Kids who don’t like listening??


Laura said: Oct 12, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Here is a little challenge that I encounter every now and then, and I’m sure it’s pretty common nowadays.

A few students don’t like to listen to their Suzuki recordings. As a result, their learning suffers as it seems like I’m speaking a foreign language when I show them something during the lessons. (It’s usually rather obvious when there isn’t a lot of listening going on!)

When I mention it to the students and/or parents, the reply is that they don’t like listening to Suzuki. The parents don’t want to force it. All I can do is encourage daily listening as much as possible, and to help the parents to be encouraging too. I’ve been preaching about the home environment since Day 1. I even recommend other ways to be exposed to Classical music, and give CDs as gifts. Sadly, this is often to little avail.

By the way, I’m not talking about kids who don’t listen enough, and it’s easily corrected—i.e. listen more. I’m talking specifically about the kids who don’t listen enough because they DON’T LIKE IT. This is only a small fraction of my students, but enough for me to be seriously concerned.

I wonder if it was any different “back in the good ol’ days” when there was less competing for kids attention, Classical music was still commonly enjoyed, and the sweet sounds of Suzuki recordings was a nice treat. These days, kids are flooded with media exposure, electronic toys, “cool” music with rock beats, edu-tainment, etc. It’s just a different culture, and Suzuki (and classical music sounds in general) are straying further from the norm. Kind of like watching Barney or Spongebob vs. … oh, say, Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood.

Perhaps I’m just cynical…

What are your thoughts and experiences? How do you handle this as teachers and parents?

Laurel said: Oct 12, 2006
Laurel MacCulloch
Suzuki Association Member
Langley, BC
120 posts

I try to address the issue of “like” early on in my parent education. I respect the fact that these days, there is so much for children that of course parents are going to filter things by what is liked and not liked.

However, I challenge them (nicely!) to arrive at a definition of “like”, and share it with me. Then I might ask things like, does the child “like” to brush their teeth? or take a bath? How does the parent handle these? Do they need to “like” every minute of their day?

I also ask what is meant by “listening”; perhaps the parent thinks the child has to pay attention to the recording and not do anything else. I like to suggest breakfast time as a good time to listen—everyone’s there, but they’re busy eating. Turn it down so it’s background music.

It’s tricky though! I have a student whose listening and practising are spotty at best, due to family situation; I have to just keep picking at it till they get the message and do what they can.

Good luck!

Kirsten said: Oct 12, 2006
 103 posts

I think your approach is as good as it gets. You seem to tell them the truth up front, and you then reinforce the importance of listening when it becomes apparent that they are not doing the job. You can lead the horse to water, but that is about it.

Have you tried asking the student not to even practice for one week but just to do the daily listening instead? I have seen this work sometimes with older students. If you phrase it in such a way as “lets try an experiment….”, then sometimes they get curious. If students generally practice, their improvement at the next lesson can range from slightly interesting to amazing.


said: Oct 12, 2006
 122 posts

The previous two posters have great suggestions and I don’t have much to add except I wouldn’t teach students who don’t do their listening. I don’t considering listen an optional assignment-it’s more important than practicing!

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

Laura said: Oct 13, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Thanks for all of your excellent ideas. I like the one about listening instead of practicing for a week. Might prove interesting indeed!

I haven’t considered dropping the students… at least not yet. I’m trying to make sure I’ve exhausted all possibilities first. I believe there is hope still. Will try a few more angles.

Kristin/Laurel: It’s not just about active listening or formation of good habits like toothbrushing. From what they describe, it’s more like they actively dislike the sounds of the Suzuki music, and always want it turned off, or they want to listen to something else. Either that, or they think they know it already and don’t want to hear it anymore—the magic of familiarity doesn’t seem to register with them. I’m not entirely sure which one, and I’m not sure the parents do either. At these kids’ tender age, it’s hard for them to verbalize the real reasons.

So my overall thoughts have been: why would any kid actively DISLIKE the Suzuki recordings, particularly since they are so pleasant, and they also ring a bell in terms of what they are learning to play? Doesn’t seem to fit the Suzuki model of mother-tongue learning. Something doesn’t add up. It’s not as if you get lots of American kids begging their parents not to speak English. That’s why cultural factors (i.e. other media exposure) have come to mind.

And yet they want to learn to play and they do practice—it’s just more painstaking without the listening. <sigh> There’s such a huge difference with the kids who do listen… they can actually play expressively and tend to “get” the teaching points more intuitively than those who do not.

Lynn said: Oct 13, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

How old are these kids, and who is making the decision about listening?
If the kids didn’t care for the kind of music Mom or Dad like to play around the house, would that matter much, or would Mom or Dad still play what they want to hear?

I have discovered with some of my parents that prime listening opportunities, such as in the car to school or activities, are lost because the driver is unwilling to forgo their preferred station. Or, especially as the kids get older, parents want or expect the kids to go off and do their listening on their own—because it’s “for them, not me”. In other words, the music on the Suzuki CD is not part of the family culture. There is a definate message being implied or reinforced here!

I had one 4 year old who would set up a HOWL in the car if the Suzuki CD went in instead of her story CDs, and the conversation went along the lines of “First…and then we can have stories…” UGH! Eat your liver, then you can have a nice cookie! I said next time the car leaves the house, the stories stay behind. No option, no debate, in the car we have music, and IN ADDITION to the Suzuki CD, we could also listen to….my gosh, there is so much classical piano or violin or whatever out there, how could you ever get tired of it all!

Who knows why kids form the tastes they do. What I’m interested in as a teacher is to what extent families are willing or intending to work with me to cultivate the sensibilities needed to be successful in my studio. A parent who says “they don’t like it, and I don’t want to force it” is basically telling me that they are neither intending nor willing to work with that part of the program. All of my excellent, time-tested, easily validated reasons aren’t going to re-form habits or ignite enthusiasm if the willingness isn’t there. I am not fooled by feeling bad, feeling guilty or “I know, I know…..” Either it’s happening or it isn’t. If it isn’t, and hasn’t, odds are it won’t.

Junebug was more succinct!

said: Oct 13, 2006
 21 posts

In addition to Suzuki book 1, my daughter is learning music from Mel Bay Fiddle Methods which comes with a CD. When I first put the CD on in the car, everyone groaned. I liked the CD but not one of my four daughters did.

Well, after playing it about twice through, each of my girls was singing along, clapping their hands and humming the tunes even when the cd was no longer playing.

I think we like what is familiar to us. The only way for a type of music to become familiar is to play it.

Imagine my surprise when I heard “Angelina Baker” being played on the piano in our living room. I walk in, and it’s my five-year old playing the song by ear.

Laura said: Oct 13, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Hmmm… good points again, everybody. Thank you. Even my own kid has gone from screaming over Suzuki recordings to begging to hear them and dancing/singing to them too!

I keep getting reminded of how all of the great classical composers wrote and performed the “popular” music of their day. Whatever is familiar will be cool, no matter what.

The kid(s) in question range from 6 to 9. This is on the older side of the Suzuki beginner spectrum, and I suspect that this is a matter of permissive or child-controlled parenting. I.e. if my kids don’t like it, I won’t force them. This is probably a bigger problem than just piano lessons.

It’s hard to get much explanation out of the kids about why they don’t like the music (in fact, the 9-year-old is entering into his monosyllabic stage…). I think I should talk with the parents more specifically about setting the scene better. Parental convenience, or “it’s more for them, not for me” both could be possibilities.

Thanks again everybody.

Eve Weiss said: Oct 13, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
16 posts

I’m hip to all the other suggestions. The only twist for me is the possibilty that for some kids it is about the instrument. I’m particularly thinking of tonal quality and how some react to. Perhaps a cd of another instrument might help shed light.

Sometimes when the parents don’t knwo which instrument for the kid I’ll suggeest get three instrument tapes, play em all in teh background and then ask the kid to pick the best.

Gloria said: Oct 14, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

I have a family in the studio with a somewhat similar situation; the listening has always been lacking; the father comes to lessons but the mom has her daugther at home for listening and practice. This kid is finishing book 1,piano, after a long time, although she plays nicely. So I got worried she would never make it through book 2 with no listening, as she doesn’t read either. So I asked the parents for a conference and explained that if there is no listening there is no Suzuki method, even if we use ther materials; I also told them what our options were:1, to have real listening (2 to 3 hours daily) and continue with Suzuki; 2, to change the learning approach to traditional (no listening), and I would put something together and make sure she learns to read as a first priority; 3, forget the whole thing if it is too much for the family (thier decision).
Some unexpected issues came out, of which I knew nothing, and soon they were making plans as to how to adjust things so that their kid could continue with Suzuki lessons. We will see what happens; also, the mom is going to come for lessons as well.
What I do periodically in my studio, either individual families or everybody, I ask them to fill a listening log for the week so I can see what is going on; it is always revealing. If it is less than 2 hours a day, then we discuss the options they have to listen what is missing. I take the listening VERY seriously. There no way they will take it seriously if I don’t and act on it. It is always a battle you as a Suzuki teacher have to be willing to fight.

said: Oct 16, 2006
 44 posts

I totally empathize with the mother here. I can see that 6 to 9 year olds may not like listening to simple folk songs over and over. Three and four year olds like listening to them so it is easy if your child is in Book 1 and very young. By the time my kids were 6 t0 9, they were playing concertos and this is what we ususally listenend to in the car. When I turned on Book 1 for the new little brother, I got a chorus of protests. And this is from 3 kids who ONLY got to listen to Suzuki and classical music in the car. Also, I am a little disgruntled that someone would assume this means the family is child-controlled rather than parent controlled. A wise parent learns to choose his/her battles. Even with fairly compliant children, as mine were, all day every day was filled with parental commands and duels: Get out of bed, Get dressed, Where is your homework, No candy before dinner, Hang up your towel, etc, etc. If the music in the car is too much for her, it must be too much. I think the absolutely best idea is to spend a week listening instead of playing. I know what a difference listening makes, and this mom will probably be stunned by it and be a lot more agreeable to the listening. Also, turning the music on during homework time works for us. I did not let my kids listen to pop music while doing homework because I thought it was distracting. Maybe suggest to the mom that the Suzuki tapes be the only thing they are allowed to listen to while doing homework. Also, let the kids listen to some of the more advanced books. They will probably enjoy hearing what they will soon be playing and still hear all the basic rhythms and intonation.

Laura said: Oct 17, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts


I hear you—very good points, and thank you from both a Suzuki teacher and parent!

However, when I mentioned that I suspected a permissive parenting situation, I honestly believe it is the case with the students I’m seeking advice on. I see it in their other behavior, including how they interact with their mom. As a parent who interacts with a lot of kids beyond piano teaching, I figure I’m quite attuned to this stuff.

No intention to overgeneralize or assume, so hopefully no offence or misunderstanding taken. This forum generates so much great discussion. Some of it is in generalities, and some of it is for specific individual situations. Good information and input flows no matter what, and is always appreciated.

My original posting and follow-up information is for a specific situation, and therefore I’m seeking ideas on how to encourage more listening for these particular kids, and how to better understand why they don’t seem to take to it . Good point about 6-9 years olds finding Book 1 a little beneath them… yet I had hoped that they would grasp the material a little faster and thus progress faster… but of course it doesn’t happen without listening! Hmm, a chicken-egg situation here. Is 6-9 perhaps too old for Suzuki method then?

I like the suggestion about having them listen to the more advanced books. Last week I think I might have been a tad more convincing to the students regarding the importance of listening… but only time will tell.

I also wanted generate some general discussion about some other factors that would cause kids to dislike the Suzuki recordings. It happens occasionally among the younger set too. I just don’t remember it being an issue when I and my friends (who also did Suzuki) were younger.

said: Oct 18, 2006
 122 posts

Everyone has such great suggestions!

A few things:

* Make sure the Suzuki Cd is put on as background music. If the Cd is rather loud and ‘interferes’ with talking or doing something else the kids might get annoyed. Children will still absorb it as background ‘passive listening’ rather than ‘active listening.’

* A big reason why many Suzuki teachers bring their own children to other Suzuki teachers is because kids need an adult other than their parent as an authority figure. It shouldn’t be the parents decision whether or not to listen but rather an assignment from the teacher. The parents need to be on board in backing you up with what you’re teaching and if they are not, it sounds like it’s time for a parent/teacher conference! Get the kids on board in deciding a time of day to listen (in the car, before bedtime, at dinner) if they need the choice rather than IF they listen.

* I disagree that the Cd needs to be on 2-3 hours daily. In my experience if the child listens daily to the Cd that is enough, but they should also be listening to the next Cd and other music (violin concertos, symphonies) in addition. Listening is super-important but kids can learn to tune it out. If a child can hum the next peice (or the entire book!) I believe they are doing enough listening. The trainers and other wonderful teachers I’ve seen with kids out of the books by middle school aren’t neccessarily having their students listen for hours each day.

* Mix the Cd up. Put it on shuffle or burn a new copy with the songs out of order and the next book Cd on it as well.

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

said: Oct 18, 2006
 21 posts

Another idea for vairety is to listen to Suzuki CDs for different instruments. I have an older daughter who doesn’t play an instrument, while she quickly tired of hearing the violin CD in the background, she loves the Suzuki piano 1 CD. They have a lot of songs in common.

Jennifer Visick said: Aug 31, 2007
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1076 posts


Another idea for vairety is to listen to Suzuki CDs for different instruments.

Yes, and how about listening to tunes in their “original” setting whenever possible? Or on non-Suzuki CDs with some suzuki repertoire and a lot of non-suzuki rep? A lot of students may get interested when they recognize a Suzuki song in another context. For example, I have a Mischa Elman CD called “Favorite Encores” which contains, among other things, a much fancier version of Gossec’s Gavotte, Dvorak’s Humoresque, and Beethoven’s minuet in G. It also has “Ave Maria” on it, which gives me an opportunity to show & tell the first thing that Suzuki heard on his gramophone, the very thing which inspired him to learn the violin….. and about how he played it over, and Over, and OVER again….

I was also at the American Suzuki Institute at Steven’s Point this year, and bought a CD after one faculty concert which contains highly stylized (and fun!) versions of Bach Gavotte in G minor (from book 3) and Humoresque… the performers are Gabe Bolkosky and San Slomovits.
(if you’re interested:
Disliking the Suzuki CD may also be a sign of emerging competence or budding musicianship. A student may like to hear a different interpretation of a song than is on the CD. —by the way, there are at least 3 ‘official’ versions of Suzuki violin book 1 recording (and, if the revised violin book 1 ever comes out, I think it might be packaged with a 4th version). I find that some students prefer the Cerone CD, and some prefer the Nadien. Both of those are much more recent (and, I think, a little higher sound quality) recordings than the one recorded by Dr. Suzuki which is also available. Maybe you could try lending them a copy of a different version to see if that makes a difference in how well they “like” it?

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