Getting back on track after some horrible practices?

Rachel said: Feb 28, 2016
4 posts

I have been making a renewed effort to make practice with my daughter more pleasant and productive. She’s almost 7 and is in Book 2. She’s always picked up new pieces quickly, love performing, but she’s also always insisted that “violin is not her special talent” and that she will quit as soon as I let her.

I have been reading Ed Sprunger’s book, had a parent teacher conference with our teacher, and have been trying some new ideas—trying to work on smaller chunks, asking questions/giving space for her to take ownership of her practice rather than jumping to direct instruction (i.e. immediate correction). We’ve had some good practices this week, but just had two horrible ones in a row. Today ended with her in tears and literally screaming, me continuing to insist, and my husband eventually coming upstairs and yelling at both of us that it was totally “inappropriate.” Which it was.

So, how do you get back on track after bad stretches? I fear that I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my practicing with her over the last two years. When I’m very thoughtful and patient we can have great practices. But I have a hard time holding it together.

Part of the recent frustration is we’ve been trying to finish learning the Handel Bourree, and while she can play all the notes, she has learned the bowings wrong and we are trying to unlearn them and relearn them correctly. This happens frequently as she storms ahead playing songs by ear, playing bowings however she pleases, and it’s painful to get her to go back and unlearn and relearn. I know we need to go back and do repetitions of smaller chunks and just give it the time it needs, but I’m wondering now if I need to slow down even more and work on some basic skills like “listening to mom”. She resists simple instructions like “get your violin out,” and “stand up.” Do I just apologize to her? Offer some serious bribery? How do we get out of this hole?

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 5, 2016
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1072 posts

It sounds like what you’re doing—taking advice from Ed Sprunger’s book, etc., is a good start.

Apologies can also help—though you may not necessarily see immediate results from an apology. However you are the adult in the parent-child relationship, and if you realize you’ve wronged your child in some way, and you decide to change your ways, it’s up to you to apologize (and in the process, model what an apology is supposed to be, to your child).

Regarding the “violin is not her special talent” idea: is there a different musical instrument she would like to learn instead? Some children do have specific preferences regarding pitch range and timbre.

If you determine what other instruments are available for 7 year old students to learn in your area, and then go find professional recordings of those instruments to play around the home or in the car without necessarily telling your daughter why you’re playing them, and observe to see if she displays a strong preference for one of them over recordings of professional violin soloists…

Ally Ci said: Mar 7, 2016
 7 posts

I’ve been through such periods of less than stellar practices with both my kids at different stages in their musical education.
Sometimes they want to practice for hours, sometimes it’s a struggle just to pick up their instrument.
My solution was to back off completely during the hard times. I would only insist that they practice, but not micromanage how they practiced. True, they were less prepared for the next lesson and couldn’t advance as fast. Sometimes the teacher would ask them to go back and review a couple of forgotten pieces. Their progress would stagnate. But low-key practices helped them keep their motivation intact.

Rachel said: Mar 8, 2016
4 posts

Thanks for the comments.

I was surprised to see my daughter act in practice the next day as if the incident never happened. I kind of hate the saying “kids are resilient” because I know they do feel things strongly, but apparently sometimes it’s true!

At the next practice, we spent 20 minutes drawing a train with 7 cars to represent 7 sections in the second half of the Handel Bouree. We talked about what was in each car, and gave it a code name to trigger her memory. I wouldn’t let her link the cars together, instead telling her that we would only learn one car at a time and then link it to the one next to it. I held myself to only working on one car at each practice, and lo and behold a little less than 7 days later she can play the whole piece through proudly with no mistakes (well, the fourth finger fairy still doesn’t come out very often, but that’s another issue).

Edmund Sprunger’s book is great. Really, this is all about learning to be a better parent. Since I have resolved to do everythign I can to make practice positive and give her “ownership” of her playing and problem-solving things are getting better and better.

Oh—and I also started getting her up 15 minutes earlier in the morning! I start waking her up at 6:45 even though we don’t leave the house till 8:15. It seems extravagant, but it is so nice not to be rushed, and to have the confidence that we can indeed fit a 30 minute practice into our morning. It was no problem to adjust her bedtime back by 15 minutes to compensate. She acknoweldges it works better this way.

Heather Reichgott said: Mar 10, 2016
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
102 posts

Hello Rachel,
Glad things are going better for you and your daughter. Sounds like you are doing a wonderful job. I love the trains.
I’d just like to affirm, as another mom of a 7-year-old, that sometimes they just flip out. Then when the storm is past the sun comes out again. It might not be about the violin or about you or about anything at all.

Gina Devirro said: Mar 10, 2016
 19 posts

Age 7 seemed to be a very hard age for this Mom/daughter team as well. I often had to close windows and doors so the neighbors would not be alarmed. She is 9 now, and things generally go much smoother. Just a couple of years in age can make quite a difference in their ability to cope with frustration, it seems. Glad I didn’t give up on her, and I’m guessing you will be too. She is really thriving musically. It is a wonderful gift you are bestowing on your daughter, whether she knows it or not!

Alan Duncan said: Mar 14, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
81 posts


I, too, am the parent of a 7 year-old. While I’d love to say that all of our practices go beautifully and end with a sense of peace and great accomplishment, sadly they don’t always!

After some years of doing this every single day, I have the sense that there’s an ebb-and-flow to this. Throughout much of Book 1 and even into Books 2 and 3, she would hit tough spots that tested her frustration tolerance. I, too, hit my frustration tolerance from time to time.

One of the interventions that helped us with frustration issues was watching old videos of her playing early Book 1 pieces. The first time we did this, we showed her a video of her scratching out Lightly Row. She was aghast. After a few cycles of this she started to accept that technical hurdles were surmountable. The day-to-day improvement is so slow that it’s hard for them to realize how far they’ve come.

It sounds hokey, but a few times a week we start our practice sessions by reading either (1) a quote about progress and practice by Suzuki and talking about it or (2) mutual affirmations about cooperation, patience.

Just this year, one of the Parents as Partners videos done by Ed Sprunger was about a statement made by Suzuki: “I change myself.” If I’m honest, I can always find some way to change myself to make it work better. Just being mindful is often enough. It sounds like it was in your case.

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