Keeping my 5 year old motivated?

said: Oct 2, 2008
 1 posts

I just started doing private Suzuki violin lessons with/for my 5 year old daughter a few weeks ago. The teacher’s approach is lots of hand/finger control exercises before she was allowed to hold the bow. At first Maya was very motivated and up for everything, then she really started to lose interest, slouch and goof off when I try to do practice with her. We just got to where the teacher is having her hold the bow with proper grip and letting her bow strings a bit with violin on her lap or the floor, has not showed us how to hold it under chin yet.

she seems very frustrated and just wants to pick the thing up, put it under her chin and PLAY it. I’m inclined to let her even tho the teacher advises not . . . Any advice? Maybe suzuki is not the right approach for Maya (too much delayed gratification) or maybe there are magical ways to get around the “I’m bored, don’t want to do this” stuff. I have told her I’m not up for forcing her and if she doesn’t want to practice, we can return the violin to the friend who lent it. This gets her very upset, but it doesn’t get her to practice, at least lately.

Any wisdom would be much appreciated.


said: Oct 3, 2008
 48 posts

Lots of disclaimers—I’m a parent, not a teacher. Five-year-olds vary immensely. etc.

Still, it sounds like Maya wants to play the violin, wants to be able to hold it, and gets upset at the thought of it being taken away. To me, that sounds like she’s got a strong internal motivation, and I’d want to encourage that. If you haven’t done so already, maybe call or talk to the teacher outside of the normal lesson time, without Maya present, and express your concerns politely but firmly.

In the meantime, the main thing at that stage is to keep practice fun. Often, this requires a certain amount of creativity. And in fact, some times there’s a fine line between “practicing” and “goofing off”. During the week between her first and second lessons, my daughter was supposed to practice tapping the first Twinkle rhythm (Mississippi hot dog, or whatever you call it). We ran around the house finding all kinds of crazy things to tap it on … about 100 or so, all of which I wrote down.

With other things, I’d get out a bunch of wooden blocks, and start building a tower. Any time she did task X right I’d add another block, and we’d see who would “lose” (she gives up, or the tower collapses … though in practice she never gave up).

Kids love novelty, creativity, and weirdness, so I’d try to constantly think of new ideas and especially strange ideas. One day we got a bunch of her toy animals and each time she did whatever the assignment was, another animal jumped into the instrument case, until it was jammed full.

All that said, however, I find it rather sad that a five-year-old would be told not to hold, nor play with, her violin, for more than a few days. I don’t know anything about how to work with 3- or 4-year olds, though I’m sure they are completely different. Our daughter started at age 5. She spent one week on prep stuff (learning the rhythms, learning the parts of the instrument, etc.) and then began holding and playing the instrument in week two, and was encouraged to progress pretty rapidly after that. If she had been forced to spend weeks without holding the instrument, or months on pre-twinkle exercises, I think she would have felt disappointed and lost some of her motivation, to say the least.

What is your five-year-old like? What’s her motivation like? It sounds like she has a friend who played violin—was that part of her inspiration to start?

Laura said: Oct 3, 2008
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

Different teachers may have their individual approaches—which makes it all the more frustrating for us parents! (i.e. is there something wrong with Suzuki, or something wrong with the teacher, or both, or neither?)

One thing I will add is that my three-year old (back then, anyway) got to hold the violin and also make a sound on it at the very first lesson. The teacher helped her form the correct bow hold, held the violin in place properly herself (while my kid’s hand held the wooden body of the violin… or not… but it didn’t matter because the teacher had it under control). From then on, it was just a matter of how much or how little assistance was given as things progressed.

I can imagine how excruciating it must be to keep an instrument silent that is meant to make music! Perhaps this is unique to this teacher’s approach.

A word (from both parental and personal experience) regarding variations in teachers: Some good beginner teachers (i.e. teachers of beginner students, not teachers who are just beginning!) have one way of starting a student that is successful enough with most students, but not every. Other good beginner teachers will vary their approach to meet what they sense that the individual child needs (emotionally and socially) and/or is ready for.(technically and intellectually)—but it may take a while for such a teacher to get a sense of each child to sufficiently tailor his or her approach. It’s also possible that the teacher you have simply isn’t the best match for your child. It may be too early to tell which type of situation you have, but perhaps things will become clearer over time.

said: Oct 14, 2008
 2 posts

I have an almost-4-year-old who is in her second year of Suzuki violin. As you can imagine we have had to do a lot of creative things to keep her motivated because she is so young she can’t do a lot of actual playing. We do a lot of games. For instance we made a board game with all the exercises her teacher wanted her to do, like parts of the bow-hold. Then she rolled a die, moved a toy along the board and did all the different exercises. Of course one of them was get a treat!

Another thing we do now is practice just before bed-time. Then she gets to put off going to bed for as long as she practices! Oddly enough it works GREAT!

Another thing we do per Suzuki himself is after she finishes her “official” stuff, she gets to “explore” her violin all she wants and make lots of noise and make up songs. As longs as she is careful not to hurt it, she can sit down or hold it however she wants and just have fun. She incorporates the “real” techniques as she learns that they work better so her playtime is advancing along with her official practicing.

It may have been recommended already but the book “Helping Parents Practice” is great!

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