Trying to get my 4 y.o. boy start violin


Hannah said: Mar 17, 2018
Suzuki Association Member
Cedar Park, TX
10 posts

I am curretnly a suzuki violin teacher and a mom to 4 and 2 year old boys.
My husband and I have been consistently taking our 4 year old son to observe weekly lessons and group classes for about last 7 months and listened to the Suzuki recording every day. The teacher we observe would ask my son if he would like to take a thank you bow at the end of the observation but he resisted every time saying he will do it another time.
Also, when he sees me play the violin, he says it’s too loud and stops me. When I ask if he wants to learn to play the violin, he says no. He says that he wants to learn to play the drum instead. (!!!)
I am devastated that … he doesn’t want to learn to play the violin. What have gone wrong?
Is there any experienced teachers and parents who has gone through this? In my 13 years of teaching, I never had to deal with this and now that my child is ready to learn, he doesn’t want to.
Any advice or insights in to what may be going through him would be much appreciated.

Paula Bird said: Mar 17, 2018
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
404 posts

Try not saying anything about it. As parent observers, ask if you can participate in the class a little bit. Then you take the bow at the end of the observation. I suspect that your child says no because everyone is asking him if he wants to, and he’s checking to see if he really has the power to refuse. I wouldn’t even bother asking him. I ask my parents to come in to the class or group setting and be a part of it. We take the bows and do the activities together, I don’t invite the child unless the child asks. I do not ask the child because of this power dynamic.

The child knows what the adults want and the child refuses. I’m guessing that this child likes to push a few buttons, yes? You have written that you are “devastated.” I’m thinking the child knows this too. And picking the drums instead is kind of funny, since drums are so much louder than the violin.

My mother would have told me that I couldn’t learn to play drums until I had learned the violin first, because the violin was easier to start with since it could be made to my size. And my mother would have held fast to her requirement that I start with violin and stick with it for a very long time to prove that I was going to be a good enough student to learn drums.

I would take the power back. Stop asking and just make it clear by your actions that you think this is important and are determined to be a part of it. When he sees that everyone else has fun while he sits on the sofa and waits, he may decide to participate. But don’t cajole him and try and persuade him. Take your focus away from him and put it on your and your husband’s desire to do this because you think it is important to do.

Keep us informed of your progress. These stories are fascinating to watch unfold.


Paula Bird

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Alicia said: Mar 17, 2018
Alicia Randisi-Hooker
Suzuki Association Member
Cello, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
9 posts

I love Paula’s answer. WHoleheartedly agree!


Friederike said: Mar 18, 2018
Friederike Lehrbass
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
88 posts

Great advice Paula. yes, please keep us updated. when I had my first child ,she was a girl and I took her with me to lesson for the first year. Soon she often imitated violin playing with everything. I started her when she was 4. And yes sure we had our struggles during the years. I taught her myself for quite some time. Then when she she got older and I told her to practice I heard at times “I hate the violin” but I just ignored it. Finally after we moved we I had the hardest time teaching her myself when she was 12,13 years old and we found another good teacher( trainer..) She finally really took of and now loves to play and it’s much easier now. When I started my second son I noticed that I had a really hard time with him physically teaching him. And he also wanted to learn another instrument. First tried piano, thought about trumpet, but then decided on guitar, which he loves. It’s not Suzuki guitar, but he does have a great teacher. Also a friend of mine is a Cello teacher and both of her boys don’t play Cello. One learns guitar and the other drums. Just sharing. I’m glad that at least my daughter plays violin. But they do have to make it their own eventually.

Praise the Lord with the stringed instrument

Barbara Rylander said: Mar 19, 2018
Barbara RylanderViolin, Viola
Saline, MI
29 posts

Hi Hannah,

I have a very different perspective for you. I have five grown daughters, and started each one of them on violin.

Baby girl #1 was born when I was 25. I was planning on practicing my violin daily, but ran into a real problem. The baby screamed every time I played violin. Living in an apartment across from a friend who played piano, I left her one day, with Rita, to go downtown Chicago for a violin lesson. When I came back, my friend was all smiles. My baby had happily kicked her feet and enjoyed an hour or so of Rita’s piano playing!

Baby girl #1 (Jackie) never did and still does not like the sound of violin! She is now the mother of 2 children and she is hesitating starting her second on violin, because she really does not like the sound.

But when she was 5 I took my first teacher training and both she and her sister began Suzuki violin. Unlike your son, she did play and practice, but at age 9, seeing her playing with tears dripping onto the violin, I let her quit.

I told her she would need to play another instrument. I picked out flute for her, just based on her personality. Notice the the flute is even higher than the violin, yet the timbre did not bother her. In fact she loved her flute teacher (a colleague of mine) and after claiming she would NEVER march in marching band, and then loving to figure out marching band formats, and then claiming she would NEVER go into music, but finding a trumpet player boyfriend who is now her husband (they’ve known each other longer than they haven’t) AND following him to music school, where she earned a music business degree. (She had to have ongoing conversations with her flute professor who kept saying she should do performance)

I have taught both Musikgarten and Kindermusik, and this is what I see with children of musicians: they have remarkably musical brains. So, they respond in a much more mature way to music. They can and do have strong preferences. I could tell you about my very good student Ashley Wessel, who very politely but doggedly insisted she would be “the best” French Horn player. She was barely a teen, in book 6 and playing very well (child of 2 musicians) They insisted she continue to play violin. She attended lessons, played what she was asked to play. Refused to speak. (makes me laugh)
I give you her name because she is now a fabulous horn player!

And my other girls? After hearing Ronda Cole’s views (many years ago, she may have changed them) I switched baby girl #2 to cello. It seemed safer than having her loose in the house on her feet with a violin. (She ended up with a double degree in biochem and Eastern European studies and then decided on nursing, finishing up a masters’ now) Baby girl #3 was fascinated by piano, so after a few years of violin she switched.. Horses were and are her passion, she is raising her kids out in the country with horses and teaching riding. baby girl #4 terrorized all three sisters, chasing them down as they practiced, sitting on their laps, and throwing her 32nd size violin………I let her wait until she was 5 to start flute. She had a wonderful teacher and soloed with her high school, with more practice, could have gone on, but wanted other things,is now finishing up a masters’ in social work. Finally baby girl #5 stayed on violin and she was planning to get a music degree, but ended up with muscular pain that shut her down a few years ago. She is pursuing another degree.

During all of that I taught violin, viola, a little cello, Musikgarten, and played weddings!

Have fun!

Best of luck to you! Barb

Barbara Eadie said: Mar 19, 2018
Barbara Eadie
Suzuki Association Member
Victoria, BC
39 posts

My husband and I are both professional musicians (flute & trombone). I made the conscious decision to start our kids on strings to minimize the feeling of having to measure up to musician parents. One is now playing professionally, one switched to piano and one quit after about 5 years to figure skate. My 3 kids all love music so I don’t think the time spent on the instruments was wasted. Some kids like to be different and do something that no one else in the family can do. This is why I started them with strings. I think the most important thing is to make sure they know that you love them and support their passion, no matter what it is.

Kurt Meisenbach said: Mar 26, 2018
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

I agree with all of the different perspectives shared here, and I learned from reading them. Children frequently don’t follow the book we just read about how to raise them. I would like to share a bit of child psychology that is included in a book I have written for busy parents. This particular section deals with boys.

Boys Will be Boys

Boys have difficulty acquiring masculine values. In the American, women are the primary culture bearers. They spend more time with their children than do the fathers. Because they spend more time, their children learn more from them than they do from their fathers. Most of the child’s conscience, sense of right and wrong and much of their early social skills come from the mother. In the case of boys, although they know they are learning from their mother, they also sense that their mother is different from them. For this reason, the boy can have difficulty making his mother’s values his own. He is unsure what it is to be a boy.

Saying no is an indispensable part of growing up. Paula’s comment that your child is testing whether he has the power to refuse is very insightful. Barbara’s perspective is also important. Our children are attracted to different things, and those things may be different from what we are attracted to.

Paula’s final comment about taking the power back is very relevant. As teachers and parents, we want to give our children choices, but we must give them choices that develop them. In the case of bowing, I would ask, “Do you want to do your bow at this lesson or at the next lesson?” There still may be resistance, but at least you are guiding him in the right direction. If you ask him, “Do you want to bow today?” you are giving him a choice you don’t want him to have. This approach is not manipulative. It is constructive guidance provided by a loving parent.

Finally, if your boy doesn’t want to play violin, ask him what instrument he would like to play. If he persists that his only choice is drums, make a deal with him. Tell him he can play drums if he plays another instrument of his choice (piano, flute, trumpet, etc.).

I deal with this issue in detail in a book I have written for busy parents. If you would like, I can send you a PDF. Each chapter is short and to the point.

Lydia said: Mar 26, 2018
Suzuki Association Member
17 posts

I get a general vibe in this thread that drums are being perceived as “lesser”, which is why so many of you seem to be suggesting that the child be required to play another instrument as well, as if those were the “real” instruments and drums just a toy.

Percussionists are not lesser musicians, and choosing percussion is not making an inferior choice versus choosing some other instrument. There are practical considerations—for instance, most kids don’t begin band instruments or percussion until elementary-school age, so if you really want to begin a kid at 4, there will be some restrictions on the possibilities.

But many early-music classes teach kids to play unpitched percussion instruments in groups, and the more advanced ones may teach Orff instruments—i.e., mallet instruments. So a child who is interested in percussion has plenty of avenues for instruction.

A former violin teacher of mine had a son who didn’t want to play violin but did want to play drums. He became an excellent drummer and she was fully supportive, rather than seeing it as a rejection of what she loved.

Children should not be an extension of our own egos, hopes, and dreams. They won’t necessarily love what we love. They may even hate the sound of an instrument that we love. We shouldn’t view that as a rejection of the parent, or a rebellion against the parent. Just because you love chocolate doesn’t mean your kid wouldn’t prefer vanilla.

Kurt Meisenbach said: Mar 26, 2018
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

I agree that percussion instruments should not be viewed as a lesser species. Here is an answer I gave to that question on a previous occasion.

How does the study of a rhythm instrument (drums, tympani, etc.) compare with the study of a musical instrument?

Movement is an indispensable part of thinking and learning. Playing a percussion instrument or clapping or marching to the sound of drums develop a child’s physical timing, coordination and thinking.

The key thing to point out is that although the study of rhythm provides learning benefits, the study of a musical instrument provides even more. Listening to music stimulates the right side of the brain. Playing a musical instrument stimulates both sides of the brain. This conclusion is based on extensive brain scan studies.

Music is comprised of several elements:
1. Melody
2. Harmony
3. Rhythm
4. Dynamics (Loud and Soft)
5. Tempos (Different Speeds)
6. Instrumentation (What instruments are used)
7. Orchestration (how they are used and when)

Instrumentation is what instruments are used, for example trumpet, clarinet, violin, cello, drums and xylophone. Orchestration is how and when they are used – do they play the melody or the harmony, are they playing high notes, low notes or notes in the middle of their range.

The combination of these seven elements makes possible an infinite number of variations across all styles of music. Classical music explores these elements in a more complex and comprehensive way than popular music. This increased complexity stimulates greater activity in both sides of the brain.

Barbara Rylander said: Mar 27, 2018
Barbara RylanderViolin, Viola
Saline, MI
29 posts

And then there is the xylophone and all pitched percussion. Both Musikgarten and Kindermusik have a two year program where they use xylophone extensively. I used Musikgarten as a foundational program, integrating it with violin group for the youngest violin students. I think it is much better than regular group classes.

One caveat would be to try to find a Musikgarten teacher who is an orchestral musician. I was able to develop ensemble skills, focus on the conductor skills, mallet skills, that in more recent days as a music sub in general music classes I realized are not often taught.

Five year olds can do amazing things. But the same precision we bring to the violin has to be consciously applied to playing a mallet instrument.

And, for the teachers on here: the Dalcroze presented at the last conference and this one in May, is a profound experience! Don’t miss it. I lack the funds to attend this year but watching this new integrative approach is amazing.

Barbara Eadie said: Mar 27, 2018
Barbara Eadie
Suzuki Association Member
Victoria, BC
39 posts

Some thoughts on the drum. Many kids ask for the drum because of what they have seen in the media. They are often thinking of the drum set and have no idea of what being a percussion player involves. (I filled in once for the percussionist in a middle school level orchestra and discovered just how challenging being a percussionist can be!) There are plenty of opportunities to use percussion instruments in the elementary school setting. Many schools use Orff instruments so kids get the opportunity to try out mallets and other instruments. The decision to start drum lesson can be left until about grade 5 or 6.

I have spent many years as an elementary school band teacher and I let kids learn drum under the following conditions:
They have already had piano lessons or lessons on another instrument, and they start the first year of band on a bell kit. This helped me choose who could play this instrument (I cannot have 25 drummers in the band!) and for the most part parents were supportive of my decision (some actually thanked me!)

Playing percussion is one of the most difficult jobs in the orchestra. It takes someone who can multi-task and who is highly focused, and who has an innate sense of rhythm.

Melanie Drake said: Mar 28, 2018
Melanie Drake36 posts

My son started out as a Suzuki guitarist at age 4.  In 4th grade, he was offered an opportunity to join either band or orchestra at school.  His Suzuki guitar teacher recommended percussion as a second instrument.  Our school’s band requires all new percussion students to start learning orchestra bells; I’d be surprised if this isn’t the norm.  Once a student learns to read music for bells, they also learn to play standard rhythm instruments.  At concerts, young students perform some songs on bells and some on snare drum, for example.  My son now takes private percussion lessons, in addition to Suzuki guitar lessons.  Percussion is incredibly complex and challenging.  I’d recommend trying it if you haven’t.  I’m not a musician myself, but I am very bad at it.  As a software engineer, I was able to play through cello book 3 and guitar book 5 (admittedly not at a high level), but I can’t do much with a snare drum.  To be fair, I devoted much more time to the other instruments.

A percussion student has flexibility in that he or she can perform with a band (e.g., marching band, jazz band, concert band) or an orchestra.  Percussionists perform music in many genres, including classical music.  It’s so much more than just making noise and banging on things by oneself.

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