Private lesson dilemma

Nadia said: Jan 6, 2010
16 posts

My five year-old son has been learning violin over a year, and is now playing Musette and Hunter’s Chorus. He learns new pieces quickly mostly from hearing my practice. While he does fine in 45-minute group lesson, he is not as cooperative in 30-minute private lesson (with a different instructor). The instructor expects him to be ready to receive instruction in the first 10 minutes of class period, which my son is not always ready to do. He likes to talk to the instructor and often gets his imagination going rather than simply receiving instruction and do what he’s asked to do. In recent private lesson he said he was “hurt because the teacher intrrupted (his) talk” and absolutely refused to play; the rest of the class period became my lesson. The instructor says my son does not understand what a lesson is about, and he should wait till he’s older before he benefits from the structure of a private lesson. I tend to see this as more of a discpline/behavioral issue, and wants him to learn to behave/cooperatte better through the context of private lesson. On the other hand, I do want to respect the instructor’s advice, but I don’t want my son to discontinue private lessons, since I’d like to see him continue learning. My son likes to connect to other people by talking, and he’s not someone who likes to please adults/teachers by doing what he is told to do. He’s not competitive, either. Any feedback/advice, anyone? I’m all ears!!

Diane said: Jan 7, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

I’d start with a talk with the teacher and then with your son. It would go like this:

To the teacher:
Could we let me son have 5 minutes of chit chat at the beginning of the lesson? If yes—tell the teacher you will now have a conversation with your son.
To your son:
After 5 minutes of talk time the lesson will begin and chit chat visit time will be over.

It’s a start… Good luck!


Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Laura said: Jan 7, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

I agree it needs to come from both angles. (Hmm, I’m dealing with this very same situation myself as a teacher!)

The child, however young, needs to understand that on whatever level they can appreciate, that lessons are for receiving instruction. Therefore, it is important to follow the teacher and he is doing a “good job” when he does so.

The teacher needs to respect the social and emotional needs of a 5-year old boy, who isn’t going to behave like a 10-year old girl for example.

As a teacher, my primary purpose at the beginning stages (and for this I would count anything under age 6-7 regardless of level, or anything under mid-Book 2 regardless of age) is to help the child learn how to learn. This includes everything from how to learn and practice at home, and how to make the most out of lessons. But it’s necessary to adapt things to the student’s emotional language.

For example, I wouldn’t simply say “Focus!”—that never works. Instead, I might try to present a challenge, something for them to notice, etc.—so that they naturally focus in their motivation to complete the task. For a very chatty student, I would appreciate and respond to perhaps 1-2 things they just told me. I would then lovingly cut them off and say, “You’ve just told me some very interesting things. Now it’s my turn. May I tell you something now?” That way, they begin to appreciate that communication goes both ways during lesson time. Over time, what I have to “share” starts including more and more music instruction. :)

Some other tactics I’ve used are:

“You know, I love all the interesting things that you have to tell me. Perhaps I should have you over for tea one day so that you can tell me some more! Since it’s piano lesson time, though, I think it would be a good idea if I could teach you how to do something on the piano today. How does that sound?”—this way they are validated in their need to talk, but they still learn that they are here for a lesson.

  • Make the lesson into a game in which the student earns something (points, M&Ms, etc.) for every thing that they do or respond to properly. Suddenly they aren’t so interested in being chatty anymore but are still having fun.
said: Jan 7, 2010
 89 posts

Great ideas, purpletulips—but please be careful about how you redirect. My chatty child would at age 6 have assumed that you really meant to invite him to tea…and would have been terribly disappointed to find out later on that it was merely a social politeness. As a small child, he took statements like that very seriously, and would have asked each and every week WHEN the tea date was to be scheduled. And you would have either been on the hook for tea or forced to admit that it was not a real invitation…which would have completely undercut his trust in anything you told him from then on. (His preference would have been English Breakfast Tea, milk and three sugars, thank you very much!) :D

said: Jan 7, 2010
 15 posts

A quesiton to Purpletulip. I love what you shared! That’s how I want an instructor to teach a young child!! It helps me to know how to help my child practice, too. but how does a parent go about coaching the instructor to do what you suggested? Or is it better to just find an instructor who teach the way you mentioned?

Charles Krigbaum said: Jan 8, 2010
Charles KrigbaumTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Wylie, TX
78 posts

Just utilize the Suzuki “bow” for the psychological barrier it can be. For example, talk for a few minutes at the beginning of the lesson (10 minutes sound EXTREMELY excessive) and then explain that once you have taken a bow there is to be no talking, unless it is about the lesson. A good “you can tell me anything you want once the lesson is over and we have had our bow” goes a long way. Set up some structure in the lesson for talking (”we have bowed now, please get your violin and hands ready—it is time for you to play Tonalization), and use the bow ritual to help reinforce this environment.

This message has been brought to you by:

Charles Krigbaum, Director
North Texas School of Talent Education

Deanna said: Jan 8, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
90 posts

I totally agree about the bowing. It works really well. I usually chat a bit with my students as they’re getting their violins ready, rosining their bows etc. But once we bow it’s lesson time. Some students do like to talk more and come up with random things during the lesson. If they have a story (or many stories) to tell me I let them know they can tell me after the lesson, once we bow.

In regards to talking to the teacher—I often get the vibe from parents that they don’t like their child talking so much and being off topic and “wasting” precious lesson time. Your son’s teacher might be thinking that’s what you’re feeling and thus reacting the way he is.

Another idea—if he’s already in book 2 perhaps you and the teacher could direct his imagination and story-telling to his pieces. Coming up with different characters for the sections and telling a story and then making the music sound like the story.

Definitely talk to the teacher though—let him know your concerns.

Laura said: Jan 9, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Unfortunately I can’t honestly say that it’s easy for me to teach in the way that I have described. I doubt that I am as “good” a teacher as it sounds. The situations can still be extremely challenging—but without reaching for newer and better tactics, it can be a lost battle before it even begins. I have never been without at least 20% extremely challenging students from a behavior/attitude perspective—I suppose it’s to keep me on my toes! I always wish I had a magic wand, but instead I’m supposed to keep learning…!!!

I often emphasize about the bow. However, I once had a student who would just get up and bow every time he wanted to be done (at least every 1-2 minutes or after every 1-2 instructions), because he took it too literally, just like some children who assume that saying “Sorry”, no matter how insincerely, will get them out of being in trouble. It wasn’t enough to explain that significance of the bowing was a two-way thing. So in this situation I honestly had to work on building this student’s ability to take direction respectfully from an authority figure, pure and simple, and that he wasn’t in charge of the lesson.

Laura said: Jan 9, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

If student honestly expects a tea time, I will actually do that.

I would make it a lesson goal: I would lay down concrete behavior expectations for both practicing and lesson time (For example, you may have one “no” card to spend as you wish, and after that you have no more of them.) At the next lesson, we would begin by reviewing the goals and evaluate how the practicing goals went—although the student is usually very excited because she has been determined to meet them all week. Then comes the lesson itself. If everything goes well, we would then have a 10 minute tea party at the end of the lesson.

I have actually done this exact type of thing before, although it wasn’t tea. (I actually forget what the special activity was—it’s been a while.) I asked the mom permission first, explaining my reasons and emphasizing that whatever teaching time was being “lost” was nothing compared to what is usually lost anyway. Mom is usually completely on board, and things tend to improve after that. It’s very important to develop a positive learning enviornment, which includes the relational aspect of it.

Laura said: Jan 9, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts


As a teacher, I always appreciate when parents tell me something specific about what is bothering their child, because it gives me information I can use to try to improve the situation. Even if it takes me a few weeks to come up with any ideas!

As a parent, I wouldn’t hesitate to explain your concerns. As long as I do it in a concrete and specific manner and acknowledge the teacher’s perspective. For example, I might say “I find it frustrating that all my son wants to do is talk during lessons, and I know it’s hard for you to teach him like that. Actually, that’s what things are like at home, too. I simply don’t think he’s ready to focus through a 30-minute lesson, and he doesn’t completely understand yet about proper behaviour during lessons—it’s an ongoing challenge. I am working very hard to correct him at home in this regard. And yet he does enjoy learning his instrument so I don’t think that pulling him out of lessons would be the best answer. Meanwhile, I have discovered a few things during my time with him at home. [And then you say what those few things are.] I wonder if we took a similar approach during his lesson time, if that would be a more constructive use of our time together as his behavior gradually improves.”

It’s also good to provide the impression that you are willing to do whatever it takes from your end to improve things, including going along with any suggestions the teacher makes (and giving feedback about what works and what doesn’t). I would want to ensure that the teacher feels part of a teacher/parent team, and not just someone who is being criticized by me.

If the teacher is still very set in his or her position after all of that, it might be worth considering if this teacher is a good match for your child. I don’t believe that 5 is too young for private lessons, particularly for Suzuki. If there are problems with a 5-year old, it’s either with the parent/student (e.g. parenting and/or resulting behavior) or the teaching approach, or both. But both can change.

said: Jan 9, 2010
 15 posts

Dear Purpletulip,

I deeply appreciate you coaching me how I can effectively communicate with the instructor! Our instructor is a friendly but quite dignified older gentleman and performing musician who hasn’t raised a child. I’m not as relaxed when I talk to him as I am with female instructors, especially those who’ve raised kids. I’ll do my best with your tips! Thanks!

Laura said: Jan 12, 2010
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

You’re welcome, Musette! It will be interesting to hear how it went—keep us all updated :)

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