Middle school age students quitting

Karen said: May 21, 2013
Karen Walls
Suzuki Association Member
Indianapolis, IN
16 posts

I’m needing to vent a bit. I have 11 students ranging from beginners to end of book 3. Just this week my end of book 3 student, age 12, says she wants to quit. She has said she has never liked it, but did it because her parents wanted her to. She had a rough time with continuing back in late book 1, but her parents insisted she keep with it. Since then, she has submitted to their request, would practice well, very faithful to come to lessons; seemed to enjoy what we were working on. I had her playing beautiful duets with her little sister; we were getting vibrato and shifting done. Played her recital pieces with skill. She is a gifted player.

But now she’s quitting. She’s going to finish book 3, just has the last song to work on, will give her Book 3 recital this summer, then just be done. I am taking the news rather hard.

The parents feel because she did work well with their request and she still doesn’t love it or have passion for it, they are letting her be done.

She did an orchestra music camp last summer and just loved it. Today she said ‘I didn’t really love it but just did it’.

2 years ago this same thing happened with my then highest level player in mid book 3. He was 13, went to the same music camp, loved it, but by the next summer, he was done. He was more interested in sports, his parents said, and let him quit.

I do group lessons once a month and she is one I can count on to play the harmony parts if I asked, play the pieces she knows for the students coming up to her level. She is a leader looked at by my other students. She has friends at group and enjoyed coming. I hate having to tell them she’s quitting. I just hate it.

Here is what I think is going on: she is a homeschooled student who does not have an orchestra to play in. I believe kids her age need that camaraderie of a group like an orchestra or chamber group to feel the purpose and sense in what they are doing, to know they are not alone, etc.. For me, back in junior high and high school, orchestra was my favorite class of the day. I grew to appreciate and love classical music and the symphony especially.

I have utmost respect for homeschooling families. I homeschooled my own children for 12 years. But the parents (I have several homeschooling families) are not taking my advice to ‘find a group for him/her to be in’. There are a couple of options for us in Indianapolis, and I let my parents know these options, but I am finding parents are not willing to invest more time or money into those orchestras. One youth orchestra meets on Sundays for practice, and that is a big issue with several of my families that don’t want to do extra things on Sundays. I understand that, yet the students are quitting….

I asked this student today “What if you found an orchestra to play in? You wouldn’t’ even need to take lessons with me anymore. Just play for the joy of it.” She just wasn’t interested. Maybe I’m just hanging on to something that isn’t meant to be.

What do you all think?

Thanks for letting me vent.

Karen Walls
Indianapolis Suzuki Academy
Instructor of Violin

Community Youth Orchestra said: May 21, 2013
Community Youth OrchestraViolin, Viola
70 posts

I will be forever grateful to my mom, who refused to put up with my idiotic adolescent babble about quitting the violin. Now I understand what a commitment really is!

From a playing perspective…if she hasn’t even reached book 4 yet, then she hasn’t played the Vivaldi A Minor. IMHO, it’s hard to figure out if you “love” or “have passion” for something when you’re still a beginner in the repertoire! I have many private students who don’t plan on careers on music, but they enjoy the musical and social opportunities that are available to them because they are able to make the commitment to working their way up to Bach, Paganini, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky. Behind each one of those kids are supportive parents.

I don’t think it’s the kid you have to convince here…it’s mom and dad.

Sarah Coley said: May 21, 2013
Sarah Coley
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
34 posts

Wow! This is a tough topic, and I can completely empathize with what you are going through! It is always frustrating as a teacher to see things (using our adult logic) and know that the student in question has great potential if she would just stick with it, even when she fails to see it.

I would like to echo what Gene posted above with a few snippets of my own.

  1. My parents never allowed me to quit even when I said I wanted to, or when I went though spurts where my practice was poor. I am not sure what has caused the shift in parenting techniques, but I would like to just throw it out there that with a lot of students, I think that there is a propensity currently for many parents to just give in when the child objects to something. (I know that this is not the case with all parents, but I am starting to see it more and more.) Unless the child has a legitimate reason for quitting (and not liking it is not always a great excuse in my opinion), I think that just giving up on lessons sends the wrong message to children. They will not learn how to follow-through on something they have committed to do. They think that if they do not like something, they can just quit doing it. As adults, we all know that neither of those things happens in the real world.

  2. I also agree that where you need to go with this if you really want to pursue it is to get the parents on board. I have several families that are really good about this in my studio (and this is not to say that my studio is not without its own issues!).

One parent told her daughter when she started lessons that she would be expected to continue lessons until she graduated high school. After that, the daughter could do what she liked, but violin lessons are considered part of her “education” and are not optional.

Another parent has two daughters studying with me who are also heavily involved in a lot of other demanding activities. Practice time is set in the morning, and even though they gripe about wanting to quit, she will not let them, no matter what. She has told me (and them) repeatedly that the benefits of music lessons are far too important to give up lessons at any point and time. I know that she is not looking for professional performers from lessons, but she does understand the discipline, focus, preparation, follow-through, etc. that can be brought about through lessons. Her daughters probably have every excuse to quit lessons (including the obvious practice time factor), and she will not let them. (Really the girls enjoy their lessons though, so I hardly think that their occassion complaints are serious.)

Another father in my studio went through a rough patch with home practice with his son. After a particularly bad session, the father sat down with his son and leveled with him. He told him that he, the son/student, had said he wanted to learn the violin and take lessons, and that part of making the choice to do so means that you have to be willing to be responsible and follow-though on your committments. The grandma of the family (who is the practice partner in this situation) related this to me two weeks ago, and I was struck by how insightful it was. They have not had a problem with practice at home since.

In my experience, the students who give up lessons for whatever reason are usually the ones who do not have a parent who is 100% on board with lessons.

I think many times not many parents are willing to be the “bad guy” and “force” their child to do something that they do not want to do. However, when you put music lessons as part of the “routine” it makes it a lot easier to tune out those complaints. Obviously, we would not let our children get away with not brushing their teeth or not going to school or doing their homework. I see music lessons as the same thing.

Poor homeschoolers! Some homeschoolers are great to work with, and sometimes there are others that I have to wonder what it is that they are learning. Perhaps in the future, you need to be very clear about what you want them to do. I do not think that I would make attending an orchestra of some sort (or group lessons) optional, I would imply that it is a requirement. I have gone so far as to email the director of the orchestra for the parent; get information; forward it to the parent; and then” hound” the parent about, “Have you done this yet?”. If you make it very clear that this is important (and as to why—maybe not citing the fact that “it would help with the social factor because you homeschool and can isolate yourself from the rest of the world” ;) ), the parent is going to be more apt to buy into it and follow-through with your suggestion. (I have found that the same goes for Institutes or summer music camps. I have one family that I have been trying to get to go to an institute for 3 years. They will finally be going to one this year! :) ) Present all the reasons and benefits as to why they will want to get their child involved with this additional music activity!

All of this sounds great in writing, but rarely does it work out the way that we want it to. It sounds like you are a thoughtful, conscientious, caring and good teacher. I often have to remind myself that I cannot force my students to practice; I cannot force them to love their lessons or instrument; I cannot force them to do anything that they do not want to do. If the student is going to be beligerent about music study (no matter how good she is, or how much potential she has), it is not going to do you any good to waste your efforts to help a student who does not want to be helped. (And I say this as much for you, as I do for myself!) Many times when something goes “wrong” with a student, it is very easy for me to blame myself and wonder what it is that I did wrong to cause things to not go the way that I think they should (ideally). Very rarely is it your (my/our) fault! Take a look at all of the other great students you have in your studio. Look at all of the students who are motivated to practiced; excited to come to lessons; who are excelling and working hard. You will have students who will far surpass any you have currently further ahead in the repertoire in the long run. I find that each year my next generation of incoming students gets better and better, which I think speaks to the fact that we ourselves become better and better as teachers! Hang in there! You are doing great!

~Sarah Coley

Rose Lander said: May 22, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
55 posts

hi karen,
you have my utmost empathy. i have faced this issue, and have been able to resolve it successfully. the two outstanding students i had who wanted to quit are now on the road to becoming professionals.
here are the arguments i have used. i have taught violin for over 40 years and have met literally thousands of people on the way. i have met many, many people who as adults were very, very sorry their parents let them quit. but i have never ever met anyone who was sorry that they stayed with music, despite their objections. let us face it. learning an instrument is hard work! it involves the highest investment of a child’ physical, psychological, and emotinal skills!
in addition, the parents need to recognize their children’s limited development. Children have an amazazing capacity to learn = but their judgement and maturity are in their infancy. the parent is the wiser, more experienced voice! Use it!
good luck! your parents are indeed lucky to have such a gifted and caring person in their lives.
rose lander

Beth said: May 22, 2013
Beth Bevars
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Richmond Hill, GA
2 posts

It is so frustrating as a teacher when this happens!! We give so much of ourselves to each and every child!

I do think, however, that it is also frustrating to be the parent of this child. We’ve all heard that you have to pick your battles. Perhaps there are forces within this family that have absolutely nothing to do at all with you or your teaching. I live in a military community. There are circumstances that affect lives on a daily basis. We may not know the entire story..but we know that things have changed.

If they really decide to stop, it is my opinion that this is the time to celebrate the child’s accomplishments. It may be that with a look back at all those good times (even if she refuses to acknowledge that they were good!), a new spark will be rekindled.

And if that doesn’t happen, you will have a child walk away from your studio with her head held high at the fact that she DID accomplish a lot and that you love her and always will. The attitude changes…it becomes one of gratitude and joy. I know that you will mourn…as we all do when we lose a student with potential. But she will leave knowing that she was wanted, and loved, and will be missed. You will always hold the door to the world of music open!

You may not give her music lessons anymore…but you will have changed her life with your unwavering support. This, in and of itself, is a success. It may not be a musical success…but perhaps it’s even more important…especially in the life of a 12 year old.

Karen-you have obviously already done a fantastic job. No matter how this turns out, please take a moment to celebrate YOUR accomplishments too.


Rebecca said: May 22, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
West Valley City, UT
12 posts

That’s a very hard and frustrating place to be in. I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of parents who quit even after a few weeks or months before they’ve even given it a chance. Mostly because they didn’t fully realize what kind of commitment they were really making. I suppose I needed to learn to introduce and prepare parents better before taking them on.

It’s hard to watch someone go when you’ve invested so much time and energy into teaching them. I know a teacher who gets very frustrated with this very thing. And in this particular teacher’s case, I believe it’s a result of their personal teaching philosophy and how students are treated at the lesson. If students never feel like they can please the teacher…or that they’re always “in trouble” about something….they are not going to be very motivated to practice. Practicing is challenging enough for students and parents in the first place. But, if the teacher has created this kind of environment, it makes the DAILY practice environment unbearable. Even committed and dedicated parents will put up with this for only so long. And unfortunately when parents are leaving because they are unhappy about something…they rarely tell the teacher the real reasons.

I’m not making any assumptions or implications about your teaching style or studio, of course. I am just suggesting a couple of things. One, I believe most parents and students who’ve stuck with it for years are committed. When families quit like this, they have their own reasons. And, they are very real and important to them. Yes, it’s disappointing. But, they are in charge of their own lives. They know what they want. If they are really leaving music lessons behind, they must think it’s time to focus on something else. And, even though dedication and commitment are a very big part of music lessons….you can learn them in other ways.

The second thing is, I’ve learned when I see the same patterns happening over and over in my life with lots of relationships…regardless of whether it’s in my own studio, family, or in other places…it’s an indicator that I need to do something differently. It’s not always pleasant to look at. But, it always works.

Rebecca said: May 22, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
West Valley City, UT
12 posts

I do agree with most of what you say here, Rose. And, I believe the first step is definitely to try to find out the why and address it.

However, I also believe we need to respect the parents’ right to make what they believe are the best decisions for their families.

If I may be permitted to share one example:

I know a very dedicated mother who had a passion for the violin. Her daughter was enrolled in Peabody Institute. But, she discovered fairly early on that it was destroying her relationship with her daughter because she (the mom) discovered she could not control her temper. She decided to give herself a time limit by which she as the mom needed to make improvement with her temper during practice sessions or they would have to quit. She did not accomplish her goal. They quit. She transferred her daughter to piano lessons though and found it to be a very successful situation. The daughter is now grown, is a fabulous pianist, and makes her living teaching. She has a large piano studio in Washington. (Actually, all five of this woman’s children have become wonderful pianists.) The violin, even though she loved it, was just not right in this situation.

I fully respect this mother for making this decision. It has made all the difference in the world for her family. (And…ironically enough, they were a homeschooling family.)

We might not always agree, and most of the time we will want to convince them to stay. But in the end, I believe it’s a teacher’s responsibility to be as supportive as possible—even when we wish they would choose differently.

Carol Gwen said: May 22, 2013
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

Wow! I really must say you guys are awesome! I feel supported just reading this post! It’s a keeper! This is the time of year when students (parents) tell you their intentions (without considering your opinion in the decision).

My 2 cents. Respect yourself. Respect the family. Respect the method and philosophy.

After you have given all you can, let them go. Additionally, Dr. Suzuki wrote in Nurtured By Love (maybe someone can help if I twist things up) that it doesn’t matter what a child masters as long as her ability is developed to the highest level. Interpreting his statement encourages many different responses- as witnessed by this post.

Finding what is right for you, in this particular situation, certainly isn’t easy—we all agree on that!

I so feel for you, Karen. I know exactly where you are. Just know that you aren’t alone, and you don’t need to go crazy over it.

Love this discussion. Many thanks to everyone.

Rosetta Springer said: May 22, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Lubbock, TX
7 posts

I totally agree with Beth- Celebrate the accomplishments of the student. I also verbalize the idea that the you can return to music study as a hobby later in life-some people think once you stop you are burning that bridge. I also offer to be available (as my schedule allows) for help with short term projects if its desired- one example is a student who returned to work on requirements for a Girl Scout Badge! This conveys that music is bigger than lessons- it is a life long joy!

Sent from my iPhone

Alicia Johnson said: May 22, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
Harlingen, TX
4 posts

I have found that the middle school years are the most difficult especially if the student has been taking from a very young age. They have to transcend from being something that their parents wanted them to do to something they want to do. I have found several things that work after 40 years of teaching.
1. Let them pick some music outside of the Suzuki curriculum to supplement : Fiddling, Church worship music, movie music.
2. Invovle them in mentoring a youger student by helping them practice lead part of the group lesson.
3. Ask them if they would continue as your assistant for the group lessons.
4. Find a way they can earn money playing their violin.
One of my 8th graders this year who is in Book 5 didn’t want to prepare the Book 5 solos. I asked her “what would you like to learn/: She responded the first part of the BAch Double. I said OK. So that is what she put her heart into this spring. She played at the end of year recital and played all the accompaning parts for Books 1-3. Her father thanked me for not pushing her too hard. She will go on to a school with an orchestra program next year that the private school she attends does not have.


Heather Reichgott said: May 23, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

One thing that happens in middle school is that most activities start requiring a greater time commitment. Elementary school kids often dabble in a lot of activities to figure out what they like and what they’re good at. By middle school everything is more time-intensive and it’s really hard to have more than one or two activities.

Is the student quitting in order to devote more time to something else about which she is truly passionate? If that’s the case, I honestly don’t think we should gripe about that. Do we complain when passionate young musicians decide to give up scouts or sports or dance in order to spend more time on music?

By the way, I went through a period of relative laziness with practicing in middle school. Wisely, my teacher was visibly grumpy about this. Equally wisely, my parents kept me in lessons, as they understood the difference between a lazy adolescent who loved music and an adolescent who’d really be happier doing something else. I never did ask to quit though.

Karen said: May 24, 2013
Karen Walls
Suzuki Association Member
Indianapolis, IN
16 posts

Thank you all for your input. It has helped me greatly. I am learning graciousness through this. The family does say music is not an option in their education. She will do music somehow.

I sent her a little note of blessing to say what a great job she did sticking with it with a good attitude and in submission to her parents wishes for 5 years. She really never did want to play the violin-her mom wanted her to ‘try’ it. So, for 5 years she tried it and excelled. I told her she was a great listener-she would take what I taught and go home and thoughtfully practice, coming back the next week well prepared.

I also told her in my note, you can let this experience be a springboard for you. You can accomplish anything you give time, perseverance, and diligence to, whether you have passion for the endeavor or not. I certainly was not there when I was 12. She has shown much more maturity and grace than most adults do.

I’ve learned a thing or two from this. And it’s okay.

Thanks again for letting me vent on this. When this happens again, which it will, I will be a little more gracious and understanding, hopefully. In the end, it’s not about me, anyway.


Karen Walls
Indianapolis Suzuki Academy
Instructor of Violin

Elise Winters said: May 24, 2013
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

This question speaks to me in a very personal way. I do think that students need to find “their” unique voice, and for some people it may not be violin, or classical music. Would Van Gogh have stuck with it (and would he have been happy) if he had to spend 45 minutes each day copying Renaissance masters? It honors kids to give them room to follow their heart. Even if it leads to Beyonce!! :)

On the other hand, sometimes I do feel in my heart of hearts that there’s something for me to learn when a student quits.

I’m attaching two forms that I’ve recently begun with all my students, to give me an opportunity to be more “in their world.” Younger students can fill these out with their parents’ help. I let them know that I won’t read it till later, and that we won’t talk about their answers (unless they want to) … and they should answer very freely and honestly. We do this at the end of the year … or when a student “quits” or changes teachers.

Lesson Survey Continuing
Lesson Completion Survey

I leave the room while they fill it out (they come get me when they’re done). Many questions are simply circling a number, so giving honest feedback is easier for them this way.

This has been a wonderful tool … both in finding out negative aspects of their experience, and also in getting some wonderfully unexpected acknowledgments. Hope others enjoy using these! :)

Nicole said: May 24, 2013
Nicole Ballinger
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Vero Beach, FL
9 posts

Hi Elise!
I’ve been wanting to have feedback surveys like this for a while. I really would like to see yours but they’re not opening.
Would you be able to re-post? Or email to me? And great forum on this topic everyone!
Thanks :)

Jez Tuttle said: Feb 28, 2014
 1 posts

I’m a parent of a sixth grader, eleven years old. She’s been playing violin since third grade. I’ve always had trouble getting her to practice. I would have given up and just let her quit, but she has what it takes to be a good musician—she’s got a great ear, great sense of rhythm, she’s musically adept, and learns fast. Her orchestra conductor needed a bass and she volunteered. So, as of 3 months ago, she takes lessons on two instruments and needs to practice two instruments most days. I worried it was too much. But I admired her willingness to take on a new challenge. So I reluctantly relented on the bass. (She’s doing well on bass in orchestra and in lessons).

Now, as a middle schooler, the practice resistance is sometimes mixed with adolescent obnoxiousness and confrontation (she’s super smart, often super sweet, but she’s a gifted arguer.) And… we’ve caught her lying, saying she practiced when she obviously had not.

So tonight, once again, I’m trying to lay down the law. Off the bus, have a snack, then practice. It happens before homework. Absolutely no screens if there is no practice.

Not that long ago, maybe 4 or so months ago, she told me she loves being part of an orchestra and thanked me for not letting her quit.

I’m planning on trying to have a little chat with her about the value of studying music. Problem solving, seeing it through, disciple, brain development, grappling with a challenge, etc. She’s heard it all from me before tho. Her beloved aunt is a professional cellist (but out of state). Believe me, I’ve elicited her help on several occasions!

Good people, any words of wisdom for a parent who truly wants her kid to continue but is sick to death of nagging and arguing. (And I could buy myself a nice wardrobe with the money we spend on lessons!) Thanks!!

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