Is it worth it to continue?

Mariel said: Jul 24, 2015
3 posts

I have a six-year-old son who has been playing the violin for about 18 months and is in mid-book 1. Since he began at age 4, practicing has always been a challenge—not so much because he resists practicing (although that does happen time to time) but because he has a hard time focusing on what he is doing. When he does give his full attention to playing he can play decently, but it is very difficult to get him to maintain correct posture/position for an entire song. He likes to be silly and is easily distracted. This ends up trying my patience and making me very irritated with him, and many of our practices end in his crying due to my frustration with him. I worry that these experiences of me practicing with him are causing him a lot of stress/anxiety and eroding our relationship. Lessons are pretty much the same story—when he does focus they go well but if he is distracted he plays poorly and so has to keep repeating the same things week after week, which we all find discouraging. His teacher and I both feel that we keep emphasizing the same points, mostly about bowing and relaxing the bow hold hand, to no effect. I keep watching the other students play better and better without much progress from my son and wonder what I am doing wrong. We practice generally 6-7 days a week for 30-40 minutes, following the instructions of the teacher. Often, I incorporate games and about half of the time we have a good time during practice. My son learns notes/rhythms very quickly and has no problem memorizing pieces. He is even pretty good at adjusting when his intonation is off. But he seems stuck on moving his arm and relaxing his bow hold. Even when he does these things correctly when practicing at home, he ends up doing much worse during his lesson. He is very sensitive to criticism and strongly dislikes correction, which doesn’t help. Recently he is saying that he “hates the violin.”

Are there some students that just can’t learn? Is it best to take a break and continue at a future point when he is more mature? I don’t want to completely ruin my relationship with him and cause him to hate music.

Alan Duncan said: Jul 26, 2015
Suzuki Association Member
81 posts

Some thoughts that occur to me—in no particular order:

- Does you son have an opportunity to do group classes? The natural inclination of children to benchmark themselves with other children might spark more work-oriented focus.
- My daughter, a mid-Book 3 violin student, just turned 7. My go-to cure for waning focus is to move around. We’ll march around while playing review pieces. I’ll have her stand on the coffee table. We play pieces in different rooms. Anything (a) different and/or (b) physical.
- Can you use a reward system of some sort? Not a substantial, high-value reward. I’ve noticed that my daughter is motivated by just collecting things, even those that have no value.
- Can you use a proxy to deliver feedback? I picked up an idea in the Parents as Partners videos this year—the use of puppets or stuffed animals to deliver critique. Some children feel less judged when a neutral third-party, albeit inanimate (!) one delivers feedback.

There are definitely peaks and valleys in the process. Getting through the Twinkles was one. Finishing Book 1 was another. After that, there’s a certain momentum for a while. I’ve often felt as you about my daughter’s focus. I, too, wish it were better. But she is where she is on a spectrum of attention—neither the most attentive nor the least. Usually when frustration starts to mount, I take it as sign that I need to get more creative. I’m accustomed to solving problems head-on but I need to think about going around barriers more gently. Hope this helps in some way. Looking for to other responses because I need help too sometimes!

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