Needing some guidance and support for my 8 year old


Aparna Asthana said: Dec 22, 2008
13 posts

Hi I posted earlier on the parents forum but I thought I would try again with some additional information. I am hoping some teachers will respond too. I have a almost 8 year old boy. We began violin with a suzuki teacher when he was 5.5. He has had some developmental challenges (speech, motor etc) and really this was initially done more as a form of therapy to improve his coordination and skill. The first 6 months he spent on a box and hated it. Finally we moved to the small violin and he seemed to pick up notes really fast. However he had a terrible bow hold and posture. He began to resist and I had to push. Anyway 6 months later he “twinkled” and got his certificate. He had worked hard on this. Our teacher moved away and we got another teacher at the institute. This person is wonderful but decided that my son had some serious issues with bow hold and left hand etc that the old teacher had not been able to fix and we went back to the drawing board and worked on twinkles for another 4-6 months and had to do another “twinkle” ceremony! We didn;t give up and kept going though my son had by this point developed a love hate relationship with violin. We also started to see some behavior issues/not listening and following directions and rebellion crop up at lessons at this point. We slogged on….. last winter (it had been a year and a half since we began our suzuki adventure) he suddenly started playing simple tunes on his own. He had finished Lightly Row and began to play Go tell aunt rhody out of boredom I beleive before his teacher began the song over winter break. After that progress was faster though most of the time was spent fixing bow hold, teaching him focus (did I mention he also has ADD attentional issues??!) and just going over pretwinkle stuff again and again. I still have to remind him about posture and left hand. What seems to work for him is the music. He can play all kinds of things by ear….in and out of suzuki book 1, snatches of songs in book 2 and most of the songs the notes he learns himself. and is not afraid to experiment. This and only this is his motivation to keep going to violin. So practicing posture and bow hold is still a struggle. Our progress is sketchy bc our teacher will sit on a piece for 2 months and then when son rebels he will move to something new. It can be a challenge and frustrating…our practices are not always fun. At Allegretto 3 months ago my son got a new violin…a 1/8 size. His teacher refused to put tapes on it and had my son play all his book 1 songs to date w/o tapes. He did really well and I was shocked. I did not think he could play without tapes. We are currently on Minuet 1…struggling a litte with it, polishing etude. Minuet 1 is going better than etude at this point!

I guess the reason I am writing is bc my son has challenges..motor, attentional etc. I push so hard bc I think that violin is going to give him something…a work ethic, discipline, an appreciation that there are no short cuts to learning some things, that you can make magic when you play an instrument, that the motor control you get with violin will somehow translate to being better coordinated overall…..lots of small things like this. Yet it is tough at times to strugge so much on bowhold and left hand and posture.. Is it worth it?? The dilemma I find now is that I wonder if I picked a very difficult instrument for him…if piano or something else woudl have been more gratifying. (while violin is an instrument I love to listen to more than piano, I have a younger kid in suzuki piano and its so much easier and enjoyable at this stage of the gamein book 1 piano!) I say this bc I do think despite all his issues he is truly a musical driven child.(some kids build with legos…mine likes to listen to music!) …he loves classical and other kinds of music…spends hours in the day listenign to all kinds of things from Vivaldi to John Denver. he loves to sing and he can name songs and genres and instruments in an orchestra. Interested in Bach and Mozart as composers…we have books. and its obvious to anyone who spends much time with him that music is a big part of his brain…he is constantly drumming and humming. He recently taught himself to play on the violin a bit of Ode to Joy and played with his teacher who was as excited as my son that day. he plays christmas songs and songs he composes his own tunes, Yet we struggle so much with violin basics and his dislike of all the many picky aspects of playing violin and I feel he gets demoralized bc he wants to be able to do so much and cannot do it. Technical progress has been so slow for him.

Even on these boards there seems to be more kids who have completed book 1 in a year and half and are playing book 4-5 at the age of 9-10! I rarely hear of a child like mine who has struggled and continues to struggle with book 1!We are commited to getting though book 1 but I really want feedback from people as to when you think violin is not a good fit for a child. Any advice would be appreciated.
Thanks in advance!!

Diane said: Dec 22, 2008
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

I hear both your dedication and frustration.

The violin is a very demanding instrument both mentally and physically. It’s hard enough for the average student. It’s incredibly challenging for students who have physical and concentration issues away from the violin. The good news—Suzuki violin is fantastic at breaking things down into tiny steps. The bad news—Suzuki violin can’t solve a person’s developmental problems.

The rest of my reply will come from 2 different points of view. The teacher, and the parent.

As a teacher I have had students who have been “labeled” by their parents and their Doctors (that’s a whole other topic I prefer to stay away from). ADD, OCD, and the like. Label or no label it’s obvious that these kids learn differently. As a teacher—I make a conscious choice to find the balance between keeping my standards high and keep the student motivated and happily progressing. For example I may supplement with music that is the same level as a Suzuki song but not in the Suzuki repertoire. I make choices like it’s ok to do your own bowing for this song but at this spot you absolutely have to do the correct bowing. I may overlook a posture point temporarily and bring it up again later when the student is more mature. I have had the luxury of teaching students for many years in a row and have the opportunity to develop life long relationships. This too has been helpful for these students—we’ve had time on our hands.

As a parent I speak from my own experience. My son missed a ton of developmental steps as an infant. He became non-functional at school and no matter what tutoring and loving encouragement we provided he was just plain stuck and everything was a battle. Everyone agreed that my son was bright and creative but nobody could tell me why he couldn’t function like all the other kids.

Hindsight is always 20-20 right? In this day and age there is so much amazing help out there. My son is now in 6th grade and quite functional. What have we done? It’s more like what haven’t we done! Vision Therapy, Brain Gym, Occupational Therapy, The Listening Program, Accupuncture for Allergies, Chiropractic care.

I’ll briefly outline each:
Vision Therapy came up first due to low reading scores at school and knowing that I myself have had lifelong vision issues I wondered if my son had them as well. We both did the therapy with noticable results in tracking and reading.

Brain Gym uses simple motions and goals to wake up and coordinate your brain usage. The concept here is that physical movement stimulates the brain, then the brain can think at a higher level. In the case of which came first the chicken or the egg, the physical motion comes first. This helped tremendously for my son to get up to speed on the developmental movements he missed as an infant. We’ve done Brain Gym for years and continue to do so.

Occupational Therapy was our in to do the Listening Program. The Therapist worked on balance issues with my son who can balance fantastically as long as his eyes are open. He wasn’t using his inner ear vestibular system to balance. The therapist worked on a lot of balancing games with him.

The Listening Program had to be prescribed through the Occupational Therapist. After 5 days of beginning this program my son said “Mommy—things don’t sound muffled anymore”! How were we to know he lived in a muffled world? All we knew was verbal instruction was unbearable for him and we’d do better if we just wrote things down for him. He constantly said “What?” The Listening Program has been fantastic. He says that every day sounds clearer and clearer. He doesn’t say “what” anymore and follows verbal instructions now.

Wheat, and dust allergies made our son sleepy and groggy. NAET a certain kind of Accupuncture completely obliterated those allergies. His nose is clear and so is his mind.

Our chiropractor thoroughly checked and re-programmed neck motions, the source of our son’s missed developmental steps in the first year of his life.

I didn’t realize I’d write so much. The important point is that your son needs help and there is help out there that is effective and permanent. I only mention what we’ve done as a starting point for you to think about. Don’t accept limitations in ability. In this day and age there is vast resources. You will have to seek them out but they are there.

I wish you the best and hope that many other readers can gain from this post.

Diane (Violin Teacher 22 years, Mom 11 years)

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Aparna Asthana said: Dec 23, 2008
13 posts

Hi Diane
Thanks so much for the feedback! It was very helpful. My son has received tons of help since a toddler…speech and occupational therapy and continues to get some help now. We are looking at Neurofeedback…he has done interactive metronome and listening therapy. Some things have worked well…others have had little impact but we continue to seek answers. I think as a suzuki parent what I have seen is that Violin has had as much of an impact on him as anythign else we have tried. As in it has forced him to pay attention to details as frustrating as they can be for him and I see him making progress in small increments, I have had OT laugh at me when I say he plays violin…I have had so many teachers and therapists tell me he cannot do such and such bc of his coordination challenges etc. Yet he plays and plays reasonably well…he definitely holds his own in the group class where he is not the most advanced player but he is a very consistent player….he can play all the songs upto his level with confidence and accuracy and he gets to lead on some of the songs. We have had to use adaptations…pinky nest etc well past the point other kids use them.

Our goal is to get through book 1 and then decide whether to continue with violin or to switch to another instrument. Does your son play violin too?

Lynn said: Dec 23, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

Just a quick response:
What Myviolinrecital said regarding teaching challenged children is right on target. I’d just like to go further and say that since there are musical strengths that your son brings to the violin, these are what should dictate his rate of progress. Having at least one arena where he can feel competent and successful is so, so important. So what if his bow hold isn’t “perfect”. If it moves the bow and sounds tolerable, let him have it. At some point, something he wants to do won’t be possible, and he’ll have to—and, more importantly, WANT to—adjust his hold to make a more advanced technique possible. Ultimately, effective teaching is all about forming a working partnership with the student, which means the teacher and student BOTH have to agree on what is important. Yes, the teacher has to be directive about identifying the focus and setting the standard, but if the student is not participating—as in resistance, no effort and no progress, well, I take that as a ‘no’ vote, and I have to either find a way to make my objective part of the student’s vision and agenda for his own playing, or find another project.

This is also where I remind myself that if it is THAT important to me that the violin or bow be held a certain way, or that a song be played a certain way, I can do it with my own hands. If the technique is flawless, and the student has become discouraged, resistant, frustrated, and angry, I have sooooo lost the point of teaching them to play the violin!

Community Youth Orchestra Of S CA said: Dec 26, 2008
 Violin, Viola
70 posts

> Yet it is tough at times to strugge so much on bowhold and left hand
> and posture.. Is it worth it??

The question I have here is: can your son hear the difference between when his posture and bow hold are “incorrect” compared to when adjustments are made and his teacher says “this is correct?”

If he doesn’t really notice a difference (yet…some people take longer than others to get to that point), then the struggle about posture and bow hold is futile. Motivation is all about wanting to change something because it gets us closer to a goal, and perhaps what he needs at this point instead of constant reminders to get his body to look a certain way while playing, is to discover a way to foster in your son a desire to stand and hold his bow differently. For an eight year old with ADD, playing the same work for months on end for some physical goal he can’t recognize might as well be as thrilling as doing long division all day.

I teach elementary school orchestra along with private lessons, and have a few students with mild->moderate learning disabilities; they are by far the most challenging to teach because you really have to come up with creative and working solutions for them to be able to learn. In your case, I don’t think strict repetition (twinkle year-in year-out) is going to get your son to fix his bow hold and posture. He needs something else that he can identify with…

Aparna Asthana said: Dec 26, 2008
13 posts

Thanks for the responses. They have helped me think through some of these issues in preparation for a discussion with son’s teacher. I definitely think the issues we have over practice have to do with his attention and motivation that are challenges for him in other areas as well. He is not on medication…I work with him a tremendous amount and he is successful in school. I cannot force motivation on him…I can only create the conditions optimal for motivation! I am trying to keep this in mind and not be focused on outcome. He is playing more than twinkles as my husband reminds me. It is getting him to focus on detail work with violin that is a challenge. He has been very frustrated with Etude so we have put it on hold for now ( I hear its a tough one) but Minuet 1 has taken him a week to learn the notes and most of the bowings. We have not had a lesson in 2 weeks so that is not helping either as my husband again pointed out! We are more frustrated without a teacehr to guide us and phone conversations only can go that far! Thanks for the support!

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