the reluctant beginner

Rose Lander said: Apr 29, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
55 posts

i spent a month getting this family ready to begin violin. the little boy, barely 5, expressed a strong interest in playing violin for a while. when he came for his first encounter with me, he was fairly cooperative, listedned and followed directions well. his parents are lovely, smart, interested, and totally into the suzuki philosophy. his first lesson was ok-i taught him to bow, to focus, look at my eyes, and to balance the violin. but at he end he refused to bow. the second lesson was a bit of a disaster. since he missed his next lesson, i thought it might be a good idea to share the time with another beginner. however the other child’s mom brought her 2 year old who was a handful. then the little boy refused to have his lesson. i gave the time to his parents, and when he came home he announced he did not want to play violin any more. the other factor is that he is too shy to attend group lessons, which i think are important. he did observe another lesson. i spoke to the father who is not willing to give up yet. i am not sure it would be worthwhile for the family or myself to continue. i encouraged his did to tell his son that he can’t wait until he is ready for lessons. i plan to give the parents the time to teach some basics. does anyone have any more suggetions? when i try to talk to him, he refuses to look at me.

Katherine said: Apr 30, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

I am also interested in what answers you get and how you proceed with this child.

I have far less experience than you do so I don’t know how useful my thoughts/experiences are. However, your statement about shyness, him refusing to look at you and refusing to bow caught my attention. I have a very shy 6-yr old student (you can also see the thread I started “Child Refuses to Perform” on this forum). Initially I went to his home for lessons. It took a month or more before he would look at me. A year later he still refuses to bow, and can stubbornly refuse to do other things. It has been a slow process—we are on Lightly Row after one year of lessons (we have had interruptions in lessons which has not helped). He will come to group but initially mainly observed. He refuses to perform with the group. Honestly it is very frustrating and I also wonder if it is worthwhile to continue, except that I do see a spark of desire in him. And he now loves to be with me, at least, and brings me little gifts and always a hug.

So if the problem is severe shyness (perhaps even selective mutism which is very severe ), it may take awhile for him to develop comfort with you, and until he does he may refuse to do most things you ask of him, even if they interest him. Children with severe shyness or social anxiety will withdraw more the more they are forced out of their comfort zone. They may come across as stubborn when the real problem is anxiety. They need very gradual introduction to activities that make them uncomfortable, initially it may mean a lot of observation. Early on I would show his mom how to do things and work with her at times, for example, while he watched.

If severe shyness is really not the problem, then I would guess that perhaps he is simply not mature enough to start lessons??

Kiyoko said: Apr 30, 2013
 84 posts

Please don’t give up! There’s lots more to try. I’m not a teacher, but grew up playing Suzuki violin and am now a parent. I remember teaching my little sister “lessons” through play before she started and tutored violin as I got older.

Maybe back up a bit and start with some games and activities to develop rapport between you and the student. Five year olds still expect most of their learning to be through play. Sing some songs together, learn about him and how many siblings he has, laugh, and have fun. Maybe put down a foot chart, draw rest position in a bright color and let him pick out some stickers and put them on the foot chart, etc. Children generally don’t like to look you in the eye until they feel comfortable with you… Most will otherwise shy away and won’t make eye contact.

Instead of saying we are bowing, can you start with “Can you touch your toes?”, “Can your parent touch their toes?”, “Now I’m going to touch my toes.” Cheer and ask him to pick a sticker he can look at when he touches his toes on the foot chart and have him put it in the right stop. “How long can you touch your toes? Can you count to three?”, “Can you touch your toes then your knees?” Then switch to something else for a bit. Maybe next position on the foot chart, “V is for violin…”Time flies when the kids are having fun.

Eventually, bend over, touch toes, touch knees, translates into the one, two, three of a bow. Just like we can’t typically perform a piece the first time we are taught it, it may take a while before he is comfortable doing a bow. You can still set the example by bowing at the beginning and the end of the lesson. Maybe next lesson you start and end with him doing toe or knee touches to your bow.

Be patient. So you had a few false starts. It sounds like the child is learning how to have a lesson as well as you are trying to figure out how best to give him a lesson. (In my experience, I was allowed to observe private lessons, but group lessons were the shared lessons. Private instruction helps the student and parent know that it is there time to be the focus.) Maybe through this example, he will learn sometimes things don’t always start our right, but if you keep trying, you might like it and want to do it again.

Hope this helps a bit.

MaryLou Roberts said: May 2, 2013
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Ann Arbor, MI
244 posts

Many children need to watch before they feel safe to try it themselves. Also, children will watch their parents much more deeply than a strange new teacher. Especially important to me was the looking the teacher in the eyes….this is very personal to some people, and might make him feel too controlled.

I spend time teaching the parent in the first few lessons. The child is invited to tap rhythms, point to parts of the instrument, and tap-clap with the parent. It is great to make use of this important bond between the parent and the child. Have the child look into the parents’ eyes if you want that kind of connection. As the child watches, you will learn about him, and he will learn about you. As you have fun with the parent, the child will learn to trust you. In about 3 weeks he will be ready to have some lesson time, as he is able, then use the rest of the time for the parent, letting them experience what you just taught.

To me, shy children are asking for a safe environment. They benefit from development and perhaps it’s even more important for their life. Ask the child to watch, then you will see when he is ready to d a task. Use repetition, because he is learning by watching. I have found that children who watch like this have learned 80% of the new beginning skills. Give active listening activities to do at home, such as playing catch or clapping to the beat, marching or jumping over objects to the beat, etc.

I have taught my own 2 boys, and one was able to be still for a little while, and the other would not be still. It’s ok to adapt to the needs of the child. We need a big bag of tricks!

Kiyoko said: May 7, 2013
 84 posts

Yes, i agree wholeheartedly! You would be very surprised at how much a shy child will pick up just observing. Even if the child is so shy that observation is the only participation, the child is still benefitting from lessons. just re-thinking the approaches being taken along with time and patience will help.

Can you ask the parents to watch their child for signs at home of things that they observed at lessons? Through repetition, things will naturally start to appear.

Have a few other thoughts on bowing and eye contact. Does the boy make eye contact with their parents okay? Work on that by having the child make eye contact with their parent at the lesson. Then add in that you make eye contact with the parent too. Eventually, the boy will be able to transition from the parent to you.

Another approach to lessons to consider is to teach the parent, so the parent can teach the student, until the student becomes more comfortable learning directly from you. At home, the parent is the one instructing the child anyways so it would only help to develop that connection.

Children bow in Japan, because they see it all around them from the time they are young. I didn’t grow up living in Japan so I know that’s why I am sometimes uncomfortable about bowing in certain situations, however I am very comfortable bowing with my violin. All around me in Suzuki, in group lessons, and recitals, that is what everyone else did.

Pia said: May 11, 2013
34 posts

I think you are lucky since his parents have understanding in the principles of the suzukimethod and backs you up! In this case, I agree with Mary Lou and Kiyoko—just do some fun listening/clapping/ moving activities instead. Do motoric exercises, “walk” or step to the rhythms, do bowhold games etc. A 4-yo beginner, learning app. two months, came to lesson today and emediatly crawled under my table. Until todays lesson, she was doing very well, practising every day with mom without complaints, she learned all rhythms on E with very good posture and bow hand. Her mom said, today her daughter told her, she doesn’t want to play violin anymore. Mom said, she was not sure if it was because her daughter had to leave for lesson while playing with her sibling or because she really did not like the instrument anymore.. This parent had not taken any parents class, she does not play an instrument and is not very music interested, they don’t do group because child has to stay late in nursery school every day . She contacted me only because her daughter wanted to play violin since the age of 3 and she considered her daughter talented and interested. This little girl is really talented and have a very fast progress and “natural” posture, what a pity to give up after only 7 lessons, just because today, the girl said, she doesn’t want to play violin (her mom: “she does not like to stand up, she wants to sit down”..) Ofcourse, I did no violin in this lesson, just listening games etc. The girl was enjoying and it was no problem doing a proper lesson. Still afterwords, her mom wanted to discuss with her daughter (in front of me) whether she wanted to continue with violin or not (discussing 10 minutes into the lessontime of the next student..) Mom is very nice and reasonable, wants daughter to behave well but empasized, she’s NOT a pushy mom so if daughter does not like playing violin anymore (or maybe, just don’t like having to stand up..) she won’t “push” her to do so. Would anyone try something in this case..?

Kiyoko said: May 11, 2013
 84 posts

Oh my! Kids, not just toddlers, say they don’t want to do things all the time!

Sometimes the connection is not obviously related, or is not something that makes much sense to an adult at first. It’s great that the mother picked up on that she was interrupting her daughter’s play with her sibling. It might just mean finding the right response for the child’s reason for wanting to stop. Maybe the mother can say she can resume her play once she returns from her lessons. It might also help to establish a routine so that her daughter is not interrupted in the middle of play with her sibling. On the other hand, if the daughter was asked again two days later, she might not even recall that she said she wanted to stop violin lessons.

Once I was on the phone with a friend, and she was going to get off the phone because her son started taking apart the dishwasher. I asked if she had asked him why he was taking it apart. When she did, she learned all he wanted was to see how it worked. She immediately shifted her response to be appropriate for a curious child and our phone call continued. Maybe you can figure out a way the lessons can continue. (Ironically, I was reminded of this today when my son pulled the bottom drawer out of our dishwasher. Apparently it makes a good car.)

I’m not saying ignore what a child says— I’m saying to pay attention to what the child does—the enjoying lesson time and practice time, enjoying music, natural progression, etc. Maybe you can remind the mother why she decided to start her daughter now and not later and that you’ve also made a commitment, regardless of pay, in the development of her daughter’s talents. Ask the mother to respond to her daughter in a way her daughter can continue to grow both musically and as a sibling playmate.

Rose Lander said: May 12, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
55 posts

thank you for all of your comments. itis always good to hear problems discussed from multiple points of view.
i am glad to say the child comes to lessons willingly. he is very afraid to try something new. every game i introduce is done by his mom first. i discovered if the whole family starts together by bowing, he is much more secure. he still refuses to come to the group class, but since the class is way too advanced for him, i am not sure it matters.
to answer the teacher with the talented daughter and clueless mom, i would encourage her to read or watch dvds (in you home so you are sure she does it). the new book by edmund sprunger i feel is the best around. it is very, very detailed, but very, very wise and helpful to new families.
thanks again,
rose lander

Elizabeth Friedman said: Jun 29, 2013
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

Rose: Group classes are key. Even if he’s too shy/not advanced enough to participate, they should be attending and he should be observing every time. He won’t be too shy to sit on his mom’s lap on the sidelines, and he will see that all the other children willingly do what they’re told (I hope!).

Also, have him and his parents observe other children’s private lessons frequently.

I have a student… I’ve had her for about 2 1/2 years now… who upon getting her first real violin, refused to play for 3 weeks. She continues to fear doing new things in lessons, and often shuts down completely when I try to introduce a new skill. Consequently, we are just barely starting O Come, Little Children. Her mom has been incredibly committed, and the student practices relentlessly at home—but the problem is that I can’t teach her much in her lessons for her to actually go home and practice. She is just starting to make some solid progress on this front. She wants to play the violin but is afraid to try new things—we are therefore working on developing the ability to try new things. The violin will come later.

A very good line I just picked up from a fellow teacher: “I only have two rules. The first is that you must do what I ask the first time, and the second is that you must always try.” Whenever a child fails to do one of these two things, she can ask her student whether they are following the rules. It seems to work quite well for her, and I’ve started to use this on my students.

Let me know if you need ideas for some games to get this student going.

Clara Hardie said: Jul 7, 2013
Clara Hardie
Suzuki Association Member
Detroit, MI
21 posts

I did the same thing with one of my 7-year-old students who said she didn’t want to play anymore—all listening, tapping, bow games and dancing to the Twinkle Variations for that lesson. I also gave candy for completion of a few of the tasks. I said, “See, I listened to you because I remember you told me you liked candy, aren’t I a good teacher?” We laughed and she then gave me a list of other things she likes (flowers, dolls, fairies…) Now I have a whole store of ideas to use and they all came straight from her because she realized I really do care about her as a person.

Although, she and 2 of my other beginners are sort of resisting playing Flower Song and definitely Monkey Song. They will play E and A Concerto, tap and sing both Flower and Monkey but they get cranky when they are asked to play. Lately I’ve been getting them to do either the bow or the violin while I do the other half. It seems like they are having the thought, “Oh, maybe I’m not as good at violin as I thought” and are getting less excited about violin even though my positive mannerisms haven’t changed. Any other ideas?

Katherine Fritz said: Jul 8, 2013
Katherine Fritz
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Louisville, CO
2 posts

I have found a few students who have very sensitive fingers and the strings tickle their finger tips when they place them on the strings the first time. I make sure they are well seated on the strings and bow for them while putting a little pressure on the top of their fingers so the vibration is lessened. It took a while to get the coordination to bow with the left hand and control the fingers with the right hand.

Then I get really excited to see their “finger lines” where the string made an indent in their fingers and have them show them to their mom or dad. It is very exciting for everyone because it is something that is clearly visible and can be recreated at home.

I have also noticed over the years how children are getting more anxious to try new things. I attribute this to the high expectations that are put on kids these days and the immediacy of so many of their experiences. It is part of our job to help them to understand that learning happens when we make “mistakes” and “mistake” are just opportunities to learn. Of course, I don’t believe there are any mistakes. Playing an instrument takes time and is does not come as immediately as so many other things in our life.

Anne said: Nov 24, 2013
Anne SanchezPiano
9 posts

Don’t give up! He is just angry right now. I would talk to him anyways, he may not look at you, but he can still hear you. I would apologize and tell him that you thought it was a good idea to bring in an extra child, but you can see that he wasn’t ready and you are sorry for that. Then let him know that when he is ready to play again that you are there for him. He will probably come around soon after that.

In my experience, some kids are afraid of failure or messing up when they are in a group session and that is a lot of the fear. Though it’s important to play in groups, it’s also important to let it happen when they are ready. He is still quite young. Be patient and give him lots of praise.

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