Parents Allowing Their Child to be Quitters

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Teresa said: Apr 25, 2013
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Fellow Suzuki Teachers-
We all have gone through this countless times (unfortunately..)

A parent says they will be stopping lessons because the parent hasn’t had any luck getting her child to practice, and the child doesn’t want to play anymore. In addition, the parents says the child “seems to be overscheduled and is overwhelmed with the demanding 3rd grade curriculum.”

It’s obvious to me the parent has given up.

Trying to get a child to do something they don’t want to do IS indeed frustrating. But if they don’t want to bathe, do homework or brush their teeth, are we as adults ok with the fact that we would be teaching them to be irresponsible? Of course not. The child comes to lessons and group classes, smiling, happy to play, yet practice time is a battle with the parent (ie; NOT fun) so it’s ok to quit?

Why is it that children are not old or mature enough to make LIFE decisions EXCEPT when it comes to quitting music lessons? What is it about music education that makes parents ability to make intelligent decisions virtually disappear?

How many times have we heard from adults that they wish their parents didn’t allow them to quit an instrument?

If you have any stories to share about this, I’d appreciate reading them.

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

Sue Hunt said: Apr 26, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Overwhelming is the key word. When because of over timetabling, practice only happens on the few days in the week when there is enough time for a decent practice, there can be a temptation to string it out to make up for missed days. Trying to get a child to focus for longer than optimal, teaches the child to look for ways of getting out of the activity. This makes it harder to get them to practice on subsequent days.

I have had one little girl who used to turn up for lessons in tears because her one practice of the week happened on the evening before. She had forgotten almost everything and was totally demoralised. Her parent gave up within the year.

At the same time there was a family who put in a couple of really short practices every day. There was plenty of time for longer practices, but they kept them short and motivation soared.

Valerie Kuan said: Apr 26, 2013
 5 posts

Hi, I have never had formal musical lessons when I was a child. In hindsight, I wish I had because of the discipline and appreciation for music. My daughter is now learning the piano from a wonderful second suzuki teacher after having had a bad experience with the first suzuki teacher. The fit was not right. Practise was a struggle. I found it helpful having family members who appreciated music and the support they gave her despite the countless mistakes during family performances helped. In fact, I wish parents would not shy away from sharing their experiences (no matter how good or how bad it may appear) because it would bring some encouragement either way.


Beth Cantrell said: Apr 27, 2013
Beth CantrellTeacher Trainer
SAA Board
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
17 posts

When this crops up, I spend time in lessons with the parent and child strategizing about when they might be able to “get in a few minutes”. I also have a sheet of activities for useful practice that can be done in the car—so some of the dithering and mental transition can occur in transit. It’s no substitute for being with the instrument, but can allow music to seep into the lifestyle a bit. And I try to talk about playing instead of practicing, it sounds more fun. “touch the cello every day.”

Beth Cantrell

Angelique said: Apr 27, 2013
 2 posts

I am so glad you asked this question because I was thinking myself lately, as I was having compassion on my 6 year old- beginning -cello -daughter, —am I just a terrible, mean mom?- forcing my daughter to play an instrument. We started lessons for the first time this February and she tells me “I don’t want to take music lessons, it is too hard, I can’t do what you are asking!”
After all, is it worth having to struggle to get her to appreciate and understand the magnificent privilege it is to have music lessons? And that is also what is important to parents-the money it costs to take music lessons, pay for instrument upkeep, books, etc. Am I throwing money down the drain when it can most certainly be put to another excellent use, one which would have her happy and smiling?
Well with four children in music lessons, I could not bear to leave her out. She is my child who gets frustrated easily and wants to quit. It is her personality. Knowing that, I press on, because it is not just music practice that she tends to get frustrated with, it is anything that she can’t immediately grasp.
My attitude as a parent is similar now to Suzukimaui’s: we practice everyday-even if we just pick up our instrument and review for a short time-no matter what. I don’t do this because I want to say that my kids practice everyday, but because I want them to get used to the perpetual habit of daily practice and because I know that that is the only way they will progress. And if you don’t progress in a regular, timely manner, they will get bored, frustrated and want to quit. On the other hand, when progress comes, they are amazed at what they can do, and start to appreciate their new abilities and enjoy their instrument all the more.
Music education is like any other school subject. It something that is not negotiable in our house, it must get done. Does this take the “joy” out of appreciating music. In my opinion, no it does not. Kids learn to accept it as part of life, like doing math every school day. Does that take the joy out of math? No, it makes you good at it and maybe even gives you a desire to pursue a mathematics field later in life. Daily practice is not always fun and joyful as some would have us think, but that is not realistic with children. That is my take on it.
I understand in China, all elementary aged children are required to play an instrument. Wish we did that here.

Angie V

Teresa said: Apr 27, 2013
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Thank you everyone, for you insights. WONDERFUL!

Beth, would you be agreeable to share your sheet of non-instrument practice you had mentioned? I’d appreciate it!

I had an email from the parent in which I was inspired to write this post. The child is taking Taiko drumming classes. There are a couple of excellent Taiko organizations here and the classes are several times a week, as well as multiple performances in the community each week or two. These organizations are VERY STRICT about attending practices. IN A NUTSHELL, practice on these drums can happen ONLY at the studio, with other kids, 2-3 times a week. It’s group class several times a week, and it’s very social! (and my students love group class because it makes practice fun with their violin friends)

I rack up this instance of the parent allowing the child to quit up to the child wanting to be involved in a more social activity. I see it as being right up there with activities such as ballet, gymnastics, sports, etc. It’s a rare occasion to have a ballerina take 1 lesson a week and practice seriously at home on her own or have a gymnast clear the furniture from the living room to make room for her own gymnastics equiptment. Hmm… perhaps a balance beam could be the edge of the kitchen counter??

Keep your stories coming!!! I’ll print them out and have them in my “tool kit” for parents to read when the situation arises.. again (someday..)

Teresa

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

Sue Hunt said: Apr 28, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

You have to be careful when talking about what you can squeeze into 5 minutes, that you never give the impression, that 5 minutes can be squeezed any old how into a busy schedule.

Micro practices have to be properly planned. They work well if linked to an activity that occurs every day, like before TV and in the ad breaks, between homework subjects, after meals. The more closely they are linked, the better this works. Beating yourself up about practice after lunch, for half an hour, only helps you to make a habit of beating yourself up about practice after lunch. Practicing immediately, creates a practice trigger.

My favourite is TV ad breaks. No matter how relaxed I am in front of my favourite show, the ads catapult me straight to my viola for a few minutes of deep focus.

Celia Jones said: Apr 29, 2013
 Violin
72 posts

Suzuki violin can feel like a treadmill, more than any other activity. And far from feeling like a worthwhile pursuit that will create beautiful heart, it can feel like a fanciful indulgence.

Really, if a young child stops violin, or for that matter an older child or an adult, there’s no reason why they can’t come back to it later. And older children make much faster progress so why spend hundreds of pounds teaching a very young child who refuses to practise? You could save the money for when they are old enough to appreciate it.

Kiyoko said: Apr 29, 2013
 84 posts

From the perspective of a Suzuki kid who grew up:

Having learned to play the violin from a young age is something I value greatly. I can’t remember not knowing how to play, much like most people don’t recall not being able talk. It taught me a lot about music, discipline, and life and my appreciation of music is so much deeper because of it (gasp!) even though I don’t play my violin much these days. Regardless, I have never lost my interest in music nor the joy it brings into my life.

One thing that you can’t go back in time and do, is teach music from an early age later on. I say this because playing the violin is like riding a bike for me. I may stop playing and practicing, but when I start up again, it comes back quickly. Not only does it come back easily, the aural training makes it easier to learn new material. Technique takes practice, but that too can be recovered since my fingers remember some and the rest is repetition. It feels like jogging your memory for a bit. For me, it is much easier than trying to relearn a language I knew at a younger age.

That said, I could give you reasons for why I am not playing right now, most people would find legitimate but Itzhak Perlman plays, and we just saw some posts about teaching blind students. To be honest, I could find a way to play more and so can anyone who commits to it. I am however, quite motivated to give my son the gift of music from an early age. Maybe that is what I need to play again.

I had an interesting chat with my mother the other day about Suzuki violin, in which I learned she solely paid for our music training since my father didn’t see the necessity. I was very surprised that she said she didn’t think she wouldn’t do it again and would save the money. Keep in mind, even now I don’t think she fully understands how far I had progressed nor how much I practiced and played outside of her home. Beyond the lesson, ensembles, and orchestras she knew of, I used to play in the hallways at my high school, college, and grad school, and occasionally outside at a park—and then there was improv and the blues bands, and even (shhh!) heavy metal during study breaks in college.

Would I trade it all back for the money? Absolutely not. It is one gift from my mother I will always cherish. Every time I hear a piece I know from having played it, the gift comes back to me in a way. It has shaped me positively in ways I’m keening aware of, and in other ways I’m vaguely or I’m sure I am completely unaware of. And now it is something I get to pass along to my son. It is impossible for me to fully articulate what that gift means.

Thanks for reading! (Lol, I didn’t mean to write an essay.)

Kiyoko said: Apr 29, 2013
 84 posts

An afterthought:
Perhaps this is partly a regional variation, but violin was just as social as soccer was for me, in school and outside of school. Or it might be a sign for teachers it’s time to revamp group lesson socialization activities (do you do the one person bows, the other fingers? dancing with Witches Dance? I’m sure posters could suggest a few group lesson books) or to encourage students to attend more workshops, performances, festivals, and music camps. Parents won’t always consider much beyond school orchestra outside of lessons unless it’s suggested by the teacher. I know this puts some back on the teacher, but the more parents know, the more they tell each other… and then the more the parents connect, the more the kids connect with each other.

Barb said: Apr 29, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

You can start a child when they are older, and they will make faster progress… in a way… but you lose the benefit to brain development gained by learning an instrument at a young age.

I told my mom I wanted to quit violin lessons when I was 11 (2nd year, in book 4—ahead of what we played in school). It just wasn’t fun anymore—the music was more difficult and required me to practice more (in the summer when I’d rather be outside). I was really surprised that she quickly agreed. In fact, in retrospect, I’m not sure I really wanted to quit. Maybe I just needed a break or wanted to whine. Maybe she agreed because I was whiny. (I practiced on my own, alone in the bedroom, but she saw to it that it happened.) I still wanted to play in the orchestra… and would have continued, at least for a while, on the violin if I had not met the cello. And starting the cello meant I needed private lessons again since the teacher could not teach technique… But orchestra is what kept me playing.

I had a student quit after four years of a struggle between parent and child at practice time. I could have/should have helped more with parent ed in the beginning (I was a new teacher and not wholly teaching Suzuki style), but I’m not sure how much it would have helped with the personalities and parenting style (get the child involved in multiple activities). The parent would give some effort, then give up and leave the child to himself (quitting demonstrated). In this case I suggested that if he changed his mind and wanted to return, it would probably be best to wait until he was old enough to truly be responsible for his own practice. He is still taking music lessons on another instrument, at least, and the parent feels I was a positive stable influence over the years.

My thoughts on young kids not wanting to practice: It has to be fun, it has to be social, which might just mean playing with mom or dad at times, but with other kids is important. Kids learn best through PLAY.

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

Barb said: Apr 29, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

PS I quit playing cello after high school. Cello had been my life and identity for seven years. I needed to see who I was without it. And I was moving out on my own and could not afford to buy or rent. After a few years I realized I needed to play. Cello also was relegated to the corner (I finally bought one) when my kids were young, but now, of course, it’s a big part of my life again!

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

Christine said: Apr 30, 2013
Christine Goodner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
Hillsboro, OR
72 posts

I too started playing when I was very young (about 3) and cannot remember life without playing an instrument. It is not something I do, it is something I am.

While starting kids young is not a good fit for everyone, for me it was not about how fast I learned it was about the person learning music made me. I learned to work with my parents (and they with me), I learned to tackle any huge problem in little chunks (working away bit by bit until I mastered something) and I learned to love love music.

I also whined, complained, and wanted to stop sometimes . . . I am so grateful my parents kept me going and to my complaining said nicely “Ok—go practice a little bit anyway.” They knew what I didn’t—that I would someday be really glad I had kept going.

I am the only one in my family (of 4 kids who all did Suzuki violin) that still plays, but my brother recently had a baby and dug out his old violin because he discovered his daughter was in love with music and gets really excited when he plays for her (the music was still in his fingers too). I imagine the same might happen when my other siblings start their own family . . . I believe all four of us are grateful for the money and hours spent by our parents teaching us to love music. I hope any parents who come across this post will take heart and keep going . . . it’s so worth it!!

Christine Goodner

Studio Website: Brookside Suzuki Strings

Blog: The Suzuki Triangle

Free eBook: Painless Practice: 7 Principles for Setting up Effective Practice Routines

“When Love is Deep, Much can be Accomplished” ~ Suzuki

Teresa said: Apr 30, 2013
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Would I trade it all back for the money? Absolutely not. It is one gift from my mother I will always cherish. Every time I hear a piece I know from having played it, the gift comes back to me in a way. It has shaped me positively in ways I’m keening aware of, and in other ways I’m vaguely or I’m sure I am completely unaware of.>

Kyoko, this is exactly what I love to hear. Thank you for posting your ‘essay’!

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

Teresa said: Apr 30, 2013
Teresa Skinner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

Thank you all for posting your thoughts.
Barb, I too ‘quit’ playing viola and violin after high school. My teacher and I had a disagreement (it was pretty bad…) and I was unable to accept a full scholarship to study music in Vienna, Austria due to my dad was ill, and my family just couldn’t afford to pay my living expenses abroad. Years went by and I missed my ‘friends’- my violin and viola. It is amazing how our fingers/brain/body have the memory to pick it back up again!

Loving the stories, everyone. I hope others are receiving value in the postings that are coming through!

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

Celia Jones said: May 1, 2013
 Violin
72 posts

Kiyoko, that’s a lovely inspiring story. You know you should tell your mum, and let her know how much you did appreciate her efforts!

I think if a teacher wants their students to stay for five or six years or so, they should make that clear at the start, with a five or six-year contract and observation of lessons for a year. That way the parent understands the teacher’s expectations.

Kiyoko said: May 7, 2013
 84 posts

I am trying to let my mother know. :)

Suzukimaui: I take it that you care about this student quite a bit. Maybe in a month, you can contact the parents and see if they might be interested in bringing the student back in for an appointment to talk about why the student wanted to quit and didn’t like practice. Maybe there are some changes that could be made in approach that would suit the students lifestyle and interests. Maybe the student would practice more if there was a mix of repertoire or if they could work on ensemble pieces with friends other motivational factors. Maybe there is something about the practice set up at home that the student dislikes. Maybe it was an argument between the child and parent, and this is the way it ended — one or the other said they aren’t taking music lessons. I don’t know how often you take time out from teaching repertoire to talk about things like this, but it sounds like the student could use some support as much as the parent.

Jocelyn Crosby said: Aug 5, 2013
Jocelyn Crosby
Suzuki Association Member
Flute
Lancaster, PA
8 posts

Once I whined that I wanted to quit the flute. My mother agreed rather quickly, and I immediately regretted saying so and changed my mind! I second what was said above about simply wanting to whine. Sometimes kids get cranky in general, or frustrated with a specific piece, etc, etc. Thankfully, I immediately realized that I did NOT want to quit. Perhaps you could even speak directly with the student and find out what the frustration is. I know kids can be reluctant to talk about quitting TO their teacher, but it could provide some insight.

Good luck!
Jocelyn

Kim said: Aug 5, 2013
 39 posts

I’ve had a daughter in violin going on 5 years. I have a son in piano for over 7 years. My son practices with only occasional resistance and has never once suggested quitting. My daughter has resisted from day one and continues to do so. She’s 9 and playing book 4 beautifully. But still, she struggles mentally. Not every child is going to embrace a musical instrument, and not every parent is going to be able to walk a child that has had a mediocre attitude for years through puberty while keeping at the instrument. I’m doing my best to get my daughter into an orchestra program (she starts this year) because I think that is what might carry her through. If I get her through a couple years of orchestra and she is still super resistant and wants to quit, I may let her. And it wouldn’t be a one time “I want to quit” event. She has told me several times a week since she started she wants to quit. I don’t consider that a failure. I quit Suzuki violin at 14, but I carry through the lessons to today, literally and figuratively. ANY music exposure to a child’s life is a win. Not every child is going to carry that through high school and go on with it. I don’t think because a child stops lessons anyone can necessarily make assumptions about the family and their priorities. Maybe they have struggles they haven’t shared.

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