Shake-ups, shake-downs, & priorities

said: May 17, 2006
 104 posts

I don’t usually write posts that showcase my failings and poor decision making skills as a parent. but I am facing a situation that I feel is gradually spinning out of control. This is long…

We have three children, and all of them are drawn to music. The oldest one started Suzuki violin when she was four and made admirable progress. We had a piano at home, so when DD began tapping out tunes, we agreed to piano lessons as well. Oh, and she had a strong voice, so we added voice lessons.

(By this time, the Middle DD was turning four and wanting to know which instrument she’d be playing. I made the decision to direct her to the harp, which she has truly come to love and identify with. But, like her older sister, she started out tapping out tunes, so we added piano lessons as well. And then, she indicated interest in violin too, so we added that. Six months later, DD #3 wants a violin and the kid turns out to be just smashing—so we add piano lessons as well. IF you haven’t been keeping count, that’s a total of 8 private music lessons being funded by our family budget. Some people say it is crazy. I’ve always been tickled by all the things that the girls can do musically—and they love to share their music with friends, neighbors, home concerts, etc. We go to institute (we’ll go to two this summer) and they love it.

I always assumed that the girls would choose one main instrument at some point, but only after they were fluent enough in all of their instruments that they’d be able to pick it up for pleasure. None of the girls makes ANY noises—ever—about quitting an instrument. They want to take lessons.

My dilemma is this—my husband believes in and supports the value of the arts. But—he would not like our daughters to choose music as a career, which to me is a statement like “I would not like my daughter to marry a tall man.” The choice isn’t up to us, anyway! He points out that by paying all of this money for all of these lessons, and dedicating all of those hours every day for practice, we are in essence pushing them into a profession of music. From a financial side, he thinks the children should each choose one intrument and excel at it, but that the rest of the monies would be better spent saving for collge, etc. I will admit that we are talking large sums of money and we are not independently wealthy.

So—what wins—pragmatism? a child’s soul? What is the price of each choice? I cannot rid myself of the image of a child being told she can no longer take lessons on her beloved instrument. I blame myself for short-sighted decisions—I signed each child up for each set of lessons—I knew where it was going, and what’s going to happen if a change has to take place? Any thoughts or words of advice would be greatly appreciated—even if you’re going to chastise me for getting into the musical mess in the first place (you wouldn’t be the first!).

said: May 17, 2006
 122 posts

This is NOT about choosing a career. This is about providing your children EDUCATION, teaching them logic, thought process, and developing their heart. There is a huge difference in educating a child and forcing them into a career. All the money you’re spending now is being directly invested into education, which to me is the most important investment. It’s no secret that kids who receive a good music education also tend to do well in school.

If your family can afford it and your children are thriving, by all means continue to have your children take multiple instruments. But you are going to have to get your husband on board.

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

Rebecca said: May 17, 2006
 23 posts

profcornelia, I admire your honesty. You put things so clearly and so well.

You have to convince your husband, that they may not all choose careers in music, but that hardly matters—it sounds like you got a great thing going with your kids, I would ride that musical wave all i could. Why not? Have unlimited expectations. My Mom grew up in a fam. of five daughters, all musical. Thay all had piano and a string instrument, and a few had voice, as well. Only two have careers in music, but music is still very dear to all five. It bonds them together as a sisterhood. They enjoy fostering music in their children and seeing OUR generation have music in common, etc. It had, and has many joys for them. Every time we get together as a family, we play together, and we sure hear lots of stories about “Youth Symphony” or “tours” of year past. In high school, I wore my aunt’s madrigal costume, and even used some copies of her music still in circulation. Crazy, huh? Goes back to the saying about teachers, that you can never tell how far your influence reaches… Think about that and let this gift’s natural growth in your family bloom as unhindered as possible (maybe if funds are tight, ask each child to give up one kind of lessons for a year and then see???). Career choices are still a ways away. It takes many things to help you find your path, and being good at/enjoying music may have nothing to do with your child’s choice! It’s fine either way, right?

-Just tell me to shut up, I’m too idealistic again…

“Life without music would be a mistake.” -Nietsche

said: May 17, 2006
 6 posts

Okay, so I get to be the meanie! No, not really. ;-)

My opinion is that children need to be well rounded. If my child only wanted to play sports all the time, soccer, hockey, baseball (the 3 favorites) and our day was filled with lessons and practicing for this then I could understand people being concerned. Where is the balance there? I think this may be what your husband is saying?

Now, if your children are involved in some other types of activity, art lessons, debate club, sports, etc. Then I apologize for this assumption.

It is your job to open doors for your children. Open many, not just a few favorites.

Good Luck.

said: May 18, 2006
 89 posts

Maybe you could do a trial run, dropping one instrument of their choice for the summer, and reassess come time to register for the fall term?

said: May 18, 2006
 7 posts

You homeschool, correct? You could think of the cost of music lessons as comparable to a private school tuition—and you are still most likely saving money while your daughters are experiencing an extraordinarily musically enriched life.

If you truly do need to cut back financially, you may want to be honest with your girls about the situation, ..maybe each of them could be allotted a certain number of lesson hours per week, and it is up to them to decide how to arrange those hours.

I’ve been in a similar situation and the way I thought about the large time and money we were putting into lessons and practicing was—”This is what we are doing right now.” My thinking is, circumstances may change, but music is such a great thing to learn, especially when very young.

said: May 18, 2006
 104 posts

Thanks to all who posted responses to my dilemma.

Basically, when my husband and I discuss this, it isn’t an argument—but he is a very analytical person who is able to keep emotions out of decision-making, while I am much more intuitive and impulsive. So, all of the statements about the value of music education, and that it doesn’t HAVE to lead to a career, etc.—he will listen to those points, but then he always comes back calmly to the same issue: ALL of the benefits of musical education are worthy but why is it necessary for all three girls to play multiple instruments when the benefits would come from studying just ONE instrument?

Can our family “afford” it? Well, the college funds aren’t sitting there just waiting—and in nine years, the first child is going to need to go to university—and then we will have overlapping tuition bills as the others come up right behind her. My husband is very pointed in saying the girls should study one intrument, the money that is now being spent on multiple lessons should be saved instead.

Junebug, how would you advise a mother whose children were playing other instruments and also studying with you who indicated that a choice was going to be made? Would you want her to consult with you for your opinion? Would you “argue” for your instrument as the instrument of choice? Would you ask the child?

Are the children well-rounded? Good question Twink, yet this isn’t my husband’s issue—he doesn’t want the girls to try other activities INSTEAD of the multiple instruments. They bike, swim, play with neighborhood kids, take care of their pets—but we have deliberately cut out the recreational “dance,” choir, and have never done sports (they aren’t interested in team sports and I am not a “soccer mom” type anyway). Everybody in the family is slim, likes to get up and move, enjoy the outdoors, etc., so I feel the physical development has been covered, although not through traditional phys ed activities.

Yes, we do homeschool, for a variety of reasons. For a long time, I, too, justified the cost of the music lessons in my own mind by comparing it to the private tuition costs (in my area, the private schools charge about $12,000—$15,000 per year). So, I AM saving money (tried pointing this out, but DH said it’s like buying something you don’t need on sale and then trying to say you saved money!)

Iowamom, your line of thinking is exactly as mine—that this is what we are doing now, it is a great experience and that is how and why I did end up with all of the kids on multiple instruments. If the choice is entirely mine, this is what we would continue to do—I firmly believe (and my husband would agree) that NONE of this has been a waste—the girls have had a solid imprinting in music, they will definitely continue to study one instrument intensively.

Pianobeck—your mother’s family sounds a lot like ours. The music is integral—to our bonding, identities, etc. I too have unlimited expectations—I believe a person can excel at anything that they stick with and work on. It’s one of the things about the Suzuki method that most attracted me—the idea that it isn’t about “trying it out” and seeing if the child is “talented” but that you foster the talent and then reap the inevitable rewards.

I think I need to openly discuss this issue with my children’s teachers, but I haven’t gone that far yet as it is not a decision that needs to be made tomorrow, or next month, but SOMETIME. Teachers—if presented with this situation in your studio, how would you respond? How would you like to be presented with it (phone call, in-person conference) and what do you think I should expect to hear from the teachers (recommendations?).
Thanks so much!

said: May 18, 2006
 3 posts

If one is learning a language, the time to learn it is when one is young. It can be done when older, but most likely it will be harder, be with an accent, and take longer to learn….

What a wonderful opportunity that your children have to learn the language of several instruments. Solo and ensemble opportunities will be there for violin , harp- for piano, also accompaniment and keyboard theory.

It is also remarkable that your children themselves like what they are doing in music, as this is not so, for many families. That in itself would be reason enough for many to find every option they could to continue.

Would perhaps scholarships or sponsorships be availbable? work-study? work in exchange for lessons? Could the children tutor beginners? get paying gigs? (they could learn business and marketing skills that way!)

Soul searching can be scary but good. You don’t know where you’ll end up, but where ever it leads you, you’ll be stronger once you get there. Hope you all find the right thing for your family.

Diana said: May 19, 2006
Diana UmilePiano
Coatesville, PA
36 posts

Do your local public schools offer instrumental lessons? One option would be to keep one instrument per child in a Suzuki program, and change one or two others to a school lesson program. The kids may have the opportunity to play in a band or orchestra, as well. All for free. Piano might need to be the one kept in Suzuki, since it’s least likely to be offered at school. We homeschooled, and I taught our kids Suzuki piano, and my daughter took violin at public school beginning in 3rd grade. Fortunately, the teacher also taught Suzuki! Most of my older students take an instrument at school in addition to piano with me. They don’t practice as much on the other instrument, but at least they’re playing, and get the benefit of group playing too. Just an idea.

Rebecca said: May 19, 2006
 23 posts

As a teacher, I always appreciate it when a parent talks to me in person or makes time for a phone call. I think I have always been reasonable, logical, and sympathetic-but-not-overly-so, when a family tells me they must end lessons. I tell parents all the time, not to be afraid to approach me about anything. Sometimes, they have to quit~! Either its financial, or time, moving, divorce, or somehow, despite the best intentions, it’s just not working. These choices are ultimately up to the parent, who does not have any obligation to justify their decisions to me! So, I might present a few ideas they had not considered before, but I won’t try to “overconvince” them to stay with it if the answer is no and we all know it.

ProfCornelia, good luck! And thank you for all your comments on my recent frustrated post! Beautifully said—I am now a dandelion! (I should read what I tell others…)

“Life without music would be a mistake.” -Nietsche

said: May 19, 2006
 122 posts


Junebug, how would you advise a mother whose children were playing other instruments and also studying with you who indicated that a choice was going to be made? Would you want her to consult with you for your opinion? Would you “argue” for your instrument as the instrument of choice? Would you ask the child?

Hmmmm….. I don’t think I’d argue for my instrument, especially if the child was drawn to another instrument she played and she was being forced to choose between the two. I love and cherish each one of my students, but the lessons are about them not me. I feel we need to be focused on what is best for the child. I, however, know that I’m not a teacher who kids should come to to study the violin as a secondary, less important, less practiced instrument than another instrument they are studying. I have a handful of families that also take piano lessons but they practice both instruments daily and complete all assignments I give them on a daily basis (in general-we humans can’t be perfect every day!!!!).

I HIGHLY reccomend students take piano in addition to violin (my instrument) if they can afford it and if they can practice both instruments. If you can swing it I reccomend keeping piano and violin for your kids. My students who take both get fabulous eartraining, group classes (social motivation and ensemble playing) from violin and a great music theory and accompanying education from piano.

A few things to consider:

*Will the money you save by axing some of the music lessons REALLY be put every month into a college savings account or will it go to vacations, new cars, eating out, etc? There’s nothing wrong with this, but it might be a good idea to crunch the numbers.

*I believe you are a college professor if I remember correctly? Would your kids get a tuition reduction if they attended the college you teach at?

*Is your family out of range to get federal financial aid?

*Are any of your kids talking about making a career in music?

*Do they practice each instrument every day? Are your kids drawn to one or two of the instruments they study? Three instruments is a lot-are they spending ample time on each instrument every day? Do you want your kids to be a Jack of All Trades or a Master of None?

Honestly, I think the kids should be involved in making the decision. This is probably going to be a tramatic decision to reduce down to just one instrument and I think their voice should be heard. I think each instrument teaches something different and all are worthwhile.

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

Jennifer Visick said: May 20, 2006
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1069 posts

I got suzuki violin lessons as a child. My violin teacher introduced me to the viola when I was in high school (at which I promptly dropped violin lessons, violin practicing, and violin performance—although I do teach violin as well as viola now).

I would have loved to be able to play other instruments—at the same level I play viola now—it’s highly frustrating to me that I can’t sit down at the piano and PLAY what I hear in my head, or what’s on a piece of paper in front of me.

I would love to play lots of other instruments, (I would have loved to take dance lessons too, but that’s another story).

You may want to consider that if your children DO major in music in college (or minor, or double major, or….) that there may be scholarships available one one or more of their instruments. (My viola got me a “free” ride for four years at my state university).

Also, (again, if they decide to major in music, which certainly seems possible from your description), they’ll NEED that piano skill, regardless of whatever instrument is their major instrument. (I was barely able to pass my piano proficiency exit exam…..)

Amy said: May 20, 2006
 9 posts

A thought: it may be a mistake to assume that a child gets the same benefits from two (or three) different music lessons.

From piano I learned structure/texture/harmony: a sort of vertical awareness of what was happening in the music, the ability to track the “big picture”. This is something I LOVED learning, and that benefitted me in numerous ways—and not just in music, but in theater, literature, mathematics/logic/science.

From violin I learned to pay exquisite attention to a single line’s contour/articulation/sound quality. I LOVED learning this, and boy did it pay off—not just in music, but in dance, writing, art, and discourse/debate.

From voice I learned to hear and accurately percieve what I was doing and to deal with my own relationship to myself—to be aware of my physical and emotional self, to understand when/how I was being my own worst enemy, to change how I responded to and dealt with my own limitations. This is something I NEEDED to learn, and it spilled over into my other instruments, my academic study habits, interpersonal relationships, just about EVERYthing.

Your daughters are learning life lessons with every thing they do, and all three lessons are possibly valuable in both overlapping AND discrete ways.

That said, I’ve been known to tell parents of vocally talented youth that the students might just probably benefit as much from experience with a well-taught choral group as with individual lessons… especially if their voices haven’t finished changing (and girls’ voices DO change).

Melissa said: May 20, 2006
 151 posts

According to junebug’s feeling that piano is an important instrument to study and to keep (thank you junebug!) I also feel knowing how to play a string or wind instument is excellent for studying piano.
If you can narrow it down to two instruments per child. And if each child can learn piano or harp (since harp is very much like piano at least in reading and theory) as one of the two instruments, you will be covering everything that is necessary in order for them to be outstanding musicians.
It is truly up to them what they may want to do with their careers. Not yours, nor your husbands. What is wrong with studying music in college? If not music, they will still have an ability (a gift from you and your husband) that they will have for their lifetime, a gift of musical enjoyment and knowledge.
Good luck! Learning two instruments is not extreme.

said: May 20, 2006
 10 posts

If you don’t mind me asking, how old are your children? Are they of the age where they are thinking of what they want to be when they get out of high school? (not just the little “i want to be a snowplow driver/fire fighter/vet,” but are they of the age where they are thinking about the future seriously?) If they arn’t of that age yet, then it is your responsibility to decide which instrument/s they should stick with. Since they are obviously excelling in all of their instruments, I don’t think it would be harmfull for them to focus in on maybe one or two.

Although I agree with the previous poster (pandora) when she stated all of the things she learned from her music ventures, I also think that many of these things are not exclusively taught through music. Many of these important aspects can be learned simply by playing with other kids. Cutting down on the music lessons will give your children more free time to do what they wish. Pandora mentioned that voice lessons helped her “be aware of her physical and emotional self, to understand when/how [she] was being [her] own worst enemy, to change how [she] respondeed to and dealt with [her] own limitations.” It seems to me (unless I have misunderstood) that these things are learned even by those who don’t take voice lessons (or music lessons at all, for that matter).

Not that I wouldn’t have liked to learn more than one instrument as a child, I truely believe your children are all very fortunate to have that experience. But I also don’t regret the time I have had to develope outside of music.

Keep in mind that just because a child plunks on a piano doesn’t mean they are an aspiring pianist. They may just be plunking.

I sudgest keeping one or two instruments per child and getting them into other things. They may be so interested in music because that’s what they are surrounded with, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. When you introduce them to different hobbies, you may find they have just as much enthusiasm for those other things.

To add to that, I also believe that your husband is right in wanting to cut down on the lessons, but he needs to understand that just because they all have a love for music doesn’t mean they are being pushed into specified careers. I have many friends who have been involved with music their whole lives but are going into careers that have nothing to do with the arts.

Karra said: May 20, 2006
Stockholm 113 43, Sweden
51 posts

Profcornelia, it sounds like your parenting skills are pretty darn good, since you get along well with your kids and make a point to expose them to so many wonderful things in life. It sounds like your children are doing great in their lessons, but they are still quite young, are they not? Speaking from experience, I know it is possible to focus well and practice 3 instruments daily, but only to a certain point. Children who study many instruments can reach a fairly high level of proficiency on all of them, but beyond a certain point it becomes very difficult to focus and put in enough energy and practice time for all of them. I studied flute, cello, and piano for 4 years concurrently before entering a conservatory preparatory program. I had reached what I considered to be a decently high level in all 3 (approx. book 6), and I was forced to choose one instrument. Let me tell you, I was absolutely devastated by the idea of having to pick just one instrument, because I loved them all! But I am not sorry this happened, because I was then able to pour all that energy and enthusiasm into my cello studies, and I advanced by leaps and bounds. I’m not saying I didn’t miss my other instruments- I did—but there was nothing keeping me from sitting down and playing them from time to time. Looking back on my experience, I can honestly say that I am really not sorry for any of the choices that were made. I’m a cello teacher now, and I am happy to have had my piano training because I can accompany my students.
I don’t think you’re pushing your kids into musical careers unless you are actively saying they SHOULD be professional musicians and/or are shielding them from all other things they may have an interest in. You seem to be doing your job well- you’re giving your kids as many options as you can.

Maybe a good option would be to let the kids have lessons on a few instruments if they want until a certain point (perhaps a certain age), and let them know that at that time they will need to choose one to continue lessons on. It’s a hard choice because picking one instrument makes it feel like you’re letting the others go, but you can always point out that they can take it up again after they’re done with school or something. Keep in mind that it really is a win-win situation: give up one instrument, excel at another, but above all THE LOVE OF MUSIC WINS.

“It may very well be music that will one day save the world”— Pablo Casals

said: May 20, 2006
 26 posts

I completely agree with CaraMia25. A cut-off ‘age’ is exactly what I was thinking too. (That way, all three children will have the same start.)

I suggest discussing it with your children well ahead of time, and you probably should make the decision over a long period of time. If your oldest has to make a decision quickly, say, in a couple of months, she might choose to give up the instrument which she is finding hardest at the time, which might not be the best decision long term. I’d say discuss it at home regularly over a period of at least six months.

The decision might be very hard, and you might need to guide it, depending on the child’s ‘musical personality’—what they enjoy the most about music and which instrument allows this. This ‘musical personality’ often emerges at the onset of puberty, sometimes earlier.

Some kids value their music for what it gives them personally. These kids don’t particularly want to play in orchestras or practise for hours each day, but they enjoy playing by themselves in their rooms and are the type to pick up the instrument as a form of stress-relief during difficult times such as a school examination period. Sometimes these kids aren’t particularly concerned with improving (much to the confusion and distress of the parents and teacher) but just want to enjoy playing at the skill level they have already reached. Despite this, they often play their instrument throughout their entire life.

Other kids highly value the social side of things. They play in orchestras, sing in choirs, teach themselves the electric guitar and form a band, and so on. I’ve had violin students discontinue lessons in favour of another instrument, but continue playing violin in the school orchestra, and come to me every couple of months if there’s a passage they need help with, or something like that.

Then there are those who see their music almost as an academic discipline. They often reach a very high standard on their instrument by the time they finish school, but (partly because of their music training) they are usually high achievers in many areas. These kids often study things like medicine and science at university.

Your children are probably still in all three categories, enjoying the personal, social and academic dimensions! They may be for life. But at some point they will have to stop taking lessons. It is better to give them the opportunity at some stage to really shine with one. (This doesn’t mean they have to completely give up playing the others)

Good luck!

said: May 22, 2006
 104 posts

Thank you all for the insightful and thought-provoking responses. This is not a decision I want to make lightly, and I am in the beginning stages of collecting feedback from friends and family who care and want what’s best for my children. The in-person responses I’ve gathered, however, tend to be very immediate or emotional, and not necessarily useful. So I do value the more objective feedback I’ve gotten here—and since I am familiar with some of your opinions on music education in general from previous posts, it is particularly useful to have your feedback on this issue.

The girls are winding down from a long semester of lessons and we’ve just wrapped up the recitals—lessons continue but with less pressure—it’s time to relax and enjoy and use our music for fun. Summer will be a good time to slow down and reassess. We are also going to two institutes, for one my husband will join us and for the second one grandma will make the trek. It will be a good time for me to talk with both of them at length about this decision too.

I agree with those who suggested a long transition period—these are not changes that will come quickly or one after the other. I think there need to be conversations about choices, and time and energy. I have introduced the idea, in the past, that if they chose music as a course of study at university, they would need to declare one as the major. They’ve always responded as CaraMia mentioned—what? how to choose just ONE?! That’s why, to me, it is important that they continue lessons now when the have the ability to learn things so quickly and so easily. I also see more clearly now that we aren’t even at the door of adolescence yet—and that may change everything. And I can honestly say that I will feel no disappointment whetever career they choose. At this point in my life, I already know that money doesn’t make a person happy, but education can give a person limitless options.

The girls are still young enough that when asked about their future careers, the answer shifts quite a bit—but music is always mentioned as a part of life, as in “I’m going to a veterinarian who keeps a piano and violin in my clinic and I’m going to play for the animals.” And in fact, my harpist daughter recently learned some harp chords which alleviate headaches and other ailments (very handy to have her around!), so who knows what she could do with that? I try to show my husband that it’s fun, and doesn’t have to lead to an unfulfilled career as a failed soloist … but there is background to that which is too long to get into here—long story short, my in-laws (but not my husband) are professional musicians (violinist, musicologist, conductor) and they have some pretty strong opinions. When my daughter took up the harp, everyone told me I was a fool: “the repertoire is limited!” “She won’t get any engagements because the bookers don’t want to pay plane fare for a concert grand!” etc. etc., well they already had her touring but the kid was only four years old, plinking twinkles on a 32 string lever harp. Get real, people!

I hope this summer will be a time for reflection and discernment, and trying to see into the children’s minds as well. They are having birthdays this month, and turning 5, 7, and 9 years old. Really, it would be nice if they could just continue the lessons and the fun without having others plot out their life choices. So thanks again! I think I will print out these responses and keep them to remind me of some of the best reasons and intentions I had when I started on this journey.

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