Not much progress in lessons

Mariel said: Jul 11, 2014
3 posts

I have a child who just turned 5 who has been learning Suzuki violin for the last 6 months. Things were going ok but we seem to already have hit a plateau. We are consistently practicing for 15-25 minutes daily and practice generally goes ok without my having to do a lot of prodding. However, lessons are a different story. At lessons, my child frequently acts either tired or silly, does not always focus very well, and doesn’t always seem to understand what the teacher wants him to do, which I can see really irritates the teacher. Thus he has not moved beyond the Twinkle Var A after about 6 weeks. I can see he is frustrated because as soon as he has mastered a few skills, then there is something else that is not right and has to be corrected. I understand that the violin is a difficult instrument and that it is important to build correct habits from the start. However, I am very discouraged with the amount of progress he is making and feel like if he has to get everything perfect in lesson time to meet his teacher’s expectations, we will never make any forward progress. Given all the time, effort, and money on my part to help him learn violin, I am almost ready to give up if he doesn’t start to move forward.

Any ideas on how to get him to focus and play as well during lesson time as during home practice and how to get past this stumbling block? Any tips for Suzuki parents of young boys would be helpful—most of the younger students are girls at our studio. Thanks!

Caitlin said: Jul 14, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Merced, CA
41 posts

First of all, I want to tell you should be proud of yourself for getting this far with your son in 6 months! It may seem like little progress because he has only learned “one piece,” but we both know that you went through a very long stage of pre-twinkling that takes a lot of time!

At this point, you are going through another hard hurdle point with your son. You are doing very well to get him to practice with you every day. Keep it up! When learning Twinkle, it is very important to get the foundation set well. If you have ever painted a room you may know what I mean by 90% preparation, and 10% painting. After spending hours washing, filling in little holes, taping the wall, taking off wall sockets… you have to paint the edges of the room very carefully… and then you take out a roller brush and paint the room in an hour! You are still the preparation stage with your son. It’s okay if things are slow.

I’ve had students get stuck at this point because we are trying to move forward with playing the violin, but are not taking time to keep up the basics. Go back to what your son learned 6 months ago… standing still and watching his fingers, having perfect balance, holding the violin under his chin without moving (see if he can listen to all the twinkles and not move), 100 bow holds, taping fingers (tap your 1 finger, 2 finger, etc.), placing fingers perfectly and round without the bow, playing open strings, etc. See if he can do these things with ease, if he can’t that is probably the problem.

Other things that might help: make sure the daily listening is still happening. Listen Twinkle Var A more than the other pieces. Sing note names to twinkle, tap fingers while listening to twinkle, spit the job between you and your son, he does fingers, you bow, then switch. Watch your attitude. Make sure you stay positive and be sure to tell him when he does things well. We sometimes fall into the trap of always correcting and never praising. Before you go to your lesson, talk about what you have practiced together during the week, and get him excited about showing his teacher what he can do! I make the most progress with my students when they tell me what they have accomplished during the week, and I build from there. Also remind yourself how much he has learned. Again, being that he has only learned “one piece,” we sometimes loose sight of what we really have learned over the past 6 months to get to Twinkle!

Keep us updated on how things are going!

Danielle Kravitz said: Jul 20, 2014
Danielle KravitzInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Violin
64 posts

I agree with everything Caitlin said. All excellent tips.

To add one more thought:

There might be a communication gap in the lesson environment. Have you tried talking to the teacher? As in, is he actually frustrated with your son or is that just your impression?

When the student is young, communication between the parent and teacher is absolutely critical. Is he communicating what he wants practiced at home? Is that practiced effectively at home? Are you clear as to what the teacher expects? These are all things that should be discussed on a regular basis.

Heather Figi said: Aug 29, 2014
 96 posts

Greetings—Thank you for reaching out. First, please keep us posted on this progress. Every story is unique and we can all learn from each other.

A couple of thoughts came to mind:

1- Plateau Effect—Some learners learn in plateaus. This does not mean that nothing is happening. For more information on this, here is a wikipedia link:

2- Gender Differences—There are significant differences that are finally being recognized between the male and female brain. It is worth looking into because especially at his age, the learning process is quite different for girls and boys

3- Video tape yourself practicing with him and watch by yourself. Distance and reflection are great ways to see things in new ways.

4- Are you moving in your home practice? This can be essential for a child his age. Find creative ways like walking while playing, adding in jumping (plus this always brings a smile) and taking some tickle breaks

I know that none of these points are magic wands but hope they inspire some new direction for you on this journey.


Anna said: Sep 25, 2014
20 posts

I can relate to your frustration, Mariel. I have a 6 year old student who has been taking lessons for a few months. This student would come to lessons week after week with the same problems every time. We worked through the problems in a simple, step-by-step way at the lessons and I made sure that both the child and mother understood what I was doing. I talked to the child’s mother and made sure it was clear what they were supposed to do at home, but nothing changed. It didn’t seem like the mother either didn’t understand or didn’t care that we were going over the same things every week. Then last week, just when I had decided that I needed to do something different, the student’s lesson was fantastic! So much progress had been made that I almost couldn’t believe it!

I started Suzuki violin a month before I turned 5 years old. My mother has told me that my teacher pulled her aside one day and told her not to be surprised if there were times when there wouldn’t be progress week after week after week. Then one day, everything would “click” and I would make a huge amount of progress all at once. And that is exactly the way it worked.

I saw that same thing with this one student of mine, and I expect to see it again, both with this student and my other students. It is probably more common with some types of personalities/learning styles, but I think it happens to some degree with all students.

I understand that this is a frustrating and difficult time for you. I would encourage you to talk to his teacher about it because it is important for there to be good communication between the teacher and parent. If the teacher is not willing to talk, find a different teacher. Ask the teacher if you can try a different approach. As long as your son is not getting discouraged, though, you may be fine to continue on as things are for now and see if it works itself out.

Above all, though, I would encourage you to keep trying. Even if it is hard now and you have to try a different approach or find a new teacher, it will be worth it for your son in the long term. There are so many benefits to learning an instrument and I have never talked to an adult that didn’t appreciate their musical experiences during their childhood.

Wishing you success in your musical journey with your son!

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