Still no focus after 6 years—time to quit?


Nadia said: Oct 10, 2014
16 posts

My son started Suzuki violin age 4, and he just turned 10. He seems to be always thinking of something other than what he’s being taught, and his violin teacher has to talk to him about paying attention just about every 5 minutes. And this is how he is everywhere he goes—swim lesson, school, orchestra, etc. Last year his private violin instructor told him to use the bow to the frog to play scale EVERY SINGLE WEEK and he still doesn’t. And that’s just one of the basic things he has heard every week for six years and he still doesn’t do. He’s polite, but very passive aggressive. He has progressed though each book every year in the beginning, spent 2 years in Book 4, and is in Book 5 now. It didn’t take him much at all to “memorize” Bach double and doesn’t want to play with music; but he doesn’t play precise notes, either. He says he enjoys playing violin and practices every day, but I no longer have patience or hope of his attitude/behavior ever improving. Is it matter of time before he somehow “wakes up”, or is this how it’s going to be? I’m at my wit’s end. I’d appreciate any feedback and guidance from teachers and other parents.

Sue Hunt said: Oct 11, 2014
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

First of all, congratulations to your son, your teacher and you, on reaching book 5. This takes a lot of focus and hard work.

From what you say, your son is not engaged in the process. I have met many young students who have learnt that they don’t have to use their brains while practicing. Why should they? There is always a knowledgeable adult to tell him what to do and how much to do it. It is so easy to become a passive puppet and let the adult do all the thinking. This is exhausting for both parent and teacher.

Please don’t give up. How many children can play the violin at this level at the age of 10? The ability to focus is a priceless life skill, which is worth every minute that you spend on it.

Here are a 4 strategies to help you to improve things.

1 — Stick to one teaching point for each practice assignment. If you notice something else, don’t be tempted. Often we don’t focus on one point at a time, but nag about several teaching points at once. This is where children can switch off and become puppets in our hands.

2 — Don’t let the practice session drag on beyond what he can tolerate. It can feel like a life sentence to a child and will definitely teach him to switch off. Micro practice sessions teach children how to focus. Try a limited number of micro sessions a day instead of one long one.

3 — Be very careful to honestly praise any sign of effort and increased focus. Don’t praise results and talent. The child who is praised for talent has everything to loose by repeating a task. The child who is praised for hard work has everything to gain. Ask him how he thought he did. It will save you a lot of energy in the long run.

3 — Make a card for each teaching assignment.
- Ask your teacher for one important teaching point and write it on the back.
- At practice time, get him to shuffle them and do them in order. Before playing, he has to guess what’s on the back. If he does this and demonstrates the teaching point, put a gold star on the card. You can customise a star system that works best for him.
- At the next lesson, ask for another teaching point.
- At practice time, he will have to remember both points.
Continue for as long as effective.

Anne Brennand said: Oct 11, 2014
Anne Brennand
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Boulder, CO
55 posts

Hi. I think Sue’s suggestions are terrific.
What struck me on first reading that your son “seems to be always thinking of something other than what he’s being taught, and his violin teacher has to talk to him about paying attention just about every 5 minutes. And this is how he is everywhere he goes—swim lesson, school, orchestra, etc.”, is that you are dealing with a mental health issue as much as violin training. Please take this matter to heart. The ability to focus on the subject at hand, to move the mind from self, to other, to fingers, to bow, and accomplish a specific task—that is a human life force, a life skill that needs addressing in your son’s case. —Anne

Anne Brennand, cellist and cello teacher

Betsy Husby said: Oct 13, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Duluth, MN
1 posts

Hi. I have been a Suzuki cello teacher for almost 30 years and have a son that fits your description who is now 21 and is a viola major in college. His “focus” improved greatly in grades 9 through 11. Focus is still an issue, but he has learned to cope. Don’t quit if he enjoys his instrument.

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