Questioning continuing

Mariel said: Dec 14, 2017
3 posts

My son is eight years old and has been playing Suzuki violin for 3.5 years. We initially started him on violin because it was more practical than cello (more portable instrument and we found a good teacher). I initially wanted to learn to play fiddle music myself, but since he was young we ended up going the Suzuki path learning classical music. I had heard so many positive things about the Suzuki method that I really bought into it. I read the books. We have gone to Suzuki institutes every summer. My son has played in an ensemble group.

However, after so long after really giving it a great deal of effort, I am finally starting to question whether my insistence that he play the violin is causing more harm than good. This is a revelation not caused by an isolated incident, but by three factors coming into play:

  1. His original teacher, who seemed to be a good fit personality-wise retired, so we started with a new teacher four months ago, meaning that he has basically stagnated in learning anything new and is relearning many things the new teacher’s way

  2. I have taken a new job that requires semi-frequent travel and started a part-time graduate program, which means my time is even more limited. A few days a week I don’t even see my son for more than 30-60 minutes at all, let alone have 30-60 minutes to practice with him. So our practice frequency has suffered, although I try to make up for it on the weekends with longer sessions. Most of the time I have to spend with him is spent practicing violin.

  3. My son has developed an increasingly negative view of the violin. More than simply not wanting to practice, he has started saying things like ‘the worst thing in my life is violin’. He has said he hates the violin for a couple years now. He gets easily frustrated and upset when corrected, oftentimes falling onto the floor crying (cries probably in 50% of practices) and hitting himself on the head. While he behaves well at lessons and does seem to try, he is very tense and uncooperative during home practice more often than not. I don’t know whether this is normal. Games sort of help, but tend to make practices take longer, which he has noticed.
    I feel like if I could get someone else to practice with him every day, that would help us get through this rough spot, but I don’t know how to find that person (my husband is not invested enough in it to really learn how to be a Suzuki parent).

Needless to say, my son is only an average violinist, and has only made it toward the end of Book 2, so progress has been very slow. His lessons seem to mostly consist of his teacher asking him questions, and him taking a very long time to be able to answer, even though he and I go over the likely questions before lessons (questions are usually about music theory concepts). So he doesn’t get to play much during his lessons.

I stuck with Suzuki so far because I truly believed in nurturing children’s character through the joy of music and mindful practice, but joy in our lives with violin is increasingly hard to find.

I have a five year old daughter who’s also been playing violin for a year—she so far shows much more interest in the instrument. I also notice that she is actively trying to improve her playing when practicing, whereas my son only practices because I force him to do it, and shows no real interest in whether he is playing well or not.

Should I let my son quit and take up trumpet (which he’s wanted to play for years), keep forcing us through violin to teach him it’s not ok to give up when things get hard, or just give up music for him until he asks for it? Or look into more low-key fiddle lessons (he does seem to enjoy playing fiddle music more than any other type of music).

Kelly Williamson said: Dec 14, 2017
Kelly WilliamsonTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Flute, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Cambridge, ON
304 posts

Dear Mariel,

I look forward to seeing other responses! My own feeling is that you have a beautiful “out” for the violin lessons, in that your son has expressed an interest in learning trumpet. I think that is a win-win scenario. You are listening to what he is saying about his feelings with respect to his violin study, but I do not see that you are “giving up” at all, because he will be continuing to study music. He will bring all kinds of things to his trumpet study that he learned from playing violin, and the fresh start may be everything he needs to rediscover his love for music. (I don’t like to comment much since I don’t know either his musical background nor the current teacher’s objectives, but his lessons do not sound like much fun. If you are spending time coaching him on what questions might be asked beforehand, and he is feeling on the spot and also not playing very much in lessons, it sounds like there is little to motivate him to enjoy violin more.)

He may well find that he plays around with his violin again later on, when a good opportunity comes along, or it may just become his sister’s thing. Piano was my own first instrument… I played it for ten years before starting flute. I did take lessons on both during high school, but chose flute to study at university. That said, I just finished a rehearsal with my students where I accompanied them for their solos on the piano. You just never know. :) But it is time to ask serious questions when it has become a drudgery.

All the best! and good luck.


Jacob Litoff said: Dec 14, 2017
 Violin, Cello, Viola
Millis, MA
48 posts

Probably starting trumpet would be the best since that is what he really wants and he already knows the basics from having played violin. .

Maybe he could also try viola or cello as well, in place of violin. If he had time to practice two instruments. It can be neat learning one string instrument and then learning another one that is similar but not quite the same.

Kurt Meisenbach said: Dec 15, 2017
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

You are on the right track. Most parents want their children to learn to play a musical instrument because it develops the brain, imparts reasoning and cognitive skills that other disciplines do not, and it enriches their lives. Scientific studies have shown that these benefits are realized regardless of which instrument the child learns.

When a child chooses their instrument, they have more commitment to pursuing it. However, this commitment tends to wane over time, and the parent is still responsible to make practice happen on a regular basis. Your increasingly busy schedule will make this a challenge. If you can get your son involved in a ensemble with other trumpet players who are better than he is, this exposure to better players may make a positive difference in his practice habits.

You said that your husband is not involved in your son’s music studies. Is this because he is too busy, or because he is not convinced of the value of music study? If it is the latter, I am finishing a handout paper to be given to attendants at a presentation I will be making at the Austin Suzuki Festival next summer. The topic is Music Skills in Business. It is based on my own personal experience and references several clinical studies that compellingly prove the advantage that music students have over their peers who did not learn to play a musical instrument. I will be glad to sent you a copy when it is finished shortly after the new year.

You are doing an admirable job of great benefit for you child. Don’t give up, and good luck.

Karen Roth said: Dec 15, 2017
Suzuki Association Member
Northville, MI
2 posts

Mariel, please let your teacher know about your practice struggles and your son’s feelings. You could even send her your post, which shows a good understanding of Suzuki philosophy along with history and explanation of current challenges. Perhaps she will have suggestions for home practice and perhaps she will try adjusting her use of lesson time a bit. (I do, if I know a student is frustrated.) She needs to be true to her own teaching, but no teacher wants their students to dislike their instrument or lessons. Changing teachers successfully requires patience with adjustments and good communication. And if trumpet is the best decision, since his dislike of violin has lasted so long, perhaps she knows a teacher to recommend or a path to find a good trumpet teacher. Wishing you joyful music with both children!

Kurt Meisenbach said: Dec 15, 2017
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

I had some additional thoughts on this issue—when a child refuses to practice. I apologize for the lengthy response, but it is a subject I am passionate about.

My child refuses to practice. What can I do?

This is not unusual. It is not uncommon for a child to resist music study. It is also not unusual for a child who started out practicing willingly to go on strike and refuse to practice later when things go differently from what they anticipated.

What can you do? First, talk to your child. Ask them why they don’t want to practice. Listen intently and don’t interrupt. Draw out their feelings, and don’t disagree with them or try to change them. Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel the way they do. Feelings are what they are. They don’t go away because we tell them to or want them to. Let your child talk as long as they need to get it off their chest. Ask them questions that show you are listening, respect their feelings and want to know more. If you are sincere and your child believes you are sincere, they will open up to you.

This conversation may take a few minutes, or it may spread over several days or even weeks. Your child needs to know that his feelings are respected and that he will not be criticized for showing them.

Once the air has been cleared, and you know what is really bothering your child, you can look for solutions or alternatives. Ask your child if they would prefer to learn another instrument. Your objective is to enrich your child’s life, not select a specific instrument. If they make their own selection they will be more willing to spend time with it. Make it a joint decision. One-sided decisions don’t work as well as collaborative ones.

Alternatively, if you feel that your discussion with your child has resolved the problems they have with their current instrument, sit down with him or her and make a list of things that need to be different for music study to work this time. Agree on which changes you are going to make, then make them. Your child will respond positively to their increased sense of ownership in their education. This strategy of making a list of changes is a good idea regardless if your child is going to continue with the same instrument or start a new one.

Whatever you decide, make it a joint decision. If cannot be a one-sided parent mandate that is dictated to the child. If your child is old enough to say no, they have reached the age where they need to feel that they have an increasing voice in decisions that are made about their lives.

If you have time, get and read, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This is a ground-breaking book that takes us into the world of children and shows us how to relate to them in their world. If you don’t have the time, make it. It will change your life as a parent.

MaryLou Roberts said: Dec 17, 2017
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Ann Arbor, MI
284 posts

I agree with the recommendation of the book How to Talk so Kids will Listen….I recommend it to all the teacher trainees I work with! The reason why is so important in making this decision.

For sure, what you are describing would benefit from some positive changes.
1 Let the teacher know he is having problems wanting to practice.
2 I didn’t read that you had him in group class….so just to make sure, that experience is really important to long term progress! Encourage your teacher to have group class if this is not the case. Even if you are busy, you can relax and see your child relate through music with other children.
3 Don’t assume a change in instrument or style will fix this. Every instrument will have a challenging point that he will have to get through. Do you know the points specifically he needs? Does he see other students doing this? Sorry, but back to the group class issue. My analogy is that swimming from one end of the pool to the other is really not that fun. But get a bunch of kids together and they will swim back and forth over and over.
4 Why not add one fiddle tune to the reading? Ask the teacher for one!
We guitarists visit other styles of music all the time, and still love our classical!
5 Stick with your son, no matter what. Do not share what he says in a moment of frustration with others, that is personal. Just try to understand from his viewpoint why he might be having a tough time. If the practice gets tough, try to catch it right before he is going to cry. Stop that activity, make a note about what was too difficult, and bring it to the lesson.
6 If this is about work and not having enough energy on your part, find things he can do independently…I’m not sure what age he is, but some review chart with a reward of a good 6 days of happy practice does wonders. It says you know this takes effort, and you are praising the effort. My own children practiced after supper but before desert…it was a great couple of years!
7 Hang in there, the connection with your son through tough times is priceless!

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