Advice on practicing with a co-parent who would prefer violin be dropped.

Heather said: Apr 26, 2016
 11 posts

To give a little back story. My kids have been doing violin since they were 4 years old. My oldest two are 8 and my middle child has begun this year.

My husband and I are separated and soon to be living apart. So basically he’ll have them a little under half the time.

The children will be allowed to continue with violin lessons as it’s a status quo. However it’s not my husband’s intention to have them practice on his time.

He would never stop them from practicing on their own, but won’t be making them practice either.

As my children are moving along in violin. I see how vital practice every day is.

What do other parents do in this situation?

I couldn’t find another post about this topic but I’m sure there are other parents with shared custody that must make it work.

I’m looking for strategies to perhaps motivate my kids to practice when they are over at his house and hear solutions other parents have found work with their co-parents.

Carolyn Smith said: Apr 26, 2016
6 posts

Are your oldest kids able to do some practice independently? Could you send along lists of spots and suggested repetitions they could practice while at their dad’s? He may not practice with them but may be agreeable to have them still practice some on their own. They could also do a lot of listening work. It may not be ideal, but on the other hand it could have the positive benefit of making them independent practicers who take some ownership of the process!

Heather said: Apr 26, 2016
 11 posts

My older kids are but I needs some motivational tools for sure.

My 5 year old would have no idea how to practice on his own.

I’d ask my daughter to help but I think that would be asking too much of her at her age. I like the idea of sending them along with notes or goals. I’m hoping to avoid flat out bribes but it might come to that.

Rachel said: Apr 26, 2016
4 posts

I have a 7 year old in book 2 and a similar coparenting situation. Thank goodness my ex is willing to help a bit, but it’s still not the same.

This is what we do now. On Sunday, she is at his house and does “Sabbath Practice” ie she plays whatever she wants as long as she is playing. She likes to play disney songs and figure things out, so we go with that. Currently I ask him to do it 15 minutes with her, but her usual practice time is 30 min, so I’m thinking of adding a longish list of review pieces that they can also run through on Sundays.

On Mondays, he drops her off at my house before school and I practice with her as usual before taking her to school. We live close enough that this works.

On Thursday mornings, she is at her dad’s and I let her skip practice. She has violin lesson that afternoon anyway.

She practices with me Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday morning, and Saturdays.

It would be frustrating having a coparent that is not as committed as you are. We have been separated since my daughter started violin. When she was younger, I used to just go to his house on his days and practice with her. I wish everyone were as lucky to have such an easygoing coparenting relationship!

Heather said: Apr 27, 2016
 11 posts

Thank you for that information. I could do a “play whatever you want day ” when they are dad’s house.

I will ask about the me coming over to do practice with them. He might be open to that but I can’t count on that as a long term solution. My 8 year olds will be old enough to practice on their own I suppose in any case.

Any playing is frankly better than none. There is no doubt violin with committed parents is hard enough, I’m not sure how long it will work but you never know. My older kids are halfway through book 2 so they may be far enough along to be self motivated to have success.

Suzuki Mom said: Apr 27, 2016
 4 posts

I don’t shared custody situation but I want to share my observation. My daughter is nine years old has been playing since she was four. The best practice came out when she had a sense that she owned it. We really take advantage of using our teacher—making it their deals. It is not me telling her what to do. I was at the lesson to help take notes and making sure that we both remember what and how to practice according to the teacher’s instructions. Any questions my kid asked, we tried to both figured it out. If none of us could remember, we made a note and asked the teacher in the next lesson. I am very conscious about not doing things for my daughter, especially when I know she is capable herself. I don’t underestimate her abilities. Whatever the experience—frustration, joy, doubt—she learned how to share it with the teacher. If it took a few weeks to get her points across, so be it. Our teacher is very lovely, but it probably took her a while to build a relationship and understand my daughter. I communicated my observation with her via email from time to time, for example, short on sleep from a playdate, illness, frustrated about a particular phrase in the piece. The teacher has a way to help her with those information without even mentioned my notes.

I am mentioning all these to point out that it is good if your daughter owns it, however young she is. Whatever notes she has, they are from the teacher. Not from you. A note from you could be taken the wrong way, as trying to control the situation even when the children are with the other parent. I am sure it is not easy but the children can take ownership and help out here.

Our teacher tries something new this year. She has a take home notebook for each student. She wrote what they should be practicing on after the lesson. It is short, usually has about 5 bulleted points. I made all the marking in the Suzuki book at the beginning of each piece, copying from the teacher notes. I still keep my own notebook during lessons for myself. My daughter is in book 4 now so a lot of things are getting to be beyond me. I use my phone to take movie of certain hard passages so my daughter could consult during the week. She saw it as a tool too and would sometime ask me to do it.

Like any new skills to a child, it takes work. Violin is a hard skill to learn. To be really good, it takes commitments from all, especially the child. As parents, my husband and I will try our best to facilitate the learning, including getting out of the way. I think there is no stopping now for my daughter, she knows.

Rachel said: Apr 27, 2016
4 posts

Suzuki Mom, I appreciate your comment so much. After reading Edmund Sprunger’s book recently, I have been trying to reform my practice habits with my daughter to give her more ownership. She is just turning 7 this month and “hates violin” so she’s still rather young and unfortunately resistant, but it has helped immensely to give her more ownership of her practice and try to back off a little bit and “stand behind the teacher” as you say. (I am taking violin too with the same teacher, so this makes it doubly hard and confusing. You can see who it is in the family driving this thing. ;) )

Anyway, I appreciate your comments and suggestions. I need to continue to move this way with my daughter, and her practices at her dad’s when I’m not there are another opportunity to move this direction!

Shulamit Kleinerman said: Apr 27, 2016
Shulamit Kleinerman
Suzuki Association Member
Seattle, WA
28 posts

I’m a teacher and happy to report that I have a family who have successfully navigated this challenging situation of dual custody with one parent who was not very enthusiastic about the work.

I would reflect that it took an extra share of dedication and wisdom from the parent who was committed. I think that parent had to really accept on some level that she wasn’t in control of what happened at dad’s house and that sometimes practice wouldn’t happen there at all, and that the student’s progress would realistically not be as fast as if there was daily practice with a dedicated parent. (Teacher has to get this too.) But progress can still happen!

She also had to be comfortable with how it was now all the more important that good practices happened on all the days she had her kid with her. I’ve had another shared-custody family in my studio where there wasn’t enough commitment from either parent (probably even if they had all lived together), and the mom, who was more interested in doing music, reflected to me that what what was particularly hard for her was initiating practice on the day her daughter returned to her. After they’d been missing each other for half the week, they just wanted to reconnect and have fun. I think she would have had to find a way for practice to feel like part of that lovey reconnection time, rather than a to-do list item that got in the way.

For the family that has been successful, it also has helped a lot that even though the dad was less committed, he was generally in favor of his daughter’s music, and both mom and dad (eventually with new spouses) have all comfortably attended all recitals and school concerts together. So it never became something like “I only do this for mom” or something the parents conflicted over—the kid wasn’t caught in the middle. The daughter is in 7th grade now and does her own practice and is very committed and successful.

Reading your story: All the kids will benefit from ANY small practice that happens at dad’s house, and the youngest will benefit from hearing the older kids— especially hearing their review—even if he’s not able to practice himself. Yes on listening to the recordings if their dad can support that. My hunch as a teacher is that any nudges toward the 8yos’ independent practice at dad’s house might go down best if they are small and manageable tasks, the easiest or most eagerly-anticipated thing on the week’s list, to build success and a sense of competence rather than struggle in vain. Perhaps the teacher can help point out which tasks this might be?

Good luck!

Kathleen Moser said: Apr 27, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Jeffersonville, PA
8 posts

I love hearing the passion this mom has about helping her children and those who have replied—just so much love coming through as I read!
I would just add to be sure the teacher and student(s) have a discussion about what could be possible at dad’s: one weekend, it may be the “play what you wish” situation, one weekend it could be “play the 7 pieces that are on slips of paper that you’ll pull out of this old jelly jar” (please wash that jar out before you put the papers on it!), or a list of pieces requested by the teacher, etc. The main thing is that the teacher speaks about possibilities even though these possibilities may rarely happens at dad’s. If there is ever playing at dad’s, you MUST be sure to be SO EXCITED that your child(ren) would EVER GET SUCH A THING ACCOMPLISHED and discuss how proud you are, tell the teacher in front of them how you proud you are, and ask them if they are proud of themselves for having such a grown-up attitude and playing violin without you even being there to request it. I’m sure a Suzuki teacher will make a big deal about their playing at dad’s as well. (MOTHER TONGUE: If a child’s first word was spoken at dad’s, all the adults would be excited about the accomplishment, right?) Think about how you can acknowledge anything they do there. There are times when, as my children’s teacher AND parent, my husband and I will be planning on taking them out to dinner, but will add a line to acknowledge their musical efforts by saying something like, “And we just have to go to dinner to celebrate how well you did in math this week and to celebrate how hard you’ve worked on piano,” —even though my husband and I just felt like having a family dinner out! We just tie music into whatever’s possible to keep them proud and positive.
Best wishes on this new phase of your musical journey!

Carrie said: Apr 28, 2016
 60 posts

You’ve been given a lot of good advice. I would add, please let the teacher know what’s going on in the family. If we know the kids are with dad this week and will not have had their practice coach, we can adjust.

Also, remember Suzuki’s saying, “Character first, then ability.” Model a good working relationship with their father. You cannot control what goes on there. Better to focus on what is good than trying to change what you would like to be different. And be thoughtful and cooperative with things their dad wants for the kids as well.


Heather said: Apr 28, 2016
 11 posts

Such fantastic advice. Exactly what I was looking for. I love the idea of practice notes coming from the teacher. Not me.

I have no doubt that their Dad would come to recitals if he can. He has nothing against the violin. He just doesn’t want to have to enforce practice at all.

So perhaps this is a good time for my 8 year olds to start to become a little more independence and i’ll do what I can with my 5 year old until he’s ready for independence.

Our teacher is very much aware of the situation and we’re not the only family she has with this situation. It’s just the other family has a teenager so obviously a little different.

Heck if I can get one out of 4 kids to continue on with the violin past 12. I’ll consider that a success.

I’ve taken all of this advice to heart and I’m feeling much more optimistic now.

Thank you, Thank you

Edward said: May 18, 2016
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Morris Plains, NJ
73 posts

From a “Divorced Dad Who Also Teaches Suzuki” :) -

The one important piece of advice I would give: Make sure there is another violin at Dad’s.

I myself have gone through this AND many of my students and parents are in the situation.

When there is an instrument accessible that doesn’t have to be carted back and forth, you empower a practicing environment.

This will also eliminate 90% of the logistical difficulties inherent in coordinating with an ex. Rent a second instrument or better yet, Invest in a good affordable USED one (if you don’t know where to get one let me know by PM.) It is worth the cost. Don’t worry about what will happen to the violin when your child grows; you can cross that bridge later, and if you get a good used one it can be used by a sibling or you can resell it.

For development of independent practicing, I have a free guide on practicing and motivation at, as well as other resources on learning violin that you could download and forward to the other parent.

Hope this helps!

Happy practicing,

Free Guide: Mom, Dad, Can I Practice?
Free Game: Leprechaun Practice System --> Works for online teaching!

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Carrie said: May 19, 2016
 60 posts

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