Angry student

Barbara Stafford said: Oct 30, 2015
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
59 posts

I have a student about 6 years old that strongly and regularly expresses he wishes he quit violin. I was not the first teacher and I don’t entirely know the history.

I would like to be a part of helping the student have a good experience with violin. His parents want to expect him to play, they don’t seem like they want to let him quit.

I am not sure what I can do in this situation. His behavior is terrible when his mom is at the lesson. He is more productive when his dad is around. I think negative consequences are involved if his dad witnesses bad behavior at the lesson— and I would guess a spanking.

The question I have right now is, what can I do as a teacher at the beginning of the lesson to help this student be productive at the violin lesson and get past his first impulses to be uncooperative? And/or advice that would be helpful for the parents in dissipating the anger this child has around violin.

Nina Westbrook said: Oct 30, 2015
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Violin
Burnsville, MN
7 posts

Since I don’t know all the personalities involved I will just give my best viewpoint. I would require that the parents also learn how to play with him. If they can afford it, rent a violin for themselves or buy a used one. Not sure of their motivations for having him play, but if they truly love the violin, surely they would love to play it themselves and hopefully pass that love onto their son. From my experience, a lot of kids that age like doing things with their parents and really like it if they can do it better than their parents.

Nicole said: Oct 30, 2015
Nicole Ballinger
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Vero Beach, FL
9 posts

I’ve had this happen several times over the past 10 years. Have you tried doing any games to engage your child?

I’ve tried doing a simple rhythm knocking game on the front door- the student needs to knock the right rhythm (posted on the door) in order to enter the room- makes it kind of a secret spy code- all my kids love doing this :) I don’t do it every week to keep it fresh :)

Then there’s musical hangman—on studio whiteboard which you can tailor to whatever you want really.

Also if he has a favorite toy?—a Mom once brought her child’s favorite toy and made that the lesson ”mascot”- he had to play his best for him and this was a great motivator.

Just some ideas—for more games and other inspiration I highly recommend reading Phillip Johnstons- “The dynamic studio” :) and for the parents- I love recommending they read: “helping parents practice” by Edmund springer. Many parents come back with a renewed positivity to supporting lessons and practice at home. Many times they just don’t know how to support things positively.

Hope some of these thoughts help!

Rebecca said: Oct 30, 2015
 19 posts

I’ve been in this situation as well, and there is hope!

There could be a number of reasons for this behavior. Talk with his parents to find out anything that may be contributing to this. In my experiences, there were things going on that the parents weren’t even aware were affecting the behavior: an overloaded activity schedule and the student was just flat out tired, major changes in the family, an older family member that didn’t like the violin, etc. These were things that I couldn’t observe in the lesson time, but when I began asking questions and being direct with the parents, it was unfolding what was going on behind the scenes, could plan from there.

I would also agree Nicole and Nina’s ideas as well. Get the parents playing the violin if you can, and come up with games or fun ways to get the lesson started.

You may not be able to control what goes on at home, but you can do your best in the studio to create a good experience while he’s with you. My personal favorite activity:

I have a dozen small plastic animals. The uncooperative student shows up to lesson and pouts. I’ll smile and say, ” think it’s a day for the animals!” He gets 6 animals on his “side” and I get 6 animals on my “side”. If he does what I say (stand in rest position, play his piece, etc. ), he gets one of my animals, if not, I take one of his. At the end of the lesson, if he has all of my animals (sometime we’ve gone through several rounds of this throughout the half hour) he gets an extra sticker for his book. This usually does the trick, and the student usually is cooperative within the first 5 min.

I hope that helps. I’d love to hear other ideas from teachers what they do as well!

Alan Duncan said: Nov 2, 2015
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
59 posts

What about having a “practice in your lesson” session? Once a year our studio teacher has the parent conduct a practice session with the child while the teacher observes. Later, the teacher emails the parent with the feedback (so that the parent isn’t evaluated in front of the student.) It removes a lot of speculation about how practice is working at home.

To me, the “and I would guess a spanking” note raises a red flag. There are lots of viewpoints about corporal punishment for children. Personally, I think it never has a role. But if it is commonplace around conflict over practice, then there may just be considerable negativity about out of fear.

I would endorse Nina’s suggestion about having the parent take lessons. I’m a pianist by training; but when my daughter began violin, I decided to take the plunge alongside her. There is another parent in the studio who does the same. It’s a wonderful father-daughter experience. I wonder if it could change the dynamic that you described in the original post…

Barbara Stafford said: Nov 3, 2015
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
59 posts

Thank you all so much, I appreciate all this input!

Sarah Gimbel said: Nov 3, 2015
 1 posts

Hi, I am not a violin teacher (well only a home appointed one, I guess). I am a parent of a young daughter whose been a Suzuki student since 3.5 years old—she is 7 now. I was looking for ideas for her book 1 recital and happened upon this conversation. For whatever it’s worth I would like to add my 2 cents! Your concern for this little boy is understandable! I liked all the other recommendations but I very much agree that you should have / require at least one of his parents to take violin (the one most involved / committed). I love violin but I knew nothing about it or playing it and it absolutely changes a parents perspective when they ‘have’ to play it too!! It creates some empathy and problem solving skills and helps them to ‘teach’ better at home. My daughters’ violin teacher (awesome, btw) includes this information for new students / part of her studio policy for young students:

“The young student will take the first part of the lesson time and continue as long as he/she feels comfortable. The student’s portion of the lesson will end before the student becomes fidgety, which may be 5 minutes or 25 minutes depending on the attention span of the individual student. Instruction will remain enjoyable and lighthearted at the start, never pushing beyond the child’s limits. Once the student’s portion of the lesson is complete, the child will play or read quietly while the parent receives instruction. The parent will take the rest of the lesson time to learn the Twinkles and how to be an effective “home teacher” as well as to discuss the Suzuki philosophy and its application. Eventually, as the student’s attention span grows, the parent portion of the lessons will phase out and the student will assume the entire lesson length.


Good communication is imperative for our success as a team. We will spend time in lessons communicating about how to make practice at home successful. In addition, I am happy to speak with you over the phone or communicate through email when you have questions or concerns. Sometimes it is necessary to communicate in person without the student present. If this is the case, the student’s individual lesson time can be purposed for a parent/teacher conference or we can schedule a time to meet outside of the normal lesson time.

I will make every effort to keep students and parents informed concerning the schedule, schedule changes, group lesson details, performances, etc. Email will be the primary source for communicating these details. It is your responsibility to read all studio emails and make the necessary notes in your calendar. Text messages are appropriate for last minute communication or cancellations, however all other communication should be through email. Thanks!”

Personally, I think his parents will ruin his love for music and playing violin with their ‘bad behavior’ / choosing to be punitive instead of using positive reinforcement. Another thing that was super helpful is that our violin teacher offered varied ‘electives’ and some of them were for parents who were struggling to get their young children to practice (and wanted to resort to ‘bad behavior’ maybe…). Just makes me sad to read about him.

Barbara Stafford said: Nov 4, 2015
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
59 posts

Hi Sarah, I just wanted to let you know we had a great violin lesson just yesterday. This student does get excited about his own mind and ability when he can get past the power struggle he seems to act out when his mom is present. I think this is why the parents feel he needs to keep playing. He truly seems interested when he gets over his negative thoughts. I feel bad I implied a spanking might be involved. I truly don’t know. I just know he behaves with his dad, but is almost impossible when his mother is at the lesson. I still have a lot to find out with them, and I need to make use of the many suggestions here. I really appreciate you sharing your experience and the communications from your own violin teacher that are working so well! Thank you!

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