “Suzuki triangle” team. That only works when both parents are on the same page, or at least, the one that is not gung ho will at least not interfere, but rather support the efforts of the engaged parent. I see the Suzuki triangle as a tool for raising a wonderful, self-reliant, responsible, resilient, curious and fulfilled human being who is ready to take up challenges, and keeps on learning. I wish these two parents could get on the same page for the sake of this child.

Wendy Caron Zohar

Sue Hunt said: Feb 8, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

There is a lot that we haven’t been told.

Perhaps, the only thing that the mother is aware of, is the child’s dislike of practice sessions.

We don’t know anything about the quality of practice, on the rare occasions when it happens. Has Mom overheard something, that makes her uneasy? For some of us, it is very hard to hear our child having a difficult and stressful time, with another adult.

Have BOTH parents had Suzuki parent training?

What communication has there been, between the parents?

As teachers, we tend to focus on the parent who brings the child to lessons. In the past, I have found that there can be varying levels of misunderstanding between parents about commitment and sometimes a certain amount of jealousy.

Personally, I’ve found that the parents who come together for parent education, are easiest to work with. This is, of course is not always possible. I have a colleague in London, who addresses the situation, with special dads only evenings, where the non practicing parent can learn about what to expect and how to support learning.

Cathy Hargrave said: Feb 9, 2013
Cathy HargraveTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Rowlett, TX
50 posts

Hi Supermomball! It is great that you are looking for solutions to this dilemma. Rest assured, many teachers are, or will be, faced with this. All the suggestions are good ones and appropriate depending on the situation. In the end you may not find this situation is salvageable.

This dad obviously is on your side; however, we are on the child’s side. Although it will be hard to continue teaching this child, you may be the best life-long influence during her formative years. You could be the one stable component in nurturing her character and intellect. I would encourage you to explore all possibilities before deciding to drop her.

I once accepted a student without knowing her full story. I thought she was 3 but in fact she was 6. They came for 12 years of lessons. In their 12th year, the mother finally admitted her daughter had the only case of a certain chromosomal mutation in the entire U.S. which resulted in many mental, neurological problems. There were many times I wanted to drop her but didn’t have the heart to do it. At one point, I decided my student absolutely could not change so I had to. I realized her weekly lesson was about the only “healthy” thing in her life. I taught her to the best of my ability every week but she only learned about 4 pieces in Volume 1, never learned to read words or music, and could never even distinguish high from low sounds.

Yes, the entire family unit had serious, terrible things going on and the parents ultimately divorced. My student is now 21 and cannot work but loves the memory of her lessons, attending concerts and telling others that she can play the piano. The mother, student, and I stay connected.

We teach a music method but we are also about character development and teaching, as Dr. Suzuki said, “for the happiness of children.” I aimed to teach my student about piano, learning, and good character. She taught me to be more compassionate, more sensitive, more patient, more flexible, and to hug!

Cathy Hargrave

Jennifer Visick said: Feb 23, 2013
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

Perhaps asking the student if there is a particular piece of music (pop song, holiday song, happy birthday, or what have you) that the child would really like to learn, and create a version of this tune appropriate to the child’s level. Include a little bit of that in practice sessions and perhaps the student will begin to self-motivate (at least for that particular piece of music!)

Sometimes a song doesn’t resonate with a child for some reason. Suzuki chose music that the students he was working with knew, and sang, as a culture. If these songs aren’t a part of your child’s ‘natural’ culture & musical heritage, it doesn’t hurt to throw in something (or several somethings) that are a part of it. I know a teacher who got her students to practice once by promising to teach a Beatles tune for every 3 or 4 Suzuki repertoire songs learned.

Also, I know it’s piano, but are there group classes or group experiences that the child can attend so as to make friends who are also learning piano?

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